Choosing a low D whistle: 2019

Choosing a low D whistle: 2019

I am a relative novice to Irish trad music; 1 year bodhran and high whistle, both of which I play weekly with local session chums. I’ve played guitar, ukulele and mountain dulcimer for many years and live in the UK.

With increasing love for the lower register, I recently bought a Dixon low D high which in many respects is a good beginners’ low D. I’ve enough of an ear, though, to hear it’s weaknesses. Given that low whistles are so different in terms of breathing, octave difference and so on, I’d like to buy and learn to play a more musically accurate low D. I don’t need to play loud and my hands are on the small side. I know there are other threads on this topic, but some are over a decade old, and the craft of whistle making moves on. Any recommendations, please.

Re: Choosing a low D whistle: 2019

I’ve tried a couple of low D whistles and had difficulty covering the holes adequately - though my hands are probably standard size and shape. The one I ended up with, and find easier to play, is a wooden whistle by Phil Bleazey. I find I have to be a bit careful with air pressure in the upper octave in order to get clear notes, but it feels comfortable and has an attractive warm tone. IT has a tuning slide, so pitch can be adjusted as it warms up. I’d suggest trying one - or better still, try a few: a pal of mine also has one and I’m sure the sound is a bit better than mine, so maybe there’s some variability between individual instruments - as you would expect with something hand-made.

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Re: Choosing a low D whistle: 2019

I recently bought a Kerry Chieftain Thunderbird Low D whistle after trying a friend’s, and have been very happy with it. Accurate pitch, lovely tone, easy to blow, and the bottom hand reach is not terribly difficult. Can wholeheartedly recommend them.

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Re: Choosing a low D whistle: 2019

Just curious, what are the weaknesses with the Dixon Low D?

Re: Choosing a low D whistle: 2019

I’ve heard someone play the MK Pro low D, sounds nice, though I’ve never tried one. Maybe others can weigh in on it.

Re: Choosing a low D whistle: 2019

Thanks for the replies.
Duffyb - Dixon low D: the 2nd octave, esp the higher notes, are way out to my ears. Also the lowest D note requires almost no breath, so is very quiet in comparison to the other notes. Some very sweet notes in between though!

Re: Choosing a low D whistle: 2019

My understanding is that has to do with the design of the whistle, specifically, the bore diameter.

Some sizes lend better to have full sounding bottom notes with not-so nice high notes, and vice versa. Though, there are probably other factors too.

Re: Choosing a low D whistle: 2019

The MK whistles are indeed lovely, though I would comment that each one does come with its own personality. They are also a reasonable weight - thinking about playing one for an entire session has my thumb cramping in advance. But they are a real musician’s instrument - you can play them very accurately and they have a really solid honk to them that a lot of low Ds lack.

Trying them out is to be honest the only good, if unhelpful, advice I have, I think.

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Re: Choosing a low D whistle: 2019

I’m a flute player and don’t own a low D whistle, but I’ve played a friend’s Chieftain low D a couple of times and it was a superb instrument. Everything Elfi says about it I would second and would only add that it had a great rasping/buzzing tone and was not heavy. I don’t know what model it was, but it wasn’t new.

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Re: Choosing a low D whistle: 2019

I’ve had an MK pro for a few years now and I’m really happy with it. I’m a relative beginner having begun playing the whistle 5 years ago. Started with a Dixon brass high D and progressed from there. A friend got me a plastic Dixon low D to try out and it took me ages to get my fingers to that bottom hole comfortably. Now it feels easy! MK pro is easy to play and needs surprisingly little breath even in the high octave. Everyone who hears it says how nice it sounds. It’s not a Goldie, but I like it. Look up Goldie, they’re something else, and played by nearly all the professional musicians in Scotland. Colin Goldie will build a whistle round your needs and style of playing. I have a Goldie high D now. Keep working on those fingers, you’ll get there and it’s well worth it!

Re: Choosing a low D whistle: 2019

Thanks all, much appreciated. This helps me with my own research in figuring out which whistles will suit. In a perfect (but unrealistic) world I’d be able to try them all, so this is the next best thing.

Re: Choosing a low D whistle: 2019

I now play Low D Whistle as my primary instrument. I played flute for 30 years until hand cramping made me switch to whistle. I therefore went on a massive Low D Whistle quest, buying and selling dozens of Low Ds.

(The price I sold my flutes for allowed me to buy dozens of Low D’s, which are extremely inexpensive compared to flutes.)

However, the name of your post is "choosing a Low D Whistle 2019" and my Low Whistle splurge was around ten years ago! So much of my information may no longer be accurate, as makers come and go and change their designs.

As best I can recall the Low D makes I owned or tried were
MK (6 different ones)
Chieftain (including a rare Chieftain Gold)
Kerry Optima
Overton (many examples from the 1970s to more recent ones)
Copeland (old and new)
Ronaldo Reyburn
Brian Howard
Nigel Richard (wood)
Ralph Sweet (wood)

For several years I owned a half-dozen different makes at the same time and did comparisons as to volume, voicing, tuning, air-consumption, ergonomics, etc.

My main takeaways from all this playing and testing were

1) You have to actually play a whistle to know it. Listening to other people play especially on YouTube doesn’t do much for your understanding.

2) You have to play whistles side-by-side to compare all their various performance aspects.

3) Whistles vary within makes. I owned and extensively played a half-dozen MKs and they had subtle differences. Yes they all played like MKs, but yet each was unique.

4) There is no such thing as a Perfect Low D Whistle. Every Low D is a bundle of compromises and represents a number of choices made by the maker, for example:

-the maker has to decide what he feels is the best compromise between ergonomics and voicing, because the anatomy of the human hand doesn’t match the acoustically ideal positions of the holes.

-the maker has to decide what he feels is the best compromise between powerful low notes (especially a strong Low E) and sweet high notes (especially a sweet High B).

-the maker has to decide what he feels is the best compromise between great voicing over the range and acceptably efficient air consumption.

I got a good feel for what the typical professional-quality Low D played like, at least the things I wanted in a Low D, which were

1) great tuning. For me this is the greatest consideration.

2) ergonomics. If I can’t play it comfortably I won’t play it.

3) air efficiency. I want to be able to play airs with those long notes.

4) full low notes

5) a sweet easy facile 2nd octave

6) tone. To me this is the last consideration.

The whistles I settled on a "big boy" whistles, professional quality whistles that I could take to a gig, were

-Colin Goldie. That’s what I play now. The tuning is bang-on and it’s extremely air-efficient. Is it perfect? No. I would like Bottom D to be a bit boomier, and the high notes to be a tad sweeter. But it’s the best overall compromise I’ve come across.

-MK. I played those for a few years. The tone is unique and wonderful, there’s great volume yet an easy 2nd octave and great air-efficiency. Why did I switch to Goldie? All my MKs had a subtle tuning quirk between Bottom D and Middle D.

-Ronaldo Reyburn. The most-accurately tuned Low Ds I’ve ever come across, and a unique special tone. But the air-efficiency and sweetness of the 2nd octave weren’t quite up to the Goldie and MK.

About Copelands, I’ve played old ones (1980s) which were fantastic, and new ones which were among the worst Low Ds I’ve ever tried. They vary more than any other make, in my experience.

About Chieftains, I’ve played dozens over the years and they’ve varied quite a bit, from professional-quality ones to lesser ones. I wouldn’t surprise me to find Chieftains out there which played as good as a Goldie, but I myself haven’t encountered one yet.

Re: Choosing a low D whistle: 2019

"This helps me with my own research in figuring out which whistles will suit. In a perfect (but unrealistic) world I’d be able to try them all…"

But Patrick you can try them all!! For free!!

The thing about whistles is that there’s no difference in value between a 3 year old whistle and a 4 year old whistle, between a 5 year old whistle and a 6 year old whistle.

That means you can buy as many Low Ds as you please, play them for a month or a year, and re-sell them for the same price you bought them for. With dozens of these whistles things will even out, though little gains and losses will occur with each whistle. It’s a free trial period, in effect.

That’s how I was able to try 30 or 40 different Low Ds over the course of a few years, and here I am with just my Colin Goldie Low D, and I only had to pay for that one.

This method assumes buying and trying used whistles. If you insist on new, then it’s not for you. I found that buying used was superior in a number of ways, one of them being that many makers have a long wait and/or are difficult to get an instrument from. I spent months trying to purchase whistles from two of the makers mentioned above and never got anywhere. I picked up used ones right away.

Re: Choosing a low D whistle: 2019

Richard D - thanks for your two comprehensive replies. They both tick the “extremely helpful” box. I’ve now bought an MK pro at a flute shop where they were happy for me to try a couple of MKs side by side, and as you said, there was a subtle difference. Yours, and other recommendations on this site decided me to buy a whistle which gets consistently good reviews, live with it, and use it as a reference for anything else I’m likely to try in the future. (Insert Buzz Lightyear emoji here!) I’m sure your comments will help others who were in my situation. Many thanks to all who responded as well.

Re: Choosing a low D whistle: 2019

I have Kerry Thunderbird, V5 and Optima, Howard and Syn Low Ds but my prized Low D is my Hammy Hamilton. It has the most beautiful tone and is simply exquisite to play. It is part of a 3 piece set ( Eb, D & C) thought I use the Low D foot mostly. It is well tuned and has a strong and expressive timbre. I’ve not seen anyone else here in Melbourne with one yet. I was lucky enough to meet Hammy in 1987 at Pedar O’Reada’s home and have one of his flutes from 1987 and my Low D. I have no need to look for a better Low D.