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Jerry Freeman Tweaked Shaw D
(Review written February 2005)
Jerry Freeman is probably the world's only professional full-time pennywhistle tweaker. Tweaking means, simply, to change a whistle to try and improve it. This can be done by modifying the mouthpiece or tube in various ways. A classic simple tweak is to squeeze a Clarke mouthpiece a little more closed, so that it takes less breath. I say "simple" but I've always failed at even that small of a tweak. So it hardly suffices to say that I'm in awe of the level of tweaking Jerry does. With each whistle Jerry sent, he included a sheet detailing what tweaks are done on that brand of whistle. I assume he sends that to everyone.
I wrote Jerry and let him know I was going to do a mostly-negative review of a Generation tinwhistle. It's known that good Generations are prized instruments treasured by their owners. It's also known that finding a "good" generation is an undertaking of near epic proportions. So in the interests of fair play, I asked Jerry if he'd send me one of his tweaked Generations so that hopefully both sides of the Generation coin could be explored. He did one better, and sent me five different tweaked whistle brands to review!
Today, we'll be taking a look at the Jerry Freeman Tweaked Shaw. Shaw whistles are made by Dave shaw in the keys of high E, Eb, D, C, Bb, B, A, G, F, and low D, but I think Jerry only tweaks Ds and Eb as a standard. Jerry makes a number of changes to improve the base whistle. As he describes his tweaks: "The air requirement has been reduced for more comfortable and expressive playing, and the voicing has been made less breathy, more focused and richer sounding." He definitely succeeds at these goals.
At a Glance
Jerry Freeman Tweaked Shaw
Tweaked D and Eb
Rolled nickel silver tube, with a wooden fipple block.
Price at time of review:
approx $37.00 US
The Whistle Shop
Big Whistle Music
Whistle and Drum
: Product sample from Jerry Freeman
: Like a stronger, much louder Clarke original. Loud, and taking a fair amount of lung power, but with that windy/chiffy sound that many people love.
The Shaw is a conical, one-piece whistle. If you've seen a Clarke original, you have a good idea of what a Shaw looks like. Being nickel silver, it's a bit more durable than a Clarke. The mouthpiece is also squared off, unlike a Clarke. I bought my first Shaw in 1996, and I am pretty sure it had a cedar wood block. It certainly had a very cedar-y aroma. This Shaw doesn't. The wood is definitely some kind of hardwood though, and is much better carved than my original Shaw.
Here's the full-sized whistle. You can't really see Jerry's tweaks in this view. But you can see that the Shaw, while similar to the Clarke original, has it's own distinct and immediately recognizable look.
Here's a good look at the windway. The odd "U" shape is Jerry's doing. Originally, the Shaw has a huge windway, and Jerry narrows it by crimping the mouthpiece as you see here. Unfortunately, this produces two sharp-ish points on the mouthpiece. These bothered me a lot when I first started playing the Shaw. By the end of the week, I hardly noticed them. If they bother you, you could easily fix things with a trimmed saxophone mouthpiece cushion
, available at most music stores. You can kind of see where I think Jerry has glued in a piece of guitar pick or something at the roof of the windway as well. This probably helps account for the lack of condensation I experienced.
Here's a closeup of the labium ramp. It looks like Jerry has done a little shaping of the labium ramp as well. If I had been doing this, I would have completely destroyed this whistle by now. I speak from personal experience.
Disregard that little bit of fuzz. I think it's lint from the cloth from where I was rubbing my fingerprints off the whistle. The four dings in the side are from the Shaw company, and help hold the fipple block in place.
Here's a view of the back of the whistle. Clarkes and Shaws both have a seam in the back where the whistle is soldered together after being rolled. The seam on the Shaw is much less pronounced than that on the Clarke, and I can hardly feel it.
Here's a view of Jerry's very tasteful logo. I really like the mouse.
This whistle has very strong and focused tone. It's not what I would call "sweet", but is instead assertive and chiffy.
Some poeple define chiff as that burst of white noise at the beginning of a note (the "Ch" sound in the word "Chiff" for instance). Others describe it as a hissy white noise all throughout a note's duration.
This whistle has plenty of both. The second octave is even more strident and chiffy than the first, and can sound a little hissy on fast tunes that hang around the second octave much.
I don't really like hissy whistles, but by the end of the first week, I was getting used to it.
I can attest that the player hears this hiss a lot more than is evident to the listener. Check out the recordings. Nice and chiffy, and not really hissy at all.
A sound clip of the whistle:
Trip to Sligo
-Here's a clip of a jig I've recently learned. It spends a good part of the B part in the 2nd octave, so you can judge the chiffiness there.
-And a clip of a slower tune. You can really hear that Jerry has made every improvement he mentions. The whistle is strong and focused.
: This whistle is extremely loud. I played it at an extremely loud session, and it was the only whistle that cut the mustard. The bar was so loud we could hardly hear ourselves, even amplified. The Shaw cut through all of that with ease. This is not a whistle for a quiet session for sure.
: Fast. I didn't have any problem playing most ornaments up to speed. I always feel a little clumsy on crans and rolls on E on conical whistles. I think this is a personal problem, having to do with how narrow the instrument gets down there.
: OXXOOO produces a c-natural that's a little bit sharp, though can be managed with breath control. OXXXOO stabilizes it nicely.
: This is a non-tunable whistle. Therefore, it's important that it be in tune, or you cannot play with other musicians. Well, you could, but they'd probably stone you for it. This whistle is in tune with A=440. The F# and the A and B all require a little push beyond the expected breath pressure to be in tune, but are entirely workable. I don't suspect that this is Jerry's doing, as the tone-holes look un-tweaked.
Hole Size and placement
: This whistle has holes with average size and placement. There are no weird spacings. If you can play a soprano D, you can play this one.
Air volume and pressure requirements
: no sweat. No blowing so hard you get red in the face. A solid average on the backpressure scale.
is a different story entirely. Jerry's tweak helps here a lot. The untweaked Shaw is a nightmare to play in terms of breath requirements.
By reducing the windway, Jerry reduces this requirement a lot. The first octave is a solid average here. Unfortunately, I don't know many one-octave tunes. Even Jerry's tweaked shaw is a bit of work in the 2nd octave. If you like whistles that take little air, this is not one of them.
But Jerry's tweak does reduce the breath requirements to about a Clarke original, a major improvement.
I can manage to play it but still find myself looking for breath if the tune hangs around in the second octave much--which a lot of them do for the B part. I should mention that when I took this whistle to session, and was caught up in the spirit of the moment, I didn't notice the breathing nearly as much.
: I played this whistle for up to an hour-and-a-half at a time. Granted, I'm now in winter in Dallas--which is considerably dryer than Houston. But even so, I didn't experience any clogging or moisture buildup. None whatsoever. Zero, Zip, Nada.
If you like Shaws or Clarkes with that traditional chiffy sound, Jerry's tweaked Shaw is a definite improvement over an untweaked version. The more I play this whistle, the more I'm reminded of my roots (I started on a Clarke) and the more it grows on me. Plus, I can see that I'm just going to have to have it for outdoors play and loud sessions.