Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Taming the wolf
Ellen G. at Cellos-2-Go sent me a full set of six New Harmony Wolf Tone Eliminators, designed by David Bice; they arrived this evening. I was advised to put the 5-gram one on the g-string, about half an inch below the bridge, and try it out. Then, I'm supposed to move it up and down slightly to fine tune the dampening effect. If needed, I might also try moving it over to the d-string. Then, once I find the best location, I'll try out the other weights (3 grams, 7 grams, 9 grams, 11 grams, and 13 grams) to find the best response. Hopefully, I'll be able to get my teacher's input on my final selection at our next lesson - remember, she seems to be able to draw out the wolf a lot better (worse) than I can.
Once I've settled on the best size, I just send the unused ones back to Ellen. She only billed me for the one eliminator that I will be keeping. What a nice way to do business! I recommend her highly to all cellists.
Here's what Stringworks has to say on its website about wolf tones:
It is frightfully common - on nearly 75% of cellos in existence - and it is easily remedied in most cases, yet it is still something that causes confusion and frustration in cellist from young to old, from beginner to seasoned veteran - the wolf tone. It's difficult to describe a 'wolf tone', but essentially it comes across as a warbling tone where the sound of the note being played actually skips from the note to a harmonic or series of harmonics, and back very rapidly. There are a number of theories on the cause of the wolf tone, but a widely generaly consensus is that it has to do with a conflict of fundamental tones within the instrument itself, and the instrument is unable to contain the massive amounts of vibrations caused by conflict and still create one tone, but rather it breaks up the tone and the sound comes across as a 'wolf'.
The good news is that the wolf tone can be minimized almost to the point of being inaudible with a device called the wolf eliminator, some of which are relatively inexpensive, small, and easy to install. There are several types of wolf eliminators - with the two basic groups being 'interior' and 'exterior'. Interior wolf eliminators are typically custom made by experienced luthiers and are professionally installed. The more common variety is the exterior wolf eliminator.
Exterior wolf eliminators come in two common varieties, the traditional brass cap with tightening screw and rubber core, and the new solid brass version... These devices are installed on the offending string between the bridge and tailpiece. What a wolf eliminator does is reduce the vibrations emanating from the string, and thereby reducing the vibrations occurring from the wolf and making it nearly inaudible. The disadvantage is that wolf eliminators do reduce vibrations from the entire string, so some tonal loss may be experienced, but if your string is producing too much tone for the instrument itself to handle without producing a wolf tone, perhaps it is a good thing to stifle it a bit. Wolf tones are most typically found on the notes of the upper position on a cello - most commonly E, F and F#. The position of the wolf eliminator on the string can be customized to target these very notes by moving it to various positions on the string itself.
Wolf control seems to be more of an art than a science. It is known that putting a weight or tension on one of the strings between the bridge and tailpiece seems to help hold it in check - like a muzzle. It isn't clear exactly why this works, nor it is really clear which method is best. It also appears that the wolf eliminator doesn't necessarily have to go on the string where the wolf is the worst, although that would be the place to start.
There seem to be a handful of competing approaches. New Harmony wolf eliminators are simple cylindrical weights that have a crooked slit from the surface to the center. The slight crook in the center of the slit "locks" the eliminator onto the string. Most varieties are also cylindrical but use a straight slit with a small screw to lock it onto the string. Another version, called a Wolftoter is mounted on the strings between the bridge and tailpiece. It is made of a hollow sphere with two spring attachments, and comes in specific ranges D-E, Eb-F, and E-F#.
One concern is that wolf eliminators can dampen the tone of the cello. The discussions on CelloChat suggest that this effect can be minimized by proper placement of the suppressor (including which string and where on the string).
More to come...
[BTW, I stumbled across another cello blog this evening from Googling "wolf tone", called Metamorphosism. Another blogging cellist!]
I almost feel sorry my cello doesn't seem to have a wolf. I wonder though if one of those brass doodads would quiet down my harsh A-string and look nicer than the red rubber-band I'm currently using for that purpose.
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