Hand-made Whistles

 

Introduction

Materials

How They're Made

 Choices

Fingering

Looking After Your Whistle

 Guarantee

 Where to Go for More

 Contacting Me

 Tune files in GIF format

 Prices & Ordering

 

 

BAD NEWS...

I am sorry to tell you that, due to unexpected health problems, I will not be making any more whistles for the time being. Unfortunately the prognosis is not good, but I may resume whistle-making on a small scale once the future becomes a little clearer.

I apologise for any inconvenience or disappointment this may cause, and I assure you that I wish the situation was very different. Many thanks to everyone who has bought and played my whistles over the years, and I hope that they continue to provide enjoyment for a long time.

Paul Hayward – November 2008


Introduction

Silkstone Whistles are hand crafted with loving care by me, Paul Hayward, at my workshop in Silkstone Common, Yorkshire, England.

I have tried to produce whistles that not only sound good but are also easy to play. In my view, the great thing about the whistle is that you should be able to concentrate on playing the music rather than playing the instrument. If you want something that's a real challenge to get a note out of, there are plenty of other musical instruments to choose from. A few of them are even as versatile as a whistle.

 

One of beauties of whistles is that they open up music to people who enjoy playing but don't want to pay lots of money for an instrument, and then spend years learning to play it properly. With a moderate amount of practice and dedication, most people can make good music on a whistle, and some can sound terrific!

The virtues of the whistle as a bona fide musical instrument have become more widely recognised in the wake of Titanic and Riverdance, once people realised that the haunting, ethereal music was produced by a whistle rather than a flute. The whistle is not a cheap substitute for conventional orchestral instruments. It has a sound all of its own, and can do things that nothing else can.

As you can see from the photo, I collect whistles and flutes as well as making them. In fact I have 'Whistle Obsessive Acquisition Disorder' (WhOA) quite badly. (For more on this, and possible remedies, see the Chiff & Fipple website listed below under 'Where to Go for More'.)


Materials

Many of my whistles are made from uPVC, a safe, durable material with no real vices. The PVC is certified for use in contact with drinking water, and the paint is safe for use on children's toys. The fipple plug in the end of the mouthpiece is turned from a material used to make food processing equipment. This means that, if frustration sets in really badly, you can chew the instrument with little fear of poisoning yourself.

For those who prefer a metal whistle, I make tuneable Soprano-D and C whistles in aluminium alloy, and also an alloy Low-D. Most of my soprano whistles are relatively loud, which is fine if you get on with the neighbours and don't work shifts. For those who prefer something quieter, I can now offer a narrow-bore version of the tuneable alloy soprano-D whistle.

One problem with metal is that it tends to attract condensation, especially when cold, so the windway blocks and the tone suffers. This has been overcome by using an acetal fipple plug and a PVC or acetal mouthpiece top, so Silkstone alloy whistles are no more prone to windway blockage than plastic ones. Chewing them is not recommended, unless you're on very good terms with your dentist.

The 'Ace' whistles are made from acetal co-polymer, and have the general appearance and characteristics of a blackwood whistle but without the maintenance problems.

The windway of all Silkstone whistles is curved to discourage the build-up of moisture. Except on the Low-D, the windway tapers in height towards the blade, which produces a sweeter upper register. (Perversely, the Low-D sounds better with a parallel windway.)

Since PVC, aluminium and acetal are not on the endangered list, and also need little or no maintenance, I am happier using these materials rather than the rare, non-renewable hardwoods sometimes favoured for wind instruments.


 How They're Made

Making the whistles involves many turning, milling, carving and filing operations which I won't bore you with. Oh yes, there is some boring as well. The mouthpiece design may not be unique, but it is unusual in having a separate mouthpiece top which is fixed onto the main part of the whistle head. There are several benefits of this design, not least that condensation in the windway can be reduced by having a polymeric upper surface, even in a metal whistle. It also allows fine adjustments to the window length which affects both tonal quality and loudness.

The 1947 vintage Myford ML7 lathe that I started with has found a new home with Huddersfield Astronomical Society, and I now use a 13” gear-head lathe and a cute little mini-lathe, together with a rather expensive Wabeco milling machine.

Numerous machining processes are required to make the main components – the whistle head, the mouthpiece top, the fipple plug, the tuning sleeve and the barrel. Dimensional precision is essential, and I work to an accuracy of less than 0.001”.

 

The blade (labium) is carefully carved and filed to the correct shape, and the plug and mouthpiece top are adjusted to achieve the optimum tone or 'voicing'. At this stage the balance between upper and lower registers can be adjusted, as can the hardness of the tone. Once everything is right, I pin the fipple plug and mouthpiece in place, and shape the end of the mouthpiece with a coping saw and a drum sander.

After a thorough clean to remove any dust and debris, the next stage is to drill and tune the tone holes. The holes are first drilled undersized, and I then ream them out by hand to tune the instrument. The holes are 'undercut' which helps to improve the tone. Tuning is done by ear and with the aid of a tuning meter. I play a couple of tunes on the whistle to make sure it sounds right with the sort of breath pressures used for real music, before rounding off the top edges of the tone holes to make the whistle more comfortable to play.

The whistle is then cleaned and inspected closely to ensure that there are no rough edges, before being painted and lacquered (PVC whistles) or polished (alloy whistles). I try very hard to keep cat hairs out of the paint.

Silkstone Whistles are supplied with a felt bag to protect the instrument. These are made by my wife, Sue.


Choices

Because they are hand made, no two whistles are exactly the same. All PVC Silkstone whistles are individually initialled and numbered on the back. Since my engraving skills are less than perfect, alloy whistles are numbered with a label.

All whistles are supplied with a Certificate giving the whistle number and the date. I keep a record of every whistle I make, and am delighted to hear how customers are getting on with them. (So far, so good...)

PVC Whistles

Soprano-D is the most popular pitch of whistle for traditional Irish music in the keys of D and G. I also make PVC soprano-C and B-flat whistles. The soprano PVC whistles are now available in tuneable and non-tuneable versions. There is also a tuneable Low-A PVC whistle, which I intend to follow with a similar design in G.

An addition to the low whistle range is a tuneable PVC Low-D. The tuning slide is incorporated into the wall thickness of the tube, rather than having an external sleeve like the others. The PVC low-Ds have a similar sound to the alloy ones, but perhaps a little 'softer'.

There are two standard colours for the PVC whistles - metallic British Racing Green, and pearlescent red. The BRG has the more 'metallic' appearance - the pearlescent effect of the red is quite subtle. The whistles have three coats of paint, followed by two coats of clear lacquer, giving a gloss finish. Please state your colour preference when ordering.

Alloy Whistles

The alloy whistles have a 'brushed' finish, but are not coated with anything because I was worried about a lacquer wearing or chipping off, which would leave the whistle looking a mess. Suggestions for maintaining the finish, or not as you choose, are given below.

Alloy whistles are currently available in soprano-D, soprano D-Plus (see below for an explanation), soprano-C and Low-D. I can also make a narrow-bore sop-D for those wanting a quiet whistle.

Please note that whistles with an external tuning sleeve are tuneable mainly downwards - i.e. you can flatten the pitch, but not sharpen it much. The idea of the 'tuneability' is simply so you can compensate for any slight sharpening of the pitch as the whistle warms up (or if you live somewhere warmer than Yorkshire - Alaska, for instance).

One final caveat - some customers have reported that the sop-D whistles can misbehave at the top end (top C and C#) if you're in the habit of leaving your finger over the bottom hole (hole #6). There is no problem if you use the recommended (standard) whistle fingering, but it's something to bear in mind if old habits die hard.

D-Plus Seven-Hole Whistles

The alloy soprano D-Plus has a longer barrel than a standard D, and a seventh hole for the fourth finger of your right hand. If you ignore the extra hole, it plays exactly like a standard D whistle. However, covering the hole extends the range down to C-natural in both registers. It is quite easy to half-hole for C#.

The bottom hole is offset slightly to suit average-sized hands. This is bound to be something of a compromise, but after extensive market research (myself and Sue) I reckon that the offset should be OK for most people. It can easily be altered on request. You may find the hole a bit of a stretch if you have very small hands - it has to be fairly low down the whistle to avoid weakening the bottom D.

I've played the D-Plus whistle quite a lot recently and cannot see any drawback compared with a standard D whistle, and it is useful to have the extended range. It is also easier to perform ornamentation between the second register D and C/C#, since there is no need to go from one register to another.

'Ace' Whistles

Silkstone 'Ace' whistles are bored and turned from solid acetal copolymer, and are fitted with alloy rings and a thin-walled brass tuning slide. Acetal is an extremely stable and durable polymer which, I humbly suggest, offers the benefits of exotic hardwoods but without the drawbacks.

The one pictured is a soprano D-Plus version - see above for an explanation of this 7-hole version. The D-Plus is in four sections, so you can rotate the bottom section with the seventh hole to suit your right-hand little finger. There is also a standard soprano-D version which is in three sections. The Ace whistles have a brass tuning slide which runs in a machined acetal socket - I think this is better than brass-on-brass which can easily seize up.

The sound quality is similar to my other whistles - moderately loud, and quite sweet and pure in the upper register. Compared with the PVC and alloy whistles, the sound is, dare I say, a little 'woodier'.

I know that some people feel strongly that nothing can substitute for blackwood, boxwood or other rare timbers, but personally I beg to differ. I suspect that if I made a blackwood whistle to exactly the same design, it would be virtually impossible to tell the difference in sound quality - and if there were any slight differences, opinions would vary on which was 'better'.

Anyway, the advantages of acetal are that it can be washed, played in a thunderstorm (if you really want), it does not need drying out after use, it requires no oiling or maintenance, it is temperature-stable and it will not crack or split due to changes in humidity. I won't say it's indestructible because if you hit it hard enough it is bound to break, but hopefully people won't do this.

Unfortunately the Ace whistles take a long time to make, and are therefore expensive. But they are beautiful!

Tabor Pipes

These are a new addition (see announcement near top of page), and for the moment are available in PVC in the keys of D, C and G.


 Looking After Your Whistle

The whistle needs no regular maintenance, although washing it occasionally in warm water (and perhaps a mild detergent) is probably a good idea to prevent the evolution of new life-forms. Please do not use spirit or solvent cleaners on the PVC whistles, or anything abrasive, since this may damage the finish. It is also unnecessary.

In time, an alloy whistle may go rather dull, especially where your fingers rest. There are two things you can do about this - nothing, or polish it. Nothing is the easiest, but, if you would like to restore the whistle to its original pristine condition, this can be done by holding a plastic pan scourer (Scotchbrite or similar) against the surface while rotating the tube. (Try to avoid scouring the O-rings.) Personally I don't like using liquid metal polish because it leaves a black deposit which comes off on your hands for days afterwards, but please go ahead if you want.

If debris enters the windway, clean it out with a strip of paper or thin card. Do not, under any circumstances, push anything hard or metallic through the windway, including pipe cleaners which have a nasty, scratchy wire core. The PVC is supposed to be stable up to about 60°C (140°F), but I recommend keeping the whistle below 45°C (113°F) unless you live in Death Valley and have no choice. In particular, don't leave it in a hot car or on a sunny window-ledge in the middle of summer - it is a musical instrument and should be treated with some respect.

The O-rings on tuneable alloy and PVC whistles will slide more easily if lubricated with a smear of silicone grease or the stuff you put on your lips to stop them cracking in cold weather. Vaseline and other petroleum-based lubricants should be avoided, since they can rot the O-rings. The rings should last a long time, but replacements are available from me, The Whistle Shop (for US customers), or from local suppliers of hydraulic or pneumatic equipment.

A few notes on the paintwork of PVC Silkstone Whistles... The durability of the paint has been tested by ELSA (the Environmental Laboratory for Strategic Analysis). No, not really, but I know how fond people are of acronyms these days. Elsa is actually one of our three cats. I stupidly left a whistle in a position of low potential energy (i.e. on the floor), and it became a kitty plaything. To be more precise, it got chewed. I can therefore confirm that chewing the whistle damages the paintwork, as well as making small indentations in the plastic. I guess this applies whether or not you're a cat. Given more careful treatment, the paint bonds well to PVC and I don't anticipate any problems here. However, I can't absolutely guarantee how well the paint adheres to the end of the fipple plug, since this is made of a material that nothing is meant to stick to. So far I've had no reports of problems, but if the worst comes to the worst the paint can be carefully scraped off the plug to leave the natural black colour.

Mouthpiece designA few people have asked about the underside of the mouthpiece on the soprano whistles, where there may be a small gap between the ‘wings’ of the PVC mouthpiece top and the main part of the head towards the lower end. The effect may be especially noticeable on the alloy whistles. This is perfectly normal, and happens because the windway section of the head is tapered. It’s absolutely nothing to worry about, and is not a fault.


Fingering
The following is the suggested fingering for the Soprano-D whistles:-

Notes above D" can be reached by determined over-blowing, but may attract complaints from animal welfare organisations.

Where alternative fingerings are given, it is up to you which you use. There is no 'correct' way, and there are undoubtedly other variations which are not shown. Experiment and do what suits you best - that's what the whistle's all about.

Incidentally, as the whistle warms up the pitch will sharpen slightly. This is normal, and stems from the fact that air velocity increases with temperature. Non-tuneable whistles are tuned to be a few cents flat when cold, so should be in pitch when you've played for a few minutes.


 Contacting Me

If you have any comments, criticisms, suggestions or queries, please get in touch. I don't publicise my telephone number very widely because people tend to forget about time zones, and I'm not at my best at three o'clock in the morning. However, please contact me by e-mail – paul [AT] silkstonewhistles.com* or by snail-mail at the address below:-

Paul Hayward
Rowan House
Viewlands
Silkstone Common
Barnsley S75 4QP
UK

 

* As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been plagued by spammers who search websites for e-mail addresses, so I can’t provide a clickable e-mail link. Please replace [AT] with the @ sign and copy the address into your e-mail program.


 Prices & Ordering

All prices are in UK pounds (£), and I'm normally selling direct only to customers within the EU. This is because North American customers now have an easier route (see below). However, I am more than happy to offer advice and suggestions to anyone anywhere, so please get in touch if you'd like more information.

Hopefully the UK will switch over to Euros before too long, which will make everything a lot simpler over here.

Silkstone Whistles are available from:-

Whistle & Drum, 1708 12th Avenue, Greeley, CO 80631, USA. www.whistleanddrum.com/
Big Whistle Music Ltd, P.O Box 23, Accrington, Lancashire. BB5 5GX UK. www.bigwhistle.co.uk

Please see these websites for contact details, prices and ordering arrangements.

Whistle & Drum and Big Whistle can supply the full Silkstone Whistles range, whether or not every item appears on the shop's website, and of course they accept credit cards. If the whistle you want is not listed, please contact them for a price and estimated delivery date.

Prices within the European Union

 

£ . p

VAT

Total

 

PVC Soprano-D (non-tuneable)

55.00

9.63

64.63

 

PVC Soprano-D (tuneable)

70.00

12.25

82.25

 

PVC Soprano-C (non-tuneable)

55.00

9.63

64.63

 

PVC Soprano-C (tuneable)

70.00

12.25

82.25

 

PVC Bb (non-tuneable)

63.00

11.03

74.03

 

PVC Bb (tuneable)

78.00

13.65

91.65

 

PVC Low-A (tuneable)

78.00

13.65

91.65

 

PVC Low-D (tuneable)

130.00

22.75

152.75

 

PVC Tabor Pipe (D, C or G)

70.00

12.25

82.25

 

Alloy Soprano-D (tuneable)

82.00

14.35

96.35

 

Alloy Soprano-C (tuneable)

82.00

14.35

96.35

 

Alloy 7-hole D-Plus (tuneable)

86.00

15.05

101.05

 

Alloy Low-D (tuneable)

165.00

28.86

193.86

 

'Ace' acetal Soprano D

190.00

33.25

223.25

 

'Ace' acetal Soprano D-Plus

220.00

38.50

258.50

 


VAT is calculated at the rate prevailing in the UK - currently 17.5%. I have to charge VAT to all EU customers, but VAT is not added to orders from outside the EU.

Postage & Packing: The above prices include shipping charges to addresses within the UK. Other EU customers please add £3.00. This covers shipping by conventional mail which can take a week or so to reach overseas addresses. If you are in a hurry I can send by express courier, but obviously this is going to cost more - possibly quite a lot more.

Cheques should be in UK pounds, payable to 'Paul Hayward'. Sorry, but I'm not geared up to accept credit cards. I know that's a pain, especially for overseas customers, but the cost of setting up and renting credit card facilities is not justified at present. You can now pay through PayPal (see www.paypal.com).

Please remember to state the pitch and your colour choice for PVC whistles (see Choices above). If you don't specify colour, I'll make it in British Racing Green.

At the moment I should be able to make your whistle within four weeks of receiving the order.

Customers outside the EU and the US: Whistle & Drum and Big Whistle can supply to any country.


 Guarantee

I hope you will be very happy with your Silkstone Whistle, and that it will provide many years of enjoyment. However, if you're not satisfied, please return the whistle in its original condition within 28 days and I'll give you a full refund.


 Where to Go for More

There are thousands of whistle enthusiasts throughout the world, and plenty of information on how and what to play. For those connected to the Internet, a good place to start is the Chiff & Fipple website at www.chiffandfipple.com. Run by Dale Wisely, Chiff & Fipple contains masses of information on playing techniques and the merits of different types of whistle, together with a thriving message board and links to other sites.

For Irish music fans looking for sheet music, books, tapes and CDs, Ossian Publications in Dublin is well worth looking at. Their website is at www.ossian.ie. Internet music vendors such as www.Amazon.co.uk (or www.Amazon.com if you're across the pond) also have plenty of recordings featuring the whistle, as does www.MP3.com.

For those preferring conventional shopping, most good music stores will have sheet music suitable for the whistle. Tunes in the keys of D or G are generally suitable for a standard whistle pitched in D. If you're happy 'half-holing' to get the accidentals, you can also play in the keys of A and C, or indeed anything else that takes your fancy.

Whistlers who are also interested in photography, computers and related topics are cordially invited to visit The Digital Darkroom where you will find lots of friendly people and good advice.


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