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“The perfect busker’s whistle?”
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Author:  bigsciota [ Sat Jun 09, 2018 4:00 pm ]
Post subject:  “The perfect busker’s whistle?”

So says the copy for the “mezzo” (high) D whistle on the Chieftain/Kerry website. Today, I put that to the test.

Admittedly, this is a wholly unscientific experiment. But since I like to busk, I figured I’d take a chance on a whistle I could leave in the car (all-metal construction), busk on, and maybe even fend off aggressive undesirables with if it came to it (seriously, this could be used as a weapon).

I took it out to Boston Common this afternoon, a lovely day with plenty of people around thanks to the Pride parade. I’ve tried to busk there with my Killarney I the past, but the sound gets swallowed up since it’s all completely open air. The first octave is all but inaudible, and while the second octave does carry better, it is likewise hard to hear even a few steps away. It’s ironic, because what pushed me over the edge to buy a Killarney was the lovely sound a busker got out of it in Dublin, but she had the walls of a nice narrow pedestrian street to bounce her sound off of.

Anyway, back to the Chieftain. It has a much, much wider bore than the average D whistle, and is therefore much, much louder. The first octave in particular is beautiful, nice and round with enough chiff to avoid the recordery sound that Susatos (the other common “loud whistle”) are famous for. Because of the enormous amounts of breath it takes to play, you have quite a bit of leeway when it comes to fine-tuning each note, but it doesn’t need much of that anyway as the intonation seems spot on (to just temperament, so it looks slightly off in spots on your standard guitar tuner).

Did I mention the breath? Holy Jesus, Mary, and Joseph this takes a lot of air! As a flute player, I always feel like I have get rid of excess breath when I’m playing my Killarney. This whistle, on the other hand, takes just about all I’ve got and more. The second octave in particular is tricky, and quite honestly I haven’t been able to consistently hit the high B. I’m sure it’ll come with some time spent playing, though I wouldn’t recommend this whistle to anyone with breathing problems or to beginners starting out.

Because of the issues controlling the top of the second octave, I stuck mainly to tunes that hit high G and below. This cut out a good few jigs, reels, hornpipes, etc., but I soon found that they were no great loss. People seemed to respond much more to waltzes, airs, and songs (Ook Pik, the Banks of the Bann, Dublin Airport, Ar Éireann, etc.).

Overall, I was very pleased with how the whistle sounded and handled. If I can get the top notes under control, it would open up a lot more possibilities, but the real sweet spot in this whistle is the first octave. I ended up switching so many tunes that I play in G down to D to take advantage of that sweet spot, and the passers-by seemed to agree with that decision.

I would absolutely not recommend this whistle for playing in a session or really anywhere indoors. The second octave in particular is just too damn loud, and there’s not much play up top to try to finesse or soften the sound. Also, as I mentioned before, the whistle takes a lot of breath. I’ve been playing whistle for 5 years, flute for 4, and I feel like a beginner again, running out of breath in the middle of phrases I normally fly through. I haven’t had the whistle very long at all, so I’ll get used to it, but it would make a tough beginning instrument.

One last strange thing to mention is that the tuning slide gives a remarkable range. Pushed all the way in, it’s practically an Eb whistle, while pulled out it’s almost a full tone flatter. Intonation is best right in the middle in the indicated key of D, but I was surprised by just how far sharp/flat I could push it.

All in all, a lovely day spent outside in lovely weather. Takings weren’t bad either, $20 in an hour and a half. Could do better singing and playing my banjo, but after a morning of public radio pledge driving my voice was a little hoarse.

So, the “perfect busker’s whistle?” I don’t think perfect, but I do think that it was made to be played outside. So much so that I think it’d be better not to bring it in!

Author:  pancelticpiper [ Sun Jun 10, 2018 6:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: “The perfect busker’s whistle?”

Thanks for the review!

I've never busked on, or owned, a Chieftain High D. Or an Overton, or Goldie.

I've tried them all briefly, and put them back down, due to them not playing how I like high whistles to play. (I love Overton and Goldie low whistles.)

Somehow I ended up with a Susato High D which I likewise didn't care for. It sat around for years unplayed in a drawer.

Then (as I mentioned on another thread) our Irish trad trio got a series of gigs at a Theme Park, playing in a noisy outdoor environment without amplification. I broke out that Susato due to it being by far the loudest whistle I owned.

It required more force and volume of air than my usual High Ds but it wasn't too bad, and I got used to giving high B enough support.

It wasn't nearly as nimble as my usual whistles but I got used to forcing it to make the jumps the tunes required.

But being all-plastic the Susato doesn't meet your being-in-a-hot-car requirement.

Author:  bigsciota [ Mon Jun 11, 2018 11:09 am ]
Post subject:  Re: “The perfect busker’s whistle?”

pancelticpiper wrote:
Thanks for the review!

I've never busked on, or owned, a Chieftain High D. Or an Overton, or Goldie.

I've tried them all briefly, and put them back down, due to them not playing how I like high whistles to play. (I love Overton and Goldie low whistles.)

Honestly, if I had played this one in a shop, I would have felt the same way. It plays very differently from my Killarney, and I would generally prefer the Killarney. However, the benefits of having a really loud, full 1st octave more than make up for the fact that I have to change my style to suit the instrument. I'd say it's a much more specialized tool than other whistles- if you need the volume, it's great to have, but not as a primary option for session-going. You Susato sounds like it fits a similar niche.

pancelticpiper wrote:
But being all-plastic the Susato doesn't meet your being-in-a-hot-car requirement.

Yeah, looked into Susatos, but the key for me is being able to keep it in the car and have it around constantly. Had some issues with ABS instruments warping in heat in the past, so metal it is.

Author:  JoFo [ Tue Jun 12, 2018 11:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: “The perfect busker’s whistle?”

Both the Chieftain Mezzo high D and the Chieftain Custom (wood body) are very, very loud whistles. I seriously doubt there are any louder ones around.

I find they are very useful in louder band gigs, where you need to be able to hear yourself.

There is a slight tweak that can be done to make the high B easier to play. But it might be slightly risky. It's lowering the very edge of the toungue slightly (with a hard, flat object). This will make it take a little less air, too.
But, there is a slight risk involved...

Author:  jim stone [ Wed Jun 13, 2018 11:08 am ]
Post subject:  Re: “The perfect busker’s whistle?”

Having busked a lot on whistles I came to the conclusion that the best whistle for busking
is a transverse flute, especially in Bb, A, or G. They project very well, including the first octave, and are quite expressive. FWIW.

Author:  seanpmoran [ Wed Jun 13, 2018 11:17 am ]
Post subject:  Re: “The perfect busker’s whistle?”

Another vote for Bb. A high D is grand for jigs, reels and so on ... but a Bb is better for a wider repertoire. Especially a wide bore McManus blackwood. Plenty of volume (even in the lower octave) but not too shrill.

Author:  bigsciota [ Sun Jul 15, 2018 6:30 am ]
Post subject:  Re: “The perfect busker’s whistle?”

Just as an update, I've been out busking with the whistle a fews times since, and am slowly getting to grips with both the breath required and consistently hitting the high B. To give a sense of the actual sound of the whistle outside, here's a clip of me busking, with the phone placed about 6 feet away on the bench I was sitting on:

Starts out with Hector the Hero, both in air and quasi-waltz form, before going into a couple of jigs at around 3:10. One thing I notice upon listening back is that I'm taking much more frequent breaths than I would on my Killarney (and for that matter on my flute), which proves problematic rhythmically more than a few times. What's interesting is that the whistle sounds much more shrill/harsh to the player than it does even a few feet away, and I think it acquits itself nicely on the recording. Now, if only it had a decent player!

Author:  bigsciota [ Wed Sep 12, 2018 4:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: “The perfect busker’s whistle?”

An update to this post, as I have found that Chieftain does indeed make close to the perfect busking whistle, but it is not the one in question!

I found the upper stretch of the second octave just too shrill for me, so I sold it on and bought a non-tunable Chieftain Bb on the C&F UIE. It is a wonderful instrument which sacrifices a bit of the volume of the D but gains a much nicer tone in the top of the range. Still a full and fairly loud bottom of the range, which I was impressed with in the D. It actually plays and sounds very much like a louder version of the Generation Bb I own and love, which is a plus in my book.

I've taken it out busking a few times and been very pleased with it. Its first run was on Patrick St. in Cork, and a passer-by complimented me on its tone and noted that they could hear me clearly from a good distance (~60 yards) away. That's just about as far as you'd really want to be heard in a busking setting; any more and you're just being annoying! It also saw some use at a farmer's market, where the closer quarters would have made the upper ranges of the D a bit unbearable.

The only significant drawback for me is the size. A D whistle just about fits into a standard men's front pants pocket, whereas a Bb sticks out quite awkwardly. Not the best if you're going to be ambling around town, but if you're going to have a backpack with you anyway, not a fatal flaw. The whistle is also a little sharp of standard pitch, which doesn't matter much to me because I won't really be using this to play with others. However, this is the third non-tunable Chieftain that I've come into contact with, and the third that is not quite on pitch at room temperature, so I'd be a little concerned about tuning issues if I wanted a session or band instrument. The internal tuning is good, nothing to complain about there.

So, in conclusion, I think Phil Hardy should change around some of the wording on his site. I'd definitely recommend this one as a busking whistle.

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