Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Violin Open E String Whistling Problem (Part 1)

One of the most frustrating problems for violinists is the whistling E string. You play on the D string and when you cross over to the open E, it whistles with an annoying high frequency squeal. Or you play a chord in Bach and the open E string whistles.

This whistling is not due to poor bowing technique: I have heard the best violinists in the world whistle their open E-strings.

The whistling open E string is caused by the string vibrating in a torsional (twisting) motion rather than the normal Helmholtz (transverse or sideways) motion. The torsional vibration frequency for an unwound plain steel E-string is approximately 4,800 Hz (an open E is 660 Hz), and independent of the diameter of the string or the tuning. The torsional damping (damping is how quickly the vibrations die away) is extremely low, so once the string starts to vibrate torsionally, it does not want to stop very quickly. Your finger tip provides very high damping, and that is why the whistling does not occur with stopped notes. (Stopped notes can still squeak due to low string damping and poor bow technique, but that phenomena is generally not due to torsional behavior.)

The lower strings don’t have whistling problems because the windings provide extremely high torsional damping. That is why a wound E-string (for example our Helicore H311W) is more whistle resistant than plain E-strings. We also add a damping compound to our wound E-strings which increases torsional damping. For the ultimate whistle-proof E-string, try our Kaplan Solutions Non-Whistling E string (KS311W 4/4M). In addition to the winding and added damping compound, it uses a stranded steel core, which lowers the torsional frequency and further increases torsional damping.

The Kaplan Solutions Non-whistling E-string is also very sweet sounding compared to solid steel E-strings, yet has plenty of power due to its high playing tension, comparable to heavy tension solid steel E-strings. The string has a solid ball-end, which cannot be removed, so we include an adapter which allows it to be used with common hook type fine tuners.

In part 2, I will discuss why it is so difficult to prevent an E string from whistling.


  1. At last an explanation! I thought it was a fault with my bowing. Will try kaplan string immediately x