Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mobile Phone Post

I'm trying out blogging from my new "phone." It probably has more computing power than the Apollo lander had. Pretty sweet what they are doing these days.
Anyway, I have been working on tooling for the shop. I'm not convinced I can put the drill press back in shape if I had to take it apart so I'm devising ways to ensure the drill ends up in the same position relative to the hole jig.
Oh, and I did a little work on the 1860's Meyer flute too.
Session tomorrow and Rob Gandara of The Pipe Makers Union is going to stop by the shop. He's in the area for a Celtic fest.
Yeah, this phone is sweet. I'm lying on a couch next to the pool in the Lanai.  The weather is turning nice.  We've finally got the A/C off and the doors open. Great. Time of year here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Busy day

Friday an editor from the regional newspaper the News-Press called to see if she and a photographer could come by sometime early this week. Heck yeah! We set up for today. The editor was unable to come but the photographer spent over an hour taking shots of me making whistles, playing whistles, and whistles in racks and on tables etc. I wonder how good I was at modeling? 
Following his departure, I set about filling in my web presence by finally getting on Twitter, and trying to link all the various social networks together. In case you found you way to this post and are not a friend/follower/whatever on your favorite social net, here's where I can be found currently:

and the band at

For you news feed junkies:

So, stay in touch eh?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Blog to Blog

There's some interesting stuff going on in Boston these days, and my customer Susan Gedutis Lindsay seems to be in the middle of a lot of it. Check out her blog. This link will drop you in on her post where she comments on her new Walkabout Every Whistle.

On that post is a link to the Boston College photo collection which is a lot of fun to browse.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How quiet can it get?

I just had to pass along this e-mail from Ben in Japan. No further comment needed.

Hi Carey,

It arrived a few days ago, and I'm loving it. Excellent whistle, great sound, very portable. The best part, of course, is the tuning ring, or silencer, or whatever. I'm living in a Japanese apartment with pathetically thin walls, and I can play without my neighbours hating me. Thanks!


Sunday, October 18, 2009

When Life Hands You Lemons...

Actually it wasn't that bad. My alternate local session takes place on Saturday about an hour away. I got there twenty minutes early to find the doors locked. No note.The calendar in the window said there was some group performing later in the day. Everything looked as it should except the doors were locked. Hmm... I sat and waited for the session hostess to arrive and see what she would have to say. It was news to her too. Then a third player arrived. We had a fiddle, a flute and a concertina. Sounds like a session to me. After one set the fiddler said "Hey, let's put a note on the door and go to your house (the host's) and have some fun. I'll stop and buy some beer on the way." 
So we did that. The three of us spent the rest of the afternoon discovering tunes that we had in common. I only see the fiddler once or twice a year, and the concertina player maybe five times a year, so it was great fun. The fiddler didn't even know I was playing the flute now, and he was really pleased. When we parted he said "That flute sounds great. Have you noticed I haven't stopped smiling since you played the first couple notes?" 
It was a good day.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Play the Music

Sometime in the past year I read a quote from an oboist for a famous orchestra. (I would credit him if I could remember who said it so let me know if you know who it was.) They said "I play music for the (famous name here) orchestra on the oboe." That simple sentence is quite profound. He didn't say "I play oboe" he said "I play music." Playing the music is key. Not playing notes, not playing the whistle, but playing the music.

Many people start playing music on a penny whistle because it is not very complicated to make notes with. This is a good thing because you can more quickly forget about the mechanics of the notes and get to the music. Once you get to where you are playing the music, you will find that music is what comes out, not just notes. It will come out of your mouth when you hum it, it will come out of your lips when you whistle it, and it will come out of your penny whistle when you play it.

It will take a little time before your body will automatically make the sound you want on any chosen instrument, and until you reach that point you will be aware of the mechanics of playing each note. This is a place we must all pass through, but we don't want to stay there and learn to play each note faster and more precisely. We want to be able to forget all about the act of making the notes and just make the music. Speed and accuracy will take care of themselves since the music will sound better and that will reinforce the learning.

There is no short-cut. You have to train your body. The younger you are when you start, the quicker it will learn, but there's not such thing as too old to learn. Maybe too old to learn quickly, but since learning is fun, it doesn't really matter how fast you learn does it?

Once you can play the music, you will gradually be able to think other thoughts while you play. Most say when they started they were aware of playing the notes, hoping the result sounded like music. It took a lot of concentration. Personally I couldn't even look at anything moving or I'd get thrown off. Then people say they listen to the music they are playing and in effect play along with themselves thinking the music. The next level is being able to think about things other than what you are playing. Things like "What tune should I follow this with?" which isn't real hard to manage when you are ready, but also "How does it go?" which was a little trickier as you are playing one tune while thinking up another.

So focus on the music. If you can't hum or whistle a tune, what makes you think you can play it on an instrument? The music has to be in you before it can come out again. So listen to your chosen music a lot, and make sure it's really in you. Really in you. All the little details that make it sound like what it is. Then it will be a lot easier to share it with others through your playing. Because that's what you are doing. You are not "performing" you are sharing the music that is in you.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What Have I Been Doing?

Wow the time has gone by quick. It's been a month and a half since I told you about moving the lathe, and I've made some good use of it. Initially I had to make some tooling for the lathe and adapt some store-bought stuff to work with it.

I learned some limitations by breaking a mill or two, but I improved my whistle manufacturing process and shaved a little time off each whistle as well. I'm still not back to where I was before I added the step of doing RTTA graphs of each whistle body (that's three tests for a C, D, Eb set) but it's good to do the testing. I know the whistles are better because of it.

I have been a bit backed up on orders because of the lathe adventure, and that was compounded by a problem or three at the engravers where the logo and key are put on. As the saying goes, "what don't kill you makes you stronger." That applies here as well, as we now have a better process between myself and the engraver, and I am upping my stock levels of finished whistles so the larger dealer orders don't cause a bump in the system. Everything is sorted out now, and I have all whistle orders filled, with whistles on the shelf waiting for you (hint, hint.) There's only two gig bags I still owe people, and that's because they shipped them nearly a month ago but they never arrived here. The company promised me I'll have my replacement order by the start of next week. My fingers are crossed.

That's it for now. It's out to the shop to turn the tuning slides on the next 25 whistles.

Stay "tuned,"


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Moving the Lathe

OK, I finally got around to a blog entry about moving the new (to me) lathe. As luck would have it, my wife's uncle bought this lathe in 1984 and took very good care of it. It came to us as part of his estate. All I had to do was go get it. No small task, but not a huge one either.

Here's the lathe sitting in the basement where it's been since it was new. It's a 5x25 lathe with a mill attached so the cross slide can be used for both. Lucky for me it runs on 110 single phase current.

The main challenge was going to be getting the lathe off it's stand as even stripped the main part weighted over 300 pounds and you can't go lifting it by just any old piece of metal that's sticking out lest you bend it.

We drilled a hole in the floor joist above it and used my old climbing gear webbing to make a point to attache the comealong to. Another piece of webbing thru the casting between the ways and up we go.

We set it down on a dolly and using a strap under the low end so two of us could get a better lift on it bumped it up the stairs one step at a time. "1-2-3-Heave!" is how it got to the top of the stairs.

Into the rented truck with the lathe parts and all it's tooling. It took the rest of that day and the whole next day (8-8:30) to arrive in Cape Coral.

No basement here, so an engine hoist was just the ticket. I unloaded the smaller bits, including the stand by hand or with a dolly. Then the hoist lifted the lathe right out of the truck and we pushed it over to the stand and placed it carefully over the bolt holes.

And here it is, in place in it's new home.

It is a bit of a challenge to find oil and parts for it way down here in vacation land. Maybe in Tampa it would be easier. Web shopping is the greatest!

Friday, May 15, 2009

I've Got Too Many Fiddles To Not Try One

Here's the short story - I played clarinet in grade school, made a penny whistle a few years ago to take kayaking and while learning to play it discovered ITM. 

Then my grandfather's tenor banjo (and cello banjo!) that my father passed down to me started to make sense so I learned to play the tenor (strung Irish) a little. 

Then I dug out the fiddles that also came from my grandfather. One was complete and one was nothing but neck, fingerboard and body. No pegs, no tailpiece nothing else. Ian my fiddler friend played Grandpap's fiddle some until the body started to crack. 

So I thought maybe I'd fix up the one in parts and see if I could play that a little too. I wanted to fix up the second one because I would need it to be left-handed and preferred not to mess with the good one. 

Since I didn't have a bow with which to play either one, I put a request on (a place where you can give away stuff you don't want anymore so it can be used rather than go to a landfill.) A lady came back offering a violin that was "broken" and we don't know anything about it so you can have it and maybe it will be of some use to you."

It turned out to be a 1/2 violin, for a very young child. The bridge was glued in place, and the tailpiece was missing the wire to the button at the end so it too was glued to the top of the violin. I didn't notice that and as soon as I put some pressure on the strings it popped off and smashed into the bridge taking that off as well. I wondered how best to break that loose. 

I took it to RJ at Darkwood, a luthier in the area to see if it had any value. He said it wasn't anything special, but he put a wire on the tailpiece for me and sold me the one string that was missing for a dollar. I'm going to find a kid who might want to play it who might not otherwise have a chance for a fiddle. 

So now I have a quite functional 1/2 violin, a pretty good fiddle from 1925 and one in pieces from somewhat later in the century, between the 20's and early 60's. I'm guessing 40's maybe. 

How can I not at least explore the fiddle? So I turned the strings and bridge around on the good fiddle for now, just to see how it feels to fiddle. If I like it I might move the bass bar over on the one in pieces before I put it back together, and make it a proper lefty fiddle. Right now the jury is out.  It's really strange to rock the bow as much as is needed to play the different strings. But the fingering isnt' too bad. 

While I visited my grandfather a lot, sadly I never heard him play anything, in fact I never even knew he played. And my father - as much as he enjoyed music - never could learn to play. But he kept the instruments and now I'm very glad he did. I'm just sorry he passed while I was just learning to play them. I hope he is watching now when I stand on stage playing his father's instruments. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Two Irish Players

Yesterday afternoon I got an e-mail from Ian the fiddler saying a couple of brothers from Ireland looked him up on and asked if they might have some tunes while they were here on vacation. Heck yes! We had our Tuesday kitchen session scheduled for Ian's that very day. Whoo hoo! It's always good fun to play with new folks.

When the evening approached the clouds were gathering and by the time we all headed over to Ian's the sky was dark and stormy. "It was a dark and stormy night..." Well on the outside at least. At Ian's we were nice and cozy and having some tunes. The streets of Cape Coral threw John and Louie off the trail once, but they made it and we had a great time playing tunes until well past when we should have stopped.  

John played flute and when he sang he would accompany himself on guitar. Louie did a great job in the bodhran. What fun it was to have them visit. I hope they come back in the future, or better still, I can meet them in Ireland. 

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Last Friday's Fun

or "Going Walkabout In Southwest Florida"

I saw a nach Meyer flute on ebay and it was offered by a shop in Port Charlotte, about 45 minutes away, so I went up yesterday to have a look at it and try it out. The shop fixed it up for a guy and he didn't want to pay to get it back so they are auctioning it off to recover expenses. I don't really need another one until I fix up the ivory headed one I've got and sell one of the two I currently own. So I just went mainly to have a go on the flute and learn something about a different maker's nach Meyer. I've been wanting to stop in at Darkwood too, so it was a good chance to combine both missions.
The Music Stand is a comfortable place with five practice/lesson rooms and a ton of instruments. Dave, the owner has been in the business for many years and plays in the Charlotte County symphony. I didn't ask what he plays, but he could make sounds on the flutes. I'm guessing he plays some sort of woodwind as he's got a string guy working for him.
Anyway I called before I went and got the guitar tech and he said come on up. When I got there he had the flute out behind the counter for me. I checked it out and gave it a couple toots, and tried a tune or two. Dave appeared at that point and asked would I like to step into one of the rooms. I'm thinking "Am I that bad?" Anyway the takes me back to a room and I mess with the flute some more, get it lined up as I like it and played an actual tune. Gotta warm these things up you know. Dave appears again and says it seems I know the music. He then goes and gets a whole arm load of old wooden flutes and piccolos. And a silver Eb Boehm flute that he is quite proud of.
I went to the car and brought in both of my flutes and the banjo. We had fun passing smelly flutes around and trying to play them. The one he repaired had cracked thru the embouchure and the crack wasn't very visible at all. Nice job. Tthe embouchure was a little larger than I though it would have been for that period. It played pretty clearly in the second octave. The low octave was a little more airy. 
He had another flute that appeared to be by the same maker. Same keys and rings. He had not worked over the corks and pads on this one and the joins wobbled a little but it held air and could be played. The tone of this one was much better. I didn't think to put the head from the wobbly on the ebay one. He had one with an ivory head that wasn't in shape to even try. I tried a piccolo or two and don't have the focus for that. He could make sounds on them but a few notes would take his whole lung full of air. I've read they are harder to play than a flute.
I told him about the whistles I make and showed him the one I had in my pocket. He asked the price and said he would like to buy one. I didn't have a good Walkabout with me so I promised to bring one up to him. Which also gives me another chance to hang with them and check out more stuff. He said he'd come to the Ray in a couple weeks once the symphony season is over and he is free on Sundays. His guitar tech was into the banjo and wants me to bring the cello banjo up. He said he's got a bunch of loose strings in the back and he'll see if he can find some that would be good on the CB. He might come to the Ray. He's off at 4 on Sundays.
So I take my leave and head to Darkwood, and when I walk in Chris (a session mate) is there, having just finished giving a hammered dulcimer lesson. She introduced me to her student and took me around the place. It's interesting. A mishmash of cafe, music store, pottery studio and luthier cave. I had "Grandpap's fiddle" under my arm as I was wondering what it might cost to fix it up. RJ, the luthier and main dude had a look at it. "And oh, take it out of this case. I smell mold. Mold eats glue, which is really just horses ass." Chris told him I was the whistle maker and it was sort of "Oh". And as he putters on the workbench a bit he goes to a shelf and hands me two keyless flutes/fifes. "These are from the Civil War, made of oak from the Atlanta area we think." I have a go and it's a real struggle to play because they are so blasted small. Almost like playing a high G whistle sideways. I manage part of tune before the wheels come completely off my playing. I remark that it's hard to play, and my fingers have not learned where the holes are. He said "That's more consecutive notes than anyone else has got out of them" and he wanders off. Guess he's not the chatty type.
Steve (a string playing session mate) appears, and the three of us chat about St Patrick's day gigs, MG A's, MG B's and MG Midgets for at least an hour. I had them rolling holding their sides with the story about driving along under a semi to dodge on-comming traffic on a rolling two-lane state highway in Ohio. Chris allows as how she'd like to buy one of my whistles to practice her whistlin' in the self-consious learning phase. She's got an aluminum one she likes pretty well but doesn't practice it cuz it's so loud. After a while I put the fiddle under my arm and start drifting towards the door, pausing at the banjo mute sitting on the workbench top. (It's a claw hammer) RJ happens in and asks "Are you going to leave the fiddle?" "Not today, I just wanted to know how much budget I needed to work up." "Are you a friend of hers?" "I don't know if she'll admit it." "Gimme it. I'll glue it up for you." WhooHoo! "Come to the Ray some Sunday and I'll buy you a pint." He smiled "I drink Guiness." Chris says "So do most of them." So maybe we'll see RJ sometime. Chris says he's got an Irish song or two.
So, In pay it forward fashion, I gave Chris a whistle as payment for the fiddle repair that she unwittingly facilitated. Maybe she'll learn to play it and fit in a smaller space on the little stage than her hammered dulcemer. Maybe she's looking for a way out of that corner under the A/C vent. 
Whatever the result it was an afternoon well spent. A whistle sold, a fiddle repaired (both just promises at this point) and some tunes played on some strange flutes. Oh, and the best part is that's the first time I noticed I didn't feel like an interloper in a music store. I used to feel like all the instruments were taunting me. Now just some of them are, especially the right-handed ones. . Music shops feel as comfortable to me now as car parts or wood working stores.
Boy, that's a whole chapter in a book!  Sorry about that. That's why I don't twitter. Maybe I should save these ramblings and publish my own "Last Nights Fun"

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cherish The Ladies St Patrick's Day Concert and Parks Whislte Walkabout

herish The Ladies came to Fort Myers, Florida for St Patrick's Day 2009 and I wasn't going to pass up that concert just for a gig or two. I sent Joanie Madden an e-mail ahead of time offering our sessions or general local knowledge if they were going to be in town for a while. Joanie said she was quite busy but would like to check out my whistles while she was here, and I should find her in the lobby after the concert. 

The concert was quite good of course, and afterwards I let the folks finish the meet-and-greet with Joanie. As she was returning to the hall I introduced myself and we had a chat with a few other people for a while. 

During a lull in the conversation, Joanie looks at me and says 

"Well, did you bring a whistle?" 

Of course I did. My sport coat was a virtual wearable whistle roll at the moment, with whistles in every pocket. I took out an Every Walkabout in it's pouch and handed it to Joanie. 

"That's a whistle?" she said with raised eyebrows. 


Joanie liberated the whistle parts from their case and assembled the whistle, still looking at it with an interested but wondering look on her face. She played a riff on the whistle and her eye's widened. 

"That's good!" she said, and went back to more playing. 

"That's very good!!" was the declaration after a minute or two of playing. 

I'm sure I was absolutely beaming. Joanie said she really liked the whistle and would be happy to give me a recomendation. I asked her "How about a picture?" and she said OK. Of course I didn't bring a camera, so Kathleen Boyle the acordian/piano player in the group snapped a photo while Joanie and I played a couple tunes on my whistles. 

From Whistle Promos
Carey and Joanie playing a few tunes on Parks Walkabout whistles. (click for larger image.)

Later Joanie invited me up on stage to peruse her whistle roll while she packed up her gear. She had a great big Sassafrass Grove 25 whistle roll, with two complete sets of whistles, each one's key clearly marked. She mentioned she had the marked whistle roll made for her after grabbing the wrong key whistle from the formidable stack one time on stage. Nice job on the whistle roll Sarah!

When she was about all packed up she put the Walkabout back in it's pouch and said "I'm not going to put this in my roll, I'm going to keep it in my wallet." Yea, it doesn't get any better than that, eh?

So next time you see Joanie, don't be surprised if she pulls a whistle out of nowhere and composes a tune on the spot. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Improved Quality - Silver Linings and Other Truths

Every cloud has a silver lining, right? Sometimes it's not so easy to see it when it is raining on your parade, but I've found the silver lining to be mostly true. You just have to step back and take a look.

In the current case, I got a "bad" batch of pipe from which I made a number of whistles. It wasn't really that bad, not as far as water pipe goes. But it was bad as far as my whistle making was concerned. I had been making the Every family of whistles the same way for quite a while with no problems and had relaxed my inspection from 100% to only several per batch, following the tried and true QA US Govt Mil Spec sampling plans. All was going along fine. 

After sending whistles to a few really experienced whistle players with good ears, I got a phone call from two, and an e-mail from the other saying the intonation of the whistle was off. And not just a little bit. Hmm... what could it be? Could you send me a clip of yourself playing the whistle, and then return the whistle to me for evaluation? I wanted to see how the whistles checked out in my hands compared to theirs. And it looks like I'm back to 100% inspection againg. 

Could it just be due to different playing styles? None of the whistles I put thru the stringent testing showed a problem here in my hands. These folks have all played a number of different whistles so probably not. I'm expecting a problem with the whistles.

I had recently begun using the RTTA intonation analysis software from Terry McGee and Graeme Roxbury  and had been testing some whistles with it, especially if I was changing the location of finger holes or something. I took the clips and ran them through the RTTA software. I now had a pretty good picture of the "live" intonation of the whistles in the customer's hands. When I got them back and did a plot myself, my plots showed intonation problems as well. So I reported that fact to the folks who were kind enough to tell me about it and set to work on finding out why these whistles were so different from the others I have made. 

From Whistle Promos
Poor intonation whistle example. Only a handful of the whistles were this bad due to the thickness of the pipe from the maker. But it gives a good idea of how much a little extra material in the wrong place can change things. (click to enlarge)

My first reaction was to think that there must be something I did wrong. Maybe I got the calipers calibrated to something other that zero for a while. Something. But everything thing I normally measure checked out fine. 

So I had to start checking things I didn't usually measure. The problem turned out to be a narrower body ID for the whistles. It wasn't much when measured, less than one-half of a millimeter, but in relation to the other dimensions that's quite a lot, as it applied for the whole length of the whistle. 

The pipe, when used as hot water pipe, has to hold a minimum pressure, which requires a minimum wall thickness. The pipe must also fit properly into fittings, so the OD of the pipe is the most critical dimension for the plumbers. So if the pipe comes out a little heavy, it still makes good pipe, it just costs the maker some extra material. So the maker wants to use the minimum material, which causes the ID to be pretty darn consistent. 

Until now. Maybe they started up a new line or maybe they started up a new operator. Whateve the cause, some of the pipe had a smalled ID than I had been getting from this source for years. OK, now that I know what happened, what can be done about it? 

I could just measure the pipe and try to use only that pipe which was the size I expected it to be. But just beacuse I measure one spot doesn't mean the whole pipe is the same size. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and ream the ID of all the body sections so I would be sure that the body ID was the same for all my whistles. 

I made the prototype whistles, and found there was an improvement in the intonation right off the drill press, which required less work tuning the whistle. This was good since reaming adds a fair amount of time to the making of each whistle and I hoped to get that time back somewhere. Of course happier customers alone are worth it, but often there's an actual manufacturing savings when you improve product quality. So long as you actually improve the process and not just inspect the quality in by throwing out more product. 

Now that I was going to be reaming the pipe, I was going to be chucking the pipe quite tight and would mar the end of it with the chuck teeth. So this would need to be cut off, wasting a small section of material. Since I was now reaming the body I thought it would make sense for me to do all the body parts of a whistle together and keep them as a unit now rather than make so many heads, so many bodies and so many Walkabout parts and then after they are all machined, match them together. This required a complete change in how I measured the cuts when parting the whistle pieces from the original pipe. 

Well, you get the idea. One small improvement and I completely re-worked my process for making the whistles. They appear to be the same whistles when you pick them up. But from my perspective I make them in a very different way now. 

From Whistle Promos
This is a plot from one of the whistles made after the process change. (click to enlarge)

Even before the process change I have been keeping statistical process control charts on a lot of the steps during the making of a batch of whistles. Here's one on the tuning slide outside diameter. You can see just from looking that they are getting more consistent over time, due to relatively minor changes in how I do things. Note that it's how I do things not what I do that is improving. Maybe I'll talk more about SPC in the future.

From Whistle Promos
In a nutshell, narrower limits on the top chart means more uniform part. (click to enlarge)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Last Nights Fun

As well as being a tune name, it's the name of a book by Ciaran Carson. Good stuff if you are a player of ITM or the flute. 

So far my favorite line in "Last Nights Fun" is the one about the Boehm "... who devised an instrument of cylindrical bore and enormous tone holes which could not be covered by the fingers, but demanded an intricate system of pads, levers and springs to enable each key to open independently as well as interact with the others. The result, in the opinion of many, is a different instrument entirely; and certainly, it is disparaged by many traditional players as a class of typewriter."

I'm sure a Boehm flute is a fine instrument for the intended purpose, but this shows how one school defends itself against the other. I wonder what Boehm players say of simple system flutes?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Celtic Clan at the Celtic Ray

Wow, it's been a while since I posted to the blog. 

A lot has been going on behind the scenes in the workshop but nothing I felt worthy of a post. That's probably because I'm too close to it and it would be interesting to read. I'll try and get to a seperate post about the quality assurance improvements in the shop. 

But what caused me to want to post today was having the lads from the Boston band Celtic Clan sit in during our session at the Celtic Ray yesterday. The sessions are always good fun, and each day has it's own personality. I'd say at one point yesterday there were as many Irish accents as not around the circle. And that with people sitting in chairs outside the normal circle. I can't do justice with words to the Celtic Clan guys. They are playing at the Ray on Monday and Tuesday and at Fiddler's Green in Winterpark, FL on Thu, Fri, and Sat. What vacation? And they come to the pub on Sunday for some fun. Very nice gents to have around and awsome players too. If you have a chance to catch them do yourself the favor and do it.  You can find their schedule and other info including some cuts at their web site (click here.)