How to fix whistling E-string?

November 30, 2017, 3:07 PM · Hi all!

I have the problem that sometimes my E-string (steel) is whistling. Feels just terrible, especially in solo parts... I couldn't guess so far what is the reason for it, just occured occasionally.. maybe some of you had already similar experiences.... I really would like to fix it and know how I could prevent the E-string from whistling.

Some additions:
#1 there is no finger touching accidentially, so no flagolett
#2 occurs mainly when crossing string from another string or when touching the string, like with spiccato bow, so does not produce full sound but whistling.
#3 is it the bow? maybe not straight bowing? or to fast? or not enough rosin?
#4 why only E-string?
#5 i heard there are "non-whistling" E-Strings available, do they fix the problem?
#6 could different strenght of the E-String fix it

Would be great if someone had similar experience and fixed it! thanks in advance!


Replies (24)

November 30, 2017, 3:29 PM · What brand/make/gauge is your e string?
November 30, 2017, 3:40 PM · My personal recommendation (what has seemed to work for me) is to order every single E string on the market, and try them all. E strings take almost no time to break in, so you can go through quite a few in a day. You might have to spend 100 or so dollars, but that's not that bad to fix a whistle. Clearly, the first choice you should experiment with is the Warchal Amber E. But that won't necessarily work, so if it doesn't, keep trying other strings. Trying all sorts of Es is my first advice, since you shouldn't have to take 50% of your mental energy just to avoid whistling. With that said:

Obviously, technique has a huge role to play here, but I have found that with CERTAIN violins, the E just really, really wants to whistle. My violin is one of those.

You can mitigate it with the following:

a) Sticky, sticky, rosin. The stickiest, dankest rosin. Snoop Dawg rosin. That sticky ICKY icky. Stickier rosin "grabs" the string more immediately to begin the new frequency, rather than gliding over the top of the already-vibrating E to produce a harmonic.

b) "Stop" the E string from pre-vibrating (this is what causes the effect, through a sympathetic harmonic) either by momentarily pausing the bow ON the E string after having played other strings, OR by using an auxiliary finger to lightly dampen the E string right before playing it (for example, if you're playing a double stop on the A + D strings with your 1st and 3rd fingers, you could also simultaneously lightly rest your 4th finger on the E string so it doesn't pre-vibrate).

c) If you don't have one already, a bridge-protector (or string protector? Can't remember the name... It's the little plastic tube on the E, or the rawhide piece that goes between the E and the bridge) may work, since it mitigates the other strings from passively affecting the E, which is what leads to the harmonic when you go to the E from having played other strings first.

d) I believe the E is the only string that whistles because it is the thinnest, which makes it more easily influenced by passive vibration in the violin, and it's the highest tension, which produces the easiest harmonics (which is what the whistle is.... you'll notice it's always the same pitch whistle).

e) Experiment with soundpoints. I've found that, ironically, playing closer to the bridge (with more pressure) on the E-notes that whistle is less likely to produce a whistle.

f) I have a theory on what causes whistling Es, which is that the bow is acting as both the Flageolet for a harmonic, while also playing that harmonic. As you might know, harmonics only play when we're VERY lightly touching the string with our finger, so when we play very light and fast bows on the E, it is more likely to accidentally produce a whistle due to the same effect. The reason that this happens the most after having played other strings first is that the pre-vibrating (sympathetic resonance) of the E "hovers" or "levitates" the bow hair from truly contacting the string, which forces it into acting as a Flageolet, even when we try our best efforts to "press" the E into submission. Anyways, the solution is still the same as in point (e), wherein by changing the soundpoint on the E, the flageolet no longer produces a harmonic.

g) Try this experiment, as it might provide insight into some of the effects at play here: Start a natural harmonic (mid-string) on your D-string, and halfway through the bow, try lifting the flageolet finger , but continue using the bow near the bridge. You may notice that, if you're diligent, you're able to continue the harmonic for several seconds after the finger is lifted! This, of course, is because the string was already vibrating at the harmonic frequency before you lifted the finger, so it was easiest for the string to continue vibrating at that frequency if we do nothing to prevent it.

November 30, 2017, 3:43 PM · Excessive rosin buildup might cause whistles and squeaks.
November 30, 2017, 3:45 PM · My understanding was that the string gets set in a torsional mode of vibration rather than back and forth, and that heavier or wound e strings can have fewer problems because they would tend to have more damping in that mode.

With that said, it is usually a bowing issue to some extent, and you should experiment a little with your string change and see if you have enough weight going into the string as you cross, or at least when your weight actually impacts the string.

Edited: December 1, 2017, 9:42 AM · I have heard that wound E strings are more resistant to whistling. Also - I've had no whistling since I started to use Thomastik Peter Infeld (PI) Platinum plated E strings.
November 30, 2017, 4:00 PM · I agree about wound E's - and I much prefer the tone..

To help reduce the "pre-vibration" from previous notes on other strings, as Erik mentions, I have a tiny square of thin black leazther, cut from an old left glove (I have, as usual, lost the right one) between the E-string and its groove in the nut. This makes the open E behave - and sound - more like a fingered note.

Edited: November 30, 2017, 8:03 PM · I suggest that you try either the Warchal Amber E, or the aluminum-wound Tonica E. Most fiddlers of my acquaintance, who do lots of fast string crossings from the A string to open E, swear by the Tonica. My own preference as a classical violinist who also plays traditional Cape Breton & Scottish fiddle, is for the richer sound of the Warchal string, and I find it reduces the amount of whistling about 95%. (You are obviously aware of bowing issues and finger touching the string as among the causes.)
November 30, 2017, 4:10 PM · Only issue that I've found with that solution, Adrian, is that it does prevent the E from "sweetly singing" in the best way. So I consider it a last resort from other solutions.

I have heard that wound Es have the same issue.

On the other hand, if that tone is your preference, then there is no issue at all :)

November 30, 2017, 4:38 PM · My little bit of leather only affects the open E (which to my ears - and Karl Flesch's..) is an abomination.

But then I am principally a violist.

Edited: November 30, 2017, 4:59 PM · I don't see how that's possible, since the vibration is transferred to the body via the bridge.

But perhaps the effect is so small that it doesn't matter.

EDIT: Nevermind, had a brain fart and didn't realize you put the leather on the nut. Derrr.

2nd EDIT: I think I may try your trick at some point because my open E still makes me change almost all of my playing, particularly in solo bach. I tense up preemptively in preparation for the whistle.

November 30, 2017, 8:49 PM · On a few different violins, I've preferred the Eudoxa wound E to the Tonica wound E. Similar feel and response, but a bit more brilliant.
November 30, 2017, 9:33 PM · I agree with the others on trying a wound E. Worked for me, and I like the tone.
November 30, 2017, 10:17 PM · The very first thing to try when you get a whistle is to pull your bow hand back so that your bow goes slightly crooked. Most of the time, changing the angle of the bow will solve the immediate problem.

I don't mean to play with a crooked bow all the time. Just pulling it back slightly mid-whistle will usually stop the whistle.

December 1, 2017, 2:33 AM · You can also give the Kaplan no-whistling E a shot!
December 1, 2017, 7:56 AM · I use a Warchal Amber E and do not get whistling. But, I'm just a lowly adult returner amateur!
Edited: December 1, 2017, 9:23 AM · "My personal recommendation (what has seemed to work for me) is to order every single E string on the market, and try them all..."

Save your money. Just get an aluminum-wound string like the Kaplan. The Dominant wound string works fine, too. If I remember correctly, though, the Kaplan comes with some cheesy little adapter you have to use. Geez.

If you just don't like the sound of a wound E (I don't on my current violin), then you have to use more pressure (or "weight" for those who go ballistic when they hear "pressure) to prevent the whistling.
Some violins are worse than others, and I think the weather plays a role as well.

December 1, 2017, 9:47 AM · Whistling E -string, happens, for me, when moving from the A-string to the open E on a down-bow slur. The up-bow slur or separate bow adds enough force to prevent it. the other cause is if a finger, usually the first, is slightly touching the open E. I have also read that it is torsional, longitudinal spinning. The twist on the Warchal Amber E prevents it. Ditto on wound E-strings.
December 1, 2017, 3:02 PM · I seldom whistle but the few times I do is when playing certain songs in the key of E.
December 1, 2017, 6:50 PM · Amber e string has worked well for me.
December 2, 2017, 1:10 AM · A Warchal Amber E, on a properly-adjusted violin, will almost certainly prevent whistling. It's by far the best E string that I've used in that regard, and it's got a great sound, too.
December 2, 2017, 5:05 AM · I did order a set of Warchal Amber strings on sale Black Friday but they are not in stock to be sent to me yet. Amber is the only Warchal string type which I have not tried yet. When the Amber E first came out I saw a picture of it and there is a zig zag or saw toothed pattern in the bowing area of the string which straightens out and disappears as the E string is tuned up to tension. I do look forward to trying the Ambers in 2018. Warchals are great strings at a great price.
Edited: December 2, 2017, 6:58 AM · It's actually a spiral. You can see the twist when the string is at full tension. Best e-string I have tried for sound.
December 2, 2017, 6:58 AM ·
Edited: December 2, 2017, 6:18 PM · My bet is that you should try to fix your technique before exploring various E strings. For me, the obvious cause was lowering my elbow as I was pulling the string. The fix, lower and stabilize the elbow and then pull the string, hence avoiding creating lateral oscillations of the string in different directions, which cancel each other. Only happens on the E string because you can't go down enough on other strings. I suppose you could make your G string whistle in the same fashion on an up bow in theory, but we rarely over elevate our elbow as we're pushing the string.

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