Category Archives: What People Say

Questions on fingering, warranty, construction, keys & more!

I had a first time whistle buyer drop in the other day and it was obvious that he had spent a lot of time reading about whistles on line. Here is some of what we talked about.

“If they don’t cost a penny and their not made of tin…Why are whistles called that any more? My reply was that they should just be called whistles, plain and simple. The whistle is so common to so many kinds of music world wide today that the old terminology just doesn’t fit. There are probably more people playing whistle in Africa than there are people in all of Ireland and Scotland combined. The music is not the same, but that only shows the wonderful versatility of the whistle and the variety
of music it can be used for. That is why I call my whistles “Wicked Good Whistles”.

What’s the deal with small hands fingering? Is that something just for kids or am I not understanding that part of how a whistle is made?”

I replied that on small whistles in the higher keys that small hands fingering was not important. Everyone can reach the holes on a D, C, or Bb whistle without any strain. When you get down to the low whistles, it is common to have holes that are too large and too much reach in the fingering to be comfortable. If your hands are stiffer than they used to be and the carpal tunnel seems a little on the longer side, and you have a touch of arthritis in a joint…then small hands fingering is a must. I also pointed
out that I had started on my whistle making because my Granddaughter Marilyn was so disappointed when she received her first two low whistles and could not play them. You have to see the look of satisfaction when someone with very small hands and reach plays that big low whistle for the first time.

“There are so many keys, how do I pick out a whistle to start?” I had been discussing the same subject with a friend the night before and this is the conclusion that we had come to. High keys and small size are the only whistles for jigs and really fast music. That’s the reason that Irish music is almost always written in the key of D. It stands to reason that a large low whistle is going to play slower and is more suitable for ballads and waltzes etc. If you are not going to play Irish or fast
music and instead wish to play Traditional, Country and Western, John Denver, Blues, Ragtime (you get the idea!) then start out on a Low G or even a Low D and play away. A man that is almost seven foot tall is going to dislike playing a tiny little whistle with his fingers jammed together. There is no reason not to start out playing a whistle that fits your style and taste in music.

“Your whistles have no metal, wood or glue in the mouthpiece and most have none of those materials in the entire whistle, How come? Well, I am very leery of wooden plugs in the mouthpiece of a whistle , because many types of wood are toxic. A lot of people are allergic to walnuts for instance, and any contact with walnut oil or the nut itself can cause an extreme allergic reaction that can be fatal. Many exotic woods like coca bola and teak, that are fine for furniture, should not be put in your
mouth. A lot of whistle players chew on the mouthpiece and I heartily recommend not doing that for health reasons. Ten years ago I got an incredible reaction to a piece of butternut wood doing a small furniture project and almost ended up in the hospital. There is no reason to use treated woods in a whistle other than aesthetics as it has absolutely no bearing on the sound of the whistle at all.

If you chew on a mouthpiece made of preserved wood or wear it down and expose particles of wood, you are going to be open to an allergic reaction or worse. Wood is treated with plastic to make it machinable, wear resistant, and water prooft. It is basically a process to preserve wood that is unique in appearance to be made into writing pens and novelties on a wood lathe and not produced specifically for whistles. One of the most prized woods for pens is spalted wood. Spalting is caused by decay and mold
in the wood and is not recommended by anyone for consumption or contact in your mouth or digestive system.

Likewise metal residue in a whistle is harmful and chewing on a metal mouthpiece will absolutely ruin your tooth enamel over a short period of time. I do use a copper connector in a couple of models of whistles as slides, but you are not in contact with those in any manner because the slide is inside the body of the whistle and not in your mouth or hands.

“I know there is a good answer for this , but why do you use the Bristol white and tan kind of pipe in these whistles” There a several reasons, the first being that the material is a very high tech material and the quality control for this type of pipe is very good. It is made to carry both hot and cold potable(drinking) water and is extremely strong. It has a wonderful finish right from the factory and the inside bore is better than anything you would ever bore out of solid rod or wood. It has
properties like stretch, memory, and elastisity that can be used to good advantage in making whistles. It machines with regular wood working tools like bandsaws, routers, drills, and shaping machinery and there is practically no dust residue in the workplace. Because this type of plastic material is heavy, it does not float in the air like wood dust and can be collected on a static metal plate instead of off the floor. I make all the parts for the whistles and flutes from four sizes of piping and I don’t buy
any connectors from a supplier. As long as I have pipe in my inventory I will never run out of the pieces to produce or repair any model whistle I have or will make in the future. A whistle made from this type pipe is virtually unbreakable, plays outdoors when a metal instrument would freeze up, and contrary to some published information, always stays very white. Those people that would try to convince you that it ages and looks like old ivory after a period of time… just have a dirty whistle that needs a good
washing. I have used Bristol pipe for stakes outdoors in my garden that have been there for six or seven years and they are still bright white so that should be proof of the finish on the material.

“What kind of warranty do you give for your whistles?” I personally, don’t think a warranty is any good at all if you cannot talk to the person who is going to fix your problem and explain what you need. I am not a vendor, a distributor or even a good salesman. I listen well and it is my pleasure to make a customer happy. When someone takes the time to call or e-mail it means they have enough interest to spend a bit of time and get a proper answer to their inquiry. All the instruments that are
presently available and including future designs will be modular. Every instrument can be easily repaired, updated, and refurbished to brand new condition. I can send a replacement piece for your whistle or flute to correct any problem you might have on the same day you call. I’m never out of parts and it pays to check on updates available for a specific model and key of whistle(like a new style mouthpiece), because I will always be making changes to improve either the instruments or they way they are constructed.
If anyone has a damaged whistle, they need only to send it with round trip postage and I will refurbish it, check the tuning and replace parts if needed for as long as they own the whistle. There is a $10. flat charge to make the whistle like new.There is a restock charge of 25% on custom made whistles and flutes and returns are limited to seven days. Return shipping is the responsibility of the buyer.

Places to Play Your Whistle

When I mentioned that whistles need good acoustics to be their very best, I began to make a list of places to play. My brother Alan and I used to team up on guitar and the banjo and do the entertaining around the campfire in the evening at St. Froid lake. Folks around the lake would hear the music and drop by the big fire and listen for a while and cook hot dogs and marshmallows. Some nights we would draw a large crowd and on the Fourth of July, we would have an all night party with fireworks over the lake.

There is no place better to play than a big lake at night with a strong echo and the woods for a background. I remembered that sound and when I vacation, I travel with a whistle tucked in my luggage. Overpasses and bridges make awesome ampitheatres for playing the whistle.

My brother in law in Connecticut possesses a railroad bridge made of solid concrete just down the street from his house. I discovered it on a walk to town and it is the greatest sounding place to play a whistle you could ask for. Passersby often stop and listen for a bit and remark that they would have never thought about playing music there.

Empty buildings of about every sort are sound stages just waiting to be tried. This is a picture of the largest barn in northern Maine and was the site of many gatherings and barn dances. Although it is now gone, many folks remember the wonderful acoustics it possessed.

I have played whistle for folks cleaning fish in Marathon, Florida in the Keys, ladies selling at yard sales along the road, people waiting for a bus, an Amish family in a furniture store in Lancaster, the Captain of a fishing boat looking for schools of fish, folks under my porch, visitors in the Acoustically Perfect Barn out back, and a lot of places in between.

There is a spot in the middle of my field that is bounded on one side by my neighbors house and on the other by my barn. If you stand exactly right, you get a double echo off both buildings and in the evening it is a great place to play some important music. I’m sure you can find places like that everywhere you go if you are just aware of what you are looking for.

What makes an Auto Flute and Fife Different?

I have recently had inquiries about the new Mystic Auto Flutes and Fifes. Why are they Mystic? and what is the difference between the two instruments?

Well…the Mystic part comes from the fact that most folks cannot see how the instruments play. Without exception, everyone picking up the instrument puckers up and tries to play it like a regular flute,because the hole you blow in doesn’t look like a hole at all! These flutes and fifes are made to play automatically and require no special skill that a whistle player doesn’t already possess. The fingering is the same as a regular whistle that everyone learned to play and the tone is very clear and air requirements
are minimal.

Because these instruments are purpose built ( by that I mean that I designed them to be the way they are and perform in a certain way) they do not fall into the “traditional” manner of flutes and fifes other than a general way. I believe they are the right instrument for beginning players, folks with a bit of stiffness in the joints and all of us who just want to have fun and don’t have that much time to practice. Every time I say things like this, someone will write and correct my assumption by saying that “its
not a toy or plaything…this is a serious instrument with great sound” as a lady in Colorado did recently. Its hard to be humble when you get a comment like that.

The Flutes are in lower keys, A,G,Low D etc. and the instrument is larger. The Fifes are smaller with higher keys, Bb, C,D etc. The fifes are pleasant sounding instruments and not shrill, but they can be played much harder than a whistle and still behave themselves in the upper octave. Folks that try the G Auto flute for the first time generally just smile, because they like the sound,and then they say “I’ve always wanted to play a Sideways instrument!”

The appeal of playing these instruments is the fact that you really look great playing in the flute position and others notice your ability and recognize it as being exceptional. It is a great advantage to play the Auto Flute, because you never miss a note and the sound is right on key every time.

The Sideshooter mouthpiece is adjustable by sliding slightly forward or backward to improve the ease of playing the high notes or adding a bit more volume into the low notes. Rotate the mouthpiece slightly right or left (thickness of a piece of paper) and you can add as much chiff as you like or eliminate it entirely. The best feature of both the flute and fife is that they are easy to clean and fast to remove moisture from the windway in high humidity conditions. My grand daughter Marilyn is visiting this summer
for a month and she has been playing both instruments in the various keys and making comparisons for me. She just grins when I ask if they play OK. “Sure she says, you can play it sideways and thats just better.” Appearances are everything when you are sixteen and looking your very best.

Playing in the Mirror

I have had several groups of children in to visit and discuss the possibility of starting a group to play the whistle. One of these children later came back to visit and told me that her playing had improved a lot by playing in front of her mirror at home. She puts her sheet music up beside the mirror for reference when she practices and can now see her fingers on the whistle in the same direction as the music chart that came with her whistle. She enlarges all her sheet music up to 11×17 inches on a photo copier so it is a very readable size to play from. This extra bit of effort has really improved her playing in a few weeks time. When you play in front of a mirror you gain confidence about your appearance when playing your instrument. You can practice the way you react to the music and show your moves with the whistle just like big time entertainers do. Tom Jones would be pretty dull if he sang and never moved! When learning a piece of music with someone else, it is really neat to stand side by side and be able to observe what the other player is doing from the same position. If you stand face to face everything is backward…no wonder I had so much trouble learning banjo chords from my Granddad. You will pick out your fingering mistakes much faster and learning some alternate fingering is improved. I find that everyone that tries playing in front of a mirror is able to learn the repetitious phrases in music and relate to them faster . Well, anyway give the mirror a try and you will be amazed at what a good looking performer you are and how interesting your whistle playing performance is!