A string not resonating

March 29, 2021, 1:23 PM · I recently bought a violin made by Milton Wickes, in 1904, in Massachusetts and have noticed that the A string, when played open, is noticeably less resonant than the rest. When you let the others ring you can see the string resonating for it's full length for some time after you lift the bow. With the A string the harmonic continues but the main note dies as soon as the bow is lifted and you can see that the "full string" vibration stops right away. I've tried putting a new string on and it makes no difference. My suspicion is that it is the result of some aspect of the setup. It came from a reputable shop (though it was on consignment so perhaps it escaped their attention before they put it in the showroom) but before I discuss it with them I'd like to get some independent input on the possible sources of a problem like this. Thanks in advance for any thoughts anyone might have on this.

Replies (23)

March 29, 2021, 1:41 PM · The sustain of a string when you let go of it is not important, what it sounds like when it is bowed is important, is this tone deficient in any way when you are playing it.
Edited: March 29, 2021, 4:40 PM · Yes, the sound of the A string is thin and in fact you can see it. If you took a long exposure pic of the vibrating open string the shape, rather than much broader in the middle and tapering evenly to the ends as with the other strings (particularly, as expected, the G and D), it is rather narrow and of pretty constant width along its length until very close to the nut and bridge.
Another curious observation is that with a mute the A string, although quieter, actually is more resonant and the shape of its vibration is closer to how I described the others.
Btw, in case you haven't intuited it, I'm a beginner and am probably not describing the situation as would an experienced player but I'm doing my best to be clear about what I see and hear!
Edited: March 29, 2021, 2:27 PM · I wonder whether you have a wolf note around that pitch. It's unlikely but not impossible -- I've played violins that have them around G#. How does it sound if you find the equivalent A on the G string and play it? If it sounds cracked and buzzy then you might have a wolf.
March 29, 2021, 2:41 PM · The problem is definitely confined to the A string and is noticeable when playing any note on that string although it's much more obvious when playing it open. And there's no extraneous sounds, it's the lack of the sound you WANT to hear from the string which is why I tried just replacing the string first, with fingers crossed because that would have been a nice easy fix.
March 29, 2021, 3:35 PM · Is it the fault of the violin?
1. Try playing the same pitch on the D string (4th finger, 1st position) - if that gives the same result take it back and ask for appropriate adjustment - possibly of the string aftertlengths.

Is it the nut cramping the open A string vibration?
It could be an easy fix bu the seller. If the nut groove is cut too deep the open A string might be hitting the fingerboard. I would also check the height of the bridge (because if the nut groove is too deep but only the open string is hitting the fingerboard other difficulties likely lie ahead).

Is it a WOLF?
It could be. Very unfortunate to have an open-string wolf but a "Krentz Wolf Eliminator" might be the best solution. A WOLF is generally the result of an instrument body vibration - typically "built into" the actuall design (for example all 3 Strad-model cellos I have owned have had F# wolfs) but an open seam can also cause a pitch-specific resonance.

Edited: March 29, 2021, 4:05 PM · Thanks for your input Andrew. The effects of the problem are limited to the A string rather than the note played, and is apparent when playing any note on it, though though it's most obvious when played open.
As for the groove in the nut it's pretty much the same as the other strings. Same with the grooves in the bridge.
I don't think it's a wolf. There are no extraneous sounds, rather, a lack of what one WANTS to hear.
It seems that something about the setup or the structure of the instrument is impeding the full and free vibration/resonance of the A string (though, curiously, less so with a mute in place as I described in a reply to an earlier post).
March 29, 2021, 4:04 PM · May I ask why you bought this violin if it has this problem??
Edited: March 29, 2021, 4:15 PM · Hi Lyndon, you may well ask! My aforementioned beginners status meant that I bought it only having heard a couple of staff at the shop play it since any sounds I would have produced with it would have only indicated my lack of ability rather than anything useful about the instrument. But it's a highly regarded shop so I felt comfortable with that and despite my description of it as a substantial problem, no one seemed to notice it at the time. It was on consignment so I'm guessing it didn't get quite the usual going over prior to putting it in the showroom. I only noticed it in the first few days of "playing" it at home. I don't think they were knowingly selling an instrument with a problem. And I will be talking to them next week, I'm just interested in having some sense of what the possible causes might be before our discussions.
March 29, 2021, 4:49 PM · I would ask to trade it in but being a commission they probably aren't going to do that.
March 29, 2021, 5:51 PM · Actually they will, surprisingly and fortunately for me. Unfortunately I love everything about it besides this problem and it's smallish shop and won't have many likely candidates for an alternate. I'm hoping they'll pull a rabbit out of a hat, figure it out, and fix it. If so I'll post about it in case anyone is curious.
March 29, 2021, 5:56 PM · If its a smallish shop with few alternatives, they may not be qualified to fix it either
March 29, 2021, 6:22 PM · As a beginner player and buyer myself I have been down this road. I have purchased 4 violins and 6 bows in the last 20 months since beginning my journey. For me my playing progression came with aural development and an appreciation for differences in violin tone and overall quality. Thus I have upgraded several times. It is great that you spotted this issue quickly. I would take it back and have them adjust it. If they can’t solve the problem try another instrument. You may need to spend a couple of weeks with an instrument to get over that honeymoon period and really figure out if it’s the right one for you. Good luck!
March 29, 2021, 6:41 PM · I agree with Andrew. Maybe the nut is pinching the string. I once had a violin that had this problem and I widened the string slot very slightly and it was fine after that.
March 29, 2021, 6:44 PM · More likely the bridge groove is pinching the string, OP said the whole string was effected, not just the open A

Actually the most likely is the violin itself has problems

Edited: March 29, 2021, 6:58 PM · As an example, a Gibson Les Paul guitar has great sustain because it has such great mass, so that it doesn’t absorb the energy from the vibrating strings. It sounds like your violin is very efficient at responding to, and therefore absorbing the energy from the open a-string. (Is that the definition of a wolf note?) For an experiment, try re-tuning the instrument about a quarter tone low and see if the problem persists. That might tell you if it’s a wolf, or if it’s some problem with the setup like a faulty string slot in the nut. While you’re experimenting, try holding the string down where it leaves the nut with your fingernail, and see if that has an effect. Do that at the bridge too.
March 29, 2021, 7:13 PM · The first thing I would do on a violin I set up that had a dead string is try adjusting the soundpost, but unfortunately some violins just have dead strings and there's not much can be done about it, hope for your sake that's not the case here.
Edited: March 29, 2021, 7:27 PM · I misunderstood - I thought it was just the open A that had the problem. I agree with Lyndon about the bridge if the entire A string is affected.

But sometimes an instrument may just like certain strings and not others - it is possible that this is one of them. I have several instruments like that and I have spent decades (literally) finding the right strings for them (and now that I have I'm really too old to do them justice).

Bowed-instrument strings are not ment to "sustain" the way plucked-instrument strings do. If they did the whole continuous-bowing process would not work right. Their strings are naturally damped, if made of gut, and purposely damped if netal- or synthetic-cored.

March 30, 2021, 12:19 AM · It very well could just be dud string. A few weeks ago I put on a bad a string and was confused as to why the sounds was not good coming from it. I put a new string and everting is fixed
Edited: March 30, 2021, 4:26 AM · One of my violins (not my actually main one) at some point of its life had the open A and first notes in first position in the A strings a bit weak.
Open A was less resonant than the same A in the D string.

Bridge and nut were never touched, but the tailpiece was changed to a different one and most important i reset the soundpost many times.

Now i'm seeing that phenomenon is not existing anymore. So in my opinion it could be useful if you had the soundpost moved. And if it's not enough you can try to move other things, for example move very slightly the location of the chin rest.


Edited: March 30, 2021, 5:22 AM · The mute makes radical changes in the violin's body resonances, and so the problem is perhaps the violin itself, or it's accessories. But as Andrew says, we don't want bowed strings to "ring" on their own.
March 30, 2021, 7:44 PM · If any note played on the A string in first position sounds weak and non-responsive, including the D which should resonate well with the open D string, then the most likely culprit is the sound post position.

But be warned that on "beginner" violins, there is usually a limit on how much the string response can be affected by a sound post adjustment. But the A and the E strings are usually the mot receptive to small changes in the sound post.

I don't follow the "pinched" observations at the nut or the bridge. This condition will typically make it a pain to tune the strings, but won't affect the ability of the string to resonate.

March 31, 2021, 8:24 PM · I'm just a beginner so take what I say with a big grain of salt, and I play viola, not violin, but my viola had a very dull A-string. It just sounded stifled compared to the other strings. It was loud enough but had no resonance. The vibration stopped immediately as soon as I lifted the bow, like you describe.

I started with Warchal Brilliants then switched to Kaplan Forzas, both sets fairly high tension. The problem persisted.

Then I switched to a set of Corelli Cantiga Light Gauge and immediately the A-string rang like a bell. This viola simply likes lower tension strings across the whole bridge.

You don't mention (or I missed) what kind of strings you're playing on, but if they're high tension you might try switching to something like Dominant, Tonica, or Cantigas in Light gauge.


Edited: March 31, 2021, 9:27 PM · I agree with Amrita that changing out for a few different strings including different tensions might make all the difference. Upon reading the original post, I thought, "First thing I would do is change the string." But that decision is also influenced by the fact that I would only wreck my violin if I tried to do anything else by myself like move the sound post or widen a nut groove. All of my carpentry is what you might call "paint grade."

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