As winter’s grip loosens and my fingers unfreeze from the computer keyboard, it is time to freshen up my cello’s sound and the cellos here at the shop. I feel like every cello gets in a rut at some point, although that could be the cellist too, and needs a spring makeover. Fresh strings make a difference, depending on how much you play, buying strings every 6 months to a year is important. You will be amazed how much clarity and power can be gained from your instrument when the strings are not dead. I am currently a huge fan of Larsen Soloist A and D and Kaplan (D’Addario) G and C. I love the ease of play, the growl y, clear and powerful G and C and the warmth of the Larsen A and D. My cello is bright so this combination helps create the warmth I am looking for.
Many times I have had customers come in and say their A string is too bright. That seems to be a common theme among st cellists. My go to string is usually a Larsen, sometimes I will also use a Jargar medium A as well. The Larsen has a warm full sound, The Jargar has a warm sound but thinner sounding to me then the Larsen. I rarely use Helicore or Kaplan A stings just because they tend to be bright.
C strings to me are most important, I love a full powerful C. I want a sound that vibrates your gut. I used to use Spirocore Tungsten G and C. Many prominent cellists use this combination with Larsen A and D. The Spirocore strings are thicker and have a grainy sound for the first couple of weeks. I feel like the break in time is too long and once they are broken in then it is time to replace them. When we are setting up cellos for sale we have to use strings that don’t take a long time to break in since no body wants to try to imagine what the cello will sound like in the future, it needs to sound perfect now! I also found that playing pianissimo was hard and I was missing the clear tone I was looking for.
Trying strings is expensive so unless you have string companies sponsoring your habit I would suggest trying 2 at a time. If you are unhappy with your C string then try different G and C strings from the same company. It is important to remember to keep the tension balanced on your cello so don’t try a high tension C string like Spirocore then put on a low tension G like Obligato, you will probably end up with a wolfy unbalanced cello. If you use 2 of a kind you have a better chance of keeping the cellos equilibrium and balance.
The other important item to have checked is sound post position, which can be adjusted to bring out either lower end or the upper end of the instrument if the cello tends to be a little weak in a particular area.
Again these are just musings of a Cello Whisperer. Play well and love cello.
Now that you have read or “skimmed” the science and your head is spinning! Let’s talk about what I do when I work on a Wolf-y cello.
First I check for open edges or open cracks. Sick cellos wolf particularly bad and can cause a cello that either normally doesn’t wolf or has a slight wolf to become a -Werewolf.
Next I check the sound post, is it in the correct location? Is it too short? Can it be adjusted towards either the bass or treble side to fix the wolf?
If all is well then it is time for wolf adjustment. Almost all good carved cellos have wolves. Most cellist learn how to deal with their particular cello and its quirks, my cello for instance wolfs differently depending on the season or humidity. Seasonally it wolfs on an f# or an f natural and I know that I should not start Bach Prelude to Suite No. 2 in fourth position in the winter but in the summer it”s fine.
If your wolf is not terrible- by this I mean not always wolf-y, I start with a single hole Tourte mute placed between the G and D strings between the tailpiece and the bridge. While I am making your cello wolf , I adjust the position of the mute working to move the wolf between pitches so it will not be played. With a wolf I try a less is more approach and do the up most to not dampen the sound of the cello.
Still wolf-y ? There are Wolf eliminators in different weights made of brass, I use the New Harmony. They range in 3 to 13 grams. They slip on the string without the rubber insert and are easy to move around. Starting with the least amount of weight and on the G string in 4th position I try to move the wolf between pitches. Usually cellos wolf between D to G so the goal is to make the wolf manageable and not as noticeable. You cannot eliminate a wolf, so not sure why the name! but you can get it under control.
Still wolf-y? Time to bring out the big guns! There is a magnetic wolf eliminator by Krentz that goes on the inside and outside of your cello. This should be installed by someone who knows what they are doing, like me! as it involves one person playing and another person moving it around or someone to tap on your cello to find the sweet spot. Another alternative is an internal wolf eliminator. Goetz makes them. They are tuned so you have to pick the one that has the range your cello wolfs in. I have one in my cello and for the most part it does a great job. Again I would have someone install it as it goes inside on the top of your cello and involves finding the right spot. I have used these in conjunction with the brass eliminators when the wolf is a Werewolf.
So have no fear my cello friends, wolfs can be tamed.
Happy Cello ing
There is probably not a singularly more common nor perplexing problem than a “wolf on my cello”. I work with various cellos and cellists on their “wolves” almost every week. There are thousands of wolves I have tried to tame!
There are a ton of myths, legends and misconceptions about wolfs. In this blog, let’s talk science. While we want the facts, we don’t want them to get in the way of the “truth”. Later I’ll talk about the realities and how wolves operate in the real world.
Here are some excerpts of articles I have found on the web and in string articles.
A “Wolf tone” is the tendency of a musical instrument to respond at greater amplitude when the frequency of its oscillations matches the system’s natural frequency of vibration (its resonance frequency or resonant frequency) than it does at other frequencies. It may cause violent pitch swaying motions —a phenomenon known as resonance disaster. (We are sure some cellists feel their wolf is a “resonance disaster!)
Some cellos have more than one resonance frequency, particularly at harmonics (multiples) of the strongest resonance. It will vibrate easily at those frequencies, and less so at other frequencies. It will “pick out” its resonance frequency from a complex excitation, such as an impulse or a wideband noise excitation. In effect, it is filtering out all frequencies other than its resonance. In the example above, the swing cannot easily be excited by harmonic frequencies, but can be excited by subharmonics.
- Excerpted from Strings Magazine
- What Is a Wolf, Anyway?
- Instrument maker Chris Dungey describes the wolf as “a result of the instability between the vibration of the body of the cello and the vibration of the affected string, which then serve to cancel each other out. The note has barely begun to sound when it disappears. This is repeated, resulting in a stuttering sound. The wolf note is mainly found on the lower strings of the cello. Not the result of a basic structural failure, a faulty repair job, or a misplaced soundpost, it’s characteristic of the instrument. Every properly proportioned cello has a wolf note.”
- The process of amplifying the sound of the string through the body of the instrument is imperfect, and can interfere with ideal sound production. Seattle-based maker David Van Zandt says, “In a wolf tone, the air volume and the top, or the air volume and the back, want to cancel each other out. If there are two sound waves going up and down in sync the sound will be twice as loud. However, if the sound waves get slightly out of sync, the wolf note appears—the sound gets louder for a bit and then the waves cancel each other out. There is so much energy when the two notes are slightly out—so at the top of a sound wave the pitch goes up, and at the bottom it goes down.”
- Fan Tao of D’Addario Strings mentions that better-sounding instruments tend to have stronger wolf tones. “There is some truth to the belief that good-sounding cellos and wolf tones go together. Powerful resonances are required for good-sounding cellos, but they also increase the likelihood of wolf tones.”
OK… so much for the science, my head hurts! In my next post, we’ll find out what to do to chase “The Big Bad Wolf!”
I am not sure when it began, or even who started calling me that, but the moniker seem to fit. “The Cello Whisperer”. I guess working at a violin shop and being a cellist, it makes sense. But how it came to pass that people would bring me there poor and ailing cellos and say, “Please fix him for me!” is still a bit of a mystery.
Wolfs, buzzes, openings, stuffiness, brightness, and a myriad of other concerns became part of my daily lexicon. Working with our fine luthiers here, we prod, explore, say some secret incantations and do what we can to cure the cello’s ills. (I am not serious about the secret incantations…. or am I?)
While it isn’t magic, it kinda is. “If you meet the cello Buddha along the side of the road, kill the Buddha.” So when I hear those prognosticators say things like: “Every cello needs a _____ ” or, “You should always use ______ to make your cello sound better.” Or any of the other thousands of things that “they” say about cellos, I just listen and play. Each cello responds to each person, each situation, each nuance, each change, in unique and interesting ways. So what works on one cello and for one cellist, may not (and probably will not) work for the next.
So I have become the Cello Whisperer. Listening, coaxing, pleading, cajoling cellos to behave and perform their best.