Whistling E-string:- solution !!

Whistling E-string:- solution !!

I while ago I had a problem with a whistling E-string and put up a discussion about it. Lots of good advice,and it was enlightening to see just how many folk had/have the same problem


I was on a fiddlers weekend course with Jenna Reid and Tom McConville a little while ago, and showed Tom the problem. He tried my fiddle and sure enough, the E whistled for him too (I was relieved that it wasn’t just my c++p technique!). He produced a new E-string from his case, and said "here, try this". I did, and have not looked back - problem solved. (Tom wouldn’t even accept payment for it - he was just pleased he could help. A true gent, and great fiddler)

One of my mates had the same problem recently, now solved by using the same string. What’s the string? It’s this -


For £4.89 and next day delivery, I was really chuffed.

Re: Whistling E-string:- solution !!

Well that shows my advice not to mix and match a set to be a right pile of toss. Sorry.

Posted .

Re: Whistling E-string:- solution !!

I use a Pirastro covered E - no signs of whistling, not that I’ve ever had problems with previous Es - but it is the E string of choice that I use on both my fiddles, irrespective of what the other strings are.

Re: Whistling E-string:- solution !!

Well, llig, I agree it’s best not to mix sets, but the E string is the exception. Lots and lots of people stick with a particular E string regardless of what the other strings are. The E string is always an oddball anyway, even in the same set.

I used to have a whistling problem with gold Es. I switched to a plain E and it got better. But then I went back to a gold E and didn’t have problems anymore, so in my case it was technique.

Re: Whistling E-string:- solution !!

Like lazyhound I’ve been using that piastro wound E string and
it has suppressed most of the whistling. I can still make it
whistle if I get extra sloppy with the ol’ bowing, or if there isn’t
enough rosing on the bow.

Re: Whistling E-string:- solution !!

.. or rosin ..

Re: Whistling E-string:- solution !!

Came across this thread when looking for something else, and it seems a good place to explain what happens when an E string "whistles".

The normal side-to-side vibration of a string is known as the Helmholz mode, but there are a couple of others that can be induced, like the longitudinal whistle or screech you get on any string when you rub the rosin off it with a cloth, and of course the infamous whistle associated particularly with the E.

What happens, when you quickly slur from a fingered note on the A to the open E is that the E, being metal and of small diameter starts to vibrate torsionally (twisting about its axis), and this frequency is quite high - about 4,800 Hz, so I’ve been told. This is about 3 octaves above the open E and is higher than the top note on a concert grand piano. Sometimes the whistle is inaudible, either because your ears can’t detect that frequency for some reason or because the torsional vibration is at an even higher frequency, perhaps a harmonic. If you can’t hear the whistle - the string typically goes silent no matter how you try to bow it - it is known as "ghosting".

When the metal E is in the torsional vibration mode that mode tends to last a long time because the damping of the open E is very low, sometimes several seconds, and until the vibrations die away the normal Helmholz vibration can’t kick in. When the Helmholz does eventually kick in it happens very suddenly, almost with a bang. It seems that the Hemlholz and torsional modes don’t exist at the same time.

Knowing exactly what causes it (typically fast slurring from the A onto the open E) helps you to avoid it by changing the bow’s speed or pressure. I’ve found I can deliberately induce it on any open E-string (even the "non-whistling" variety), and this is a useful exercise when learning how to avoid it. I’ve even accidentally induced it on a fingered note (the B) on the E string when slurring loudly and fast from the D on the A, but then the damping of my fourth finger on the string limited the whistling to something a bit less than a quarter of a second, but it was certainly there.

The one kind of E where the torsional vibration doesn’t happen is a plain gut E, and this is because the gut heavily damps that kind of vibration. I know, I’ve spent 10 minutes trying to induce a whistling gut E, without success. This is useful to bear in mind if you’re using an Eudoxa A or a plain gut A (much better tone than the Eudoxa, imo).

A whistling open E can also be caused by the base of the first finger of the left hand inadvertently touching the string close to the nut, or a touch from part of another finger. Both produce a very high harmonic in the normal Helmholz mode. The solution obviously is to be aware of what the left hand fingers are doing.

Re: Whistling E-string:- solution !!

Thanks Trevor - a really comprehensive post (as usual). I notice the link in my 1st post has gone awry - the string referred to is the Thomastik Superflexible E.