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PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2020 8:32 am 
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"Designer whistles" that's a good name.


I started using that years ago as I felt 'high end' suggested high quality rather than merely 'high price' and too often it's just the latter.


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I think it is quite strange however that there seem to be makers out there selling whistles for a lot of money that don't even play as good as a 10€ Generation. Why make whistles then in the 1st place?


The big elephant in the room is that whistle making seems to have a relatively low entry bar, anyone handy with a few tools can have a go and a lot of people are quite happy to pay $100 (or multiples of that) for something unproven and are willing to buy anything half decent looking to put on their mantle piece. I listen to soundclips on whistle makers' websites, too many of them present their instruments played in a half arsed way. A lot of makers don't appear to be serious players or have access to expert players to demonstrate their instruments.. I wouldn't buy a whistle off someone who struggles through a simple tune in order to show of their product. In fact I have been put off more than a few a few whistles by that sort of thing, whistles that had me curious and in buying mood, initially. On the other hand Padraig Buckley playing the Skylark on their website sold me on the Killarney. A maker who can play inspires confidence they will be able to turn out a player's instrument.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2020 9:27 am 
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I agree to what Mr.Gumby wrote. And it is definitely quit a bit more annoying to spend a lot of money and then be disappointed when the whistle arrives. I think it is quite strange however that there seem to be makers out there selling whistles for a lot of money that don't even play as good as a 10€ Generation. Why make whistles then in the 1st place? Can't say I came across one of those however. The more expensive ones I have are Carbony (great) a whistle from Chuck Tilbury (also very good), my David O'Brien set was used and not that expensive and is also very nice. The Carbony "quiet" model wasn't love at first sight as it needs just as much breath control as a Generation or Feadóg but after a few days I did like it quite a bit. Also, my Parks "Ghost" is excellent. So for me most buys were no disappointment at all. And interestingly enough -- some whistles I tested in the store sounded much different back home. I tried the "Session Killer" Thunderbird "mezzo" D in the store and it sounded fine (loud yes, but not deafening), so I bought it -- it was much louder when I played it in my living room (smaller than the store of course). But it is just fine in a small concert hall with some amplified singers and an accordion. Not a really good practice whistle however.
I never tried any wooden whistles and some people don't seem to like the "session" whistles in general. And it seems to me, many expensive (wooden) whistles are of the "session" type with a loud and stiff 2nd octave.


Yes I am in agreement with both of you. I like what I see and hear with the Milligan and Erick the flutemaker because I am partial to wooden whistles and the sound they produce but also like the Tilberry, Killarny and Sindt.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2020 4:24 pm 
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When it comes to choosing a whistle and you want more than a toy, you want a real musician's instrument, then things I for one, demand of a whistle are:
1) the notes come out clearly, regardless of the level of chiff or breathiness. It sounds like music, not a cheap toy sound. If you want a cheap toy sound, buy a really cheap toy that does that well. I've heard some silly sounding plastic toy whistles with very unique sounds that I would not dare call a proper whistle, but they are great special effects gadgets. Some sports whistles and kids play whistles are very entertaining.
2) the upper half of the second octave and anything played in the third, are available, they sound musical and are controllable. They don't break apart, they don't get scratchy or scream like it's two notes or some harmonics have gone wild and the tone is unbalanced. This is a serious and consistent problem I've always found with the high-production cheapest whistle brands, where either quality control or basic design leave you with an instrument that gets second octave note disintegration, extra windiness in tone and often a loss of proper intonation in that higher range. The ability to control expressiveness as a musical sound, just falls apart up there.
3) when the instrument shifts from one octave to another, it should sound like it's coming from a single instrument. I've heard some cheap whistles sound like one kind of whistle in the lower octave, and then produce a shrill and chirpy upper octave that doesn't match the first octave. That makes playing a "song" an odd experience.
4) intonation simply has to be workable, not perfect, but workable. If you've got a band going, some instrument like keyboards, accordion or guitar will produce perfectly tunes notes. If a whistle plays a little bit off that perfect tuning, it can sound like part of the musical expressiveness, it can be a gain. A whistle that has poor or inconsistent intonation, between octaves or in general, isn't going to be tolerated in a recording session involving a band setup.

When I recorded an album of my own music years ago, I decided that never again would I use a lower level wind instrument, because I'm sick of the feeling of them fighting me instead of being part of the creative possibilities. I've played very inexpensive guitars and other instruments that sometimes have a unique voice and are diamonds in the rough, but with wind instruments, the number of times that's happened is close to zero.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2020 5:26 pm 
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Back when I briefly made whistles, I sold 'em for $70. I wasn't sure my craftsmanship was up to a $70 price tag, but I wrote up a business plan before I started, and $70 was the price point that let me make minimum wage making whistles. My goal was to improve as time went on and steadily raise the price (a path followed by many before me) to reflect the improvements in quality.

I didn't make them long enough to reach that goal, sadly.

There's a cost component. I think I factored it at about $18 per whistle, after factoring the cost of wood loss on the lathe. That was for fairly standard hardwoods. Something more exotic could raise the cost by $10 or $20 for a whistle.

By far the biggest cost was time. I assumed that as I improved in my craft, the time per whistle would reduce somewhat. At the time, I was spending 20 hours a weekend in the garage for what amounted to minimum wage, but I sure enjoyed doing it.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 22, 2020 5:54 pm 
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Yep, a similar pattern emerges with my work so far. I have as of now just given away three whistles as gifts for people to test and not sold one. The problem really is the time it takes to make. So to even think about making as much per hour as in my "day job" would mean that I'd need to be either very fast or charge too much compared to other, more established makers. I think nobody's really getting rich making whistles, unless one day, given enough demand, you outsource most of the work to somebody who does it much cheaper. Funny story -- I went to a metal working shop to ask about a custom cut windway cover. I had brought one of my whistles. One of only two I made from stainless steel. And they offered right away that they could sell me the tubes with the holes already drilled at whatever precision needed. So it doesn't seem to be all that difficult to have them pre-made and only do the assembly and final quality control (like some well-known makers indeed do). But I think it would take all the fun out of the process. I love all the prototyping and trying different slight changes when making whistles and flutes. But of course, once I think I have perfected a design, it could probably easily be outsourced. But one first has to even find enough people to buy the product :D .


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 22, 2020 6:38 pm 
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Sedi wrote:
And they offered right away that they could sell me the tubes with the holes already drilled at whatever precision needed.
I would say that until you've got the head piece made, you can't say precisely where the holes should go and how big they need to be, to get the tuning right. Makes it hard to outsource that part.


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 22, 2020 7:09 pm 
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Probably, but you could make the head a seperate piece to make it tunable. So far I only made tunable flutes but not whistles. I use square tubes and while it would be possible to make a tuning slide, I haven't really tried it yet. It would probably be rather time consuming to do it properly with o-rings. So normally I make one piece instruments, starting with the mouthpiece/embouchure holen then cut it to size and drill the holes.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 23, 2020 6:33 am 
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Sedi wrote:
I think it is quite strange however that there seem to be makers out there selling whistles for a lot of money that don't even play as good as a 10€ Generation. Why make whistles then in the first place?


There's a market for them.

My impression of them is from my decidedly un-Irish point of view, coloured by these factors

1) having spent quite a bit of time in the Hollywood/LA studio musician scene

2) having spent quite a bit of time in the Church music scene

3) having spent some time in the NFA/Boehm flute/Baroque flute scene, attending their conventions etc

which has put me in contact with players coming from a very different place than I did (as pure a trad learning process as was possible here in the 1970s).

What I've consistently found is that musicians coming from the "mainstream" music world, recorder players and Boehm fluteplayers and so forth, prefer a quite different sort of whistle than I do.

I see the booths at the NFA conventions, people making incredibly expensive whistles out of Sterling Silver and African Blackwood etc.

It's the market: a Baroque fluteplayer with an Ebony or African Blackwood flute that cost thousands of dollars, and a Boehm fluteplayer with a Sterling Silver flute costing thousands of dollars, isn't going to be interested in a Feadog or Generation whistle. In these fluteplayers' eyes those are mere toys. Their flutes are made by boutique craftspeople using the highest-end materials, and they're only interested in whistles that are like that.

It doesn't matter to those fluteplayers that the whistle's action isn't nimble enough to play a complicated reel at full speed, or that it's not efficient enough to play the long high notes of a sean nos air. They've never heard trad Irish music, or if they've heard it they'll never play it. In fact most of these boutique whistles will never get played at all. They're ornamental. They'll sit on a shelf in the fluteplayer's living room, more of a conversation piece than a musical instrument. I've seen them.

Remember that professional musicians can write off instrument purchases. Buying a thousand dollar instrument on a whim is nothing.

As I've mentioned before, I was at a booth of one of these makers a few years ago, and tried a couple $700 sterling silver and ebony whistles. They were virtually unplayable for ITM, with quite stiff intransigent 2nd octaves. I doodled for a bit. The maker asked "how do you like it?"

"The second octave is too stiff for me."

"That's what Mary Bergin said when she played one."

Now if Mary Bergin tells you that, wouldn't you think you would get it sorted? But this guy's market isn't Mary Bergin, or me.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 23, 2020 7:03 am 
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Interesting indeed. I guess those people are really not like us. I am always on the lookout for the best-playing whistle. Easy 2nd octave, highly responsive, etc. And that is what I try to do with the ones I make, too. I wouldn't have thought there really was a market for 700 dollar silver whistles that don't really play. Crazy. But I have known people spending 20,000 € on a clarinet. So maybe it isn't that surprising.
But that also corrects my assumption that "botique" whistle means anything more expensive than a Feadóg. I guess that wasn't what you meant with "botique" whistles. I think all the slightly "more expensive" whistles that I know of, are still aimed at traditional players looking for the best playing instrument not the best-looking or most expensive. Like Goldie, Tilbury, Carbony, McManus etc. Those are still meant to be played not to sit somewhere on display to be admired.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 23, 2020 7:23 am 
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RoberTunes wrote:
1) the notes come out clearly

For sure. With high whistles I want clear notes, a pure clean 2nd octave.

With Low Whistles I'm cool with a dirtier sound, though none of my current Low Whistles are like that.

RoberTunes wrote:
2) the upper half of the second octave and anything played in the third, are available

Seems to me that High B, which is the highest note normally found in trad Irish music, is the trickiest note for whistle makers to get sweet and easy, and that's one of the first things I check when testing a whistle.

About the 3rd octave, I don't use that for ITM.

RoberTunes wrote:
The ability to control expressiveness

Not sure exactly what you mean there.

RoberTunes wrote:
3) when the instrument shifts from one octave to another, it should sound like it's coming from a single instrument.


I know that that quality, timbral homogeneity, is big with orchestral instruments and performance practices but AFAIK it's never been a thing in ITM, or for that matter in other trad musics I've studied.

My orchestral friends marvel at the uilleann chanter when I play up the scale, one remarked that every note sounds like it comes from a different instrument! It doesn't bother pipers one bit.

RoberTunes wrote:
4) intonation simply has to be workable, not perfect...


I expect all of my whistles to have intonation as perfect as possible, needle straight up as you play the gamut.

All of the musical factors I look for in high whistles are most perfectly embodied in my vintage Generations and Feadogs.

The closest any boutique whistles have come have been Sindts. The Sindts in D, C, Bb, and A that I owned were very close to my vintage Feadog D and my Generations in C, Bb, and A, but the "cheap" whistles were IMHO just a tiny bit better. In each case the "cheap" whistle had a tad more nimble/sweet 2nd octave, a tad more colour to the timbre, and a tad better tuning.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2020 12:45 pm 
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For me, if a whistle doesn’t have a beautiful tone I’m not interested. Obviously, that is purely subjective, and varies from one person to another. It needs to play easily and well too, of course. I’ve owned a bunch of high D’s, including all the inexpensive ones and a couple of tweaked ones. I’ve also owned quite a few expensive ones. I’ve liked many of them, but the only one I’ve kept, first because I preferred it’s tone the most, and also because it plays so effortlessly is my Killarney. I love everything about it. I have never heard or played an inexpensive whistle that sounds as good. I have no interest in getting another high D, the Killarney is a home run for me.

As far as low D’s, my MK-Pro is overall the best sounding and playing whistle I’ve tried. I love how it sounds, the tone is drop dead beautiful. It’s also effortless to play. That said, I like my Optima almost as much, it sounds great too, but not quite as beautiful as the MK. It plays easily and well, again almost as well as the MK. The lowest two notes aren’t as solid, loud or as easy to play as the MK and some finger articulations are a little tricker to pull off, but it’s not a big issue for me. The Optima is a little more air efficient than the MK, and it’s a lot lighter and less tiring to play for a long time. It also barely needs to be warmed up and never clogs. I play the Optima more than the MK, it’s a slightly better practice whistle and is ideal for quickly picking up to knock out a tune. The MK is my performance whistle. I played it for several people in a Yoga studio with awesome acoustics and I could see right away the sound amazed them. It sounded incredible. The Optima sounded great in there too, but not as rich and powerful as the MK. If the Optima is considered an inexpensive low D, then I would say it’s like with high D’s, it holds it’s own with far more expensive low D’s.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 30, 2020 8:08 am 
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bruce.b wrote:
I’ve owned a bunch of high D’s...but the only one I’ve kept, first because I preferred it’s tone the most, and also because it plays so effortlessly is my Killarney... I have never heard or played an inexpensive whistle that sounds as good.


For me Killarney and Sindt have been the only two modern whistles that sound and play like my classic Feadogs and Generations.

Though concerning tone, the Sindt was a hair darker/rounder than the Killarney, which had a subtle metallic edge to the tone in the 2nd octave. Better than either was the tone of my c1980 Feadog, which had a little extra something, a bit more complexity or character.

The Sindt's 2nd octave was both a tad stiffer and a tad flatter than either the Killarney or the Feadog. (That was my first Killarney D. My second had a dirtier and stiffer 2nd octave than the first.)

bruce.b wrote:
As far as low D’s, my MK-Pro is overall the best sounding and playing whistle I’ve tried. I love how it sounds, the tone is drop dead beautiful.


I agree the MK has a special tone, unique in my experience. So many Low Ds lose character in the 2nd octave but the MK's 2nd octave retains plenty of colour. It's strange I suppose to fall in love with a particular note, but for me E in the 2nd octave was the best note on the MK, and no other Low D could match it.

I loaned my MK to a friend who was just getting into Low Ds and was trying various makes. He gave it back saying "I just can't wrap my head around the tone". He wanted a pure-sounding Low D. I love the MK's complex dirty tone.

If you're in to complex tone I recommend that you try a Reyburn, which like the MK has a unique tone that sets it apart from all others. It has something of the Native American flute in it.

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1978 Quinn uilleann pipes
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 30, 2020 8:17 am 
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About timbral homogeneity, let's see with some ITM instruments.

Here's the pipes. Yes we're used to how it all sounds but my orchestral friends are amazed how each note has a unique timbre, for example the growl of Hard Bottom D compared to the nasal bite of C natural and the sweetness of F# in the 2nd octave etc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YsN4rY1D83o

and here the flute

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSpaYzZ-Wi8

What you hear is these players, one could say, going out of their way to emphasize the differences in timbre that different notes on their instruments can achieve, rather than eliminate these, as orchestral musicians are trained to do.

Even more so in Bulgarian music! On recordings one at first might not realise that the sweet high whistle-like sound and the gravelly low flute sound are coming from the same instrument

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTviFjZ6FWw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6S4Rvcpj2Qs

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1978 Quinn uilleann pipes
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Goldie Low D whistle


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