A common brass whistle with plastic mouthpiece
Clark Classic penny whistles with wooden plug
For all intents and purposes, these are basic penny whistles. A whistle can be made of almost any rigid material. It consists of a tube section, a mouth piece and a plug known as a fipple. "Fipple" referes to the wood plug used in some designs such as the Clark Classic. The tube length and inner diameter determine the pitch or register that the whistle will make. The design of the mouthpiece will determine the tone quality and characteristics of the sound. I keep one of these near me to play whenever I can. Click on the image to go to a great place to see more about whistles and other instruments.
It has been my joy to discover the penny whistle as it is a portable and easily played instrument.
The whistles on the left are whistles made of ABS plastic. They are manufactured by Susato, USA. To see more from this manufacturer, click on the images. These whistles can be great to play with a warm, breathy tone. The larger models are more challenging to play due the stretch that some fingering requires although you can buy them with a key which manages the lowest hole. I have a Low D and a Low G model as well as a set of the higher range.
The whistles on the right are also manufactured by Susato USA. Notice the head joint below the mouth piece. These are not only beautiful to look at but they are also tunable so that you can more perfectly match another player. I have a set like this but in basic black. They are excellent to play and durable!
Do you know who this little guy is?
The Calura Pennywhistle!
Click on the image to view it with more detail.
While antique shopping north of Lansing, MI, I found this pennywhistle in a display case looking very lonely! I had heard of the Calura whistle as somewhat mythical. Little is known about the company. It is believed that they were a sister company to Clark but Calura was located in Germany. A best guess is that the company disolved during the early 1930s. This must have been a sad day for many people! The whistle I have is in the key of B (not Bb) but I was told of one Low D that a Scottish player owned. He lives in Europe and only knew that it was not a Clark- although it looked like one. He reported that most of the paint had been rubbed off before he owned it! As I investigated, I learned that the two companies used similar assembly and design criterial so the product was similar. The most outstanding dis-similarity is that the Calura was painted brightly with rings around the finger holes. Below is one in much better shaped owned by Dayton C. Miller (no relation). Please click on the image for a large view or use this link to view it at it's web page:
This is the book that was being sold with the whistle at the antique shop. Click on the images to see closeup views. This book is from the 1930s as well.
Note the statement on the inside cover indicating that the whistle is a good preparation for the Clarinet!
The Asarkar Penny Whistle!
I found these whistles in a local music shop that happened to use an importer that knew about these whistles. They are an interesting whistle in that they are inexpensive and can look poor but play well. They are made in India and have been seen on Ebay. This whistle is not known for quality. However, I was pleased to discover that this whistle maker can produce a whistle with some charm and a playable tone.
According the the store owner, the importer indicated that the whistles are not made at a particular factory in India. The importer has tested for LEAD and that testing occurs regularly to ensure safety. There is a metalic taste to the mouthpiece from the brass that can be of concern. This is not an indication of lead content. I recommend that, should you obtain one of these whistles from any source, get a lead test kit from the hardware store and test it- just to be sure! The least expensive kit contains two swabs. Early Asarkar whistles were made with lead solder. I have detected lead in some early Asarkar whistles that I own. These whistles were made several years ago before testing and the use of lead-free solder became a standard. I have been in communication with the importer that I worked with and they continue to test regularly. I purchased two more Asarkar whistles from them in April '08 and did not detect lead in the solder. See the lead test section below with the test swabs. "If the tip is RED, there is LEAD". If the tip is clear, have no fear. Simply follow the instructions in the kit.
These are closeups of the whistles above. The logo reads, "Asarkar" and "Made in India". There is also a tag soldered onto each whistle. The "Low A" whistle on the left reads "Madhu Bansi" ("Sweet Flute") and the tag on the Low D (DD) reads "Pipola" (I will know shortly what this means). The holes are not in line but are located irregulary. Perhaps in an attempt to make them more finger friendly or simply due to poor workmanship. The Low A was $8 while the Low D was $32. I enjoy playing both and have obtained the rest of the series. I have so far aquired the Low D, Low G, Low A, C and D. They are slightly sharp but play well alone. To correct the sharpness, I am considering adding a sleave to make them adjustable. If you are interested in having one of these whistles, use this importer!
If you should learn more about this manufacturer or if you discover lead in the mouthpiece, please contact me!
Some thoughts and more information
A highly recommended online store: http://www.thewhistleshop.com/
Choices! Choices! That is just one of the web sites with a good selection. There are several which could lead one to drool! Here are some of the criteria that the buyer needs to consider while investigating the choices:
$$$$- Decide how much money you want to spend. It is a very important factor because some whistles can costs hundreds of dollars (US).
Timing- Are you willing to wait weeks or months for a “built-to-order” whistle or do you only want to select from shelf stock?
Bore type- Whistles fall into two distinct categories: Straight and conical bore. The typical $5 whistle is a straight bore although Clark makes one model of conical bore for $6. The taper bore is reported to give a more accurate intonation in the upper octave compared to the straight bore. Personally, I do not hear the difference in the units that I have.
Material- Brass is the most common material used for the tube. Most inexpensive whistles of the straight bore family have a plastic mouth piece. The cheaper conical bore also use a plastic mouth pieces. Plastic whistles are a good alternative. They do not require as much care and are less likely to be damaged. However, plastic whistles are not cheaper than inexpensive brass whistles. They often run between $20-$70 USD. Tin, copper and aluminum are also used. Tin is cheep and looks cheep. Copper looks great while it is new but begins to darken with use. Aluminum looks and sounds great but is very expensive, >$150 USD.
Key- most common is the key of D. With a D whistle, you can play in the keys of D,G,A minor and E minor. The key of C is also used but less so than the key of D. I have every key from Bb to G but I mostly use a D whistle.
Loudness- Some whistles are louder than others. Some are more breathy in tone and are easier to listen to while practicing. Some have such a solid and loud tone that they are not good for apartment dwellers but are perfect for playing with a band or on the street.
Tunable or not- Some whistles are tunable which allow the player to better match other players. Not all high-end whistles are tunable. Part of the modifications that I make allow a whistle to be tunable.
Breath requirements- Some whistles require more air than others. This is important to understand because it will impact how well suited the whistle is to your lung capacity and breath control. The whistle that you may learn on requires little air compared to others. My modified Walton uses a little more air which is great for me but it is a bit louder. The Susato brand uses less and is typically louder than others.
Recommendation- I would recommend spending no more than $40 USD until you have had more time to develop your own personal style. I still play my modified $5 Walton several times a week. The brass tube with a plastic mouth piece type is er. Another good alternative would be a Susato plastic whistle. These are great because they play perfectly right out of the package! No adjustment required. The conical bore type, such as the clark clasic with diamonds, looks cool but I am not sold that they are any better than a good straight bore.
Other websites which can help you learn
A place to learn more about fingering and music reading:
A great place to see and hear many whistle models:
A place to learn new tunes, upload and share your tunes:
Too much to mention- You just have to see it yourself:
Of course, there is always Youtube!
Once you are there, many people have offered great videos