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Thread: mandolin wolf tone?

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    Default mandolin wolf tone?

    A friend just bought an Eastman mandolin and are very happy with it's brightness and loudness.

    But they are bothered by "extra sounds" coming out of it. Sure enough, "extra sounds" are not just in our ears, we see them on a frequency spectrum analyzer (i.e. "spectral audio analyzer" app from radonsoft).

    For example, we finger the E string at the 5th fret. We pluck the string and hear and see the A note on the frequency analyzer. We release/mute the string and hear and see the A note stop, while the extra sound continues for a few more seconds, frequency is very close to the A note.

    This extra sound does not come from the string stubs at the nut or the string stubs at the tail piece. It seems to come from the sound hole. It is not loud enough to be heard by listeners but is just about loud enough to bother the player.

    Is this the famous mandolin "wolf tone"? Is there a way to get rid of it? (other than calling Eastman "your mandolin is too bright, please send us a dull one!"). (never seen anything like this on any of my own mandolins, I guess like myself, they are not bright enough).

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: mandolin wolf tone?

    "A" being the 4th harmonic of "E" it is no surprise that you can pick up that note with the spectral audio analyzer, or even a simple strobe tuner ap or whatever when plucking the string. After damping the string the "A" note could be coming from the other strings, particular the "A" string, or perhaps harmonics from other strings.
    If you stop all of the strings after picking the note is the harmonic still there? If not then the sound is coming from the other strings and it's normal.
    BTW, because of equal temperament, 4th and 5th harmonic notes will not be exactly the same pitch as the notes of the scale but octave harmonics will, so that can be a clue as to where the sound is originating. Also, the intonation of the mandolin makes a difference, and can be affected by nut position, nut height, string type and gauges, bridge position, fret position and so forth.
    As is so often said here and elsewhere, a good set up from a competent person will likely take care of it or at the least help diagnose it.

    Wolf notes manifest differently in mandolins than in violins because of the ability to sustain notes with a bow vs plucking the strings. A wolf note on a mandolin will normally appear as a note that is not as loud as the other notes because something is resonating near the frequency of that note and stealing energy from the string. From your description it doesn't sound to me like that is what is going on.
    For wolf notes, applying mass to the top and or back to lower the frequency of vibratory modes can sometimes relieve the problem, but it takes experimentation with placement.

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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: mandolin wolf tone?

    If you are playing the E string at 5th fret you are getting a high A Note at 880 HZ (an octave above the open A 2nd string) if your intonation is accurate on your instrument. When you mute/release that note the mandolin will be vibrating the open A as a sympathetic tone. You say the frequency of this ghost note is very close to the A note. A note picked and held anywhere will cause sympathetic vibrations on other strings with related frequencies. Those "extra" notes add to the particular sound of your instrument.

    Here is a link to some discussion from back in February 2015 on Wolf Tones. https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...3729-Wolf-note
    I'm playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. - Eric Morecambe

    http://www.youtube.com/user/TheOldBores

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    Default Re: mandolin wolf tone?

    An A on the E string also resonates the open A which can continue to sound its harmonic, so I hope you have a better example, or indicate that when you mute the E, you also mute all the strings.
    A wolf tone is supposedto be an interaction with the played note and a body structure resonant frequency, producing a distorted combined sound. Larger instruments more prone.
    But the question raises an interesting couple of other issues about the production of sound in cavities with elastic boundaries, which I’m sure have been studied.

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    Default Re: mandolin wolf tone?

    Thank you for all the replies.

    1) "it's the other strings" : I am pretty sure we muted the other strings but I will recheck. the ghost tone is slightly off from the open-A frequency.
    2) "setup" : setup from the factory is pretty good, bridge position and intonation are correct. action at the nut can come down a bit and neck relief needs small adjustment (there is a truss rod). both mandolin luthier experts in town (vancouver bc), are quite busy and have long wait time (weeks, months). this mandolin will visit them sooner or later.
    3) "applying mass to the top and or back" : assuming it is an unwanted body resonance, would this only shift the frequency or kill it completely? the physics can go both ways. if frequency is shifted to exact A 440/880 Hz the owner may be happy (until they play tunes in Bflat). I am not sure how much experience our local experts have with such problems.

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    Default Re: mandolin wolf tone?

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocello8 View Post
    Thank you for all the replies.

    1) "it's the other strings" : I am pretty sure we muted the other strings but I will recheck. the ghost tone is slightly off from the open-A frequency.
    2) "setup" : setup from the factory is pretty good, bridge position and intonation are correct. action at the nut can come down a bit and neck relief needs small adjustment (there is a truss rod). both mandolin luthier experts in town (vancouver bc), are quite busy and have long wait time (weeks, months). this mandolin will visit them sooner or later.
    3) "applying mass to the top and or back" : assuming it is an unwanted body resonance, would this only shift the frequency or kill it completely? the physics can go both ways. if frequency is shifted to exact A 440/880 Hz the owner may be happy (until they play tunes in Bflat). I am not sure how much experience our local experts have with such problems.
    Roll up a piece of tissue and weave it through the strings between the bridge and the tailpiece. If the sounds go away and I do believe they will then you can replace that with a piece of leather or the small rubber grommets or a Weber Woodnymph. It's not unusual. Gibson has placed a strip of leather or felt under the strings at the tailpiece for years.
    Last edited by MikeEdgerton; Aug-02-2022 at 5:45pm.
    "It's comparable to playing a cheese slicer."
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    Default Re: mandolin wolf tone?

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocello8 View Post
    ...the ghost tone is slightly off from the open-A frequency.
    That indicates that it may not be the "A" string because it should be exactly "A". It could possibly be a harmonic of the "D" string.



    Quote Originally Posted by mandocello8 View Post
    "applying mass to the top and or back" : assuming it is an unwanted body resonance, would this only shift the frequency or kill it completely? the physics can go both ways. if frequency is shifted to exact A 440/880 Hz the owner may be happy (until they play tunes in Bflat). I am not sure how much experience our local experts have with such problems.
    Added mass, properly placed, can lower the resonant frequency of a plate mode and not "kill it completely". If a plate mode is near "A" that will make it further from "A", and that is what you want. You don't want exactly A440/880. That causes the body to steal energy from the strings so the loudness of "A" is reduced.
    When and if added mass clears up wolf notes in violin family instruments, reducing the thickness of the plate in the same area also lowers the frequency of the body mode (by reducing stiffness) so the wolf is fixed.

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    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: mandolin wolf tone?

    I think of changing the plate thickness as a last option and one only to be done by a highly skilled luthier. I know of many amateur attempts to do this that resulted in a worse wolftone but on a different note.

    With violin family instruments, tuning the afterlength, changing the mass of the fittings, and removing material from the underside of the fingerboard tend to be much easier ways to "remove" a wolftone. Often it is more that we shift the note to something in the less common range so it does not show up as readily.

    With fretted instruments, what is often called a wolftone is the %$#@'d truss rod rattling....

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    Default Re: mandolin wolf tone?

    Quote Originally Posted by j. condino View Post
    With fretted instruments, what is often called a wolftone is the %$#@'d truss rod rattling....
    Haha, and now we have clip on tuners as well to worry about... mine buzzes on a G, so I have to be certain to take it off before checking an instrument for issues!

    Oh and tail-piece covers, once had a long skype session with a customer trying to figure out the cause of a buzz... turned out the tail piece cover had come loose in the post

    Basically pretty much every part of the instrument can either buzz, hum, or grate along. Which reminds me: also check the string after-lengths where they come out of the tuners. If they're not cut short they absolutely do make a noise... I have a particular bete-noire for guitar players who coil the excess strings up into a loop, and then ask me about a buzz.... and all I can hear is those string-loops humming away!

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    Default Re: mandolin wolf tone?

    Learn to live with the buzz. Recent Rhode Island luthier creation.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: mandolin wolf tone?

    I suspect that the OP is actually dealing with harmonic overtones.
    "It's comparable to playing a cheese slicer."
    --M. Stillion

    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"
    --J. Garber

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    Default Re: mandolin wolf tone?

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    I suspect that the OP is actually dealing with harmonic overtones.
    i am pretty sure it is coming not from the strings but from an unwanted resonance in the body. i hope to see this mandolin again this week to confirm.

    however, it did not occur to me to check for loose truss rod, as suggested here. the neck does have a slight forward bow, so the truss rod could be at zero tension or loose.

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    Default Re: mandolin wolf tone?

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    I suspect that the OP is actually dealing with harmonic overtones.
    I agree, and I went off topic!

    However, it is always worth checking for "loose stuff that vibrates" none the less.

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    Default Re: mandolin wolf tone?

    I have had a truss rod vibrate, even tight, in a guitar. It's hard to tell where it is coming from as the buzz travels with it's sound. It was more of a buzz tho and not a wolf tone, so I think harmonic overtones may be spot on.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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    Default Re: mandolin wolf tone?

    OP here. I had a chance for a quick look at the problem mandolin. The humidity has gone up (it was even raining when we were looking at the mandolin), and owner says that the wolf tone diminished, almost disappeared.

    we did not have a small screw driver to open the truss rod cover and check the truss rod.

    we did check for vibrations in other strings, and sure enough, there was some ringing in the tail piece stub end. frequency quite different from wolf tone frequency. owner knows how to kill it.

    my conclusion is that there is an unwanted resonance in the body. change of humidity adds/removes mass of vibrating wood makes this resonance go away. as explained by others.

    this mandolin will eventually go for a better setup to a good luthier, it will be interesting if he will see this wolf tone and suggests something to do about it.

    this is the first time I saw this problem and it was interesting to investigate it and to read all the helpful information posted here.

    thank you, all.

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    Default Re: mandolin wolf tone?

    Some more info: mandolin is Eastman MD304, factory setup ok, plays nicely, very bright, owner is happy.

    Wolf tone business. According to owner, it comes and goes with humidity. Actually there is at least 3 things going on:
    1) tail piece stubs resonate, the pads to dampen them are present, but installed incorrectly: strings make contact with metal tail piece. (owner will fix it).
    2) our test of high A (E string 5th fret) indeed resonates a high harmonic on the open A string, as predicted by other responders.
    3) original mystery wolf tone (owner attended Lark Camp Online and they think Marla Fibish Gibson A has similar wolf tones. good hearing, blessing or curse?) (my Gibson A4 has no wolf tones. I clean my ears yearly).

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    Default Re: mandolin wolf tone?

    Super topic! While wolf tone (or wolf note) is a good description, you are probably hearing the result of a sympathetic vibration – or sympathetic energy – rather than a wolf tone. As Sunburst pointed out, a wolf note is typically generated in a bowed instrument whose strings are being constantly driven by a bow. (The continuous interaction between the pitch of the air chamber, and the pitch of a string is what causes a wolf note.) In your case, something on the instrument – the fingerrest (if you have one), the tailpiece, the soundboard or backboard, loose truss rod, one of the tone bars, etc. – is being excited by a frequency – the A in your case – and vibrates in sympathy with the note being played (thus the term “sympathetic vibration”). And, as Sunburst also pointed out, the closer that part is to concert pitch – since your strings are probably tuned to concert pitch – the more prone it is to producing an audible tone. For example, if the note your string is producing is an A440 and your fingerrest happens to have a resonant frequency of A440, then it will vibrate in unison (sympathy) with the string – or you might say, because of the string. Further, if the fingerrest is tuned to an A443, for example, then you will hear what sounds like an echo (possibly your wolf note) because the fingerrest will respond at almost the same frequency as the string and produce what sounds like an echo. The seeming echo you hear will be "beats" – the difference between the A440 of your strings and the A443 of the fingerrest – a difference of 3Hz – and you will hear 3 pulses or beats per second.

    If the guilty part of the structure was tuned a quarter tone off, we wouldn’t have the problem of sympathetic vibrations because beats are no longer audible to the human ear when the frequencies are about 12-15 cents apart. (Much of this falls under the very interesting subject of tap tuning.)
    Roger

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    Default Re: mandolin wolf tone?

    A good friend (who is also a MC reader/contributor) suggested that I post more on the topic of wolf notes and possibly add some audio tracks so you could hear what wolf notes are. Searching through YouTube I couldn't find anything there on wolf notes to point to - so I prepared the following video; hope it is interesting to those of you interested in the topic.
    Roger


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