Tweaked Inexpensive Whistles
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"Leave well enough alone. If things are going tolerably well, leave them alone; your efforts to improve the situation may make things worse."
--The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition, 2002
"Leave well enough alone is so, like, 5 minutes ago."
--Dale Wisely, Chiff & Fipple
In the last, I don't know, 15 years or so, and especially in the last 7 or 8 years since Chiff & Fipple has been on the web, more and more handcrafted, expensive whistles have been available by a range of makers. Traditionally, C&F has distinguished between the inexpensive whistles and the more expensive handmade models. Now we find need of a new category of whistles: Tweaked inexpensive whistles.
Some background: For a long time, there were only a few makes of whistles on the market. Clarkes and Generations. Then we had more manufactured whistles come on the market (Susato, Waltons, Feadog, etc.). There is a long history of these instruments being tweaked and modified by players. There is array of stories about how these tweaks were accomplished was done. Old players used to heat-treat the wooden plug in the Clarke Original whistles with red- hot pieces of wire. Generation players would tamper with the mouthpiece or change the size of the holes, and so on.
But the first official story I ever heard of a Tweaked Inexpensive Whistle (TIW) being regularly available was modified Feadogs done by pipe- and whistle-maker Cillian Ó Briain. These have been available for years. A few years ago, Thom Larson of The Whistleshop started tweaking and re-selling Clarke Originals. Jerry Freeman has recently entered the market, offering the widest range of tweaked whistles available.
This new page details the available modified cheaps. We'll be updating this page as these enterprises continue to expand, unbalancing the already volatile international whistle market.
These are not advertisements. Although I have received some comps for review, I do not benefit financially from any comments I make here or any listing here. I'm trying to give it to you straight, keeping it real, dawg.
Cillian O'Briain Improved Feadog
For many years, this was the only regularly available tweaked inexpensive whistle. Cillian O Briain describes the tweak. Text courtesy (anticipated) of Steve Power at Shanna Quay.
"Originally, we started making improved whistles because the whistles that were on the market were not in tune - their note holes were either in the wrong positions or not the correct diameter. These whistles could be improved to some degree by enlarging some holes - but this allowed the flesh of the player's fingers to protrude into the bore, making the bottom note flat when the octave was correct!
"We purchased suitable tubing and devised our own note holes. The company who make the Feadog supplied us with the fipples.
"We found that filling the cavity under the 'windway' and reducing the height of the cut-up/window with a piece of plastic, gave a more focused, clear tone, and widened the octaves so that was in tune over its full range. Later, our improved note-hole design was adopted for the Feadog, which meant that we could use the entire Feadog whistle to produce the 'improved'.
Plain vanilla Feadog (right) and O'Briain modified mouthpiece (left). Note extensive overlay on fipple blade. Note also nickel tubing. Photo by Dick Cheney.
"We currently use Mark 3 Feadog fipples with Feadog bodies bodies.
"The 'improved' whistle is not loud, but it is clean and in tune. It requires controlled blowing and is less forgiving that other whistles. It has a timbre that sits well with other instruments - fiddle, flute etc - and it projects surprisingly well!"
These whistles have received pretty consistently positive reviews by experienced players.
I own or have owned three of these, I think. The first D I owned was a bit of a disappointment. While it was indeed an improvement over the stock Feadog D, it should be noted that stock Feadog Ds are not particularly good whistles, even among the cheaper whistles, in my opinion. I didn't consider the O'Briain improved version worth $35, frankly. The 2nd D I tried, along with an Eb, was better. I still think it is marginally overpriced in terms of the instrument you end up with. (I don't doubt for a moment, however, that the craftsman puts in enough work to make $35 a reasonable charge for his labour.)
I can recommend Whistle & Drum as the vendor for these in the USA. They cost about $35, as I indicated. Soundfiles available on their site.
In Ireland, Steve Power's business, Shanna Quay offers these and has a wealth of good information about this tweak. Customer service is excellent.
Thom Larson's Tweaked Original Clarke
Thom Larson sells whistle related merchandise and related musical stuff at http://www.thewhistleshop.com A few years ago, I've received from Thom a tweaked version of the Clarke Original. I subsequently bought another. It is one of the most radical tweaks I know of. The Clarke is, of course, a classic and wonderful whistle. Thom's tweaked version is a very, very different instrument.
Here's the Thom Larson Clarke Tweak, courtesy of Thom and TheWhistleShop.com
Here's what we do to "tweek" a Clarke whistle (see the close-up pics below also):
Flatten the windway - This makes the whistle require much less air, and also softens the tone and takes away quite a bit of the "breathiness".
Two nails are then used to hold the fipple in place.
The Thom Larson Clarke redux. Note rather radical alteration of mouthpiece. Photo courtesy of Thom Larson.
The end of the mouthpiece is shaped for comfort, then sanded smooth.
This is a fabulous version of the mighty Clarke. I recommend it highly.
Jerry Freeman Tweaks
Long time Chiff & Fipple message board participant Jerry Freeman started selling tweaked versions of Shaws a couple of years ago. He has expanded his line and met with considerable success. Jerry now tells me that he is a full time whistle tweaker. This is amazing and, of course, a little bizarre. But mostly amazing and wonderful. Jerry, as it turns out, knows what he is doing. Among other things, as we'll see, he has discovered the path to the Good Generation.
TO BE CONTINUED.
Close up of a Jerry Freeman tweaked Generation. Note the translucent plastic overlay on the blade. MacroFipplePhotoTM by Dale Wisely