February 2009

Chiff & Fipple Is Shovel-Ready!

I.  Transcript of Dale's Testimony Before Congress

Rep. Barney Frank: Sir, before we begin questioning about....    

Dale: Fifth amendment.

Rep. Frank:    Excuse me?

Dale:  I'm taking that fifth amendment thing.

(At this point, witness consulted with counsel.)

Rep.Frank:    Excuse me, who is that you're talking with?

Dale:  This is my attorney, nurse, and former podiatrist, tinwhistle maker Paul Busman.  You may recognize him for recently withdrawing his name for Secretary of Commerce.

Rep. Frank:  Is this gentleman registered with us as your attorney?

Dale:  Probably not. I consider him to be an attorney. Attorneyness is totally in the eye of the beholder. He's given some thought to going to law school. Anyway, he just told me what the fifth amendment is and advised me not to take it.  

Rep. Frank:  Very well. I'll proceed then with...

Dale:  Can I take any other amendments?  4th?  6th?

Rep. Frank:  Sir, we need to move forward...

Dale:  2nd Amendment.  I'll take that one.  The, right to, uh, defend yourself against bears with ... arms.

Rep. Frank:  Sir, are you on medication?

Dale:  I'll take the 5th. So, go ahead with your questions.  

Rep. Frank:  Before we get into questions about how Chiff & Fipple has spent the 1.3 billion dollars this congress gave it, we need to begin with the now traditional inquiry as to how you traveled to Washington for this hearing.

Dale: I came in a taxi.

Frank:  You rode in a taxi from Birmingham, Alabama to D.C.?

Dale: Part of the way.  From the hotel to here--the dome building here. Thunderdome, or whatever. 

Frank:  This is the United States Capitol Building. Did you fly in a corporate jet?

Dale:   Dale Force One.  Yes.  We've cut back on the expenses associated with that.  That plane runs on recycled cooking oil we collect from a KFC restaurant in Birmingham.  

Frank:  Sir, could you provide an accounting of how Chiff & Fipple spent the money given to it by the American people?

Dale:  (Consults with former podiatrist) We built a lair.

Frank:  I'm sorry.  Did you say "lair"?

Dale:   Yes. It's hard to run a major whistle and music-related internet community without an appropriate secret lair.  Many have tried and failed. So, we built a lair in New Zealand. We were going to build it into an inactive volcano but we couldn't find one in New Zealand that was for sale, so we built an active one and then deactivated it.  Sir, that takes some serious money.  Magma is expensive. And then there are the salaries, medical insurance, and  retirement benefits for the henchmen in the lair that walk around on catwalks and ride around in golf carts  wearing hardhats and jumpsuits.

Frank:  I have to question the propriety of spending public money...

Dale:  Shovel-ready.

Frank: Sorry?

Dale:  That lair project. Totally shovel-ready.

Frank:  I understand there is a landing strip there.  Is that for "Dale Force One" ?

Dale: No, we land Dale Force One by flying it into a very large cave.  The landing strip is for ...uh...we are anticipating a landing  by some..uh.. visitors from another place that have some, like, ships that, uh////][][BRK//////SECURITYINTERPT\ALPHAPROTOCOL:vIAGra////BRK/END

II. A rarity : An old metal whistle in D, fully keyed

submitted by Peter Laban

Recently something I had never encountered before came my way: a keyed tin whistle.  Even though a wooden instrument similar to the recorder, the csakan or czakan, has been known to turn up in a whistle like form (six open holes with keyes to give it a fully chromatic scale) and amateur makers have done the odd experimental adding of keys and extra (often thumb-) holes to the simple-system whistle, commercially produced keyed tin whistle-like instruments can be classed  by and large as extremely rare finds.

The whistle itself is a metal cylinder, 28 cm long and 13mm in diameter (inside). It has a lead fipple plug which is covered on the outside by the metal exterior so the player’s mouth does not come into contact with the lead. At the front of the whistle below the mouth-piece a shield bearing the makers name is located  between two raised  ornamental rings, spaced 40mm apart. At the top of this shield the words ‘trade mark’ appear followed by the image of a harp.

On the left of the harp the letter  J appears, on the right a H. Below the harp the words ‘IN TUNE’ and a key designation (in this case D) appear followed by the place of manufacture : London. The design and lettering would suggest the whistle was made some time during the late 19th or early 20th  century. 

At the bottom of the whistle four ornamental turned rings appear.

The usual six open holes appear plus six covered by keys adding E flat, F natural (two options: a ‘short’ key to be worked by the right ring finger and the ‘long’ F operated with the left pinkie), G sharp, B flat and C natural to the range. The steel-sprung keys are padded with leather (two pads were missing on arrival, I roughly replaced them). They are mounted between little key mounts soldered (very neatly) to the outside of the whistle’s body. The craftsmanship gone into making the keys is impeccable. 

In my possession are a number of keyless  whistles made by the same manufacturer, these include two keyless Ds, one in nickel and one in brass and a brass B flat.  These would suggest a range of keys was turned out. While the plain brass and nickel whistles are sturdy well made whistles that live up to their ‘in tune’ trademark it is obvious the keyed whistle was the flagship of the range. The body of the keyed whistle is a shiny silvery colour (I am not sure what metal the whistle was made of, some sort of nickel or chrome  plating is also a  possibility) and unlike the other whistles it comes untarnished. It has the look  and feel of a quality instrument.

I have no information whatsoever on the company that made these whistles.  The fact I was able to find a number of  whistles  of this make within a short space of time (all in the UK) would suggest JH’s ‘in tune’ whistles had some circulation in their day. 

One example in Bflat is held in the Dayton-Miller Collection.

The burning issue is of course:  Do these whistles play? 

The keyed whistle is a fine player, very easy to play (in the sense it takes very little wind) it has  a pleasing delicate tone and is responsive and  volume wise very well balanced between the octaves. 

The whistle is not tuned to standard A=440, it plays  exactly a semi-tone sharp of concert pitch, as do most whistles of this vintage .

Peter Laban

Miltown Malbay, Co Clare

III. Space Age Polymers!

submitted by Walt Sweet

Polycarbonate, my friend,
Is our new black upper end.
It's the Pro-Plus stuff of choice
To get a better voice.
Just wanted everyone to know that we recently tried making our Professional Model Pennywhistle out of plastic.  We were having too many issues of voicing the Permali, which is beautiful but fickle.  I've always felt that playablity should be a high priority; the polycarbonate heads are VERY consistent (during and after manufacture) and they voice like the whistles we've always wanted.  The material is FDA approved. 

I also wondered if people would miss the beauty of the woodgrain, so I made up some samples.  You'll forgive me if I didn't have time to make a plastic body to see with the two plastic heads at left.  The four heads have various amounts of plastic, and I'd like to hear what people think of the appearance.  All plastic head & body will be one of the options, and I wanted to know how far to go with the Permali (the laminate). 

I'll add that I've played one of these and I can't tell any difference between the sound and playability of this one and the Sweet wooden models.  Great, great whistle.  -- Dale

IV.  Paging Dr. Freud.   Dr. Freud, Please Call Your Answering Service

Does Size Matter?

V.  Pound for Pound, the Best Sofa Player Ever

Pound for Pound, the Best Sofa Player Ever.


Jerry Freeman buys inexpensive whistles, tweaks them and resells them.  I've played a number of these and thought they were pretty darn nifty.  So, Jerry Freeman and I finally had a chance to sit down  over beautiful appetizers of a liver pate on a large crouton with plum sauce at a cafe in Switzerla...ok, truthfully we did this by email.

Jerry, I gather you went from tweaking inexpensive whistles for your own use to selling them to others.

Yes, that’s true. From the time I got interested in whistles, I was intrigued by the fact that it’s traditional for players to tweak inexpensive whistles for their own use.

As I developed some skill at this and participated in online discussions, people began asking if I could come up with consistently good tweaked whistles for sale, especially Generation whistles. I had made some attempts at tweaked Generations, but with mixed results, and I wasn’t enthusiastic about selling them.

Then a member of the discussion board offered to donate an unlimited supply of Generations, to experiment until I could devise a reliable tweaking scheme. Of course, I couldn’t turn this down, but I was intimidated by the challenge and had no idea what might work.

After many failed attempts and ruined whistles, I had an idea.

I had determined that an important part of a whistlehead’s geometry is what some instrument makers call the “step.” That’s the relationship between the soundblade edge position and the windway floor.

Sighting through the beak of the whistlehead, if you can see much daylight below the soundblade, in most cases the whistle won’t play as cleanly as it could.

One of the tweaking techniques already in use was to glue a bit of plastic on top of the soundblade ramp to adjust the position of the soundblade edge. It occurred to me that, rather than gluing a piece on top of the soundblade, I might achieve better results by laminating a layer underneath, of the needed thickness to precisely adjust the step.

This approach worked, and it became part of the tweaking scheme for most of my tweaked whistles.

After developing tweaking schemes for Generations, Sweetones, Shaws (which I no longer do) and Feadogs, I set out to devise a tweaked Walton’s Mellow D.

Although it’s not a bad whistle, I wasn’t captivated by the voicing of the Walton’s Mellow D, and it didn’t sound different enough from some of the other whistles I was working with. Rather than abandon the idea of a tweaked Mellow D, I set out to create a new voicing I felt would be the absolute best sound I could get from the whistle to suit my own taste.

After some work, I developed a tweaking scheme that completely remodeled the soundblade, with material laminated both on top and underneath to place the edge in exactly the position that would make the sound and playing characteristics I wanted. In addition, I extended the bottom of the Walton’s Mellow D tube to correct the sharp bell note that’s always been a feature of that whistle.

As I began tweaking the first batch, to my horror the whistleheads were so inconsistent, I couldn’t get a single tweaked Mellow D to play acceptably! I had already announced the product, and I didn’t want to damage my reputation by retracting the announcement. In a state of panic, I scrambled to find a solution.

I determined that a key of C Feadog whistlehead will fit a Mellow D tube (the Mellow D uses a Walton’s C whistlehead on a wide body D tube), and I set out to discover whether my tweaking scheme would work.

As it happens, the tweaked Feadog C whistlehead on a Walton’s Mellow D tube proved to be even more pleasing than the original Walton’s whistlehead, and the Mellow Dog was born (“Mellow” for the tweaked Mellow D tube, and “Dog” for the tweaked Feadog C whistlehead).

You've got the Blackbird out. Tell us about that.

All this work was done with much collaboration and feedback from players in the US, Canada and Ireland, and in the process I became aware of various preferences. Although most customers were delighted with the tweaked whistles I provided, it became clear that there were a few that none of my existing designs would suit.

Having worked extensively with Feadog whistleheads and found them to be extremely consistent, I wondered what would happen if I took a standard body Feadog D whistle through a similar process as I had used to develop the wide body Mellow Dog. Again, what would I get if I set out to create the absolute best sound this, different whistle could produce to suit my own taste?

The result is the Blackbird. This is very sweet/pure, birdlike voicing, with a pleasing amount of musical chiff that gives a thoroughly traditional sound. The handling pleases many players who grew up on Generation whistles and are accustomed to subtle breath control. John O'Hara's (MTGuru's) clips show not only the voicing and chiff, but the very quick, liquid character of the articulation. There’s some reverb in the soundclips, but you can get the idea. (With thanks to John O’Hara for recording these.)

Clip One 

Clip Two

Without giving away trade secrets, can you summarize the fundamentals of one of your tweaks?

There are three elements to the tweaking scheme of all my whistles, plus a fourth element for C and F Generations.

One, adjusting the soundblade edge position to the ideal distance above the windway floor (step) and voicing window length. This focuses the sound and cleans up some of the breathiness, buzzing, etc., especially in the upper register.

The adjustment is accomplished by laminating a bit of plastic or brass under the soundblade (all tweaked whistles except Sweetones) and in some cases an additional piece of plastic on the soundblade ramp (Mellow Dogs and Blackbirds). In tweaked Sweetones, the step is adjusted by raising the windway floor, which also reduces the air requirement to a level that’s more comfortable for most players.

Two, filling the cavity under the windway. This reduces turbulence, which helps stabilize and strengthen the bottom notes as well as further clean up breathiness, buzzing, etc. in the upper register.

In tweaked Eb, D, C and Bb Generations, I use an acoustically transparent cast material I developed that helps preserve a certain brightness. In all other tweaked whistles, I use a putty material that is soft when new, then hardens over time to a leathery effect. I don’t find that any other whistles than Generations require the special material.

Three, work a bevel or radius onto the windway floor exit edge.

Four, Generation C and F whistleheads are so tight on the tube, they’re almost impossible to remove without breaking. To deal with this, I intentionally create a crack in the socket using a drop or two of acetone. Then, with the whistlehead placed back on the tube, I wind a layer of thread around the socket and soak the thread with hard lacquer. This enlarges the socket slightly because the tube holds the crack open just the right amount while it’s being wrapped and lacquered. The result is that the finished whistlehead fits properly and can be moved to adjust the tuning as needed.

So, which whistles are now available in a Freeman tweaked version?

Blackbird in Eb, D and C.

Mellow Dog in D and as a D/C set.

This is one whistlehead and two tubes. The Mellow Dog whistlehead on a C tube is a standard body C whistle, similar to a key of C Blackbird.

Tweaked brass D Feadog.

This whistle is designed to keep as close as possible to the original Feadog voicing while providing the benefits I’ve already described from tweaking. The result is a cleaner sounding, more easily playable instrument. It has slightly less “edge” to the sound than an off the shelf Feadog.

Brass and nickel tweaked Generations in G, F, Eb, D, C and Bb, also available together as a full set.

Tweaked Sweetones in D and C.

Where can people buy these?

In no particular order:






Lark in the Morning stores

Directly from me (jerry@tcenet.net) or from my eBay auctions (Mellow Dogs and Sweetones only.)

Any plans for new products?


For several years, I’ve been doing the pre-production product development work to create a mass produced Mellow Dog, and now I’ve added a mass produced Blackbird to the project as well.

This means, instead of producing these whistles in batches of 25 at a time, I’ll be able to produce batches of 5,000. The price will be less than the current, tweaked versions, but with the same quality and consistency. Eventually, I want to make these available in Eb, D, C, Bb, A and G.

The mass produced Blackbirds and Mellow Dogs will be the traditional type of mass produced penny whistle. They’ll have an injection molded whistlehead and brass tube, but with advancements in production that will allow the incorporation of features that previously could only be done by tweaking.

In addition, based on what I’ve learned from working on various types of whistles, I’m developing two more mass produced whistles, which are not the traditional Generation type format.

These aren’t as far along, so at this point, I won’t try to describe them, except to say each will be a completely different type of whistle that is also thoroughly traditional in design and sound.

Thanks to Jerry Freeman.

VII. Ok, That's It...

...for the now hopelessly irregular and relatively infrequent 6Hole Theory Newsletter.  Hope this finds all our readers, new and old-timers, doing well.  All's well with us.  Since the last issue, Marilyn and I saw one of our daughters get married, one do some great work at Audubon Arkansas, and one continue fine work at university. My work goes well and keeps me busy.  And, there's the other internet project in my life.

Best to all,