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PostPosted: Sat Apr 04, 2020 1:54 pm 
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Joined: Sun Mar 20, 2011 6:39 am
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Location: Northwest Indiana
Hello all! It's been several years since I was active on the Chiffboards: working, raising kids...I've stayed busy. Life is good! I never stopped playing whistles, but now our present world crisis and stay-at-home orders have given me the extra bit of time to log back on and take a look around. It's good to be back in the neighborhood! If only the circumstances were better...

So the last time I looked at the MK whistles website, the low D and low F had both existed for years and years, and I'd bought one of each, and the mezzo A had just barely launched. I happened to look back again just recently, and their catalog of keys has exploded: G, low E, low C--even Ab and F#!, which I wouldn't have believed Misha would ever get around to, given how long it took to get the mezzo A out into the world.

I'm curious about the new keys, particularly the low C and G, but also the E and the A. I love both my MK whistles; they're two of my favorite musical instruments ever. With that said, when I initially received the F, I was surprised at how differently it behaved from the D.

That leads me to my question for those of you who have tried them: how are the new keys? How do they compare to the D and the F (in terms of tone, tuning, ergonomics, breath requirements, volume, cross-fingerings, whatever you notice)?

To get the ball rolling, I'll share below the detailed review of the MK Pro low D and low F that I had meant to write and post to the Chiffboards years ago, before my life got so busy. (I apologize for the lengthy post--I guess I'm trying to make up for having been away!) I also made sample recordings of both of them, where you can compare them to each other, and also to some of the other whistles I've been lucky enough to buy, build, or catch on whistle tours over the years. On each recording, I play the air Barbara Allen, to give a sense of tone and tuning through the standard range; the hornpipe Bantry Bay, to give a sense of the cross-fingered C natural and how the instrument responds to tonguing and finger ornaments, and the reel The Trip to Durrow, to give a sense of...well, how the whistle holds up to playing a reel. You can find those recordings here: https://app.box.com/s/h0mga65i0tebv9fswch6


MK Pro low D review

The first impression is, of course, the visual appearance of the instrument. MK whistles are, IMO, the most visually attractive and stylish whistles in the world. The anodized finish in your choice of several striking colors makes the instruments stand out. I got the D in matte black. The holes are in-line and on the smallish side for a low D, but they're still large and far apart. Using the piper's grip, I can cover them comfortably, although my lower hand starts to get uncomfortable if I play for hours at a time, like I tend to do whenever I can.

Lots of people have commented on the tone of MK whistles on this forum. They have an assertive, gritty, smoky-yet-focused texture to them that's unique and interesting. I can easily see some people finding them to be too smoky, or just plain too loud. Personally, I think they sound great--particularly in noisier environments. The MK blends very well into a pub session, and does not get lost in the mix. Interestingly, the MK achieves this volume without requiring three lungs to play: it's actually one of the more air-efficient low Ds I've tried. Backpressure is fairly modest.

After an initial adjustment period, I consider the MK Pro low D to be extremely well-tuned to equal temperament, but it does have a couple of quirks. The octaves are fairly wide, in general: you blow the lower octave (from about G and up) pretty strongly, and you blow the upper octave (below A) fairly gently to bring them into tune with each other. This is actually great: it means that the instrument is pretty well balanced in terms of volume. In a session, I hear myself over everyone else when I'm playing high A and B, and the rest of the time I feel like I'm matching the volume of the flutes and fiddles. However, the Es and As have octaves that are just a little narrower than the rest. That means that I have to go easy on the low E, or it will come out sharp, and I have to give high A a little extra push to bring it up to pitch. With practice, this has become automatic and effortless. The low C# tends flat and needs to be pushed up, which is common in low whistles. The upside of this is that the cross-fingered Cnat is very good; more on that in a minute.

I've heard on this forum that MK low Ds can vary slightly in regards to the tuning of the bell note, the Ds. I've personally only tried one, my own, which I acquired in 2012; maybe they've changed the design slightly since then. On my MK, the middle D tends sharp. If I remember to go very easy on it, it can be played in tune with the rest of the scale, but it's not ideal to have to back off on the D when I'm blowing extra hard to bring up the C#, just a semitone below. I eventually ended up making a 1mm thick ring of thin-walled PVC, cutting out a section so it was C-shaped, and inserting it into the bell of my MK D, which flattens the pitch of the bell note, more so in the second octave. That brings the middle D into great tuning with the notes around it, and allows me to push the bottom D to its breaking point without it going sharp--a win-win for my playing style.

Cross-fingerings, half-holings, and extended high range: Another way that the MK Pro low D stands out from most other makes is that it is unusually well-suited for players who use lots of cross-fingerings (like I do). It has a low G# XXO XXX that is completely usable in fast passages. With a slight dip in breath pressure, it works okay in slower pieces, too, though the half-holing has a better tone. High G# XXO XOX has great tone and tuning. Low Bb can be played with either XOX XXO or XOX XXX; the first is a smidge sharp and the second is a smidge flat of ET. Personally I use XOX XX/. High Bb with XOX OOO, easy on the breath pressure, works great. The MK low D has the flattest cross-fingered Cnat of any whistle I've ever tried: OXX OOO comes out just at pitch, without any drop in breath pressure. OXO XXX is a tad sharper but has a nicer tone, less muffled and more plaintive. XXX OXX for high Fnat gives a note that's a smidge sharp of JI, so noticeably sharp of ET. I've never really used it, preferring the half-holed Fnat. High Cnat with OXO XXX is a smidge flat. It can be sharpened by venting the bottom hole, OXO XX/, my preferred fingering; or by opening B2, OXO XOX, which gives good tone and pitch but is finicky about being slurred into. High C# is best played with OOO XXO, as far as I can tell; closing B1 and B2 helps bring it up to pitch. High D with OXX OOO is a smidge sharp; shading T1, /XX OOO, helps with that. Similarly, 3rd octave E can be had with XXO XXO, but it's a bit sharp; shading T3, XX/ XXO, helps with this. All the notes high A and above are quite loud. Again, the MK D has holes on the smallish side for a low D, and that's what contributes to its unusually good cross-fingerings, but it also means that its highest range won't be as fluid or as tuneful as that of a whistle with much larger holes, like a Reviol, for example.

Summing up, the MK low D isn't perfect--but it's the best overall product, the best set of compromises, of any low D whistle I've ever tried, including Burke, Reyburn, Bracker, Reviol, and Chieftain (but not Goldie). If I had to keep only one musical instrument, this would be it. A+!


MK Pro low F

Rather than repeat myself a lot about the F, I'm going to mostly compare and contrast it with the D. Visually it's the same: anodized aluminum finish, bare aluminum labium, brass tuning slide. The MK Pro low F in matte green is the prettiest-looking whistle I've ever owned or even seen, IMO. Because it's an F, a smaller instrument, the hole spacing is much more comfortable. With piper's grip, it's no problem for me to play it indefinitely.

The MK F's tone is nearly identical to the D's: assertive, smoky/gravelly, but not at all unfocused. If anything, the F is a smidge louder and more assertive than the D, which is fine but isn't something I was hoping for. It responds quite similarly in terms of breath pressure, backpressure, tonguing, slurring, etc.

The F is tuned differently from the D. Thanks to its shorter scale, the F's holes can be placed closer to their acoustically correct positions without stretching your fingers too far. Also, the F whistle is built on a narrower tube than the D, but on average its holes aren't any smaller. Consequently, the F has none of the tuning quirks that I mentioned about the D. In fact, the MK F has a home scale that is basically perfect: no need to humor a note anywhere by blowing it harder or softer than its neighbors to get it into good equal temperament tuning. The octaves are tuned quite wide; you need to blow the lower octave notes quite strongly to bring them up to pitch, and the higher notes just barely above the breaking point to keep them from going sharp. This makes for a whistle that's pretty well-balanced in terms of volume (loud everywhere), but doesn't give as much room for expressive pitch-bending on the high notes.

Cross-fingerings, half-holings, and extended high range: the MK F has a more accurate natural scale than the low D, and is a tad more assertive in its volume. The downside is that the MK F doesn't fare as well in terms of cross-fingerings and extended high range. XXO XXX for low Bnat (G# in D terminology) is way too sharp. As on the low D, XOX XX/ gives the best pitch for first octave Db (Bb on a D), though XOX XXO and backing off a little on the breath pressure works fine too. For Eb (Cnat), the MK F works best with both the standards: OXX OOO and OXX XOO. They're very close to each other in pitch, so either one can work fine. The OXO XXX fingering which works so well on the low D is IMO too sharp to be useful on the F. XXX OXX gives a perfect JI second octave Ab (Fnat), close enough to ET to be useful, although I haven't used it myself. For high Bnat (G#), XXO XOX is way too sharp and XXO XXO is way too flat. You either have to half-hole it or use XXO X/O. XOX OOO for high Db (Bb) works great. For high Eb (Cnat), OXO XXX and a small increase in breath pressure works fine, or you can shade B3 to even out the pitch: OXO XX/. High Enat (C#) works fine with OOO OOO, but OOO XXX makes it speak a tad cleaner without really changing the pitch. OXX OOO for third octave F (D) screams and is sharp; shade most of T1 to bring it down and clean up the tone. Similarly, XXO XXO for third octave G (E) is sharp, loud, and shrill; shading B3 helps with the tuning, if not the other things. Again, this instrument was built to play well and fairly aggressively through the standard range up to second octave XOO OOO; it's not the instrument for light, sweet highest notes.


In summing up, I've learned to love the MK Pro low F on its own terms, for what it is and what it does best, rather than what I had assumed it would be based on my experience with the low D. And...that leads me back to my original question: those of you who have tried the newer keys of MK whistles, how do they compare? How do you like the new ones? Do you notice any consistent difference between newer MKs and older MKs? There's no need to give a long, rambling review like I've done; any feedback would be appreciated. Thanks!


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 04, 2020 5:31 pm 
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What nice insightful thoughtful reviews!

My only experience is with the Low Ds, it's nice to hear a detailed analysis of the F.

About the tuning on the MK Low D, as I had mentioned a while back I've owned a half-dozen different MK Low Ds due to me picking one up whenever a used one was available at a good price.

The octave tuning was just as you mention, a slightly sharp 2nd octave, which was easy to get accustomed to, and led to a better volume balance than most other Low Ds. However I don't recall any issues with E or A, I remember getting a well in-tune scale in both octaves from all six MK Low Ds.

The one tuning quirk was as you mention Bottom D v Middle D.

I found that the six MKs were divided into two camps regarding the Ds.

Some had an in-tune Bottom D and a sharp Middle D. Yours appears to have been made like that.

Others had an in-tune Middle D but a flat Bottom D.

I take this to mean that Misha was experimenting with different ways to deal with the fact that his design has a built-in pitch differential between Bottom D and Middle D.

Since a sharp Middle D won't work for me (I like to lean into Middle D sometimes) the MK Low D I settled on, and played for a few years, was one of the ones with a great in-tune Middle D and a rather flat Bottom D. That MK had a very special voicing: it had a stronger bellnote yet a sweeter 2nd octave than the others.

Even so, I eventually concluded that the bellnote was just too fluffy for me, and too flat. It wouldn't take a really strong blow without breaking, so I couldn't ever reliably blow that Bottom D up to pitch.

So I sold that MK too, and ended up with my present Low D, a Goldie. Its tuning is absolute perfection, even that tricky part over the break B>cnat>d>e which is sort of a hoodoo with so many Low Ds. Plus the Goldie is more air-efficient and has a much stronger bellnote than the MK.

What the Goldie doesn't have is that magic MK tone! Some people don't care for that MK sound, I love it.

I recently got a Goldie Alto/mezzo F and it's even better than my Goldie Low D, perhaps the best player in my roll. Huge bellnote, very civilized and sweet 2nd octave, super air-efficient, just the perfect whistle.

One thing where our MK experiences seem to vary is the question of ensemble playing. I found the MK to have a very rich tone when played solo but to sound a bit thin and reedy when played in a session. I had a Reyburn Low D which, on its own, sounded like a NAF in the fog yet at a session had a beefy fatness to the tone giving it more presence (not more volume) than the MK.

The Goldie is interesting in that regard, on its own it sounds more plain than either the MK or the Reyburn but it's super in a group setting having a fat round presence.

_________________
Richard Cook
1978 Quinn uilleann pipes
1945 Starck Highland pipes
Goldie Low D whistle


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 05, 2020 11:44 am 
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Thanks, Richard. I appreciate hearing about the differences between the MK and the Goldie. I've thought about getting a Goldie or maybe a Burke in a mezzo key like F, G, or A for a long time.

Goldies sound fantastic on recordings, and it seems like all the pros play one...and that has so far made me hold off on them, in favor of something less standard. "The road not taken", that sort of thing. I'm sure I'm being illogical.

I've tried Burkes at his tent at Irish Fest, and they're fantastic, of course. Superlative bell notes, very intuitive tuning and breath requirements...and tone that strikes me as lacking something.

With either make, I feel like the looks of the instrument would be a step down--of course, you don't hear what a whistle looks like, but still...

With the Goldie D, I don't doubt that I'd love it...but probably not enough to switch from the MK. Does the Goldie low D have cross-fingered G#s? I've come to rely on those with the MK D.

Has no one on the Chiffboards tried the newer keys of MK? Maybe they're newer than I thought...


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 05, 2020 5:53 pm 
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I also steered clear of Goldies for years.

It was mainly because I had played a large number of Overtons over the years, which often were less than optimal, and I improperly and unfairly painted Goldies with the Overton brush. When I finally got to try a Goldie Low D I was amazed. Though it looked like an Overton it played far better- fantastic, in fact.

About Burkes, I got on a Burke kick and ended up with Burkes in Low D, Eb, F, G, A, C, and high D. They have the advantage of being incredibly even across all the sizes, a very good thing when you're at a gig and have to grab and play.

In the end Burkes aren't efficient enough for me, and the 2nd octave is too stiff. You pay dearly for that huge bellnote. Also the note that emits from Hole 6 tends to be oddly weak.

I too want to hear about the MKs in all these new keys! For sure he seemed to only offer D and F for a long time. I wonder why the sudden explosion in offerings.

About crossfingerings on my Goldie Low D, I just tried various ones:

G# xxo|xxx sharp unless you blow very softly

Bb xox|xxx good at normal breath

c oxx|ooo right in tune at full breath, oxo|xxx good if you back off slightly

g# xxo|xox around a quartertone sharp

bb xox|ooo around a quartertone sharp, xxo|xxD good

c' oxo|xxx good

_________________
Richard Cook
1978 Quinn uilleann pipes
1945 Starck Highland pipes
Goldie Low D whistle


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