According to the <a href="http://www.howardmusic.co.uk/">Howard website</a>, in January 2007 the Howard low whistle mouthpiece was "retooled to produce a better sound," with more back pressure and a clearer upper register. Further, the redesign aimed to offer "more dynamics in both octaves," and the ability to "vary the volume without compromising tuning."
In short, the official description is true – the new mouthpiece design does offer more back pressure, volume, and more dynamics (without losing the 'reedy' tone that Howard is famous for). So, how is it different to the old design?
Apologies for the photos – I took them at my desk at work, sitting the mouthpieces on a blank A4 sheet. Anyway, the 'old' mouthpiece is on the left, and the new design on the right. Immediately you should see that the windway is wider but thinner, and is lower down on the fipple.
More noticeable differences are evident when we look at the mouthpieces from the top. This time, the new design is on the left. The new design has introduced a protruding lip that extends a few milimeters above the rest of the mouthpiece. The old design (right) is flat.
I had a number of problems with my <b>old Howard</b>. First, it clogged a lot, and I'd find myself having to clear it frequently at sessions. Second, it was a really soft whistle, and I was drowned out at bigger sessions (not necessarily a bad thing, mind you). It was temperamental, squawking when I jumped into the upper register (especially when playing a high d as XXXXXX instead of 0XXXXX), and, finally, the top half of the upper register was soft, prone to squawking, and unreliable.
The <b>new Howard</b> mouthpiece design goes a long way to fixing these problems.
When you use the new design, the first thing you notice is the increase in volume. It's now a much louder whistle, and while it's still no match against other models in terms of volume (e.g. Susato, Chieftain), I'm comfortable taking it to sessions. I <i>will</i> be heard, I just won't overpower the mix.
To me, the back pressure is the major selling point with the Howard. I simply don't have the lung capacity to play other whistles comfortably, and I'm close to giving up on my new flute for this reason. The new design gives you greater volume without sacrificing any back pressure: it's still the most comfortable low whistle to play that I own. I like being able to play longer phrases with a single breath, so I'm over the moon that the new mouthpiece design has retained the backpressure.
Clogging is no longer the major issue that it was. I find I don't have to clear the whistle very often at all, and instead of spittle collecting where the mouthpiece joins the body (before dribbling down to my hands), it now collects discreetly at the protruding lip on the mouthpiece, if at all. Very impressed.
There is a slight difference in the tone of the whistle. It's still reedy, and has that Howard 'buzz', but the sound of the new design is crisper (if that's applicable to whistle descriptions) and the notes are more enunciated. Hopefully these qualities will be evident in the sound clips.
I want to apologise in advance for the rushed (read 'awful') playing featured in the audio clips of this review. Now that's sorted, on with the clips!
"Her Long Black Hair" [ <a href="http://www.anzsa.org/whistle/Howard/old1.mp3">Old design</a> ] [ <a href="http://www.anzsa.org/whistle/Howard/new1.mp3">New design</a> ]
"Rolling Waves" [ <a href="http://www.anzsa.org/whistle/Howard/old3.mp3">Old design</a> ] [ <a href="http://www.anzsa.org/whistle/Howard/new4.mp3">New design</a> ]
All clips were recorded sitting down at my desk using a Samson C03 condenser microphone, a MOTU firewire soundcard, and Audacity, a freeware audio program for Mac OS X. No effects were applied – the clips are untouched.
In conclusion, the Howard remains my favourite low D whistle. I loved it before, but as with all lovers there were nagging problems with it – the clogging, the squawking, the weak upper register, the volume. The new design lives up to its promises, taming the temperamental upper register, adding significant volume and presence, and all without sacrificing the back pressure that (to me) is so important.
Those purchasing a new Howard should make sure to check whether it has the new mouthpiece. Otherwise, the new design is available to purchase separately from Howard directly or from Big Whistle Music.
I thoroughly recommend that everyone who owns a Howard whistle try out the new mouthpiece design – you may find that you've got yourself a new favourite. Those new to the low whistle will find it a challenging whistle (you can't approach it as if it's just a 'big' version of a soprano whistle, you have to treat it as an instrument in its own right) but one with many rewards.
New mouthpieces can be ordered separately and arrive in a neat plastic case.
Big Whistle Music
BWM stocks the new mouthpiece along with the range of Howard whistles.
"It isn't etiquette to cut any one you've been introduced to. Remove the joint." ~ Lewis Carroll