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Wolf Tone in Ukulele

Q: I just bought an all solid wood ukulele. It sounds great but every F note is wolfy no matter where it's played. Any idea how to fix it?

Thank you,

A: A wolf tone at F means that the whole instrument is tuned to F.In violins the maker tries to tune the top and back plate a half step apart so that no one pitch will excite both plates equally. Ukes, ( and guitars) are a bigger problem because there is essentially only one vibrating plate (the top). Think of a pebble dropped into a pan of water. Waves move out from the point of entry. Then they hit the edge and bounce back crossing the other waves. Depending on the shape of the pan, there will be spots where two, three or more waves cross at the same time. The amplitudes of these crossing waves sum to make a "perfect storm" wave, or a wolftone wave.

The solution is to change the wave pattern in the top of your uke. There are radical methods. On a guitar I can reach inside with a sharp knife and change the bracing. A uke sound hole is too small, so the back would have to come off. This would be very expensive. Lets start with the simplest methods. Put in a new saddle. If you have a bone saddle, use micarda or Tusc. If you have a plastic saddle go with bone. Anything to make a change. Changing the nut might help. Changing the bridge might help. The situation in which we have the most luck is when someone brings in a guitar with a wolftone with a Tusc saddle. Tusc is a synthetic which is much more "live" than bone. If you drop a Tusc saddle on a hard surface it will ring. We replace the Tusc with bone and the problem is solved. The more rich and resonant an instrument is, the more likely it is to have wolftones. The solution is to kill it a little.

I would advise that you do further experiments to assure that you are dealing with a wolftone and not a buzz. Change the saddle and the strings. If that doesn't solve the problem, shop for a new uke. This a problem with the soul of the instrument, how it's individual pieces of wood, it's joints and parts, interact with each other. Changing the soul will be expensive. If it requires radical surgery you will quickly exceed the cost of trading it in.

Steve Mason