review housed at http://www.tinwhistler.com/music/reviews.asp
Sweetheart Professional Model D
(Review written April 2005)
In 2002, I bought a Sweetheart D in maple. Prior to that year, I'd tried them occasionally, since Melody Music
carries them, and I used to live right up the road from them. I'd always found the second octave a real challenge to reach cleanly, taking a ton of pressure. In August 2002, I was told that Ralph had redesigned things a bit, and so I gave them a try again at the Houston Summer Acoustical Musical Festival (SAMFest, which I have read has closed this year).
I found out that the whistle was indeed easier to play, and got one for myself within a month. Unfortunately, the tuning slide (made with yarn wrapped around the internal slide mechanism) was really lose. The second octave G, A and B still took enough force to play that I found myself tensing up and closing the tuning slide when hitting the 2nd octave, making me go sharp in the middle of a tune. I didn't really like the idea of wrapping it with telflon tape, because I wasn't sure how that would interact with the yarn. So, I ended up putting the whistle in my whistle drawer and it didn't get much use. I eventually sold it to help fund moving my family to Dallas.
At the end of 2002, a prototype of a new Sweetheart showed up on Chiff and Fipple's message board
, and I think this eventually became the laminate Pro model. In 2004, Dale had a true laminate pro in his hands, and I got mine this year. It's a huge improvement over the old models. Ralph tells me it was designed by his son Walt over an 8 month period. You can read all about his efforts on the Sweetheart Flutes Faqs page
At a Glance
Sweethart Professional D
Tunable D in Dymondwood or rosewood.
Dymondwood, with tuning slide.
Price at time of review:
$135.00 US dollars (though they're currently running a special for $125 for some where the color matching is not exact between the head and the body).
Sweetheart Flute Company
The Whistle Shop
House of Musical Traditions
: Product Sample from Ralph Sweet.
: Strong, loud and powerful. Second octave much easier to hit. Tuning slide nice and tight, wind resistant.
The whistle is pretty typical from what I've come to expect out of Ralph's shop: well made, and well-finished. The finish is polished to perfection, the pieces are well joined. Ralph's 30 years of instrument-building experience really shows. The tuning slide works well. The professional model uses cork instead of yed yarn, and is nice and tight. I'm told the bore is conical. While I haven't taken calipers to it, it's obvious to me that the bore is slightly narrower at the very end of the body than it is at the tuning slide. Dymondwood is a type of veneer laminate made by dying hardwood veneers, impregnating them with resins, layering them, and then compressing them under heat until they are half their size. It's made by Rutland Plywood Corporation
. The grain pattern, while artificial, is really striking. Ralph also sent a catalog that describes all of the nifty instruments that his shop makes, from Flutes and fifes to whistles, as well as a care sheet. It's interesting to note that the Sweetheart Flute folks finish their wooden instruments with Tung Oil
, which made my old maple Sweetheart feel like it'd been laquered. In fact, tung oil is said to last longer than laquer, and repels moisture, so it's a lot easier to care for his non-blackwood instruments (the blackwood instruments don't take to the tung oil as well, and require special care, outlined in his care sheet).
Here's the full whistle. Ralph Sweet's whistles have been described as "recorder-like" by many. I can understand the comparison...the old standard model has a tulip-shaped head, a flared end, and a bulge at the tuning slide. The newer "standard model" minimizes those features, and the Professional model minimizes them even more. There's still the bulge in the middle where the tuning slide cork is. It reminds me of the bulge on a Burke whistle, though a lot less geometric then Burkes. The end of the whistle is flared just slightly. But all in all ,it's a lot more whistle-y than it was. I can think of much more recorderish-looking whistles (Swayne, Lon Dubh for instance).
Here's a closeup of the mouthpiece. You can see the labium ramp and the nice sleek headpiece. What's hard to see is the engineering in the labium ramp..it's not a single angle. Most of the labium ramp is cut at one angle, but the last 1/16" or so is cut at an even steeper angle. This is much easier to see in person, where you can move the head around to make light strike it from different angles. I'm not sure if this was added as part of the hand-voicing process or if it's typical of these whistles. Kind of neat in a whistle-nerd way, though. It definitely shows a lot of thought and attention to the design of the whistle.
Here's another angle on the mouthpiece. The part that goes in your mouth is a little thicker than a cheapie plastic whistle (such as a Generation), and ultimately reminds me of a Susato. In fact, you can see the striking similarities if you look at my review of the Susato low F
Closeup of the tuning slide area. I think the Sweetheart FAQ page is the only whistle site I've seen that calls this joint by it's engineering terminology--mortise (socket) and tenon (peg). The cork tuning slide design evidently helps keep C# in tune with the rest of the whistle as you open it up, but has a more important side effect to me: The tuning slide is nice and tight. All of the yarn-wrapped Sweethearts I'd ever tried worked ok, but if I got too excited while playing, I could push them shut as I played. No way that's happening with this one!
Here's the holes. According to the FAQ, these are equally spaced in order to accomodate larger fingers. I'll talk more about these in the "Hole Size and placement" section.
All of the Sweethearts I've ever seen have had the Heart-S logo woodburned into them. I don't know if that's possible with the laminate model. In any case, the logo is a gold colored sticker instead, and doesn't look bad. However, since I plan on playing this thing at Renaissance festivals, I took the sticker off shortly after taking this picture. It came off easily and cleanly.
This whistle has a very strong tone. It's loud, with a slightly woody character. It's much better in the 2nd octave than the last one I had, both in intonation, and in ease of hitting it cleanly. It still takes a little effort to stay up there, but now it's more like a Silkstone Alloy in that regard. It's really wind-resistant, too..I was able to play it outdoors on a day that had 20mph winds and 30mph gusts, while a tornado warning was in effect. Is that dedication or what? In any case, the whistle only ever cut out on me during the gusts, and played just fine even in high winds.
Sound clips of the whistle:
Dan O'Keefe's Slide
: Very loud. Indoors, by itself, it sounds louder than my Copeland or even my Abell. But it's not pure and piercing, so the second octave is not as painful as some whistles. When outdoors, it doesn't feel as loud. It just carries nicely. I took it to the extremely loud session I play at on Friday's, and discovered that since it's not pure and piercing, it gets washed out in crowd noise more easily than my Copeland and Abell. We usually have 10-15 musicians, and are playing in a crowded pub. This isn't a little quiet Irish bar, that's for sure..we're talking like 100 people crowded into a popular bar. so, on busy nights, I'll have to play the more pure sounding instruments.
: This whistle is highly responsive. I didn't have any problems knocking out crans, rolls, cuts, slides, and the like. There's no issues at all here. This is good. Sweethearts have seen continual improvement in their repsonsiveness in the 8 or so years that I've looked at them.
: OXXOOO produces a C-natural that's about 10 cents sharp with my expected breath requirements. This is easily rectified with a little breath control. Some people use OXXXOX as a recommended C-natural fingering, and that works perfectly on this whistle.
: This whistle is in tune, and doesn't require much warming. Being wood-like, it doesn't have the wide variation to temperature that a metal whistle would. It's at A=440 with the slide about 1/8" open..not much room for sharpening, but quite a bit of room for flattening.
Hole Size and placement
: The holes are set evenly along the bore. This is intended to make it easier for people with big fingers to play. It has the side effect of making the 3rd hole from the bottom very small, which you can see in the pictures at the top of the page. I didn't have to get used to the size and placement at all. I just put my fingers up there and started playing. I don't know if it's a side effect of the hole placement, the conical bore, or what, but I find that the whistle makes a lot easier for me to half-hole cleanly. I only know about 3 tunes that require half-holing, one of them has a D#, one has an F-natural, and one has a Bb--so I can't say whether half-holing G# (for tunes in A) is any easier.
Air volume requirements
: This whistle is pretty average on the breath-volume requirements. I can play an entire A or B section on one breath if I take a decent-sized breath. I don't find myself running out of air before I expect it.
Air pressure pressure requirements
: It has some nice back-pressure, though it isn't heavy in this regard, and does take a little agression in the 2nd octave. It's not like the old-style Sweethearts (including the blackwood one I played last week), where you had to really blast it to keep the 2nd octave clean--but you still can't be shy with it. It's about where my Copeland or Abell is now in terms of breath pressure required. This is a more than a Burke Al-Pro, but only a bit more than my Freeman Tweaked Mellowdog.
: Light. This isn't metal, so it doesn't condense moisture (or transfer heat) like metal does. I didn't really have any problems at all with clogging on this instrument.
: Because the tuning slide uses cork, the instrument needs to be stored disassembled. Otherwise, your cork can get compressed, and it will fail to seal properly. Because of this, I can't really keep it in my standard whistle roll-up bag, unless I use two whistle slots for it..one for the head, and one for the body. I'll figure out how I'm going to carry it, eventually.
Also, one oddity. When I opened the packaging, I noticed a strong chemical smell. My wife did too; she was standing about 3 feet away. I decided that it smelled a lot like the Elmer's School paste
I used to use in grade school. The kind with the brush built into the cap. I imagine that it's either a solvent used for cleaning, or the fresh glue of the headpiece. Or maybe it's the smell of the resin they use to make the laminate. It was really strong when I opened the box but immediately began dissipating. A week after opening it, and had to stick my nose right up against the bore to smell it. So this is not a long-term problem..just an oddity.
This is a perfect Renaissance Festival and camping whistle. It's loud, clear, carries well outdoors, and holds up to wind. It's a resin-impregnated laminate wood, so I won't worry so much about temperature, humidity, or rain. And since the session I go to is extremely loud, I'm sure it'll get a lot of use there, too. It's much easier to play than the originals, though you still need to pay attention to it's needs. I am going to have a lot of fun with this whistle, I'm sure.