review housed at http://www.tinwhistler.com/music/reviews.asp
Jerry Freeman Tweaked Sweetone 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 Sweetone. I myself started on a Clarke original in 1995. It took too much wind for my tastes, and was a challenge for me to hit the second octave on consistently. So I tried a Soodlum's my wife had, moved on to a Shaw, and finally fell in love with a Sweetone, and played one exclusively for a couple of years. I still recommend them as beginner's instruments because they have a decent tone, are relatively consistent, in tune, and easy to play across both octaves. I was therefore really interested in seeing what Jerry did with it. He says his tweaks are "designed to help create a focused, richer timbre, reduce breathiness and make the whistle more responsive to nuanced playing."
At a Glance
Jerry Freeman Tweaked Sweetone
Tweaked C or D
rolled tinplate, with a plastic mouthpiece.
Price at time of review:
The Whistle Shop
Big Whistle Music
Whistle and Drum
: Product sample from Jerry Freeman
: A little less beginner friendly, but with a little more focus. 2nd octave is cleaner, but harder to hit. Otherwise, retains much of the character of the untweaked version.
The Sweetone is basically of the same construction as the Clarke original--rolled tinplate with a soldered seam. The difference lies in the plastic mouthpiece, designed by the folks who make Copeland whistles. Jerry has made some very subtle tweaks to this mouthpiece.
Here's the full-sized whistle. From this view, you really can't see the changes Jerry has made.
Here's a closeup of the labium ramp. Jerry may have shaped the labium ramp a little, but it doesn't really look like it. It's certain that he hasn't replaced it or built it up with a guitar pick like in his more expensively-tweaked whistles. The real tweak I'm showing off here is in the inside of the windway. There's a thin layer of plastic in there. It reduces the windway a little bit.
here's a better angle on the BluTack tweak (see my Jerry-Tweaked Generation review for an explanation). This is a greyish putty that's not the same as what Jerry uses on his Generations. It restricts the airflow through that area, to prevent turbulence from mucking things up. I do know it works a heck of a lot better than when I bought a wad of BluTack and tried this same thing on one of my own whistles. By the way, please excuse all the white lint. I take these pictures in the brightest room of the house--my laundry room. I guess my wife must have just done laundry, and the whistle just picked up some of the free-floating lint.
Here's a view of the seam on the back of the whistle. It's a lot more pronounced-feeling than on Shaws. While it never bothered me, some people claim to be distracted by it. I think some duct tape over it or other smoothing medium would probably help if it bothers you.
Here's a view of Jerry's logo, stuck over the Clarke-added icon of Whistling Billy. The fact that Whistling Billy appears to be dancing on the back of a giant mouse makes me imagine surreal things about Pied Pipers.
The tone of this whistle is similar to untweaked Sweetones. But whereas they are very pure, Jerry's tweaks have introduced a bit of a complex raspiness. This raspy chiff is what many traditional players want out of a good cheap whistle. big differences also show up in volume and breath pressure. Jerry's tweaks have widened the gap between the octaves in both of these areas. I'll cover these differences more below.
A sound clip of the whistle:
Out on the Ocean
-Here's a clip of a jig on the whistle.
And on a regular sweetone for comparison
: This whistle is on the average/quiet side. It's a good volume for blending in with moderate-sized sessions. Jerry's tweak causes the first octave to be a little quieter than untweaked Sweetones. The second octave is a little louder than untweaked versions. Since many session tunes spend a fair amount of time in the 2nd octave, this probably has the average effect of being a little louder in session, but really it mostly depends on what tunes you play.
: Moderate. Sweetones don't feel sluggish, but in general tend to sound less crisp on the fast execution of ornamentation like rolls and crans. Jerry's tweaks neither harm nor help them in this regard. However, due to the widening of the octave jump in terms of breath pressure, the whistle sounds less muddled on certain fiddle tunes that bounce between upper and lower octave notes. I'm thinking of tunes like Drowsy Maggie (The BEdEBE in the first measure), Gravel Walk (the aAgAfA bounce in the first measure of the B part), Glass of Beer (the fBaBfB that happens across the first and 2nd measures), and Tam Lin, which has it all over the place. This kind of bouncing back and forth happens on a fair number of fiddle tunes, and Jerry's tweak cleans up those transitions quite a bit for the Sweetone. They sound a bit muddled on an untweaked version, but much crisper on the tweaked version.
: Like the untweaked Sweetone, OXXOOO produces an good in-tune c-natural.
: Sweetones are generally in tune, and Jerry's is no exception. The head is moveable, making it tunable, but due to the pronounced seam on the back, you probably only want to twist it in the direction of the fold.
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
: Octave dependant. The first octave doesn't take much breath at all. But the octave break has been widened from the non-tweaked version, and so the second octave requires quite a bit more attack, putting it closer on par to the Clarke original. I wouldn't have liked this as much as a beginner, because it makes the second octave take a lot more attention and work. If you aren't watching your Ps and Qs in the 2nd octave the whistle will drop octave or squawk at you. This gives the whistle perhaps just a hair more tone-chiff.
: Average. This whistle takes neither lots or little air. It's pretty average.
: Average clogging. I had to start blowing this whistle out after 20 minutes or so. Jerry's tweak doesn't seem to have had any effect on this characteristic.
Though it takes slightly more work to play, Jerry's version of the Sweetone has some definite improvements for the experienced musician, espcially if you like whistles with a Generation-like tone. If you like a less-pure sound, and want a little more out of your instrument, it's a whistle worth looking into.