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Eliminating "wolf tones"

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Yukon4, Dec 27, 2006.

  1. Yukon4


    Sep 13, 2006
    Ferndale, WA
    Apparently my son's fairly new bass (Christopher hybrid) has "wolf tones" - a scratchy, funky sound that is especially pronounced on the A string. It sounded fine initially, so this is something that seems to have become more pronounced over the last several weeks. :meh:

    Will some adjustments in the bridge and perhaps tailpiece generally do the trick? Maybe the soundpost too? We'll be bringing it back to our local luthier after the holidays, but just wanted to gather as much info on the topic as possible. Thanks!
  2. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    All those things can effect and affect wolfs. That the bass has changed recently suggest the post to me. Colder weather brings drier atmosphere which can adversely affect the fit of the post.
  3. GriffithLea


    Aug 29, 2006
    Cypress, TX
    I am not a luthier, but...

    Most (all?) basses have a wolf tone to some degree or other, usually somewhere around A, and depending on how bad it is, it can be difficult to get a good attack on notes a bit above or below the wolf tone pitch . In my experience this usually translates into difficulty playing on the A string close to the fundamental. Wolf tones seem to come and go depending on temperature, humidity, phase of moon :), etc.

    You mentioned adjustments. I don't think adjustments will eliminate the wolf tone(s), just move them (which may make them more or less noticeable). That said, here are some things to check (but probably not change yourself - let a luthier do that):

    1) The bridge should be properly centered between the f-holes, and an imaginary line between the two inner notches on the f-holes should bisect the bridge feet.

    2) Looking at the front of the bass as it stands vertically (and assuming x-ray vision!), the soundpost should be located directly below the treble foot, about the same distance as the soundpost is thick. It may need to be a little bit outboard or inboard of the foot, depending on the horizontal distance of the bassbar from the bass foot.

    3) The length of the strings below the bridge are supposed to be 1/6 the length above the bridge (assuming a regular non-compensated tailpiece, see below). As you can see, it's no good checking this until you are sure you've got the bridge in the right place on the belly. I don't envy the guy who has to make sure the tailpiece wire is just the right length.

    If you'll do some searching on TalkBass, you can find several threads about wolf tone elimination. For example:


    3rd post by Don Higdon well describes the old and inexpensive way of taming a wolf, which is to add some weight to a strategic spot on the string below the bridge in order to upset the resonance that is causing the wolf in the first place. Some say this is a trade-off, that the sound of the bass suffers as a result. For my part, I'd rather have an instrument that doesn't "fart" when I try to play certain notes.

    A newer and more expensive way to eliminate wolf tones is to use a compensated tailpiece, meaning the below-bridge string lengths are varied. I have not played a bass with one of these tailpieces (yet) much less done a before-after comparison, but I've read good things about them. I intend to have one put on my Solano bass (under construction as I write). As I understand it, these tailpieces accomplish what the little weights do, i.e. minimize the unwanted resonance(s), but in a more sophisticated manner.


    Hope this helps. Wolf tones irritate me to no end.
  4. Yukon4


    Sep 13, 2006
    Ferndale, WA
    Hey thanks - very interesting and informative. I'll be sure to share this with our local luthier. We have an appt with him after the New Year's and hopefully we can get a cleaner, smoother sound.:)

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