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Oz Whistles - Frequently Asked Questions

Oz Whistles

FAQ

 

Here is the OzWhistles FAQ page. Some of the Questions are asked frequently, some not. They represent a lot of the questions I have asked along the way. Many of the answers were found in Chiff and Fipple, and I heartily recommend logging-on and joining-up. C&F, however all-powerful, is akin to a parallel universe - the answers are rarely clustered together and it can take time to get the desired result. So here I have rounded up as much as I can in the one place.

  

I will add to this list as I find more questions and the answers to them. I will also include questions that Oz Whistles customers ask me. Like everything in Oz Whistles, it's growing all the time. I hope it is of some help, or at the very least, a bit of entertainment along the way.

 

I am happy to revise any of the answers if they can be shown to be inaccurate - please drop me a note if you disagree with anything or would like a question answered.

 

Best regards

 

Mitch

 

What is a whistle?

A whistle is any device that employs a windway and a splitting blade to produce some kind of constant tone.

 

Examples might be; a coaches whistle (pea-whistle), a policeman's whistle, a boatswain's whistle, a dog-whistle, a train whistle or a fog-horn etc. Pipe-organs are largely just a big bunch of whistles. It can also refer to the sound produced from various mouth configurations to produce a strong, non-verbal tone.

 

For the sake of this page, however, a whistle is a device that incorporates; a "windway" to blow into, a "splitting ramp" to split the wind and produce a tone, and a resonant tube punctuated with holes.

 

So yeah - a whistley head with a tube hanging off of it with holes in.

 

Whistles can be made of anything, including recently plucked vegetables, but usually it's some hard stuff like plastic, wood or metal.

 

Whistles are, by no means modern. Examples of it have been found that are in excess of 20,000 years old. It is very likely to have been the very first musical instrument ever. Modern semantics will have you accept that it is an example of "fippled-end-flute" but a whistle is a whistle however you toot it.

 

What is a pennywhistle?

Some think it's a whistle that cost a penny to buy, but others insist it's a whistle that was once used for impromptu public performances to solicit "pennies". In other words, a busking whistle.

 

What is a tin whistle?

A busking whistle made of tin-plate - i.e. a Clarke. This is arguably the precursor to all mass-produced consumer goods. The market economy obviously found more lucrative markets to exercise. But, seemingly, the Whistle community did not move on with it, and instead remained fixated on the little tin leprechaun (and do so until this day - welcome to a major side-branch of human society!).

 

What is an Irish whistle?

This is a marketing term that retrospectively associates whistles to the culture that makes the most use of them - Irish Traditional Music (ITM).

 

What's the difference between a Whistle and a Recorder?

Typically, the recorder has 7 holes on the front side of the body and a thumb hole on the back. A pennywhistle usually has 6 holes on the front and no thumb hole. Most importantly, the sound of a whistle is different - it is merrier and less "woody". This brighter tone allows the whistle a better spectral position amongst other traditional folk instruments such as the fiddles, mandolins, bouzoukis and uilleann pipes.

The recorder is the flagship of an example of a whistle culture that branched off from mainstream humanity in the baroque period. It still lives on as a very popular instrument for the general education of music.

A recorder can get more than 2 octaves, a whistle usually can't. And recorders can be played "chromatically" but there are few tunes that actually require this. Given the extra effort taken to get the 3rd octave and all the flats and sharps, recorders do not readily lend themselves to highly ornate or characterised music such as Irish, Kwela or Australian traditional forms.
 

What's a Flageolet?

This is a Flageolet:

 

 

Anyone who asserts differently is either a history boffin or a marketing genius. Take no notice, in this day and age, it's another word for whistle.

 

Why are whistles so cheap?

Well, you know, when you think about it, they aren't. A Boehm flute (modern concert flute) kicks-off at about 400 oz dollars for anything worth puffing breath into, but it can play any key (depending on how masochistic you are). A whistle plays only one key, or two if you are willing to muck around with the finger logic. How many keys are there? In western music there are 11. So you need to buy at least 5 whistles to cover all the keys that a flute does, possibly even 11. What is 400 divided by 11? Ummm let me get my calculator out … it's $36.36363636363636 Oz Dollars. Which means that anything under 36 bucks is a bargain! So long as it comes in 11 keys. Unfortunately, at the moment, there's no whistle maker that does all 11 keys for less than 35 bucks each. So whistles are actually quite expensive! But for less than $10 you can get started which makes the pennywhistle the most accessible musical instrument under the sun.

 

What is a "Low Whistle"?

Although much similar in appearance, it is way too rigid to be a snake. Not so low you might say. In fact, the Low Whistle is the label applied to any modern whistle that plays notes deeper than Bb - typically D one octave below the garden variety "Irish whistle".

 

The invention of the Low whistle is credited to Bernard Overton in the late 1960's. Nit-splitters will assert that Bernard only "re-discovered" it. Bernard subsequently distributed low whistles to various prominent Irish music revival bands at that time. It remained obscure until it was glamorised by the block-busting Michael Flatley song and dance shows "Riverdance" and "Lord of the Dance" enjoyed by billions around the planet.

 

And who is Michael Flatley? He's just this guy. You know? Damn fine dancer and musician who just happened to come along and have energy enough to make a big thing happen. It might be you one day?

 

The low whistle was appropriate for covering the sound usually occupied by the Boehm flute but much more "Irishy" - it sounds pretty much the same. But there you go - the power of the whistle shown in its native environment of "Opportunity". (Hey, you try and get a Fender Strat and Marshal stack in your back pocket "just in case"?)

 

With this big break, the tin leprechaun was able to extend its domain over another octave.

 

The downside of all this is that it reminded the traditional world of the Uilleann pipes! <dramatic orchestral sting>. A whistle that size could not be played without "pipers' grip", a technique used to play the impossible elbow pipes!

 

Thusly, the old religion of the pipe was resurrected like a dungeon-game liche to once again insist that "whistles are the way to flutes, and flutes are the way to pipes, and pipes rule - OK?" And pipes take no breath!

 

But that was good, because this helped differentiate the whistle from recorders which tend to rely on a lot of tonguing to articulate notes. Pipes must be articulated by cunning to fool the listener into believing the notes are separate. And so too must a whistle, if the player ever aspires to the pinnacle of pipes.

 

But why bother? The pipes are fantastically expensive beyond your wildest imaginings. One must be a seasoned computer industry consultant to go anywhere near affording the hand-made-pipish-arcanity in the rarest of extinct timbers seasoned in barrels of druid-blessed sacred oak-dust since before your granny was born.

 

The world has grown to love the diddly-diddly music that whistles can do. And it only takes a couple of years to get there, not 2 lifetimes.

 

Still, if you don't have hands as big as shovels, piper's grip is not all that hard to master. The sound of a Low whistle is a lot less strident than its little counterpart and can be applied to a wider variety of musics. In addition to that, the mastery of one or two musical keys is much more intuitive. Low whistles are a pleasure to learn, play and listen to.

 

What keys can whistles be in?

How long is a stick? As mentioned, whistles in their 6-holed form (i.e. pennywhistles) can comfortably tackle 2 keys on the one tube. However, many singers, guitar-plyers and kazooists can only do an octave and a half in C#. Most whistle makers do not produce a C#. At best you might get a Db. One can certainly commission an instrument to be made in C# at a price. But for the average punter the keys one can rightly expect the local whistle shop to support are D and C.

 

A good stockist will have G, F, Eb, D, C, Bb. Which , coincidently, is the range produced by "Generation Flageolets" and usually displayed on a cardboard stand with each of these keys in nickel and brass with a blue or red plastic whistle-head).

 

A very good whistle vendor might also possess a Low D or 2 in plastic or aluminium.

 

A truly fantastic whistle shop ... well, that's OzWhistles I suppose.

 

But for most applications, we can trust that 95% of Irish tunes are in D or G and 80% of English tunes are in C, while the French tend to use Eb, G or Bb. Scottish tend to follow France a lot - even in their bagpipes. Most Brass and woodwinds gravitate to the Bb side of things while Guitars tend to be easiest to play in C, E or A. Fiddles are way nice in G, or D.

 

The most prolific of key-makers are Susato who regularly produce whistles in G, F, E, Eb, D, C, Bb, A, Ab, low-G, low-F#, low-E, low-Eb, low-D and low-C. For a reasonable fee, they even attach finger-keys to make these low beasties playable for humans - All in glorious precision-moulded ABS plastic.

 

What is the best whistle for a beginner like me?

This is a much debated question. It has many answers. It is far better to ask these other questions first:

 

Do I expect the whistle to be an easy instrument to learn?

If you expect the whistle to be easy - you are right - to begin with. The pennywhistle is one of the easiest instruments to get a coherent tune out of in a short time. However, if you intend to play Irish Traditional Music, Jazz, Blues or any other complex style, you will find the pennywhistle to be just as exacting as any other musical instrument. So which whistle? I'd say get an inexpensive one - a high D or C and see how you go.

 

Do I have a lot of money to spend on this?

If your budget is limited, start small - go for an inexpensive one. Keep in mind that many top professional players still use inexpensive whistles. But remember, that they have usually spent much of their lives making a cheapie sound good - you are just beginning, so don't expect too much.

 

If your Budget is ample, and you intend to dedicate a decent amount of time to the instrument, have a look at some of the mid-range and high-end instruments. Try before you buy, get advice, listen to sound bytes and recordings and ask people who have them. Then go for the one that seems to be your ideal regardless of price. Remember that a high end whistle can cost 2 or 3 times as much as a mid-range, but it is false economy if you buy a series of mid-range instruments in your search and still finish-up with a high-ender. Then again, a lot of players like to have a selection of whistles to chose from depending on the setting - you may benefit from having a wide variety of instruments.

 

Do I intend to graduate to flute or pipes?

Here's where you will be asking yourself; "do I need to get a low-whistle?", "Should I start on a high one first?" "What's the best way to learn piper's-grip?". The answer to these will depend on how quickly you feel you can adapt to the wider reach required for flute and pipes. If you feel it will be slow-going, get a high-D first to begin the learning of tunes and twiddly bits then progress to a low-D when you have enough tunes to start transposing to the wider reach. When you are confident with your progress on the low-D you should be looking for a flute or pipes to get on with. Irish flutes have the same finger-scheme as a Low D whistle - perhaps a bit easier to reach because of the different posture. The pipes have a different hole layout and require a lot more mastery, but the fingers will be a lot more prepared having developed the basic grip on a low-D. Remember that the investment in playing the whistles is not lost - you can pick one up and play whenever the setting is appropriate.

 

Do I have any physiological limits in my hands (e.g. small hands, injured fingers etc)?

OK - here's where you might have to re-consider playing the pipes. If you cannot develop the reach it's going to be hard-going for you. Flute is not so bad because you can get reduced-reach hole configurations for these as well as additional keys to help with the in-between notes. Pipes, however may not be so accessible. Get advice from a piper.

 

What is "Piper's Grip"?

On the standard D whistle, one can comfortably play the holes using the finger-tips, or flat pads of the extreme phalange of each finger. On a tube twice as long (Low D) this all changes. As your fingers extend and straighten to reach the low-D span, the tips and 1st phalange go out of line while the holes on the tube remain in a straight line - so the fingers no longer fit the tube.

 

Fortunately, the second phalange still roughly accommodates the straight line and it is these middle-pads of the fingers that can be used to close the holes without too much pain. Some even enlist the third pads. This is called piper's grip.

 

It has an advantage in that the bits of finger hanging-over tend to flop-about, which helps with the rhythmic component of tunes.

 

There are some exercises for a nice stretchy, floppy hand here -  http://www.mindspring.com/~shin-on/handcare.html - notice the use of the tennis ball for extending the reach. After practicing this for a while, one will find no further use for the holes in one's bowling ball.

 

What is "tuneable" and "fixed"?

"Fixed" simply means that the whistle is set-and-fixed to a specific length. Usually it will correspond to a D scale as referenced to the "tempered" scale starting on A=440 cycles per second (otherwise known as 440 Herz). I will explain the meaning of "Tempered" in the next question.

 

Anyhow, this D might not be true D but we use it anyhow because every other instrument is using the same probably-wrong note to tune to. So a fixed instrument SHOULD be all you need.

 

However, the reality is that other fixed-pitch instruments need to be accommodated from time to time when the whistle is being used to accompany them. There is no guarantee that these other instruments will be using the same reference pitch - hence the need for some way to tune up or down to match.

 

There is nothing more woeful than to listen to 2 instruments being played out of tune with each other - it sounds like kindergarten Nazis at torture school. So, a simple but effective-enough method is used to adjust a whistle to match other tunings within a small range.

 

The usual method is to get a whistle with a "tuning slide". A tuning slide consists of some kind of "tenon" joint where an internal or external tube allows the main whistle body to be extended or retracted - hence lowering or raising the pitch of the instrument.

 

This is a fairly inexact way of doing it, as the holes themselves do not extend or retract proportionately. Still, so long as it's not too much, no one will tell the difference.

 

The more noticeable affect of having a tuning-slide is that it interrupts the smooth internal architecture of the whistle and can dull, or corrupt an otherwise perfect timbre spectrum. Such niceties are usually the domain of flute-makers as it makes little difference to a whistle.

 

What is "in-tune" anyway?

Here we go with another "how long is a stick" question. My stick happens to be 16 inches long (including twig), but the next stick to drop out of a tree is likely to be another length entirely. Different cultures arrived at their agreed pitches and scales depending on what felt good at the time. So they're all a bit different.

 

Then there's the difference between Just and Even tempered scales.

 

For example, If you were to tune a piano in "Just Temperament" then it would sound divine if you only play in the key of C. However, Most other keys will sound like the bells of hell. This is why piano tuners are at great pains to tune piano notes to be equally out of tune all the way up the keyboard. This is known as the even-tempered scale.

 

There is actually a difference between flat and sharp. Unlike what we were taught on recorder at school, a C# is definitely not the same as a Db! In the western world we have learned to put up with the resulting mild dissonance in our music.

 

You will find some whistles are tuned to a just scale, while others are tuned to an even-tempered scale. Just-tuned instruments take extra effort for playing more than a couple of keys, while even-tempered whistles are a bit easier to find the notes in different keys. Keep in mind always, that a whistle can be puffed flat or sharp. This is something acquired through experience and becomes largely subliminal - just so long as the instrument can actually hit these notes it will sound OK.

 

What we refer to as an "out-of-tune-whistle" is one which cannot be "puffed" into pitch. We call these "cheap P*******i imports", or, just generally "c**p" whistles. It is notable that more expensive whistles tend to be easier to puff into tune.

 

What is "breath control"?

A swimming race over 50 metres can be run by diving in and powering through the17 or 18 strokes without breathing. Whistles are more like the 1600 metre event. Not only do you need to get enough oxygen to remain conscious, but you have to do it without wrecking the tempo or muddling the metre. All this with only 0.2 of a second to take a breath when playing up to speed.

 

This cannot be achieved using normal top-of-lung breathing. The old litany "breath with your diaphragm" holds true whether you are leaning whistle, sax, trombone or alp-horn. The use of the stomach muscles to breathe-in ensures that the maximum surface area in the lungs is ventilated. On the out-breath, the use of the stomach muscles provides the necessary foundation for accurate control. Without this control, mastery of any given jig or reel will not happen. Instead you will be left flopping and gasping after only one time through to the end of the B part.

 

As I mentioned before, the whole point of Irish music on a whistle is that it mimics a bagpipe - bagpipes need to articulate notes through cuts, strikes and crans simply because their breath is endless. For the sake of oxygen, whistlers are forgiven a breath every now and then. Usually, the second note of any set of 3 can be sacrificed. Nearly all Irish music is in multiples of 3: 3/4, 6/8, 9/8, 12/8 or 2/4 syncopated-to-be-almost-6/8. The phrasing of ITM is such that a whistler always has a multitude of triplets to break for breath. Choosing which triplet to break is part of the art of diddly music

 

Is it important to have the Left hand on top?

No

 

What is a good tutorial for the Whistle?

The Bill Ochs and Grey Larson books are the usual answers to this question, however, there are a multitude of sources that can be the entry point for any budding champion whistler.

 

The one major point of differentiation has to be whether or not the tutorial is accompanied by a demo CD or video. I defy anyone to truly understand Irish Trad Music without having heard it. It does not comfortably fit into standard musical notation, nor is there any other notation method that allows for the radical syncopation at play in ITM or any other dance genre for that mater. Purists will differ on this, however, I believe that whistle music is primarily an oral tradition.

 

Is it important to learn to read music notation?

It's not a bad idea but not essential. The tunes are universally captured in this medium. Although not absolutely accurate, the "dots" provide the most universal and intuitive method for showing what the notes are in any given tune regardless of what instrument is being played. Many whistlers have survived without it regardless.

 

Is it important to learn "by ear"?

Absolutely. Listen, be inspired and aspire. Then listen again.

 

Is it important to get lessons on the whistle?

It is advisable. Remember that the self-taught have a fool for a teacher and a bigger fool for a student. But then, I have heard it said that god takes care of fools and drunks and many a famous musician found their way there by mistake. There is room for chaos, but the quota is not big.

 

Can whistles have Keys like a flute?

Yes. Many makers can apply Keys to allow for accidental flats and sharps or to enable a comfortable reach for those without hands like shovels. It is rare though. Most players just use cross-fingering or half-hole to get the in-between notes.

 

What are "Taps, Cuts, Strikes, Rolls, Crans and Slides"?

Otherwise known as "twiddly bits", these are all rhythmic articulations that interrupt a note in a more musical way than the frequent tonguing articulation we were taught on recorder at school.

 

A Tap or Strike is done by whacking the note below the tune-note very quickly. This interrupts the tune-note and gives the impression of 2 notes while one is being played.

 

A cut is usually done by momentarily lifting a finger off the 1st or 3rd tone-hole. Once again this cuts a single note into 2.

 

A Roll is the combination of a cut and a tap which converts a single note into 3.

 

A cran is a series of cuts, and sometimes a tap that cuts a note into 4, 5, 6 or more notes depending on the rhythm required.

 

A slide is the bending of one note until it becomes the next note up or down. To slide up: play the first note then lift the finger of the next note-up slowly until it is clear of the whistle and the next note is sounded. For a down-slide the process is reversed with the finger of the next-note-down being slowly applied.

 

Doing this stuff is well documented in the standard tutorials. But the following website can get you going just as well.

 

http://www.rogermillington.com/siamsa/brosteve/twiddlybits1.html

 

Give this site a go - it's really clear and friendly.

 

What's the difference between Cylindrical and Conical whistle bores?

The first thing people notice is that the tone is slightly different. The main real difference is that a conical bore makes it easier for the instrument to remain close to in-tune over both octaves. There is quite a lot of information regarding this on Terry Mcgee's website - http://www.mcgee-flutes.com

 

What are Cheap, Mid-range and Expensive whistles?

Generally speaking this gets divided into the following price-ranges:

 

Cheap               $0 to $35 Oz dollars

Mid-range          $35 to $100

Expensive         $100 to $ohmygod (I haven't seen a whistle over $650 - though, I imagine they do exist -  Ebay doesn't count)

 

What is the difference between hand-made and mass-produced whistles?

Cost.

 

There is no guarantee that a hand-made whistle is better. However, whistles hand made by master luthiers are nearly always well worth the investment. Also, a handmade instrument can be tailored to fit the player.

 

What is "tweaked"?

Tweaked refers to the many improvements that can be made to mass-produced whistles. In part, it refers to the finishing process that is omitted in low-cost instruments. This includes things like removing excess moulding and scruff that degrades the sound and fine-tuning the tone holes to ensure correct tuning. Finishing an instrument often makes the difference between an unplayable "toy" and a valued professional instrument. But a good tweaker takes the job a lot further by also fixing basic design problems. In some cases the whole internal geometry is changed. Anyone who has tried their hand at tweaking a whistle will know that there is an art to it, an art that takes years of experience and consideration to develop.

 

Some of the more accessible tweaks are described on Chiff and Fipple here http://www.chiffandfipple.com/tweak.html .

 

What's the big deal about Irish Traditional Music?

It's kind of like an old Volkswagon. You see them around the place, they're often pretty beat-up looking or have had spoilers and extractors glued on to them. Now imagine going up to one and opening the engine hatch at the back and there inside is a race-tuned Porsche engine. Woof - ya just wanna climb in there with that sucker!

 

ITM is like that, it's been around for ages, it seems to be populated by people without shavers who don't give a dang about their wardrobe or the latest accessories. But the minute you start to listen closely it just gets you in - the intricacies reveal themselves like a hypnotic mandala and before you know it - you have lost your razor and you know the names of all the guys in the Chieftains.

 

Why is the tin whistle so addictive?

It's not just the whistle, nor is it the ITM, it's the whole community of whistlers, music, instruments, makers, sellers and pundits all mixed together and poured into the internet. A lot of it seems to be the rush of freedom when you realise that your musical tastes, expressions and aspirations are no longer tethered to a multi-national musical fashion distribution leviathan.

 

What's all this stuff about finding a "Magic Generation Whistle"?

The "Magic Generation Whistle" or Magen for short (I just made that up) refers to the mystical variability of mass-produced Generation brand "Flageolets", usually in the key of D. Legend has it that the manufacturing variability produces a mystic bell-curve - at the high edge of this bell curve, a very select few whistles are endowed with supernatural powers that can convert a tone-deaf donkey into Mat Molloy. Conversely, the lower edge produces cursed instruments that can destroy every promising musical career within a 10-mile radius. Not surprisingly, both varieties are sought after like 4-leaf clovers, or, indeed, leprechauns. Just Magen what it would be like to poses one - you could have your dog busk Saturday nights and retire young on the proceeds, or you could extort zillions from Flook, Lunasa and Mary Bergen to stay away from their concerts. I suspect that, in reality, Gens are just a damn good little whistle for not much money. There is likely to be a chance that the odd one will be warped or get a bit of molding scruff stuck in the windway or the insertion of the body might kick-up a curl of cut plastic - these are quickly cured using a flat toothpick to GENTLY clear the offending scruff. There is also the likelihood that the actual design tolerances occasionally chance to be spot-on producing the sound the whistle was originally designed to make. The acoustic properties of whistles (flutes, organ-pipes etc) has been a scientific study for hundreds of years, there is a good chance that the designers of Generation flageolets knew exactly what they were doing.

The operating principal behind the legend is that good Magens are only ever found in the hands of very fine whistlers, so it is perversely assumed that the whistle made the player. The perversity is explained easily when you consider that bad Magens are usually possessed by poor players, who are probably the very people promoting the myth.

 

What should I do to prevent my expensive wooden whistle from cracking?

Wood is a wondrous material. Amazing how we end-up paying so much for something that does, after all, grow on trees. Nevertheless, whistle makers are at great pains to ensure that the wood selected for the instrument has had sufficient time away from the tree to get used to its new role and come to terms that it now more resembles the things that used to make nests on it at one time. Despite all this, wood cannot quite get-over the urge to move around with the weather - which it does with very little prompting. Of course, the down side of all this moving in an object that can no-longer heal itself is the inevitable crack. Movement in wood is caused by changes in humidity and temperature - most decently cured pieces can withstand this for a long time because the changes are largely uniform across the whole instrument, however sudden changes can overcome even the most stalwart blocks. Cracking is also a heightened risk when the place of manufacture has a different ambient temperature/humidity to that of the player who buys the instrument. To prevent all this from happening too soon you can take the following precautions:

 

1. Oil the whistle regularly - at least once per month. This will keep moisture from escaping or entering the grain. It is particularly important to oil well before transporting or storing. Oiling should be more frequent in locations that have abnormally high or low humidity. Extra care should be taken to also oil the windway, sound blade and whistle interior as these areas are subjected to the highest moisture and humidity. The most recommended oil is Almond oil - it is fine enough to lay closely in the grain and does not evaporate quickly or leave a tar behind when it does, nor does it easily putrefy. Another recommended mix is almond oil plus olive oil and the contents of a vitamin E capsule - the vitamin E is to prevent putrefaction. Oz Whistles happen to produce a fine whistle-oil <nudge-nudge, wink-wink>, but I have heard said that sump oil or butter are just as good so long as you don't mind the smell. It has been pointed out elsewhere that Linseed oil is not suitable for whistles - it leaves behind a thick, hardened deposit that alters the interior geometry - good for cricket bats, not whistles.

 

2. Protect the whistle from rapid changes in temperature. All things move with temperature. Disparate materials move differently. This becomes an issue when the whistle is mated with metal or plastic fittings, the fittings may become loose or over-stress surrounding wood to the point of cracking. When you know the whistle is going into an environment where the temperature is going to change rapidly (e.g. Aircraft baggage hold, car boot, Simpson Desert, Leura etc) wrap it in some insulating material such as a sweater, foam rubber or a decently lined whistle case. This will buffer the temperature change sufficiently to allow the whistle to acclimatize evenly.

 

If all this fails, do not despair, most reputable whistle makers extend a lifelong warranty and will repair or replace. Keep in mind that close to 100 percent of all old wooden instruments have cracks after a hundred years or so; ebony will shatter from being looked-at funny, boxwood is notorious for becoming radically bent over time, et cetera. Wood will find its inexorable way back into the ground sooner or later - we merely pay for the grace of its company along the way. The best we can do is make it feel comfortable while it's with us.

 

A small footnote to all this woody stuff: it has been found that wood can be made much more durable by laminating thin veneers using some kind of glue or resin to fix the laminations in place. This has the effect of differently aligned grains supporting each other against movement. However, laminates have another property that solid woods do not - they can de-laminate if not manufactured to a high standard.

 

How do I stop my whistle from clogging?

Many whistles suffer from "clogging". This is where a buildup of moisture condenses from the breath and stops the note from functioning properly. The cause can be simple e.g. if the windway is metal or has metal parts the metal will promote condensation until it warms-up. Or it could be complex e.g. the geometry of the windway promotes condensation. In bygone days, flageolets often had a "sponge chamber" above the final windway to trap and hold moisture in a piece of sea-sponge.

 

There are a number of techniques employed to overcome clogging: 

 

         Metal whistles can be warmed-up before playing. The quick way is to cover the sound window and blow a few breaths into the mouthpiece to warm the business end, then blow a few breaths into the upper sound-holes to warm the body. A slower way is to just keep the whistle close to the body for a while - in a pocket, under an arm or sit on it (if it's strong enough). I have heard of players using an electric warmed scarf to wrap the whistle before playing.

 

         Anti condensation agents can be applied to the windway e.g. detergent solution, "Duponol™" (a commercial surfectant), floss the windway (carefully!!) with waxed dental floss, glycerine  etc.

 

Warming the whistle will usually suffice. An experienced player can detect the onset of clogging and quickly cover and blow the moisture out without missing a beat.

 

How should I care for my tuning slide to keep it working at its best?

 

There are lots of opinions on this subject and the answer varies depending on the material your tuning slide is made from:

 

         For the loose aluminium slides found on Overton style Low whistles it is best to use un-lubricated plumbers tape. Waxed tenon thread is also suitable if evenly wound.

 

         For tight fitting brass slides such as are found in SYN and MK whistles Vaseline is best (only a light coat is needed - too much may cause gunky blobs to intrude into the body and alter the sound).

 

         For loose tenons assisted by an O-Ring Vaseline or joint grease are fine, even Chapstick can be used.

 

         For wood/cork tenon joints a good quality joint grease should be used. N.B. whistles with cork joints should always be stored dismantlef or the cork will compress and become loose.

 

         For very close fitting silver joints such as found on Abell whistles and Boehm system flutes - no lubricant should be used - if you must, just use a very light coat of Vaseline as it does not dry and form a lacquer.

 

How is Feadóg pronounced?

This truly is a frequently asked question. The answer will depend a lot on who you ask. One thing for sure - it's not "fee-dog". Some say it's "fah-doh" (fah as in far, doh as in Homer Simpson), some say "fah -dough" ( dough like Kylie Minogue). Still others insist the Fea bit is more like "Fa" - as in fad.

 

Have a look here - you'll see what I mean: http://chiffboard.mati.ca/viewtopic.php?t=39368

 

The first time I asked someone what his Mk 1 Feadóg was, I thought he was telling me (from behind his hand) to do something physically impossible. In fact, I believe the word has to be accompanied by a mouth-covering gesture with an optional clearing of the throat.

However you say it - Feadógs are still a damn fine whistle for the price.

 

STOP - PRESS: The final word comes from the Feadóg company itself:

 

(quote) Feadóg is pronounced Fah ("doh, re, me, fah, so, etc"), Doh (dough or "Doh!!" as in Homer Simpson), G (G-irl): "Fah-doh-g" and it is the Irish for "whistle". (end quote)

 

Why is there a stick on the Oz Whistles website?

We often ask ourselves the same question. The stick just turned up one day and decided to stay.

 

What are the rules of RatBall?

RatBall is played the same as Cricket with the following rules and adjustments:

 

(NB Live rats do bite and are known to take-off a whole finger - in the game of Ratball this is called Scobbling)

 

The Rules of Ratball:

1. A RAT is used instead of a cricket ball.

2. Only one RAT can be used in a series.

3. The RAT plays for the batting team. For this reason it is often referred to as the 12th rat.

4. Sausages are used instead of bails.

5. The 9 remaining members of the batting team also take the field.

6. While the ball is in play, no players may leave the field except for a scobbling, a nogging or the strike of a 4 or 6 (this is called the sprint).

7. During the sprint, no runs are recorded until the RAT is recovered. All active players must participate in the sprint.

8. The team that redeems the sprint is awarded 100 runs.

9. If the RAT escapes then the appropriate authorities are called and the game ends.

10. A RAT caught on the full is not called out. This called the Mark.

11. During the Mark, the opposing team is free to tackle the marker and try to gain possession of the RAT.

12. If the RAT is marked by the batting team it is legal for the marker to be hoisted by the fielding team to obtain a stumping. This is called ramming.

13. If the RAT is marked by the fielding team, play is suspended and a scrum is formed. Play resumes when the RAT is fed to the scrum.

14. If the scrum is won by the batting team then the RAT is kept in play for as long as possible while runs are scored.

15. If the Scrum is won by the fielding team then the winner must attempt a stumping or pass the RAT to the bowler.

16. Runs scoring will cease once the RAT is back with the bowler.

17. If either team falls below 5 members the innings is terminated. The subsequent innings can only commence when both teams are restored to full strength. This can be achieved either by medical treatment, substitution or recruitment from the audience.

18. A team can present no more than 3 reserves to any particular series.

19. Passing is allowed by any means - there are no off-side or knock-on rules

20. A stumping occurs when any part of the RAT or person holding the RAT upsets the sausages.

21. If any part of a player gets scobbled, the player must retire immediately. This is called a scobbling.

22. Forced, or deliberately contrived scobbling will cause a penalty. The scobbled player leaves the field and the RAT is handed to the nearest member of his team.

23. The bowler may use any method to stump the batsman-in-play. This can include running down the pitch with the RAT in one hand and kicking the wicket.

24. If the bowler elects to pass the RAT then play as per the mark.

25. During defence of the wicket the batsman is permitted use the bat to strike any player holding the RAT. This is called Nogging. If a batsman nogs a player who is not in possession of the RAT then this is called a foul-nog and the batsman is declared out.

26. A nogged player must leave the field as per the scobbling rule.

 

That's it! Play and enjoy