Wolf tone and string tension

March 4, 2019, 3:48 PM · I am trying to find the optimal strings for my viola. I bought it a couple of years ago and it came with Evah Pirazzi strings. I never liked those strings on my violin so I have been trying different strings. I tried Evah Pirazzi Gold, which was better than the regular Evah. And more recently I tried Warchal Amber, but they brought out a wolf on F# on the D string. I tested different D strings and it seemed like the instrument preferred the D to be silver wound – the wolf was much more prominent with aluminium wound D regardless of the brand.

On the violin I have always preferred wound gut strings, so I wanted to try gut on this new viola as well. I bought a set of medium Tricolore. The C and G strings sound wonderful, but the pure gut D really brings out the F# wolf. I changed the D to a silver wound Oliv and that makes the wolf much less prominent. It is still there but it can be handled – it only makes the F# sound a bit more nasal than the surrounding notes.

Today I tried tuning the lower strings (tricolore) down about a whole tone and that makes the wolf go away completely! Also with the whole instrument tuned down a whole tone or a semitone the wolf is gone. This would indicate that the pressure on the bridge is causing the wolf. But I had the impression that Tricolore strings were lower tension than any of the strings mentioned above. Judging from the published tension charts Amber is lower tension than Evah Pirazzi. So I am a puzzled – It looks like either higher or lower tension could be the way out of the wolf zone?

Replies (9)

March 4, 2019, 3:55 PM · Bo,
Any changes the have an effect on the "after" portion of the string can cause or solve a "wolf tone." Of course, the most common approach is to simply add something to the offending string's after that prevent it from vibrating. That can be a fancy tube like Cellist tend to use or an old fashioned slide back and forth mute. Of course, that later tends to kill all of the overtones (even the ones you want) from the after portion of the string.

See if your Luthier has a small tube to fit a viola string first. No sense in losing all the overtones.

March 4, 2019, 5:48 PM · In my experience across many violins, violas, and cellos, lower string tension generally eases wolf tones, but that rule only seems to apply when comparing different gauges of the same brand.

Maybe it could use a soundpost adjustment?

March 4, 2019, 6:21 PM · Sounds to me like your soundpost is too tight or your tailpiece is too far back.
Or both.

Modern gut strings are equal or even greater in weight than synthetics. The idea that guts are lighter is a myth carried over from the HIPP movement (the same one that gave you arpeggiated chords in Bach and super wimpy right arm mechanics).

March 4, 2019, 7:22 PM · Wolf tones occur when the frequency of the note is close to the natural frequency of a body mode, and the shape of the body mode causes it to be loosely coupled to the bridge/strings.

This causes two tones to be generated: one at the frequency of the note being played, and another slightly different than that frequency. Energy shifts between the two tones resulting in that various sounds associated with wolf tones, like growling or beating.

Changing the tension on the violin body, by changing the string tension and sometimes squeezing the bouts can change the natural frequency of the body mode enough so that the wolf tone is less noticeable.

Shifting the bridge and/or sound post a bit can cause a stronger coupling between the bridge/strings and the body mode at that frequency and tame the wolf, but may cause other tonal problems.

Wolf eliminators, such as the brass tubes with rubber inserts that attach to the string afterlength, attempt to absorb energy of the mismatched tone.

Edited: March 5, 2019, 3:27 PM · Since 1950, a few months after my cello "career" began I fought cello wolf notes on 1, then 2, and finally 3 cellos using every method and device I could find. It wasn't until I came across the KRENTZ modulator (or "wolf eliminator") that I felt fully successful ( http://krentzstringworks.com/ )

I recommend the Krentz device. They also make smaller versions for violin and viola. The devices not only eliminate wolf tones, but they also work to modify the tone of some instruments favorably. I use them for that purpose only on two of my violins, one of my violas and one of my cellos. But I use them for wolf elimination on 2 of my cellos and receive the other benefit as well.

Edited: March 4, 2019, 7:51 PM · Mr. Three posts above,

The custom gut strings you use may be heavier than most synthetics, but most modern synthetics are heavier than most modern gut options sold at most shops and online retailers. Plus some of those thick pure gut strings are still not as heavy on the violin than thinner but less pliable synthetics.

Maybe I am wrong, but it is likely your current combo is not as heavy as Evah Pirazzi Stark. Or most heavy versions of steel strings.

My point is, it's true some used to use thick gut strings back in the 20th century, but that doesn't mean super thick gut strings are "the answer" just because it works for you and your violin (or because it worked for Paganini, for that matter.)

The only "super heavy" tension wound gut string I know of (barring custom strings) in the market is Pirastro's Oliv D Stiff at 17.5. Even the 17 I used two years ago was a bit too heavy and slow. The Passione Solo are not that tense-more similar to medium synthetics.

The idea of light gut strings is based on modern reality, not HIP. Almost all Eudoxa strings are light tension-and I think we all would agree that wound gut Eudoxa are not used often by experienced HIP performers, as they generally use other brands/models which are more "accurate".

I think low tension gut is at least evident for a big part of the 20th century-perhaps earlier things were different.

All I know is that on *my* violin, if I go above a certain threshold or use synthetics (more or less the same, sadly) my lone wolf on G's high C will most certainly wake up. No matter if Paganini used super thick pure gut, heavy strings do not work well for *me*. Not a myth, but real life experience.

I do use "heavy" gut strings in general, because they are rarely very heavy for my violin. Personally do not use extra heavy+ (etc.) Academie pure gut, even though the option exists. The "regulars" at "heavy gauge" work more than well enough for me.

I am however very interested in other luthiers answering Mr. Bo's question, as I have always been curious as to why gut quiets my violin's wolf, since wolf tones are older than the era of synthetics. Maybe it's just a matter of tension, but it has definitely turned me off synthetics completely, considering all their other cons. My violin must be allergic to high tension.

Edited: March 5, 2019, 7:34 AM · A professional CM/soloist/conductor has told me that one trick that works for him if a wolf appears out of the blue in the 2nd octave of the G-string during a performance is to hold the violin tightly for that little period of time. This seems to tie in with Carmen's explanation, but may not work for everybody.

On my 18th c #1 violin I need a plain gut G-D-A set, such as Chorda, to minimize or hopefully abolish the wolf, but the creature can still be in residence depending on temperature and humidity. In orchestra, if I anticipate a problem in a concert, I'll have no hesitation in using the D-string to avoid the wolf - anyway, nobody's going to notice ;).

Interestingly, my #2 violin, a 2002 Jay Haide that is significantly heavier than #1, has no trace of wolves anywhere, irrespective of the choice of strings and setup. It is a violin that is easy to play but has a vanilla tone compared with #1. Useful backup and practice violin, though..

March 5, 2019, 9:48 AM · Thank you for the answers. I do have a wolf tone eliminator, but even when tuning it to F# it does not eliminate the wolf.
Gamut does not give the tensions for viola Tricolore, but they do give them for violin Tricolore, and those are lower than Evah Pirazzi, so I assume the same will be the case for the viola strings.
I have tried adding weight to the left lower bout area using magnets, but that didn't help. But it is evident that that area is vibrating more a frequencies around F#. I may have to try the Krentz modulator. Do you know if they have dealers in Europe?

What is puzzling is that it seemed to be less of a problem with higher tension strings than what I have now, but also the problem disappears when I lower the tension of my current strings. Off course that also changes the frequencies of the open strings and of the afterlength, so it is impossible to say for sure which of these changes cause the effect.

Edited: March 9, 2019, 7:48 AM · I have further reduced the G-string wolf on my old violin by replacing the medium tension Chorda D with a spare Savarez light gauge gut D I found in a drawer. The D string is a tricky one to get right tonally on most violins, and I think by making this substitution with a lower tension string I'm moving in the right direction.

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