Whistles

Whistles

Wood, brass, aluminum, plastic. Advantage and disadvantages?

Re: Whistles

Some disadvantages:

Wood - can crack & leak. May need to be oiled, kept humidified, and protected from high heat. Breakable. Can be chewed by dogs.

Brass - tarnishes to a patina, can turn green. Can dent. Sometimes heavy weight (more of an issue in low whistles).

Aluminum - shows scratches easily. Can corrode and pit. Can dent.

Plastic - can look or sound plastic, depending on the maker. Poor grades of plastic can melt/distort in high heat (ie: left in a car). High-quality polymers such as Delrin can withstand high heat. Can be chewed by dogs.

Re: Whistles

Bang-on there KKrell.

Now, all of those comments (save for “sound plastic”) addressed material/structural aspects rather than musical ones.

Addressing just the way whistles play, I’ll say about wood that in 40 years of doing this I’ve not encountered a wood whistle that I liked. This includes quite expensive whistles that I’ve heard people rave on about.

I don’t think it’s anything inherent to the material, but rather where the makers are coming from, and who their target market is.

Likewise I can’t think of any all-plastic whistles that are truly outstanding players. Once again I don’t think it’s anything inherent in the material, but the tastes of the makers and the target customers.

Playing hundreds of whistles from every maker I can get my hands on has led me to favour vintage Generations for the high keys (I have Generations going down to A, the A being home-made) and all-alloy whistles for the low keys.

I really don’t think there are any musical aspects that necessarily are connected at the hip with any particular material. Any material can be used to make a whistle that sounds bright or dark, loud or quiet, responsive or sluggish, in tune or out of tune.

Re: Whistles

I don’t disagree with anything that’s been said, but I’ll add that I think structural aspects of materials can indirectly affect the musical qualities of an instrument. In particular, the material limits the achievable wall thickness. Metals are strong enough for thinner walls, and wood and plastic are light enough for thicker walls. This is one way in which the material affects the sound of the instrument - not because of some sound inherent to the material, but because of the constraints it places on the design of the instrument.

I guess this isn’t necessarily an advantage or disadvantage, just a difference. Then again, I’d say that aside from durability concerns, none of the differences between instrument materials are really absolute advantages or disadvantages, just things that we can have preferences about.

Re: Whistles

I find that wooden and plastic whistles generally sound a little mellower then metal ones to my ears. Metal ones definitely have a brighter more “tinny” sound. I also agree with Steve, it really depends on what you like the sound of and what you want to play. There aren’t really any specific advantages and disadvantages.

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Re: Whistles

You could machine a whistle out of alloy block and make the walls as thick as you pleased.

I’ve also seen whistles made from alloy tubing that’s quite thick.

Highland pipe chanters are often made of wood and have quite thin walls.

So we’re dealing with the choices of the makers and not anything inherent to the material.

Where there would be a sound debate would be instances of having two whistles of identical specs made from different materials. IFAIK the only example of this are the identical Burkes made of alloy and brass. I’ve heard people who own both say the alloy ones are brighter, the brass ones darker. I’ve heard others who own both say the differences are slight. (The Burke composite whistles are made completely differently.)

Re: Whistles

I’m in total agreement with kkrell - specially the bit about wooden whistles getting chewed by dogs.

But to be fair, he was just a puppy and it looked pretty much like a bone.
It was a fantastic challenge to re-make the body-joint with a good grain-match and save the trim-rings (tooth-marks and all).
And it also inspired me to write a jig: “The dog who ate my whistle”. (which I really aught to post).

Having also tried a few hundred whistles, I can say from experience that the materials are somewhat counter-intuitive .. plastic can sound “woody”, wood can sound “metallic” etc.
Most of that is actually about the dimensions of the sound window.
But there are some very slight differences imparted by the materials.
I suspect this has to do with the way the vibrations react in the material.
But it could also be due to the way the specific tooling or method behaves.
The timbral dimensions of the sound are extremely sensitive with noticeable differences from a change of less than 0.01mm,. this applies also to the playing characteristics.

What is just as important in all that is the player.
The music and the sound are a continuum of player and whistle - with the listener participating as well.
As well as trying a few hundreds of whistles, I also had the privilege to observe as whistlers chose their whistles.
You can almost hear the “click” when the right whistle gets to the right player - and there is no way to predict it.
After the “click” occurs, the distinction of materials, in my opinion, is an evaluation of durability and setting.
I don’t know any whistlers who have only one whistle.

Hope this helps!

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Re: Whistles

I (generally) like aluminum for low whistles and brass for high whistles (plastic mouthpiece is fine). In theory, wooden whistles are lovely, but like Richard, most of the ones I’ve tried didn’t get me jazzed (they usually don’t sound like a classic tin-whistle, which is the sound I like best). All that said, I don’t really buy whistles based on materials–other specifications are more important. I don’t really care what it’s made from if it sounds good and plays well.

Re: Whistles

Richard, I agree that it is mostly a matter of choices by the makers. Maybe I should have put it more like this: Some things are _easier_ to accomplish with certain materials (or come with side-effects such as weight), and this is one reason that different makers tend to make similar choices with certain materials. I won’t insist that this is the only reason or even the primary reason.

Re: Whistles

These are good responses. I had to search AFAIK having first thought it to be a whistle maker. Mr. Bruke has discontinued the composite whistles. I have recently purchased some nice whistles from Chuck Tilberry. These whistles are aluminum. I have been used to playing brass, Bruke and Reyburn, so the much lighter aluminum feels rather odd.