I’m looking for a low D whistle, but I’m not in an enormous hurry. I’ve kind of set my eyes on the Burke Viper after a lot of research. Is this a good whistle for a first low D? I want something I can keep playing for the years to come and I don’t want to spend money on a cheap low whistle for "practice", I want to choose a great whistle and just buy that. I’ve never played a low D before. I’m somewhat familiar with the piper’s grip and the general use of the whistle though. They’re pretty pricey, that’s one of the reasons I’m not in a huge hurry. Is it loud enough to play in a session but not so loud that it’s obnoxious? Goldies are another choice, but I think their high whistles are better than their low ones. Though I have to say I’m really not experienced in the world of whistles yet, I’m technically a beginner.

Also, if I do get this whistle, should I include a thumb hole? I need to learn more about the uses of that though.

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Re: Burke?

Burke or MK.

Aluminium not brass if you go Burke because of weight.

Thumb hole is a nuisance. OXXOOO or half hole on slow tunes.

Loudness not a factor in sessions if you can play it right. In fact low D surfs nicely under the general tone because octave below.

Re: Burke?

I think his whistles are among the best on the market. I agree with gbyrne.
In general low Ds are not easy instruments, takes a while to master covering the holes!! Great sound the viper. Brilliant whistle. Ive had a few Low D , not many like Richard who hopefully will comment , but a Kerry, an old (late 80’s) chieftain and my Burke. Its a good volume, not too loud and not too quiet. Perfect.

Re: Burke?

"Goldies are another choice, but I think their high whistles are better than their low ones."

Curious why you would say that. There are armies of pro players with Overtons and Goldies. My low D is a MacNeil, but I am thinking about an addition, and when I look at my favourite players and what they use, the list is strongly weighted towards Goldie, with MK second (maybe?). But if you incline towards Burke, it will be fine, I’ve only played one but it was very nice.

Re: Burke?

It’s probably more of a personal preference than fact about the Goldies, the high ones just sound better to me. I was thinking about MK too but haven’t checked into them as much.

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Re: Burke?

I would be amazed if Michael Burke ever made a bad whistle in his life. I have Bb, B, C# and D Burkes; although I’ve never had a low one in any key, that’s only because I got a great Low F Susato, Low G Goldie Overton and Low D Grinter before I discovered Michael’s whistles. Whilst I have bought a Low F# from Colin Goldie recently, I suspect a Burke might be a bitty cheaper and no less in terms of quality. If you’re in the EU you might find the lack of import tax makes the Goldie a better option. If you’re in the USA then it’s probably Burke all the way. A really good Susato is worth its weight in gold, but it’s hard to find a really good one in my experience.

Don’t get a thumbhole - you’re not playing a recorder 🙂

I was playing a (aluminium) Low D at sessions in the days when they were few and far between. I rarely play low whistle in sessions any more for 2 reasons. Firstly, I need all the flute practice I can get. Secondly, my Grinter is fragile (wooden) so I tend to keep it out of the way of the general public… Don’t expect to be heard over 6 fiddles and a box, but you can make a good contribution to the overall sound with a low whistle. Don’t forget that a nice-sounding regular whistle is always an option. Or there’s the flute…?

Best of luck

Re: Burke?

1) I think you are being very wise to wait on purchasing a low ‘D’, as you research & solicit advice. I would also suggest that you try to seek the opportunity to actually hold & maybe even try to play one, if possible. Some makers attend festivals & workshops to show their whistles. Michael Burke attended the August Milwaukee Irish Fest in the past; I am not sure if he will this year & I don’t know if he goes to any of the other ones.

2) Don’t be afraid to contact the makers directly to ask for their advice; they are generally very gracious people & want you to be satisfied with their whistles. Michael Burke is a great maker & a very nice guy who I know would be happy to discuss whistles in general, & details RE low D’s & thumb holes.

3) I went down the same road as you, researching as much as possible before taking the plunge. I couldn’t hold back, though & bought a low D made by Phil Hardy (I don’t recall if it was the Chieftain Thunderbird or the V5). It was a lovely whistle with a beautiful blend of rich tone & just the right amount of chiff, but I could not play it, even with a piper’s grip. It was clear to me that I would never be able to do so & I returned it in exchange for a very nice high D. Michael Burke offers a low D with a narrower bore & slightly closer tone holes; that might make it easier to play than some of the others. Another name I’d like to toss into the mix is Gary Humphrey. I can’t speak to his low D specifically- I was chastened by my earlier experience- but I have his D, C, B, A & G whistles & love them all.

4) RE: emmdee’s comment above: "Don’t get a thumbhole - you’re not playing a recorder":

to be clear, the thumb hole on the whistle is to achieve the best intonation for the C natural; on the recorder is to achieve the octave. It is a personal choice dependent on how fussy you are RE intonation. If you buy a whistle with a thumb hole & decide that you don’t want it, you can tape it over. I bought a Bb Burke with a thumb hole & found that I don’t really use it…

5) The extra hole that I do like very much is the right hand pinky hole on high C&D whistles- lets you get down to low a ‘C’- really helps with ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’- other tunes, of course.

good luck!

Re: Burke?

There’s no time like the present. If you have a hankering to learn to play Low-D, go for it. There’s a fairly steep "learning curve" in coming from the normal (soprano) whistle. The sooner you start the sooner you’ll be on the road to achieving proficiency.

You already play regular whistle so all of the tunes/musicianship and most of the technique and ornamentation transfer to Low-D. There are two additional challenges: fingering (stretch) and breathing. It takes some time to get used to the spread required to cover the holes. Don’t overplay it in the early days - mix Low-D with normal practice and you will find you hands become more comfortable over time. Pipers grip is the most common right hand technique and I’d go that way unless you have large hands and are quickly comfortable with covering the low notes. The breathing is simply a factor of the larger head/fipple dimensions - the low whistles require more air to fill and sustain and you’re going to have to become more aware of and economical with breathing technique. Don’t get disheartened if it is difficult - the combination can take up to 6 months or more to get comfortable with but it is worth sticking with. Speed (and accuracy) will come with time and eventually you’ll be able to achieve parity of ability on Low-D vs soprano D.

If you’re procrastinating because of price or worrying about whether you will be able to play the Low-D - go for a Dixon one (there are three low cost models). Or pick up a second hand one. The tuneable Dixons also have the option of interchangeable flute/whistle heads which is a nice and inexpensive way to get started on both instruments.

If you master the low whistle and it becomes an essential part of your repertoire - buying another isn’t a big deal. But you might as well get off the fence and start playing.

Re: Burke?

Regarding the thumbhole - I have two Burkes with (Eb and Low-F) and one without (D). If I was ordering again all would have no thumbhole. The thumb hole solves a non-existent problem. There is already two perfectly good ways to do C-nat and they work on every whistle. We don’t need a third way.

If all whistles (by all makers) had C-nat thumbhole then it might be fine because that would become the way we did the note.

For now - when I need a "perfect" C-nat (for example in a slow air) then half-holing is the way to go. For all other times the OXXOOO is better than good enough and is a high-speed habit. I also found that the balance and speed of play was affected by taking the thumb away at the back of the instrument which outweighed any tiny pitch benefits.

And it’s not a "free" feature. Consider the following…

COMHALTAS RULES: [[Feadóg/Whistle: A whistle can be defined as an instrument with a fipple and not more than six finger holes. The pitch of the instrument or the material from which it is made is irrelevant.]] I think a 7-hole whistle with thumb-hole isn’t a valid "whistle" for competition.

Taping it up afterwards or blocking with Sugru is still going to feel odd. If you’re not going to use it, it’s better that it isn’t there. Also, the existence of a thumbhole means you now MUST place your thumb there (and keep it there) even if your normal grip might have had it a little lower or higher.

I love my Burke whistles. They are solid players. But I’d swop the bodies with thumbholes for ones without in a heartbeat.

BTW - the Burke Low-F is my only aluminium one (the D/Eb are brass) and in the low whistle family the (lack of) weight advantage of the aluminium is considerable (5.5oz vs 10 oz. for brass Viper) with no sacrifice in tone/volume.

Re: Burke?

Thanks folks, I’ve got a lot of really good info here. In reply to gbyrn about the price, I’d rather save up and buy a nice whistle then spend an extra 70-100$ when I’m going to eventually get something like a Burke anyhow. I’ll scratch the thumbhole idea, sounds like a waste of an extra 15$. I don’t have too many worries about getting a hang of the low D, I’m pretty persistent.

Also, when I learned to play the fife the Cnat (though it wasn’t technically Cnat because the fife was in Bb) it was like this: OXXXOX. I never use the OXXOOO fingering because OXXXOX stuck with me. It sounds a bit more natural than the normal Cnat fingering for the tin whistle.

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