Category Archives: The WhistleSmith News

Whistling in the Wind at St Froid Lake

This fall, I had the privilege to be invited to Cry of the Lost Hunter Campground for Sunday dinner with Frances Cushman and her daughter Ann. Located on St. Froid Lake at Quimby, Maine ,the campground was home to my boys and Nadiene and I in the summer for many years.

St Froid whistler

Here I am playing away in an extremely cold and stiff wind. Whistle worked great!

Owen and Frances Cushman created the campground from an undeveloped piece of shoreline property over a long period of time. Originally the campground was full of tents and folks with trailers in the summer, but now most of the occupants are local people that enjoy being there all summer and have settled in with larger trailers that stay all year long.
It was a really bad day weather wise when we left Presque Isle and the wind was up even worse by the time we had driven the sixty miles up to the lake. Even though it had been quite a few years since we had been to the campground, everything looked pretty much as we had left it on our last visit. Mother Nature seems to maintain things at a pretty nice level if she doesn’t get stressed and the fall foliage was at its best even if the day was dark and wet.
We had a nice long visit at the big log cabin where Frances lives in the summer and of course a tour of the property and a chance to see some folks we knew who were getting in the last visit to camp for the season.

After a leisurely dinner with all the good things that go with homemade cooking and big piece of raspberry pie, I decided the rain had let up sufficiently to go for a walk. The wind was still blowing at about twenty five miles an hour and the shore was getting hit with some big waves from the whitecaps out on the main part of the lake. Nadiene picked up her camera and came along with me as I grabbed my whistle from the Mazda and headed for the beach.

I had been testing the new Traveler whistle in A and thought it would be a real test to be able to play it outdoors under some tough conditions. Frances, Ann and our friend Diane Barnes stayed on the porch to see how the whistle sounded and how far away they would be able to hear it against the wind.
We wandered up the beach and I played the Dance of the Frenzied Turkeys all the way. Nadiene took a bunch of pictures of the cabins along the way and was the on site expert to attest to the playability and staying power of the little whistle against the wind. It was great fun and there were several places that I would have played for a while, but everything was pretty wet and the weather held off just long enough to get in a good walk.

The girls back at camp said they could hear me playing until we were completely out of sight which I found surprising as the wind really started to blow. The Traveler played without a hitch. No wind kill even though I did a full 360 degree in slow motion and the wind was very strong. This is a very pleasant whistle to play and the more I play it the better I like the Key of A. After getting back to camp I gave everyone a short concert of some of my tunes that I’ve been working on and then it was time to head
for home.
We all had a great day and got home just before dark. You try to miss the moose and driving in the dark is not a good idea in the fall of the year. Later in the evening , a tremendous gust of air came down out of Canada and the next morning the color was gone as the leaves blew off the trees. You could say we got in the last nice day of the fall season and had a chance to whistle our way through it in style!

Sound Recorder Can Improve Your Playing!

I’m not a big fan of using sound files to make judgements on how a whistle plays for a prospective customer. I find many sound files have been corrected with filters in the recording process and are no longer true to how the whistle really sounds if you picked it up and played it. Correcting sound for a commercial album is accepted policy, but a sound file made for a buyer should be as factual to the instrument as possible. No reverb, no filters, just the way it comes out of the whistle.

Playing a tune for a prospective buyer on the cell phone can be limited, especially if you are unprepared to play on a moments notice. However, there are some interesting uses for Windows Sound Recorder that will improve your whistle playing technique, timing and intonation.

Sound Recorder is the standard little program that comes with Window operating system. You may have to search through you hard drive to find where it is located. Usually it is located at Programs/Communications/Sound Recorder. Easy enough to find and simple to use. Sound Recorder makes Wave files that are a minute long and you can save them into a file on your hard drive to play and study over and over again.

When recording you can play over the same file again and again until you have an acceptable version of the tune you are playing. Save a version of your session after a try or two. You can listen to this early version later to compare how you have changed your playing or the sound of a composition you are working on.

It helps if you have someone to run the recorder program and keep everything under control, but you can do it yourself once you are accustomed to playing and recording at the same time.

You will want a good microphone plugged into your computer and set about four or five feet from the computer to eliminate computer fan noise and feedback . I recommend you use a separate microphone and not the built in microphone that now comes on most computers. You need about ten feet or twelve feet of distance from the computer microphone to your playing position to get the best sound from your setup. If the recording sounds faint or too loud, move your distance from the microphone accordingly. If you have
a laptop, you can set up your sound recording studio where acoustics are best and it makes recording in a variety of indoor and outdoor locations a snap.

On your first attempts to record, you will be nervous. Stay cool and get used to coordinating your playing with the person doing the recording. My wife Nadiene, counts to four and then hits the Sound Recorder button. That’s because I seem to need more time to get the big first note going and be on track with the music we are trying to get down. If she is too fast I get left at the gate. Don’t worry about playing correctly or getting it perfect while you are getting familiar with the whole process. I guarantee
you will not get anything right at first and it may take a couple of evenings before you don’t feel strained and relax and have fun with the process of recording. You probably will also develop a new found respect for people who record music for a living. It isn’t as easy as you expect.

One of the first things you will gain from your new setup will be all the unexpected sounds you make when you play. Incorrect breathing (huge sound of air being inhaled), throat grunts (Erol Garner Syndrome), and badly damaged notes with lots of air (chiff) from incorrectly timing your tonguing and fingering coordination and the absolute worst sound of all…running out of air on the last note and hearing your lovely note flounder and die. Sound recorder is the ultimate critic who cannot be refuted. Remember
if it doesn’t kill you, it will cure you.

You may want to take a break and have a cool glass of water after a few tries. A minute of recording will seem like an hour and you may not be able to fill up a complete minute for your first few tries. Don’t try to improvise an ending to your recording minute during this point of your development or you may really disappoint yourself. Just let each trial minute stand on it’s own and let your playing stop where it will.

At this point, make sure you and your recording partner agree on what is to be kept and those recordings that you want to do over. Name your wave files by number (Trial Wave Number 1,2,3 etc.)and save them in a folder named Wave Files that you have made on your C drive.

Check to see if your recording partner is still having fun (you don’t need the sound of static in your files!) and proceed to record a few more tunes. When you have a goodly amount of Wave files , replay them and pick out the mistakes and oddities you have collected and make note of what you want to do when you record your next session. Take a break for the rest of the evening and have a go at recording again the next day.

One of the aspects of Sound Recorder you may not expect is how well you play. Even your first attempts may startle you with how much virtuosity you have already developed. After several sessions of recording and listening to your results you will be amazed at how you have improved your technique, fingering, ornamentation and breath control.

You will also note some things about playing the whistle that you thought were fact and have now turned out to be fiction.

Your whistle doesn’t make as much chiff and air when you play it as you originally thought. You have improved your air control and your fingering is now more coordinated to each note. You hear more air from the whistle when you play because the mouthpiece is directly in front of both your ears and only inches away. The microphone is ten feet away and simply doesn’t pick up this additional sound at all!

You play the music exactly the same every time. Hey! not so fast! Better check those sound files again. Repetition is the hardest element of playing music and no one is perfect.

Some of your best loved fingering techniques are out of sync with the way the music is written and sound like… well, not so wonderful. Sound Recorder can really change your memory of what the music sounds like to how it is supposed to sound when played correctly.

Remember to have a good time and have fun using all this technology. If things start getting serious, take a deep breath and a break. Then play your rendition of the tune the way you originally learned it before you gained all this playing perfection.

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There is no Magic Whistle, Mary Jane

Reviews and chat room discussions posted on the internet are prevalent and easy to find. The reviewers uses one or two whistles from a maker and try to make the playing attributes and physical appearance of those instruments clear to the reader. Using close up photography, material lists, and tuning descriptions obtained from electronic devices, the prospective buyer should have enough information to purchase a whistle that is perfect for their use. Because most whistles are made to last a lifetime, the buyer
need only buy the Magic Whistle once and be set for life. Right, Mary Jane?

Written music notation covers everything you need to know to play a piece of music as long as you can read the symbols and do the math. When you describe the sound of the Magic Whistle to another person, you use the same words describing the sound that you use to convey the complexities of food and drink. Rich, smooth, sharp, kind of flat, complex, dark, subtle undertones (i.e. flavors). and so on. When we run out of descriptive terms for food we add in air based terms like breathy, airy, breezy, and the infamous
(but not universally known) term of CHIFFY! Why all this descriptive chaos to describe the whistle and the sounds it makes? Here are some quotes I thought you might want to remember that came to me via e-mail.

magic hat.gif

“The whistle is a devilish hard thing to play. You can start at five and stay up all night and still not get it right. NOT EVER…and no one will ever know how you eventually made out unless you record it.” Paul C., Canada

“The whistle is magic and its sound is a transient traveler, leaving only a memory of the moment behind. Wow!, I just wrote that down… and had to send it to you!” Evelyn, Montana

” thought my new whistle was making a grunting sound, but then I discovered I was doing an Errol Garner kind of blues noise in my throat when I blew hard. Everything is under control now. Stay limber and keep on whistling. J.Carter, Texas

“after removing a piece of peanut, my whistle stopped playing two notes at a time. Maybe you should check the idea of a dual note playing whistle made on the Peanut Principal…on second thought, maybe not! Roy. M., Florida.

After having read more than a couple of hundred customer comments and twenty or so internet reviews over the past month, I have finally resolved whistle reviews are fun reading and let you view whistles not readily available, but there is also the danger of using out of date reviews to make important decisions on purchasing your new Magic Whistle.

Not so quick! Reviews posted on the internet and comments made on chat rooms while discussing various whistles stay active forever unless the writer deletes the post or replaces the information with a new, up to date article. Meanwhile, many months, even years have passed and the maker of the instrument may have completely changed or improved the design. Since most whistle makers work on improvements trying to find the Magic Whistle all the time, the appearance of the whistle has probably changed and materials
may have been upgraded and changed since the review was written. Even worse, the maker may be out of business, deceased or given up whistle making entirely months before. However, the reader of these postings is still basing their opinions on buying a Magic Whistle from the maker on invalid information that is out of date.

The answer to the problem of sorting all this information out is really very simple! Using cut and paste on your computer, copy the information to your clipboard and then paste the review into your e-mail. Send the e-mail to the manufacturer of the whistle and ask if the problems in the article have been taken care of. Be sure to tell the company you are a prospective buyer and other pertinent information so they will know you are serious and not some spamer trying to bust their website. I be you get an honest
answer in a hurry…and you will know whats going on from the source that makes the whistle your are interested in.

Every new whistle maker is excited about having made an inanimate piece of wood or pipe turn into a Magic Whistle. They hurry to show everyone their new and unique Magic Whistle and immediately think it is ready for marketing and review. I know that my granddaughter Marilyn and I though our very first whistle was perfect when it was born. When it played, we both thought it was the most miraculous thing we had ever heard. The first whistle is hanging in the shop today as a reminder that it wasn’t so perfect and
several hundred changes have happened along the way since we first made it. Have we made the Magic Whistle? Not yet! But, we spend a lot of effort every week trying to pump some more magic into every instrument we make.

I believe one of the most remarkable aspects of making whistles is the fact that people everywhere are interested in what you are doing. I have spent over forty five plus years doing custom artwork and complicated projects for folks and I have never experienced a more interested group of people than whistlers. They are tolerant, educated, have definite opinions, likes and dislikes and most of all enjoy talking about everything pertaining to whistles. Whistler players and collectors are not cheap folks! If they
determine there is a Magic Whistle available, no amount of cash will deter them from bidding, buying or obtaining it by trading their valuables for it.

So let’s get it right and lay all that debate about good whistles and bad whistles and cheap whistles and expensive whistles to rest. If you take all the material in the best whistle made and add it up you won’t break a $20. bill. If you take all the material in the cheapest whistle in the market place you should have about a $1. or less.

So what makes a whistle worth all those big bucks to a prospective buyer? You will probably say exotic wood, silver, gold, brass or all the hours crafting a nice sounding INSTRUMENT. Calling a whistle an instrument makes the humble whistle sound much more grand! It’s the same trick they use on Antiques Roadshow when the appraiser calls your junk a very nice Piece. You may also consider the brand name, trademark, makers reputation, and of course the all important Model Name! Join all these items together and you
will be sure you are going to finally receive the elusive Magic Whistle! Well, there is no Magic Whistle, Mary Jane!

Suppose all the Whistle categories were changed so buyers can better understand what the whistle they are purchasing is made for.

Category One: Souvenir Whistles

are remembrances of where you have vacationed and bought a whistle. They are a souvenir of where you have been and had a good time and should be displayed and admired for their appearance and where they came from. They would fall into the category of tee shirts, tea cups, carved fish and other wonders we bring back from vacation. The only excuse for not having several Souvenir Whistles from your vacation would be a hangover, hangnail from shopping too hard or the vacation turned out to be a flop due to
hurricane, cyclone, or tropical storm. These whistles should be inexpensive so everyone back home can receive one without breaking the budget, because we all know how inflation has wrecked travel costs and inflated the cost of souvenir purchasing.

Category Two: Real Playable Whistles which are made for playing music. The whistle has to be in tune through a couple of octaves, show good workmanship and be made from materials suitable for whistles. No pelican bone mouthpieces or ox bone ferrules here! Real Playable Whistles would be reasonably priced, carry a warranty on parts, and of course play without unusual fingerings or unreasonable breath requirements. Most folks will want a Real Playable Whistle because they are a Real Good

Category Three: Whistles Good enough for a Beginner! This of course would be the very best and most expensive whistle available, because everyone knows a beginner needs to have a great experience starting out. Pricing could run up the price scale a bit, or a bit more if the beginner is desperate enough to get the whistle without waiting. Tuning, finish, reach and air requirements should be top notch. Playing this whistle should be effortless. No hanky panky and unusual breath control
requirements for this instrument. This whistle has to be “Good enough for a Beginner” so tuning is perfect through two full octaves and into the third, no chiff unless asked for, effortless changes up and down between octaves and breath requirements held to minimal. Best of all there is no practice necessary to play this whistle with fabulous speed and computer like precision because it has been forged for a Beginner. This whistle must come close to being a Magic Whistle or it has to be exchanged within a thirty
day period and be replaced with a more suitable brand and model of whistle to avoid disturbance in the Force. May the Force be with You!

The Magic Whistle is in its own category. Just leave it there and go off and search for a whistle that makes you happy when you play. To give you a start, I leave you with the following ways you might find what you are looking for and several facts about the Search for the Magic Whistle that you may have overlooked.

Some folks think the answer to getting a Magic Whistle is to buy a crate of inexpensive whistles and sort them out until you find one that plays in a Magical Manner. No matter how much time and money spent it will be worth the effort…Sorry you still end up with a cheaply made whistle that plays well and cost a lot of money to obtain. If you use this method of obtaining you whistles, you should become a dealer or better yet, a distributor of whistles.

Or you can buy a Magic Whistle that has been forced into being playable by a professional tweaker somewhere out there. Now you have a whistle that has been remade into something playable and you have paid a premium price for a whistle that plays. Remember the resale market for an altered whistle is non-existent so you really have a one of a kind instrument. If tweakers are good at making other makers whistles play, they should apply for a job in the whistle factory as an engineer or invention improver and make
some big bucks for their time. Why waste all that time and effort promoting someone else’s whistle brand when the Magic is yours? Why not start a new brand and market a new and innovative whistle that really plays and call it the Magic Whistle? The world is waiting for your product.

Little Known Facts about Whistling:

The Magic Whistle will make you happy! The sign of a happy person is someone who whistles while they work. Whistling lets you pass the time while doing all those tedious chores and tells the world you find enjoyment in what you are doing. Playing for a while every day with your Magic whistle will make you happy and healthy at the same time.

The Magic Whistle is medicinal! Your lung power and capacity increase with every hour you play. A good Low Whistle should bring you up to the capacity to inflate a truck tire with a single breath in about a month. My doctor was amazed at my lung capacity and when I said it was probably from playing whistle all the time, she muttered something that sounded like “I’m more inclined to believe it might be genetically inherited long windedness”. Anyway, you will have more breathing capacity the more and longer you
play and that is a bit if magic in it’s self.

Playing your Magic Whistle gives your hands and fingers a good workout and improves your flexibility. If you keep time with your feet,(and I confess I keep time with both feet) then you get a bit of a double workout. If stiffness and a touch of the old arthritis in the joints is bothering, a good session on the whistle helps keep you limber and improves your sense of well being.

The Magic whistle will improve your mind. Music is like a crossword puzzle for your mind and learning a new piece of music is good for you. A new tune or two will give you an enjoyable and entertaining way to keep alert and active. Take your whistle with you everywhere, play every time you get a chance and expand your ability to play a larger variety of music.

It is amazing the friends you make with a Magic Whistle! Playing the whistle lets folks know you are a happy person and they in turn will be happily listening to your music. Everyone loves the whistle and whistle music because they hear music they are familiar with. Perhaps, they played the whistle , ocarina, recorder or Tonette and remember how much fun it was.

Listeners will also be appreciative of your playing regardless of what kind of music you play. Take your whistle and play it everywhere and anytime you have a chance. The best complement I ever received came from a fisherman on a bridge in the Florida Keys. He listened to me wailing away on my whistle while waiting for a fish to bite and when I finished said, “Sounds just like Jethro Tull” Wow! I was just blown away by that one.

If you need a hobby, finding the Magic Whistle should keep you busy for your entire lifetime. I think that’s what my granddaughter Marilyn meant when she and I were discussing whistles after supper one night. “You know Gramp, If you don’t sell all these whistles you are making, you will have the largest collection of whistles in the world!” You have to admit, that is a very interesting concept and probably has a good amount of truth to it.

Things you should remember before leaving on your Quest for the Magic Whistle. Don’t be discouraged or dissuaded from your Quest by anything. Search in all directions and listen to the advise of strangers about every whistle related rumor and sighting of the existence of a Magic Whistle. Acquire as many varieties of whistles that hold magic and play them all to see if you can acquire the essence they may hold. Spend a dragon’s ransom and acquire a hoard! Sell, buy and dispose of your
hoard with others only after advising them that they are getting possession only because you have more Magic than you can handle and are willing to share your wealth with others in search of the Magic Whistle.

And if all fails in your Quest for the Magic Whistle… You might consider purchasing a Wicked Good Whistle that has a lot of handmade magic. Lots of good models and keys and at a price you can afford. In fact, your can afford two at the price they’re going for and still have enough left over for a burger and fries on your way home. Super size and get the Low D to go!

Sliders are for Everyone!

slide flute2.6-tbn.jpgIf you have read the article on Kevin’s Whistle you will remember I have been working on a slide whistle for my nephew Kevin for a three year period of time. This is not only an excellent instrument for folks with missing and broken fingers and limbs, arthiritis, and disabilities, but an instrument that is enjoyable for a variety of musical applications. Most people relagate the slide whistle to a novelty sound effects instrument, but the “Slider” has a long history of musical applications and many compositions have been written for slide whistle.

After playing the prototype whistle for an extended period it became apparent that a flute version would be more appropriate for most applications. The flute is a bit more mellow, has more horizontal length for the attachment of clips and attachment devices, and is easier to hear over other instruments. A snap on clip is available for the whistle that allows you to rivit the clip to a velcro watch band. This allows you to place the whistle on you wrist if necessary to play the instrument. The clip can be modified to attach to a variety of appliances and head braces (harmonica brace works well) for playing using one hand.

Making the original Kevin’s Whistle pointed in the direction of certain musical areas that everyone is familiar with. Hawaiian music, steel guitar arrangements, Traditional and Folk Songs and Country and Western music are easily played.

Finding the highest note in a song and using your thumb as a marker appears to be the key to playing a song quickly. Most people with no experience could play a tune that they could hum outloud in a few minutes. Players that played other instruments, especially wind instruments had no trouble in playing more complex music after a short practice. Most beginning players want to play everything as a slide, but as soon as they discover individual notes are easily played, they begin to make quick progress with figuring out the slide positions. The slide has a good feel in the hand if held between the right thumb and forefinger and moved like a violin bow.

The more you play, the easier the Slide Flute plays. A breakin period of about an hour is required to make everything slide smoothly and there are no problems with jamming of the slide. The poly plug on the slide is very durable, easily replaced if ever necessary and does not absorb moisture so the flute works with no maintenance and comes completely apart for cleaning.

I have modified the mouthpiece slide on the automatic flute design to make it easier to blow and give the flute increased sound and volume. Next, I replaced the original plunger shaft with a fiberglass rod to give more weight and feel to the instrument (just like the bow on a violin). A pin on the end of the plunger was cut to to go completely through the poly plug seal and make it easily replaceable if necessary.

A new version of the Whistlesmith logo with the wording “Slide Flute” underneath has been designed for the instrument. Initially, the instrument will come only in basic black, using the white and natural tan of the body material as accent colors. The white fiberglass rod can be dotted with a marker to show note positions if the player finds it useful and the marks can be removed easily with alcohol if necessary.
pPlayers will find the Slide Flute to be a fun instrument that has a mellow, pleasant sound and can be played with a variety of other instruments. Children can do sound effects with the whistle right out of the box and of course, the second octave is handy for birdcall enthusiasts.


Last week, I had some folks drop into the shop to purchase two whistles for their collection. They pointed out some things I would not have thought about if I were purchasing a whistle to be a collectible. Here are some of the items I wrote down in my daily notes that seem like good ideas.

1. Try and make a visit to the whistlesmith of your choice and see what is available and do a little inquiring about projects and future instruments that are in the works. Prototypes and unfinished items that relate to your collection might be available if you seem interested. Out of inventory instruments that are no longer being made are another possibility for the collector. One of my “collaborator kids” has every sample whistle and mouthpiece I ever made for him to try in a box and keeps them with his collection.

2. Take some notes about the maker and keep them with your instrument. Collectors like insight into who and where the collections were made.

3. Keep the bill of sale, auction printouts, posted information on the web about the instrument, and record the instrument number if it is available.

4. Keep the box, instruction sheets, fingering charts and music in a folder that is marked to identify it and the instrument it pertains to.

5. Take down some written notes on playing the instrument. Sound, feel, if you play it a lot, if it is enjoyable to play and how it plays best, would be some categories you might consider making an entry on.

6. Ask for a signature on the bill of sale or letter from the maker and date it to validated when you made the purchase.

7. Take photos of your visit and include them with your paperwork and the instrument to make a nice bundle of information.

8. Base you collection on whistles that have value ( whistles that are no longer made, custom whistles from small makers, unique designs and materials, etc.) are all good areas to look into. Mass produced whistles made over a long period and altered instruments are not good collectables unless done by Stradivarius or other famous persons. Authentic James Galway instruments would seem to be a good idea even if they have been scratched up a bit by the player.

I think the above items are good advice and will make your whistle purchases much more interesting and valuable.

Oh, I forgot some personal Whistlesmith advice!

1. Pick a really old Whistlesmith so your collectable whistle will be worth a lot in a shorter period of time.

2. Only buy whistles you want to play right now. It takes patience and a lot of time to become a collector and you might want to play a tune while they are becoming valuable.

3. You might want to buy a duplicate whistle to play and another to collect providing the price is right.

4. Become a dealer and buy all your whistles at wholesale pricing.

Kevin’s Whistle

My nephew, Kevin playing the original slide whistle.

My brother Alan , his wife Vicki and my twin nephews Kevin and Tim came for Christmas this past week. The food was good, the company was great and it managed to snow over three full feet of snow while they were here. Needless to say, I spent the past five days moving snow from the driveway and yard. Then we had an ice storm and another foot of snow and 35 mph wind before the weather cleared up and the temperature dropped off to ten below zero for New Years Day. A couple of years ago, Kevin’s sister Dawna Marie
go married and I went out to Pawnee, Illinois for the wedding. My brother had just got back from Ireland and had brought the boys tin whistles as a souvenir of the trip. While the wedding guests were visiting, Tim brought out his whistle and asked if I would play a bit of music and show him some tips on playing his new instrument. I played a few songs that everyone knew and not thinking , I asked Kevin if he liked his whistle and if he had tried playing it. Kevin said he liked it, but how was he going to play
it? I have never felt as bad about a question as I did at that exact moment. I had never considered Kevin to be handicapped at anything. He plays all kinds of sports, does all the things everyone else does and never has a complaint about anything. But you need two hands to play a whistle and Kevin was born with only one. That makes a whistle as useless as a fork without any tines. So I made Kevin a promise that I would make him a whistle that he could play with his brother Tim. After working on the idea for several
months in my head, I decided to make a slide whistle that would attach to his wrist with a Velcro closure strap like a watchband.

There are several slide whistles on the market, but they tend to be either too heavy to play with the strap idea or the whistle plays with too much tension on the slide. I built several prototypes that were promising and played okay, bu definition for individual notes was too vague and the slide was not as easy to use as I thought it should be. To play the slide whistle with any consistency and not make it sound like a group of sound effects turned out to be a bit of a puzzle. When I talked to Kevin or his Dad,
they would ask how the whistle was coming and I could only say that I was working on it and had solved some of the problems on making it right. Lots of other whistle stuff got in the way and two years passed and I still didn’t have it right and everyone was coming for Christmas and still no completed whistle that worked.

Sometimes you just try too hard and get off on the wrong path when you are reinventing your original idea for the thirty third time. You need to go back to the basics of solving your problem and do five things.

1. Stop making up RULES to follow while working on your invention.

2. Use COMMON MATERIALS that are rugged enough to do the job and are available locally.

3.EXPLORE every way you can assemble the parts necessary to make the design work.

4. DON’T THROW AWAY ANY IDEAS and take notes on what you do when making all the pieces of the project.


The two days before Christmas , I spent all my time trying to devise a slide piston that felt right and get the sound of the whistle to be mellow and have better volume. My wife, Nadiene just let me go at it and told me that I would get it right eventually…” How can you fail at anything when you get such great support from your wife? When Kevin arrived, I had just put the slide knob on and tested the whistle. No strap yet, but Alan and I got that straightened out (after a couple of tries) the next morning .
Kevin gave the whistle a test drive and after a bit of break in and a few adjustments he announced that ” the whistle worked just fine”. And to make the story complete, he just kept on playing until like Santa Claus he drove out of sight on the way back to Pawnee, Illinois. Kevin’s going to test out whistle number 34 and let me know if it needs any changes and I’m sure he’ll know if it’s absolutely right because, it is Kevin’s Whistle.

The slide whistle has been around for a long time and there are a lot of folks who play the instrument and know a lot about it’s history. I can remember “Hold that Tiger” and Spike Jones on the radio when I was a kid and all the sound effects that utilized the slide whistle on the evening shows. Folks that have a fair ear for a tune can play music on this instrument right out of the box. However, there are a lot of applications like Kevin’s that a bit of help might be in order. Persons with missing fingers, tips
of fingers, no fingers, crippled hands from arthritis and injury, carpal tunnel, tendon injuries and so on down a very long list of possible users. Rethinking the slide whistle and building it lighter instrument, incorporating some new materials to keep cost down, and having the appliances available so the instrument can be held and played easily are all areas that need some new exploration. I think most of the answers are already available in various parts of the Whistlesmith workshop and are just waiting to
be noticed and used in a different way on this project.

After watching Kevin playing the slide whistle , I believe a new technique for starting beginners should also be written. I can see that younger people and older folks don’t approach playing a tune in the same way. I think people who are older and started out learning songs that you knew the words, tune and could sing to, play quickly and have an idea of what they want to do with the instrument. If you have listened to heavy metal and rap and have a musical experience that is not able to be sung, hummed or whistled,
then you need to start out very differently. It is not a matter of liking or not caring for any particular kind of music, it is a matter of knowing a tune well enough to find a starting note and play it from memory.

I’m sure all these details will be worked out shortly and I invite anyone with ideas and input to e-mail or call. If you are interested in playing the slide whistle and would like to be part of the group of people testing the instrument , just e-mail your name, address and any personal information you would like to include for developing this project. Prototype whistles will be going out for appraisal in March and are based on the original concept whistles.

Screenprinting Whistlesmith Tees

I have been doing commercial artwork and screen printing since I was in high school, so naturally I put off doing the company tee shirts until last. Sign painters never have a decent sign, plumbers have a house full of leaking pipes and carpenters never fix their own front steps. Well, that goes for for screen printers who can’t decide what design should go on the shirt they want to print.

The press I am using is the original handmade wooden press I designed in 1979 to develop a small size screen printing press to fit in a limited area shop. The fellow I designed it for thought the press was just great and had them made in aluminum for his company. He commented at the time, that the wooden version would never be adequate for any amount of work. I have printed thousands of dozens of tees and sweatshirts on this little press since then and it has never had a piece replaced or needed any more maintenance
than a few screws getting tightened and regular oiling and cleaning. Guess he was wrong about the wearing out problem.

The front of the shirt has a small full chest print of the Whistlesmith logo and the Wicked Good Whistles motto. Small full chest is a new 8″ size that is very trendy this season (easier to read than a small left breast print and looks more centered on all sizes of shirt).

The back is a large full size print with “Whistlin’ Ain’t Easy, until you play a Wicked Good Whistle”.

Tuning Up for the Dance of the Frenzied Turkeys

Being a whistlesmith and making whistles all day can be a heavy burden. While you are working on whistles all day, your friends are out whistling away their time and having fun. The more they play, the better they get, until they actually begin to sound like real musicians. Soooooo, I decide to learn at least one new tune every week for an entire year.
I calculated that by years end my repertoire of fifty tunes would be sufficient to impress my neighbors at the Bugbee Fourth of July Pig Roast and I would be playing an impressive variety of music. After about a month, I was practicing six tunes every night for a half hour and I could see I was really making progress. Then along came a sizeable order for some whistles and I got really busy with making parts and putting the order together. All was fine until I set about tuning the order and realized I would be a while getting this many instruments finished. The more I tuned and the more I tested the whistles for sound, the better my tuning became. However the tune I was playing was not music, it was scales and riffs and bounces from one octave to the other and back and repetitions of the same note while undercutting holes and OTHER STUFF! Tuning is real work and you must concentrate and get it right and it was just killing my practicing time. Soon I could not stay on a single tune, but kept wandering off and ending up playing parts of my tuning routine. Every song soon became a medley of songs and sounds no matter how hard I tried. When a friend walked in and commented that the tune I was playing sounded very nice and he liked it and what was it? I had no idea that he thought my tuning routine was music, but to humor him, I replied,” I call this composition the Dance of the Frenzied Turkeys.” “Nice!”was his reply,” I will bring the wife over so she can hear it too.” So of course, I began to play the Dance of the Frenzied Turkeys every time folks dropped in and wanted to hear how the latest whistle design was turning out. The real point of all this wandering is that the Dance of the Frenzied Turkeys has attracted some local attention and now folks have even requested the tune by name. (“You were playing the Turkey thing the other night when I walked by your place with the dog”). I think this tuning tune is meddling to be part of a medley or perhaps a new melody on its own.

are a few thoughts on common tuning problems with whistles that I run into all the time.

1. Low notes on the whistle are not loud and tend to lag too much when played. Most common cause is a mouthpiece that is not blowing correctly. Mouthpiece is designed incorrectly or is unstable, has a build up of dirt in the wind way, or may have a hidden piece of whistle material between the mouthpiece and tone body. The tone body edge facing the mouthpiece may be intruding into the flow of air or has an edge that is protruding. 2. Finger hole has a buzzing sound or sounds like two notes trying to play together. Send it back to maker if still under warranty or try the following remedy at your own risk. The finger hole has a bad edge. It is either bent or the inside edge is not clean and sharp. Hold the whistle up to a strong light and try to determine what is happening. The hole will probably look just fine , so use a metal reamer or small file and try to carefully clean up the edges. Usually you can correct the problem, but sometimes nothing works. If all else fails, use the whistle as a novelty support to tie up a potted plant and buy a new one to play. 3. A single hole sounds weak and does not play correctly. The tone hole is not correct. Use the same technique you used to fix the buzzing hole. Usually, the side of the hole is not cleanly cut, has a burr, or is dented slightly. It may look okay to the eye, but the path of least resistance has an invisible detour in the way. When correctly made the hole will play loudly. Do not try to make the hole a different shape or deviate from the round as the pitch of that hole may be raised or lowered too much for the whistle to stay in tune. 4. When using the tuning slide, remember that the whistle will be in good tune on the lower octave much longer than it will be on the second octave. Tune your whistle to play best on the high register and then check it for accurate tuning on the lower one. Every note will vary to some degree with temperature, humidity and breath pressure, so tune for the best overall result in both octaves. Tiny movements of the tuning slide (thickness of a piece of paper) can make extreme changes in the upper octave. When you are finished tuning, make a tiny pencil mark for reference to reset the whistle at a later time.

Some easy techniques on playing Low D whistles that really work

Playing the Low D whistle is a little different than any of the other whistles. I have received many responses to the following article from folks around the world. Taking the time to read the steps about playing the Low D apply to all whistles and will give you a step up on being a good whistler.

1. The length and size of the bore on the Low D penny whistle creates a small time lag on the bottom two notes of the whistle that must be compensated for with a tiny pause when you are playing.

2. When first playing the Low D, try playing down the scale from top to bottom and see how you must breath to blow the low notes. Some players say to blow from your stomach and others say relaxing your throat is how they get the best results. I would describe the technique in this fashion…Inhale a deep breath as if you were trying to relax and then exhale slowly as if a great load was off your mind. You will now be blowing a larger, slower, column of air with less force into the whistle and the low notes will
become very solid and formed.

3. Practice bouncing from low octave note to high octave note by increasing the air into the mouthpiece. Do not blow extremely hard or you will hit notes in the third octave. Practice bouncing the notes up and down until you get the feeling for how the whistle reacts. It is easier to go up the scale than to come down and hit the lowest three notes correctly, because of the air volume necessary to fill the bore capacity and the necessary drop in pressure. Practice the drop from high E to low E as a test to see
how much control you have gained and repeat until this repetition feels comfortable.

4. Hold the Low D irish whistle close to your body and as vertical as possible. The mouthpiece should be at almost right angles to your body and you should blow the whistle with the mouthpiece held comfortably against your lower lip. If you blow across the mouthpiece with your lips just covering the airway and not in your mouth (like a small whistle) there will be and increased volume to the sound and minimal moisture going into the whistle. This is because the saliva glands in your mouth are only in the bottom of your mouth
and the top of your mouth is basically dry.( Mother Nature wants you to have moisture to swallow your food and air going up your nose when you breath!)

5. Keep your whistle dry. Place your thumb over the sound hole and blow into the mouthpiece to clear out any moisture. Dry the bore on your whistle frequently and clean the bore on a regular basis. A new whistle will play better every time you buff the bore using the shotgun cleaner and drill technique that I have described several times on the website(See the short article with pictures on cleaning your whistle). The more you buff and clean, the smoother the bore becomes and the better and longer the whistle
will shed water. Dry silicon spray on a cloth passed through the bore is a good technique after the whistle is buffed and dry inside because it decreases the surface tension in the bore.

6. Relax and pick a slow tune to play. The Low D whistle is capable of playing at a speedy rate, but starting out, just slow down and enjoy those low notes and try to play them as full as you can. When you are up to speed on your technique, you should be able to feel the notes vibrant inside the whistle. The Low D can be played very softly with very little air or can be PUSHED and played aggressively with an large increase in volume.

7. Two tunes that are good for practicing low whistle technique when starting out are Wayfaring Stranger and Greensleeves. Almost everyone knows these songs and it is easier to correct mistakes and improve your playing if you know the song well.

8. One of the most important techniques in playing the Low D is to raise your fingertips well above the finger holes to eliminate shading the holes. There is a lot of air coming out of the finger holes and you must not let your fingertips flatten the sound by being too close. I tell beginners to BOUNCE their fingers high when playing.

You can buy our whistles online or you can call us to learn more.

Help Your Winter Visitors

For many years we had very few birds in the winter. About ten years ago my wife and I decided to make the feeding area a little more private and protected from the wind and it has paid off wonderfully. The birds in the photos are mostly Red Poles from the Arctic that visit Maine in the winter and return north in the spring to nest. In addition to Red Poles, we have a flock of about two dozen Mourning Doves that winter in our woods, six Blue jays that harass everything, a flock of Chickadees and several Nuthatches that drop by. The Downy woodpeckers hammer at the bird feeders and stumps on a regular basis picking flies out of the bark and digging for grubs. The sock with all the birds is filled with Nyjer seeds, the barrel feeder has sunflower seeds and the trough gets a full ration of mixed bird seed. Occasionally we add suet squares for the Blue jays and woodpeckers as an extra treat in extremely cold weather. This year we fed the birds about 100 pounds of seed per month to keep them happy. When spring comes, the Goldfinches and Hummingbirds will arrive with Robins and our resident family of crows that patrol all the back fields looking for pests. They never bother the garden or the other birds, so no one bothers them in return.