Guido Gonzato’s Low Tech Whistle - Low D - Review by Jem Hammond
Thanks very much to Guido for putting up his whistle for review. It was brave to just request bids to review from the board, and I feel privileged and pleased that I got to do it. (Only because I was online when Guido posted and got in the first response!) I hope Guido will be happy with the way I have set about the task and that I have done him justice. Forgive its length but I wish (always!) to be thorough. I also hope the review will be helpful to anyone interested in his whistles, whether prospective purchasers or disciples of his wonderful DIY Guide
. More power to his tootle!
As a Preface
to this review, here is Guido’s original request:-
I hope you had an enjoyable summer. I'm back to whistling and whistle making, and I need an expert's opinion.
I recently came across the right pipe for making lows, and I've made a few low D's that feel and sound OK to me. A couple of people contacted me to buy one, but I'm reluctant to sell my lows.
The thing is, I'm unable to assess their quality in an objective manner. First of all, I only have one good quality low D (an Overton) to make comparisons; secondly, I must admit I'm not a big fan of lows. (For the curious: the Overton is slightly louder than my lows, has more backpressure and, how shall I put it, a more "metallic" sound.)
So, I have absolutely no idea if my lows would be appreciated by competent whistlers, or if they're good just for swatting flies.
I'd be grateful if someone with experience in lows could write a review. I would send him/her a non-tuneable low D (for free, of course). I would ask him/her to be as objective as possible - if they're rubbish, please make it clear that they're rubbish. But I obviously hope they pass the test!
and some helpful notes about the whistle that Guido sent to me with it:-
- I made it out of PVC pipe originally intended for electrical conduits. The fipple-plug is unnamed plastic, probably polypropylene.
- it was tuned (at 24 C) so that the D starting the second octave is 5-10 cents sharp - at my blowing pressure. It seems to me that this way I play well in tune with others.
- it was not optimised for small hands, and I decided to make it average volume, low backpressure. This model can be easily adjusted to obtain more backpressure and a bit more volume, if needed.
- the C# note (ooo ooo) is slightly flat, to make it possible to play C natural with oxx ooo.
- finally, if it passes the exam its price would be 49 Euro (plus 5 Euro packaging and delivery).
As the photo shows, this is a smart looking non-tunable whistle in white PVC conduit tubing. Overall length is 580mm. Spans are 77mm for top hand and 80mm for bottom hand, measured centre to centre of tone-holes. It is easy and pleasant to hold. It makes a pleasingly mellow, slightly breathy sound and is sweet and even across its range - smooth between octaves and easy even up to A in the third octave. It has a fairly wide windway (13mm) which is moderately deep at the mouth end, narrowing somewhat to the window end for Bernoulli effect. The window is 8mm deep and the labium ramp very short at just under 5mm. It is not greedy of air and the back pressure is, as Guido says, quite low, but not absent. It is not noticeably prone to spit/condensation clogging.
The tone-holes are moderately large, but I had no difficulties covering them with either all-pads or piper’s type holds, or my own preference - L hand pads, R hand semi-piper’s. The edges are slightly chamfered off, so are not sharp, but are easy to feel and positively locate and seal. Ornamentation works cleanly and crisply enough and glissando and finger vibrato effects are easy to achieve. I think folk who like to discuss “chiff” will just have to listen to the test clips to see if they think this is a chiffy whistle or not - I’m never too sure what the term is supposed to mean! The tuning is very good overall, but see Guido’s notes above and my suggestions below regarding some design choices.
I like this whistle and I think that, by comparison with other whistles on the market, it is potentially good value for money. I do have reservations about/criticisms of/frustrations with it which I will detail later in this review, and which I think Guido can easily remedy before going into “full production”, in so far as that is his intention.
I played the whistle fairly extensively for a couple of days at home, including recording the sound clips posted below. I deliberately did this comparatively with my own low whistle (another PVC electrical conduit whistle, head by Dave Lymm, finger tube by myself replacing Dave’s original), which for me approaches my ideal of a low whistle in sound/playability terms - and I held off acquiring a low whistle for many years because I didn’t like what was available until I found the Lymm (not currently available so far as I know, before anyone asks). (Comparative pictures below.) I also took it to my local session last week and played several sets on it and also invited first impression comments on it from two other whistle players (which, though less in depth, largely chimed with my own). That occasion also gave me the chance to play it comparatively with a modified Overton (probably a Phil Hardy one, but I don’t know for sure) belonging to one of the other players. [I took that opportunity because of the general esteem in which Overton whistles are held - which I do not share, despite having met Colin Goldie - lovely guy, all respect due - and having tried a good few of them both then and over the years.]
I’ve been playing it on-and-off since (have it by the computer) including while writing this to confirm my thoughts.
Sound Test Clips:
Guido Gonzato Low Tech Whistle:
GG LTW - Scales
GG LTW - Trying for a hard low D
GG LTW - Slow Reels - Bocht agus Sona & Bobby Casey’s Tune
GG LTW - Jig - Humours of Ballyloughlin
GG LTW - Air - An Feochan
And, for comparative purposes, to try to show what I think a low whistle can and should sound like (my taste, of course!), here are equivalent clips done with my own whistle:
Dave Lymm Electrical Conduit Low Whistle:
DL ECLW - Scales
DL ECLW - Trying for a hard low D
DL ECLW - Slow Reels - Bocht agus Sona & Bobby Casey’s Tune
DL ECLW - Jig - Humours of Ballyloughlin
DL ECLW - Air - An Feochan
For purposes of fair comparison, although I doubt it makes any major difference save perhaps for the depth of the tone-holes, please note that the latter whistle’s tube is slightly different from Guido’s - the plastic seems to be slightly harder and it is slightly narrower bore with thicker walls: approximate average internal diameter 21.0mm, external 25mm, wall thickness 2mm. (Respectively 22.0mm; 25.1mm; 1.55mm for Guido’s tube stock.)
Criticisms and Suggestions:
I find the tone rather breathy - perhaps because the window is quite deep and the blade of the labium is rather blunt (square edged, in fact), and maybe the angle on the plug/windway floor is a little too high at the window end? My own preference is for a clean, pure tone. (I have resisted the urge to make any modifications myself until after writing this review and getting Guido’s responses.) The whistle is a little quiet/weak for my taste, though it was adequately audible to both me and others at the session. The tone could be slightly more focused, especially at the bottom of the range, and it is not possible to really push the low D on it for a “hard D” as it is currently finished. The breathiness of the sound is rather audible, including to the microphone of my minidisc recorder with which I did the sample clips, at about 4-5’/1.5m distance, so close miking in a gig situation would pick it up worse. I like to be able to push air through a whistle open throated and supported from the diaphragm, and though this whistle doesn’t squeak or go horribly sharp when I do that, it doesn’t really respond fully either. I would definitely prefer it to be louder, cleaner and stronger in tone than it is. I’d also like a little more back pressure though it already has enough not to leave one expiring swiftly when trying to push it. I think these things could easily be achieved before Guido finalises the design
I have no major problems with the tone-hole configuration from an ergonomic angle, although I do find the gap between holes 5 and 6 unusually wide, so I was tending to miss marginally with R3 on first picking up the whistle, but settling to it quite quickly. However, I have moderately large and very flexible hands with broad finger pads: other people might have more difficulty spreading their bottom hand 2nd and 3rd fingers so far. I would suggest Guido either moves the E hole (6) up-tube a little and makes it smaller, or the F# hole (5) down tube and a bit larger, or a combination of the two, to provide a more equal spacing for the bottom hand with the middle of the three holes more central between the outer ones. (I presume he can do offset tone-holes to order.)
Here is a comparative picture of the tone-holes of Guido’s LTW and my Lymm hybrid to show what I mean.
I do not like the flat C# as explained in Guido’s notes. I found it quite noticeable and it is my only serious intonation criticism. I would prefer the tone-hole moved slightly up-tube or enlarged to give a true open C#. I found in any case that oxx ooo for C natural was not as good for either pitch or tone as oxo xxx with the present hole configuration, and I use oxx xox on most of the whistles in my possession including the Lymm. I think oxx ooo is rarely the best fingering in any case on any whistle (or flute) and it is less easy to pass to D from than either of the other two, so I do not find it desirable - certainly not worth the intonation compromise Guido has made to try to accommodate it, which also makes it necessary to finger third octave D as oxx xxx (in tune but overtoney) rather than the normal oxx ooo which is flat (oxx oxx works well but is unfamiliar/awkward). Upper C natural is fine as oxo xxo and C# as the normal oxx xoo, though. Perhaps on this point Guido might like to offer two variants, one for in-tune C#, Cnat fingered oxx xox and top D fingered oxx ooo, one as it is at present.
I find the top edge of the beak rather sharp! It is also uncomfortable in my mouth when I hold the whistle at my preferred playing angle - I have to hold it up/away from my body more than I like for it not to dig into my inner top lip, and I’d worry more than average about getting the whistle knocked whilst playing - it could cause a nasty cut to the gum or lip! This would easily be remedied by simply rounding off the finish more, or better still by cutting or filing away a small slice across the top of the beak and smoothing the edges. I’d also prefer a slightly sharper angle of cut to the beak to facilitate a lower hold-angle. That would probably necessitate lengthening the beak/windway/fipple assemblage by about 6-8mm/¼-⅓”. A curve in the beak under-cut would be even better, and easily achieved by filing with a large half-round file, probably avoiding lengthening. I think the suggestions in this paragraph are the only ones that would involve a little extra work in the manufacture rather than just simple design adjustment.
Here are some more comparative photos to show detail:-
I think that Guido could easily offer a version of this whistle with a tuning slide and alternate bodies, say Eb and C, very easily, and that would be a sure-fire winner for him.
Comparisons to other whistles of which I have experience:
As it stands I’d prefer it to an Overton, original Bernard O or more recent. It has a much better response and evenness of sound across the range, you can actually blow it, it speaks freely and isn’t prone to squeaking! (OK, hands up here: being primarily a flute player, I don’t like very constricted windways and excessive back pressure!) I am not in any case, regardless of how they play, fond of whistles with metal mouthpieces, so even with sharp edge and awkward angle, I prefer Guido’s.
I’ve recently played a Kerry Plastic Head which I think is fairly good, but this is better - less wind-hungry and a nicer tone, smoother response.
I haven’t played a recent Howard, but the older ones always had, amongst other issues (e.g. uneven overblowing, tendency to squeak), an atrociously flat second octave B: this is in tune apart from the issues with the C# tone-hole design discussed above.
I’ve played a Dixon high D in conduit piping and was unimpressed, especially at the price, though I haven’t tried a low one.
WhistleSmith “Wicked Good” are also in comparable tubing and price range, but have a weedy sound and unusual fingering in the second octave.
Susato low Ds are quite good, but this is better - pleasanter sound and freer to blow, smoother overblowing.
Shaw low Ds play well enough though rather breathily and breath-hungrily, clog badly and are very vulnerable to damage, including labium distortion. And talk about uncomfortable/dangerous mouthpieces!!!! Guido’s is at present not dissimilar in sound, though not so breathy, much more durable and cheaper.
Obviously there are loads of reputable mid-high range low whistles I haven’t had opportunities to try and would like to (e.g. Impempe, MK, Alba), but I reckon the GG LTW will score highly against any of them on the “bang-for-buckometer”!
I think this whistle needs a little refinement, but nothing Guido cannot readily, with his experience, include in his manufacture routine. It is good now and can be better. How good? Well, for the money he is asking (€49 = c £35 = c U$70, plus P&P) I think even unrefined that is good value. If he can tweak the design along the lines I’m suggesting for better comfort and a cleaner, stronger sound, it will indeed, like my Lymm, rival the best out there for playability, save perhaps for the rare top-line wooden low whistles like Jon Swayne’s. When I was in my former state of dissatisfaction with the low whistles available and yet wanting one, if I had come across one of these, even with the (for my taste) deficiencies I have outlined, I’d have snapped it up. “Competent whistlers” darn well should appreciate Guido’s efforts! No fly-swats, these!
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Post-script - My Credentials:
(for what they’re worth!) I’ve been playing traditional music, mostly Irish, a lot of Welsh, bits of other stuff for 31 years, chiefly on flute but always with whistles thrown in. I started on Boehm flute but didn’t really have any classical tuition to speak of, got into trad music early on and switched to keyed simple system flute about 25 years ago. I bought my own low D whistle about nine years ago, after a long wait to find what I wanted. Off the back of getting it, I had a substantial (but inevitably unsatisfactory) go at making transverse flutes out of electrical conduit tube, but not whistles. I’ve played in bands that got paid, I sometimes perform solo and also with a storyteller, and I get paid to do some teaching, both individual and workshops; I’m an occasional CD reviewer for Taplas
magazine. I’ve recently started doing up and selling old flutes. Since I got a computer at home and went on line last March, I’ve been annoying you good folk on C&F regularly!