Best whistle?

Best whistle?

My fiddle (Cara) and I went to our first session last week, had a blast, and the whole thing inspired my husband to get into ITM too. He used to play oboe, so he decided to try tin whistle which has similar fingering. Got him the basic Generation Flageolet whistles in D,C and G. He took to it like a duck to water and can hardly bear to walk past his whistles now without picking them up and having a go!

Unfortunately the intonation on the D whistle in particular is just awful! The bottom D is nearly a semitone flat, the top D is sharp, and the notes in between are just randomly either sharp or flat. The C and G whistles are a lot better, although not exactly right.

He has struggled to find a source of musical fulfillment since quitting the oboe, and he’s gotten so excited about this that I want to treat him to a really nice instrument he can enjoy playing. I know so little though, which is why I ordered him the cheap ones to have a go on first. So… Can some of you kind folks recommend us some whistles please?

Many thanks!

Re: Best whistle?

One of the best whistle players I know use to use the ubiquitous Generation whistles which he would spend a long time in selecting (i.e. try 20-30 and pick one). Then he would heat up the mouthpiece so he could adjust it. He was also crazy enough to enlarge the holes (making them flatter) so he would have to finger every note somewhat. It did allow him to play “blues” notes and get some very nice slides. Anyhow, where are you? Depending on where you live it would be a good idea to go on a road trip to a store that carries a reasonable selection of good whistles and try them out. I’m sure others will chime in with brands and mail order links but trying them in person is the best. Another way is to ask other whistle players at your local session.

Re: Best whistle?

Generations are inexpensive and kind of hit-and-miss on quality, so you may have to try a few before you find a good one.
The internet is full of advise on tweaking them.

If you want to go more expensive, the options and opinions are endless.

Re: Best whistle?

Michael Burke . That’s the only name you need . There are others and I don’t exclusively play MB whistles , I play on Olivier Bouchard whistles mostly but for your situation…MB

Re: Best whistle?

> Unfortunately the intonation on the D whistle in particular is just awful!

Suspect this is partly blowing, whistles take a bit of controlling for best results.

Go on eBay and find a Jerry Freeman tweaked Generation whistle in D. They are really excellent whistles and all a beginner needs for a long, long time. I wouldn’t spend a fortune because whistles are a personal thing.

Re: Best whistle?


This is strictly my opinion, but its very hard to beat a Killarney D for the price! Made in Ireland, beautiful design, and it sounds incredible… All for about $100, which is (perhaps surprising to non-whistle players) far less than you could spend on other high-end whistles…

Re: Best whistle?

Tweaked Jerry Freeman is a great choice.

My strongest vote would be for a Killarney. Inexpensive for very good quality. Tonal characteristics are similar to the traditional “generation-type” sound. Second register is very sweet. Somewhat quiet for a loud session.

I’ve not tried the Burke whistle but they also come well-recommended for consistency at a rather higher price point. You can get a session version or a quieter version. Personally, I’d go with the non-session bore as I prefer a quieter whistle.

There are a lot of other brands that people like.

The most important difference is whether you prefer a generation-type “scratchy” tone or a more recorder-like “warm-resonant” tone.

Re: Best whistle?

Agreeing with the commenters above recommending the Killarney ( Less than £70 of your GBP and will be a tidy player. You can expect it to be in tune with clean, balanced tone. You don’t need to spend more at this time. Also - for now at least, he only needs a D whistle to be “ready for action”. Welcome to the club.

Re: Best whistle?

Heydiddle: I haven’t bought one for a while, but in the not-too-distant past I found that Generation Ds have the head glued onto the tube in the wrong place - in other words, jammed too far on to the tube. So the first thing to do is to release the glue by dunking the head in a cup of hot water for a few minutes, and then reposition it on the tube a little farther out. This will improve the intonation and in fact the tone. And make the whistle tuneable to some extent.

The other thing to be aware of is that inexperienced players are sometimes no judge of whistles. I have had students who complained about how horrible their whistle was when I found no problems with them. I remember one who did indeed succeed in making her Generation D sound ghastly, but when I tried it I found it was one of the sweetest you could expect to find. She was seriously overblowing it. IMO a beginner does not need to go spending $100 or £75 on a whistle, certainly not before they have learned to play decently.

Re: Best whistle?

PS The fact that he is an oboe player could well have something to do with it. Obviously not a beginner in music, but still new to the whistle. The student I mentioned in my last post who was blowing much too hard was a saxophonist. 🙂

Re: Best whistle?

As you see HeyDiddle there are various opinions, like there would be on what is the best fiddle!

Back when I started playing Generations were the only D whistles available, played by the top professionals and beginners alike. You couldn’t pay more than $6 for a D whistle if you wanted to!

But the quality control was practically nonexistent and they let everything pass out the factory door, the horrid and the wonderful alike.

So whistle players would all try every Generation D they could get their hands on. I’ve known lucky beginners to pick up one at random and it be great! But usually acquiring an excellent Generation is a process not unlike the quest for the Holy Grail.

But even the good ones rarely have perfect tuning. Then comes the aftermarket process of the player modifying or “tweaking” the whistle to perfect it. You can pack the head to raise the 2nd octave which is usually a tad flat. There’s a mod/tweak a whistle maker recently posted about inserting a short bit of tubing inside the top of the bore which raises the 2nd octave.

Then there’s modifying the scale. If the bellnote and its octave are flat you can chop the bottom of the tube. Individual tone-holes (finger holes) that are too flat can be carved out.

There was a time when hardly a whistle I owned hadn’t been modified by me to correct the scale.

Nowadays we have Jerry Freeman who does all this for you! His whistles have quite perfect tuning, at least the several I own do.

Yes Killarneys are very nice, but I did have to modify the scale of mine.

People have mentioned Michael Burke whistles and they’re wonderful things, though pricey.

The tuning is great.

I have found that in general people coming from “classical” backgrounds like them much better than people coming from ITM backgrounds. This is due to players of Recorder, Boehm flute, Sax, etc tending to want different playing characteristics than ITM players.

So a Burke might be a great fit for your husband, due to his Oboe background (he’s used to a high amount of backpressure).

Burke makes two different high D whistle formats, the wide-bore (“session bore”) and narrow bore. The narrow bore plays more like traditional Irish whistles, the wide bore plays more like the Boehm flute and Recorder. In general Burkes have wider bores than is usual for Irish whistles which is part of the cause of their distinct playing characteristics.

Add to that Burke makes whistles in both Aluminum and Brass. The Burke Narrow Bore high D in Brass is a very fine player. I played a Session Bore in Aluminum for years and it was very nice too, just louder and brighter.

Re: Best whistle?

I like Colin Goldie’s whistles but I think the best advice is to figure out what kind of sound you’re really going for. Mary Bergin and a lot of other people play Generations (most of the time). Jonnie Madden and Larry Nugent play Burkes. Michael McGoldrick, Brian Finnegan, and John McSherry play Goldie’s (among others). The list on…and on.

Re: Best whistle?

Another thing is the distinction between ordinary or “high” whistles and Low Whistles.

For the “high” sizes I use Generations, the off-the-shelf keys of B flat, C, and E flat.

I also have made modified Generations in A, B natural, and D flat.

For high D I have a vintage Feadog that’s great, and an equally great Killarney.

But for sizes lower than A I’m using a variety of makes including Burke, Alba, and Goldie:

Burke: mezzo G, mezzo F, Low E flat.
Goldie: Low D and Low C.
Alba: Low E natural and Bass A.

Re: Best whistle?

I’m afraid you get what you paid for with whistles. Learn to play on a cheap one then upgrade. Get a tunable one if possible, they change with humidity and temperature, especially the wooden ones, I always tune mine before playing. You should be able to get a reasonable whistle for around £50, suggest you try them out first. Music festivals usually have stalls such as Hobgoblin with a good choice to try.

Re: Best whistle?

Thanks so much everyone, hubby has decided a tunable whistle is important to him as the session pub gets rather hot even in winter and if he had a fixed pitch whistle it would end up sounding flatter than when he’s playing at home. So he’s sprung for a Killarney whistle today. Can you tell he’s eager?

As someone pointed out earlier, he was indeed overblowing a bit sometimes due to oboe playing habits, and today has been working on finding exactly the air pressure required to reach the notes, but it just won’t make a proper sounding tone at the correct pitch, he has to go sharp to get a steady tone out of it. Even tried with a microtuner stuck on to help find the “sweet spot”. We’ll probably try that heat treatment to to move the mouthpiece out, because it is good to have a backup whistle anyway.

The G whistle is rather nice and the C isn’t too bad, just the odd flat note, and as there less essential he’s going to keep them for now to learn on.

Thanks so much everyone, I’ll let you all know how the new whistle goes!

Re: Best whistle?

I laugh when people talk about ‘ expensive ‘ whistles !! Ok a Copeland , they really are expensive !!! , even by the standards of other instruments but really 150-300 for a top quality instrument is cheap cheap cheap . When I look around my room here I can see 6 + grand in instruments and I have the same again in Uilleann Pipes and stuff elsewhere . The Burke low D I got used at a bargain price of 200£ what a pleasure to play .

🙂 how much was your cell phone? Or iPad!? It’s all about priorities i suppose . Good luck and hope the Killarney suits you
Also hasten to add these are diatonic instruments not chromatic !!! They are not designed to be in tune with a little electronic tuner for fretted strings….. and the accuracy of those tuners is generally not something to write home about either!!
get him to play along with a D drone from you tube ….

Re: Best whistle?

Michael Burke! He’s the best!

Re: Best whistle?

I have a Killarney, it’s a great choice. My fave by far. Good luck!

Re: Best whistle?

The Killarney D whistle will eliminate the distractions of out of tune instrument and allow your husband to concentrate on learning tunes and technique. You can and should expect it to be “right” out of the box.

It may make sense to consider the Burke (5-star recommendation) down the road but not necessary now.

Re: Best whistle?

There’s no such thing. The opinions on here are relatively pointless, (with all due respect) as pretty much everyone recommends the whistle they personally like. Listen to as many good whistle players as you can and buy the one you most like the sound of.

Re: Best whistle?

A little update, hubby is loving the Killarney D whistle, and I have to say it sounds really nice. The low range is quiet as you have to play very gently to get the pitch right, but only maybe the bottom D to G as it quickly requires increasing amounts of air pressure from one note to the next. The upper octave sounds really good.
Thanks for your advice everyone, hopefully I can drag him along to the next session for a tune or two!