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Taming the BASS WOLF

Wrestling with a wolf note? Kimon Daltasasks double bass specialists for solutions, and checks out a range of wolf eliminators

Most conversations about wolf notes focus on the cello, an instrument that is particularly prone to the phenomenon. Violinists and violists tend to only encounter wolf notes when playing in high positions on their lowest string and are usually able to overcome them by creative bowing or fingering. But double basses do suffer, and frequently their wolf notes are right in the thick of their bread-and-butter orchestral range.

what is a wolf note?

A wolf note is characterised by a juddering string which feels like it is fighting the bow and choking the note. The note will often jump into the harmonic an octave above - this yodelling effect presumably giving it its name. It is a complex acoustic phenomenon, but is essentially caused by an interaction between the main resonance of the instrument and the particular frequency of a note (see box, page 32).

Any stringed instrument has a soundbox. Think of a glass bottle: you blow across the top, and it makes a note. Add a bit of water, and the note becomes higher, because you have changed the size of its resonating chamber. A double bass is, of course, more complex than a glass bottle, and part of its construction is to mitigate its favouring one frequency above all others, with elements including its top-plate graduation, soundpost, bass-bar, bridge and tailpiece all working together to even out that sort of response.

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About The Strad

We conclude our investigation of Stradivari’s moulds and examine some radical teaching methods. Vadim Gluzman, Philip Dukes and Matthew Barley are interviewed and there’s our annual Accessories supplement, featuring carbon fibre bows, wolf eliminators, mutes and lots more.