Inconvenient wolf tone -- solutions?

Edited: March 19, 2020, 2:23 AM · Tonight I realized that my violin has a very inconvenient wolf tone: right at C5 on the D string. I've had the violin for 20+ years, but I'm almost exclusively a violist, so although I noticed problems on that note before, I assumed I was just not used to the amount of bow weight required on the violin -- I only learned tonight through YouTube what a wolf tone actually sounds like.

Anyway, I have a wolf that I reach in 3rd position, so it's difficult to play around it without awkward string crossings. Are there things I can do to reduce it without taking it to a luthier (rather difficult at this time for obvious reasons)? Would different strings help? The violin has Vision strings on it now, and I think I have a set of violin Dominants sitting around.

Replies (26)

March 19, 2020, 4:11 AM · Andrew perhaps this sounds stupid, but try bowing close to the bridge and practice producing a good sound nevertheless. It may work. Some decent violins have that but you can bow around it, so to speak.
Edited: March 19, 2020, 4:59 AM · Does the same wolf note not occur on the A string, Andrew?
I have a wolf note on C# which occurs on both D and A strings. I found that the afterlengths of both G and A strings resonated at C#, so I changed that by putting single-holed mutes on both of them. That seemed to work perfectly for a while, but I'm less confident about that now. Also my cavity resonance is C#. See if any of your afterlengths is tuned to C. It might be worth a try. Putting little bits of blutack on them to detune them might be an interesting experiment.
March 19, 2020, 5:12 AM · Doesn't occur on the A string at all. I didn't try playing that high on the G string, will investigate further next time I play the violin.

I wonder if just sticking a Tourte mute on the afterlength at the usual place (D and A strings) will help.

Playing closer to the bridge (not "sul ponticello" close) stopped the really obvious beats, but introduced some very strong and unpleasant overtones.

Edited: March 22, 2020, 5:46 AM · Lower tension strings (Dominant, Tonica) can help by not cramping the finer vibrations or reinforcing the wolves.

In addition to Gordon's suggestions try a small blob of Bluetak on the corner of the bridge, or somewhere on the edge of the f-hole near the bridge.

Both my very different violas have a "pinched" sound around C5, but less on the one with a wide middle bout.

Edited: March 19, 2020, 5:34 AM · It's a common phenomenon - my last violin had it on C#, both D and A strings but not strictly a wolf but a pinched sound as Adrian describes. New strings always helped
March 19, 2020, 7:20 AM · Without going into the physics, I've had success with small Tourte mutes for a single string, or a shield mute that sits on adjacent strings, placed on the afterlength but as close to the bridge as possible without it touching the bridge when playing.

This has worked on both violins and violas with tonal or wolf issues on notes near the cavity (A0) frequency.

It is a cheap, quick solution for a common cause of "wolf" tones and worth a try.

March 19, 2020, 8:21 AM · I have never noticed a wolf on my violins or violas. However I noticed a wolf on 3 of the cellos I have owned and fought them for 60 years trying every wolf elimination product that was sold without total success

UNTIL

I finally solved the wolf problem with the KRENTZ wolf eliminator:
https://krentzstringworks.com/
I have them on 2 of my 3 cellos.

The Krentz also can help tonal problems on some instruments that do not have a wolf.

After developing this device for cellos Krentz developed and started to sell smaller models for VIOLA and VIOLIN as well. I think they still offer a refund if it doesn't work for a customer.

I have no financial or family connection to the Krentz company. It's just that when I find an amazing product I like to spread the word.

March 19, 2020, 10:00 AM · Another endorsement for the Krentz; I have them on each cello. Fantastic.
March 19, 2020, 10:42 AM · Broken record here: Why do you people insist on bandaids to fix an improperly adjusted instrument? When part of the adjustment is off, NOTHING else works its best! You are just hurting yourselves.

In this case, tighter post, closer to the bridge.

March 19, 2020, 10:52 AM · Michael - I'd love to have you take a look at my viola. F# wolf on D and G string. Not the horrible wolf I have heard on some cellos, but on just that tone it is more difficult to get the string to sound. And the tone is more nasal than the surrounding tones. My local luthier could not fix it.....
Edited: March 19, 2020, 12:59 PM · Michael - in this case I'm probably not able to get to a luthier for at least the next two months due to the currently active shelter in place order.

Thanks for suggestions, everyone else. I may have to see what's still shipping. I've been meaning to try a shield mute anyway.

March 19, 2020, 12:59 PM · I agree that your wolf is coming from an adjustment issue, most likely from the soundpost. If you have a spare instrument, play that one and set your main one aside for a time when you can visit a luthier. It’ll be well worth it!
Edited: March 19, 2020, 1:24 PM · As I noted, I'm almost exclusively a violist. My violin is my spare instrument. I've been playing violin instead of viola the last few days because of a shoulder injury.
March 19, 2020, 1:50 PM · @Michael

You make a very good point, in my experience. Is your shop open for business in this time? :)

Edited: March 19, 2020, 10:10 PM · Update:

Wolf tone is also present on the G string. And slightly on the A string as well, but not enough to be a problem there.

Playing around with technique a little, I found the best short-term solution seems to be to bow closer to the fingerboard rather than toward the bridge! That surprised me a little because my instinct last night (before posting) was to move toward the bridge as was suggested in this thread.

March 20, 2020, 4:00 AM · Well, this is embarrassing: I took out my violin to look at the soundpost, and noticed that my bridge feet were about 1.5 mm toward the fingerboard from the f-hole notches. Moved the bridge to the f-hole notches, which brought it closer to the soundpost. (If the mountain will not come to Mohammed...)

There's still a bit of a wolf, but it's much easier to control. And I like the overall sound better.

This is probably a result of having last adjusted the violin's bridge position at least 15 years ago and rarely played it since then.

Edited: March 21, 2020, 2:27 PM · Micheal's comment will save a lot of wasted time on the part of some of us inveterate tinkerers!

F#4 (2nd finger on the D-string) is a vital resonance on all violas (maybe F natural on the longer-bodied ones?). I have reduced it (out of curiosity) with a blob of Blutack on the lower left quarter of the belly, somewhere over the end of the basebar. I imagine that the Krenz device used by Andrew could work better with its clever "shock-absorber" design.

C/C#5 (2nd finger on the A-string) is more elusive. Sliding up a fifth from open A to E, I find one timbre merging into another with C/C# as the crossover point, with this whiny "pinched" sound.

Both violas are 39.75", but one is a slim, shallow JTL with an even but slightly nasal tone; the other is wide and deep, with a warm, non-nasal tone. Both have the same Tonica strings.
The fatter one has larger f-holes which keep the cavity resonance up at Bb3 (but with more power and spread). Its pinched C/C#5 is less obvious.

April 8, 2020, 12:22 PM · "Why do you people insist on bandaids to fix an improperly adjusted instrument?"

Michael, because wolf tones, in my experience, can't simply be adjusted away.

I've probably owned about nine different instruments from different schools, countries, and time periods (and I've had them adjusted by many different luthiers around the country over the years):
ALL violins have wolf notes. It is inherent to the physics of violins. Yes, some are worse than others, but one learns to play around them. I agree with Adrian Heath in that a light gauge G will help (I do not advocate for light gauge strings on anything other than the G as it will make the instrument too weak overall). I've found that gut strings have always made wolf notes worse; remember that "clean" and "tonally rich" tend to be polar opposites with strings. You can't have both characteristics at once.

Here's the issue: adjustments, including a tighter post, always have a cost and a benefit. If you like the sound of the instrument overall and then move the post to a different position, there will be a change. There's no free lunch and there's seldom one position that will solve all problems. You may solve may make the wolf problem better, but at the expense of something else. I've heard some suggest that tailgut length may increase or decrease the wolf, but again, changing this will affect the tonal quality in some other way.

The bottom line is that no instrument is perfect. Yes, you can find an instrument with a less intrusive wolf, but it may be lacking in some other qualities. In fact, some say that instruments with very minor wolf tones can be quite tonally quite boring, and that many of the finest instruments have prominent wolf notes that have to be negotiated around.

April 8, 2020, 7:57 PM · If your violin has a wolf, it’s out of adjustment. Some violas and a lot of cellos have wolves that must be worked around or adjusted to different places, but a violin with a wolf has a problem that needs to be addressed.
April 9, 2020, 11:15 AM · Are you. familiar with the concept of a wolf eliminator between the bridge and the windings? I played a concert a few years ago on a fine instrument on a loan that happened to have an inconvenient wolf tone on the leading tone of the piece I was playing. I took the eraser from a mechanical pencil, cut it into a small section (<0.5 cm diameter in all directions), cut a slit through it, and put it between the beige and windings on the G string. I moved it back and forth until the wold tone was eliminated - though finding the correct position took a while.
Edited: April 9, 2020, 11:43 AM · Nicola Benedetti's Strad has two wolftones. If it was simply maladjusted, you'd think she'd have found out and got a luthier to readjust it.
Edited: April 9, 2020, 3:16 PM · A couple of years ago i asked advice for a similar problem. A wolf eliminator did not help.

What helped making disappear the 95% of the wolf tone was a combination of actions:

- readjusting the afterlength in the string (E). I can do it easily ( :D )

- setting the soundpost a little bit tighter and some more under the bridge foot

- moving a bit the position of the chinrest (believe it or not...)

April 9, 2020, 5:11 PM · @marco I somewhat alleviated the wolf tone on my newer fiddle with ZMT tailpiece. The instrument is also louder now.
Edited: April 10, 2020, 11:37 AM · As I think Scott has said before, when other setup tricks don't work, a light-gauge Dominant G can be a huge help for a muddy g-string - without sacrificing the overall volume of the violin.

April 9, 2020, 9:29 PM · The combination of a setup that’s out of adjustment and high-tension soloist strings can cause wolves. Great instruments are quite sensitive and can quickly develop tonal issues, especially when they’re taken all over the world on tour. For this reason many artists go straight to luthiers when their planes land to check the adjustment.
Edited: April 11, 2020, 7:33 PM · Hsieh,
There's probably several little adjustments that can help; I know when I took my violin to a luthier he recommended adjusting the sound post, but the drawback was it could make my violin quieter, so I chose not to make that adjustment and just learn to deal with the wolf. Seems like sometimes you can go just under it or just above it to try to avoid it..? Also the low tension strings (like Obligato, which I'm using right now) are helpful. :)

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