‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

I got to thinking about this the last couple of days. It is always thrown in to debates I notice to anyone who says they dislike the sound of their whistle.

Well there is another nugget that is always thrown around (in different settings) that seems to disprove this ‘magical hands’ theory and that is that these same people (lamenting the old timers) always say how ‘back the the day we used to try hundreds of whistles until we found a good one’!

If it were really true that anything the ‘pro’ whistlers touched turned to aural gold then they would simply pick up the first whistle that they came across and make sweet lovin to it no?

But I imagine even they would have been partial to the conveyer belt technique til they hit a good one since it sounds like it was a very endemic practice back then and these tricks usually come from the greats first anyway and trickle down to the ‘common folk’.

I am sure that an expert could get more out of a duff whistle than a beginner but that would be true of any whistle good or bad.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

My opinion only: a whistle, though simple, is like any other instrument in that one has to spend a certain amount of time with it and reach some level of skill to be able to play through its quirks and imperfections, and make it do what you want it to.

I have been gifted a number of popular whistles by recognizable names from my lovely and well-meaning wife. I highly doubt that they are "duff", but I don’t like the way any of them play, because they are different from my old Generations that I am used to. If I persevered with them, I bet they would get "better".

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

I once heard Robert Williams (Detroit Symphony) make my student model bassoon sound freaking fantastic. Evidence suggests he still prefers to play a professional model bassoon that costs four or five times as much, presumably because he can make that one sound even better.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

Yes, they probably can, but they might not enjoy it.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

Nail on the head…!

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Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

Can a great player make a mediocre instrument sound better than you can?

Yes.

Can a great player make ANY instrument sound amazing?

Of course not! That’s ridiculous.

Because there are instruments that are so out of adjustment, or damaged, or inherently horrid that nobody can get a sound out of.

I know a fluteplayer who has a magic embouchure. He owned a music shop and he could somehow push an amazing amount of tone through a mediocre flute. He probably sold a lot of flutes that way! But some flutes nobody can get much of a sound out of.

With whistles I’ve played off-the-shelf Generations that simply didn’t have a 2nd octave. They would play the low octave after a fashion but other than that they just made squeaking noises.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

Are you talking Mickie Zekely?

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Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

The reason why you can’t make any whistle sound amazing is that you don’t produce the sound yourself, you just give the air to the whistle and if the mouthpiece is crap then your sound will be crap as well.

Quite different with flutes though, because you’re more involved into the sound production. Also, with good skills, you’d be able to blow harder when a pitch is too flat to make it sound right. That doesn’t really work on the whistle.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

What Richard D Cook said.

I assume there’s a term in rhetoric or whatever for what you do in the opening post LoAP - take a reasonable proposition "good whistlers can make whistles sound good" - exaggerate it to unreasonableness
"If it were really true that anything the ‘pro’ whistlers touched turned to aural gold then they would simply pick up the first whistle that they came across and make sweet lovin to it no?" and then argue against it, when no-one but you has made the assertion! 😉

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Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

Damien Rogeau- Not true, there is some leeway when it comes to whistles to raise or lower the pitch with air pressure. I do it often on my MK low whistle and some of my high whistles, mostly with the C# which sometimes is not a C#. If a whistle has too many flat/sharp notes though I wouldn’t suffer it.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

I think the term you might have in mind is

reductio ad absurdum

"proof of the falsity of a conclusion or principle by reducing it to its logical absurdity".

In this case since the initial statement was "any" whistle the absurdity is proved by putting forward a whistle that’s clogged etc which no one can get a sound out of.

Actually the statement can’t be disproven because the "sound amazing" is mere opinion and open to a range of meanings. A whistle can be judged to "sound amazing" if you’re amazed that it doesn’t make any sound at all.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

Myth! Some whistles are essentially unplayable. One Generation whistle I bought from Elderly Instruments was virtually unplayable in the second register plus it had one note that was considerably off. I’m adept enough that if I had to I can adjust off notes in playing, but if the whistle can’t maintain upper register, it’s essentially unplayable.

I was fortunate in my early years to have a friend that lived near George Kelischek’s workshop. Whenever I needed a new whistle or key I could play through his existing stock to find my favorite of his early Susato whistles.

On a side note, George used to tell me not to waste my time with whistles and to take up the recorder. I’m still playing whistles and flute 35 years later.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

My question was genuine in that I saw many times more ‘seasoned’ whistlers who were around in the ‘good old days’ make similar statements to those.

I did not quote them word for word for sure but they certainly say in whistle recommendation threads things very close to ‘a really good player can make any whistle sound good’.

Seems an argument on semantics? like what is God?

Most seemed to have got the idea and not taken the words literally. Of course I (or rather the original people who said it) didn’t mean any whistle in existence, as if they would be expected to work magic on one stuffed from bow to stern with chewing gum for example.

Anyway! Gonna order myself a 2 part clare whistle now! …fingercrossed 🙂

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

> a really good player can make any whistle sound good

Just because you can get the best out of an instrument doesn’t mean that you’d want to.

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Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

The thought experiment is pertinent because I had for a few months been thinking about buying a new whistle but I held myself back due to that statement about the possibility of making any whistle sound good, as to the old addage ‘a bad workman always blames his tools’.

I think I gave ample time to work with the one I was using (maybe 2 or 3 years now) I just was not happy with the polymer sound and want to buy a metal one. The polymer does have a good clear tone on all notes but I just am not too fond of that slightly muffled recorder type of sound it has.

I just thought of an analogy. Is it like : Lewis Hamilton would surely be able to tear on the racetrack in your old ford fiesta, but as mentioned above it may not be the most enjoyable drive. Conversely even a novice would be able to take advantage of the added horsepower of a more powerful vehicle.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

" Lewis Hamilton would surely be able to tear on the racetrack in your old ford fiesta", didn’t you see that episode of Top Gear?

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

I can’t stand anything car related tbh and especially not Jezza Clarkson, probably the most uncharacteristic analogy for me to make really.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

Definitely a myth, I’m no great shakes on the whistle but my 2 generation Ds have that second octave problem, split notes all over the place.

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Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

My take on the saying is simply that the probability that "it’s the whistle" vs "it’s you" changes as you get better. If you sound terrible just starting out, it’s about 99 to 1 that the whistle is the problem. I’ve played some not-great whistles, but even given some of the QC issues with the cheap ones I can’t imagine the prevalence of total duds is more than about 1 in 20.

If you’ve been playing a year or two and still sound terrible, it ends up somewhere around 50-50, and you should maybe try a few whistles to see if you have the same problem there. If Mary Bergin picked up a whistle and it sounded terrible I would have to assume that the whistle is unplayable.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

I’ve had a weird association with whistles. They never sound good to me, or pleasant anyway. I had a Copeland whistle that I liked, but I only used it as a bit of a change now and then from flute. I played just fine, but I’ve always preferred the sound of a whistle played by someone else; preferably on a record. I can’t explain why. Maybe I just don’t like them close.

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Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

I date back to those old days (early seventies) when you had to search through dozens of whistles to find any that would work. I can assure you that nobody could make the bad ones sound well. The problem seemed to be a moulding issue with the plastic heads. It was interesting in that not every whistle was bad, and they could be variably bad. I guess there was more than one moulding machine in use.

It was particularly problematic as the whistles in those days came on display cards with every pitch of whistle represented. Our local shops expected to move all the whistles before bringing out a new card. And they weren’t keen on you blowing them (for obvious health reasons), unless you insisted that you wouldn’t buy one that you hadn’t tried.

I think in the colonies (Australia) we possibly suffered for longer than back in England where they were made as I was able to buy good whistles directly from Barnes & Mullins in London when I went there in 1974. These I supplied to my students in the W.T. McGee Academy of Flageolation, the grandiose name by which we called my weekly tin whistle lessons.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

"A really good player can make any whistle sound good."

"A really good player can get the best out of an instrument."

Of course these are two completely different claims. The first is patently false, and I think most everyone would agree that the second is true.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

Terry McGee said

"I date back to those old days when you had to search through dozens of whistles to find any that would work. I can assure you that nobody could make the bad ones sound well…It was interesting in that not every whistle was bad, and they could be variably bad."

I date back to those days too, when the only D available was the Generation D, and therefore everyone played them, the beginner, the dabbler, the superb session player, the professionals doing concerts and albums.

Exactly as you say they varied tremendously, and when you started playing whistle you launched into the Holy Quest for the best Generation D you could find.

The best Generations of that period were very, very good indeed. I still play the Generation C I bought around 1980, and I have never played another whistle, in any key or at any price, that’s better.

A snapshot of the Generation whistle quest was one I’ve often mentioned, when I had first crack at an unopened box of 24 Generation D whistles right from the factory.

One was superb, a professional instrument of the very highest quality. Another was nearly its equal. If Generation had allowed only those two out the factory door, and destroyed the rest, Generation would have the reputation of being the world’s best high whistle maker, and they could sell those whistles for $200 each. I would buy one! And so would anyone else wanting one of the best whistles made.

Then there were perhaps ten whistles which were pretty good. If Generation had only let those out the factory door, and destroyed the rest, Generation would have the reputation of being a solid though not top whistle maker, and they could sell those for $50 each.

Then there were a pile that played, but were mediocre to poor.

Last and least were a few that simply didn’t work. They had no 2nd octave at all.

And you know what? Generation lets all out the door, the supremely good and the unplayable, allowing the rain to fall upon the just and unjust alike, and Generation has the reputation they deserve.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

My friend could make my cheap $100 chinese fiddle sound good, but it sounded like a cheap chinese fiddle played well. I think it’s the same for whistle.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

@Richard, I would be interested to know what made the good and fantastic ones so as most people only go into details about why the bad were bad, as you also did, and just say the goodest ones were ‘amazing’ without what it is that makes them so. I am interested to know that to know what the seasoned player looks for in a great whistle.

For me after a few years of playing my main quest in finding a whistle is just finding a whistle that handles well on the top end of the second octave without being obscene and raucous. The polymer I have achieves that but sadly I feel the whole sound is compromised by being polymer which softens the tone too much making any note sound too recorderish for my tastes.

So now I would like to find a metal one that handles well in the second octave while still having that nice full sound of a metal instrument.

I have ordered the clare 2 piece now as I have read a couple of good reports on here about it but I have since read less than shining reviews so I fear it might be another case of varied quality like generations. We will see. It was the 2 piece thing as well as some saying it sounded amazing for a cheapy that swayed me and being able to fit in a coat pocket is something I would very much like if the whistle also can hold a good sound of course.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

My sights were on either a dixon brass (which seemed to have disappeared from their website when I looked last) or a freeman tweaked generation; those two were my main ones I had in mind but I got sidetracked by the clare upon recommendation in a previous thread. So I eagerly await what the verdict will be with it.

I would love for that one to satisfy me but I am skeptical due to my previous experience with cheapies, seems it could go either way from what I have read so far.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

I used to have a clare. 2 piece, but i went through whistles pretty quick ! Love em and leave em.
Nowadays i play on high end whistles that I definitely am not just gonna forget !! 🙂
I love my olivier bouchard C whistle so much i have 2 ! The old one was my fav for years and i couldnt bear the idea of losing it ! So i got a spare, which is now my main whistle. I did infact lose the old one. A few months later a friend in ireland told me a friend in spain had a friend who had found it!! Lol and it made its way back to me!
It has a D and B body but its wide bore and the holes are closer together than on a narrow bore so with my fingers i prefer a narrow bore D whistle. I also have one of his A whistles with a B barrel which is awesome, extra wide bore blaster!!
His whistles are the best, hand carved wooden head and brass body. 100€ with extra barrels at 20. When i got them. Which is half the price of my burkes.
Whistlers are funny, a dirt cheap plywood fiddle is the same price as a pro level whistle……

Re:Fipple molds

"The problem seemed to be a moulding issue with the plastic heads."
That’s right.

"Generation would have the reputation of being the world’s best high whistle maker, and they could sell those whistles for $200 each. I would buy one! And so would anyone else wanting one of the best whistles made. "
Maybe…doubtful…probably a good story though, Mr. Cook!

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Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

Couldn’t Paddy Maloney or John Sheahan in their prime make any $10 Oak or Clarke D model sound pretty good? And I bet they would have huge smiles on their faces when they finished yet another crackin’ tune. Amazing is a word of slippery proportions. Amazing in the ear, eye and mind of the pint holder.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

Back in the day, when Paddy Moloney, Sean Potts, Willie Clancy, and Cathal McConnel were young (wow so loong ago!) and were the reigning ´Whistle Gods´ what you had were Clarke ´C´ whistles or a variety of older to semi-antique no-name fipple whistles from across Europe. The Clarkes you could easily tweak by judicious bending. As for the rest, you could easily acquire them and discard the ones you didn´t like. Plus, they simply didn´t have as rigid a tuning standard…¨we don´t need no stinkin´ 440 hz. We all got D# (more or less) anyway… ¨ If you had a dud whistle you just passed on to a better one. Reg Hall noted one well known whistler who had made his own fipple head and always seemed to remove it when he finished playing. Can´t think of his name, but there is a video of him from the 60´s just after he had won an All-Ireland, and you could see him take the fipple off directly finishing his set…a move almost as polished as a magician palming a card.

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Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

Bending?

The burning through whistles seems terrible wasteful to me. Glad that is not a common practice today.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

It doesn’t take a great player to make a good Generation whistle sound good- a really good Generation, when you find one, is a superb whistle. And with Paddy Moloney, back when the Chieftains were becoming famous in the 1960s the only D whistles available were Generations- everybody played them.

"I would be interested to know what made the good and fantastic ones so as most people only go into details about why the bad were bad, as you also did, and just say the good ones were ‘amazing’ without what it is that makes them so."

I’ve often stated what I think makes a great whistle: sweet easy high notes, nimble "action" (to borrow a guitar term), and full round low notes. Of course and good tuning- it’s not much of a musical instrument if it’s out of tune.

That’s all whistles. Then with Low Whistles come extra considerations such as ergonomics and air efficiency.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

Better than trying to put things into words, here’s what my whistles sound like.

Each is a different size, there are several different makers, but each one has that combination of sweet high notes and round low notes I look for. I still play c1980 Feadogs and Generations for the high keys because the $50 whistles and $300 whistles and $700 whistles I’ve tried aren’t as good as those old Generations and Feadogs.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-fQhvleWq8&t=21s

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

So, Richard, you have not played another whistle as fine as your best old Feadog’s & Generation’s?
Not even with a minor bit of cleaning of the windway of an Oak or a Water Weasel?

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Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

No, not for me. The closest to those old Generations and Feadogs have been Jon Sindt whistles, which I bought in D, C, B, Bb, and A. The whistles you see on the video, the Feadog D, the Generations in B, Bb, and A, in my opinion out-played the Sindts in each key. It was close! But there was a certain something in the tone of the old whistles that was missing in the new whistles, like the tone of the new whistles was overly polished, like the refining had got rid of nice aspects to the tone of the cheap old whistles.

Seems to me that in general, with High D Whistles, as the price goes up the performance goes down. I have played beautiful High D Whistles made out of exotic expensive woods with sterling silver mounts that cost $700 which in my opinion were virtually unplayable for Irish trad dance music, due to the stiff stubborn high notes.

Once, at the annual convention of the National Flute Association, there was a booth with a guy selling that sort of whistle. I tried a couple, the maker said "what do you think?" and I said "the high notes are too stiff for me."

He said "Mary Bergin told me the same thing."

Now if I were a whistle maker and Mary Bergin said the high notes of my whistles were too stiff I would get that sorted! But his market isn’t people like Mary Bergin.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

As a not very competent whistle player, I can make any whistle sound pretty mediocre, at best. Does this add a different angle to the question?

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

"Seems to me that in general, with High D Whistles, as the price goes up the performance goes down."

I’ll second this. The most expensive whistle I’ve played that I’ve liked is a Burke, and even then it wouldn’t have been at the top of my list. Other much more expensive whistles, especially those made out of wood, have ranged from "fine enough" to "I wouldn’t take it if it were free." In my experience I couldn’t justify spending any more than the €79 that I shelled out for a Killarney.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

Thanks for the response, Richard. I assume you are not a fan of Oaks; much less Water Weasels.

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Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

"Seems to me that in general, with High D Whistles, as the price goes up the performance goes down."… I have had a long habit of trying to find better whistles and I end up just giving them away. After years I just keep going back to my cheap old Clarke original tinny.

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Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

The last 2 whistles I bought were an Oak C & D. Maybe 2 years ago. I played all the Oaks in stock at a local music store, bought the best of them, went home & cleaned up a little plastic on the windway; maybe a bit on the blade. Nice playing, either one.

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Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

> But his market isn’t people like Mary Bergin.

Hmm then who are his audience? I thought that the trad scene would account for 97% of the world’s whistle players? Is it as if not more popular in other scenes, ones indeed who are willing to play $700 and up for whistles?

I think playing a cheap whistle is all part of its charm (provided you have a good one and not a ‘duff’ one). I mean I took up the whistle as I loved how it straddles the gap between ‘toy’ and ‘real’ instrument; it looks like a toy, like it should be relegated to the ranks of spoons or Bodhrán (not that this one looks like a toy but there is universal derision of Bodhrán players which I have read on here) yet it is a fully fledged instrument; and to get the full range of expression out of such a small device is what impresses me.

Re: ‘Great whistle players can make ANY whistle sound amazing’ - myth?

Put in other words a cheap whistle is very ‘punk’ in the DIY sense.