Tuesday, September 14, 2010

DIY tin whistles

For the dance group my wind instruments have been my recorders, both alto and my recently-acquired tenor. I've been wanting to get a "Low D" tin whistle for a while now, which is one octave below the usual penny whistle. As with pretty well all of my non-drumset instruments, I'm not all that interested in playing the folk / ethnic music these were made for, though I do make sure I know what that music is about and its history. Because with the dance group I'm usually working in situations of improvised music I'm always looking for new ways to express myself, and the low whistles can have a rather haunting, beautiful sound.

So I was going to buy one, and but for some weird reason the Susato I'd ordered from a Canadian distributor never arrived, and they were baffled as to why, so my order was canceled and money refunded. While this was getting sorted out I'd been reading up on do-it-yourself whistles, and now presumed this order foul-up was the universe telling to get on with making my own.

There are some excellent resources on the Net for this, both websites and YouTube videos. I was rather intrigued by the ideas offered at http://www.ggwhistles.com/howto/ and also http://rjaysplace.com/exofipple/ . So I decided to try it out, and so what kind of tubing should I use? Well, why not start with bicycle tubing? It's not, given my pedal-powered proclivities, like I don't know where to find any. ;)

So I cut up an old dead Peugeot road frame. This first one was just to try the external windway concept, and so I initially only drilled the fipple hole, put a plug in. Now, with a conventional whistle the windway is carved out of the top of the plug. But with the "exofipple" design it rests on top of the tube. So I taped on a windway made from of a slice of handlebar! It sounded suprisingly fabulous, so I drilled the other holes rather quickly in roughly the right places just for fun. The whole thing is a bit sharp, as I had not bothered to set a specific pitch by cutting it to length (since it was supposed to be a one-note test).

The handlebar windway. I made this using the end of an aluminum handlebar, which worked nicely because the outer edge is beveled.
Fipple view:

So while it 's a bit wonky it does work. So the next step was to use a prize piece of tubing, this one being from my old bike that was damaged when I was hit by a taxi a few years back (i never really thought about why I did not just scrap the bike right away, but I'm now very glad I didn't!). This tubing, unlike the old Peugeot, is made from triple-butted cro-moly steel, and much lighter. Unfortunately it's also black and scuffed up, so not much of a looker...

Fipple hole drilled:

Wooden plug made from an old broom handle (yes, this will need some sanding):
Cutting the windway from the handlebar:

It's kind of hard to put visible drill markings over black paint, so I used masking tape.
I left the tube's cable housing guides on. The middle one makes for a fine thumbrest.
Yes, the holes do not line up as well as they could have. I'd like both a decent hammer punch, and a drill press!
Note how much taller this windway is than on the green whistle. The small hole in the wood is for a hook so I can hang the plug while its gets varnished. The hole will disappear when the the end is cut to make the beak.

Yay for lots of cut-up bicycle tubing to play with. But I later realized most of it is too short, so the ideal bore to length ratio cannot be achieved. For low whistles (the kind I want to build) I need lengthy tubing from really large bikes!
Even the black whistle's bore might be a bit big for its length, but it sounds fine. Oh, and it is in the key of "G".
Now on to more fun, and time for an actual Low D whistle!

I made the first one out of pvc pipe, but messed up the hole calculations due to reading the ratios for short whistles, not long ones. Doh! So then I grabbed an old squeegee mop, and its shaft was made from aluminum. This one came out right! But boy, the reach to the lowest note is a bit of a stretch, but I'm getting used to it. This last whistle is a bit too breathy, so I'll file the windway down a bit so it's not so tall.

Note in the photo below that the black on, while shorter, has a wider bore. So it's definitely the loudest of the bunch, and when the re-Cycles shop scraps its next large road bike frame I'm grabbing its downtube to make a nice cro-mo Low D. ;)
The cro-mo whistle now sports a correct beak. The whistles are certainly playable without the beak, but having one is more comfortable.
The pvc's windway. Obviously not going to spend any time smoothing it out and cutting the beak, since there's no way to correct the intonation issue. It's all part of the learning process!
The two Low D whistles. Note that the pvc's holes are mostly too far up the pipe, making them sharp. Note that only holes 6 and 3 (from left) match the upper whistle.
Upcoming whistle projects: an in-tune pvc one (in either D or C), and also one out of copper pipe. I will want to make a pvc one using Guido's plans (no exofipple).

I'm also intrigued by the "overtone flute" concept (look up "fujara" on YouTube), and the idea of making both a Japanese shakuhachi as well as a S. American quena. But these last two have a a bit of a learning curve, so we'll see if I first make them, then ever get a sound out of them.

Oh, and I would also like to acknowledge the fabulous accumulated wisdom in the forums of Chiff and Fipple, and the fine info from junkdojo on YouTube.

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