Hellmich Violins

The wolf tone – what is it?


Many cellos and double basses have it, the wolf. However, this is not an animal that lives in the instrument or a hip accessory, but a sound phenomenon that can occur in certain frequency ranges. Violins and violas, are affected much less frequently due to their size. 

Now you can find out exactly why.

How does the wolf express itself, how can you recognize it?

This question is almost moot, because if you have a cloud tone on your instrument, it’s unmistakable. It is impossible or almost impossible to play. Especially when played softly, the sound whistles or breaks off again and again and flutters, like the howling of a wolf.

Did you know that some Stradivaris and Guarneris have a wolf tone?

When I was about 12 years young, my whole family saved up to buy me my first whole violin. The fact that we were unfortunately ripped off is another story, which I will gladly link here as soon as I have written a post about it. Well this violin appealed to me right away and was a girl’s dream. Perfect gold-red transparent lacquer, flawless, great sound. At least until I played the Gypsy Tunes by Sarasate, because that’s when I found him, the wolf on the G string in a very high register. It was incredibly annoying, because it seemed that after a short time I had already reached the limits of this instrument (for 6000 marks!), an insane sum for my single mom. That’s when the joyful game of dodging and “cheating” around the wolf tone started.

If I had possessed the knowledge I have today, I would have gone to a luthier, because often the phenomenon can be mitigated or disappears altogether with other strings or by moving the soundpost, a different tailpiece or a wolf-toner! Likewise, the wolf tone can be tricked out with playing skill, and many violins that sound particularly loud and soloistic have a wolf in a certain frequency range.

How does the wolf express itself, how can you recognize it?

The wolf occurs when the stringed instrument has a very strong natural frequency at a certain frequency (cellos usually F or F#). Due to the strong vibration of the soundboard, the string vibration is superimposed and the tone breaks.

The pitch at which this phenomenon occurs is structural. Thus, on many Guarneri del Gesu violins, one finds a wolf on the C (G string 10th position). Often the wolf scares off musicians, but for some the wolf is a sign that the instrument sounds very free overall and is loud, I have linked a video here:

So the wolf does not generally speak against the quality of an instrument. I think it should always be weighed: Do I play in this area? Does the rest of the sound convince me enough to accept this minor evil? Can I dampen the wolf together with a luthier? Do I accept the challenge of the instrument?

The use of a wolf-killer may also be considered. But any damping, often affects the other frequencies, a professional individual advice and sensitivity which “Wolftöter” is the appropriate and which frequency range must be damped, is the be-all and end-all. The wolf tone can be shifted or attenuated to a frequency so that it is, for example, between two tones.

My thoughts on this are as follows:

My last violin has a wolf, at first I was so enchanted by the sound, it was incredibly voluminous in all registers and dark mysterious, also a bit rough. But then I found it, the wolf, on the G string in the 10th position (Just like in Augustin Hadelich’s video!). My disappointment was great at first and I talked to many musicians and luthiers. The conclusion: opinions differ, but the opinion of the soloists and also of the luthiers, whom I admire and appreciate very much, was unanimous: For them, an instrument with a wolf was more of a plus, provided it sounded exceptional in the other registers and was a sign of an exceptionally beautiful sound; almost all of the soloists stated that their instrument also had a wolf.

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