Friday, December 21, 2012

Dia duit cairde,

Recently my inspiration for posts comes from questions from customers. Here's one that just came in today:

Whistle head slides too easily over the body. Makes it too simple to go out of tune while playing. Any suggestions?

The whistles ship with a fit that I consider plenty stiff for the way a whistle should be played. The mouth and the fingers are fairly light on the whistle so they can flit about while playing. The tighter you grip, the slower your movements will be, and the sooner you will tire.

That said, sometimes the whistle suffers some abuse and the joint gets deformed, making the fit too loose. Here are some things you can do to make the joint stiffer. 

It's an interference fit, so causing more interference is the thing. If you squeeze the two mating sections between your fingers - squeeze one front to back and the other side to side - you can tighten up the joint. 

You need to squeeze enough for the plastic to take a set, but don't mash the whistle. This can be made easier by dipping the joint in boiling hot water for several seconds, but be careful to not burn your fingers. 

Another way would be to create a little flare on the lip of the inner, or body, section. Take a dowel, drink mixer, un-sharpened pencil, anything like that and while holding it in the top of the body at an angle and pressing such that it applies some force to the inner edge of the lip, rotate the body. This will flare the edge and cause the fit to be tighter. 

When doing either of the above, start by doing less, and if it is not enough, increase the force until you achieve your goal. You can always do more, but you can't do less. 

You can also paint on some clear fingernail polish, or lacquer. Anything to take up the space. Cork grease will take up the space, but it also lubricates, so it may not work for what you are trying to do. 

You might get the result you want by wrapping a wet string or thread around the outer section of the joint a number of times. Then when the string dries it will tighten and squish the joint tighter. You would leave this string in place, so choose an attractive color, and consider wrapping so the ends are concealed within the wrappings. LIKE THIS

Put the ends on the back of the whistle. If the joint is loose because it has taken some stress - I sometimes slip a whistle in my back pocket and forget it's there until I sit down - this may be the best option because the outer joint has been deformed a bit. 

A nice stainless hose clamp will do the same thing, or a wire wrapped a time or two and twisted with pliers, but these will leave an unacceptable protrusion in my opinion. 

Be creative! You know what needs to happen. 

If you would rather, I'll be happy to tighten it up for you if you want to send it to me. I have some plugs and a heat gun that I can use to expand the inner section a little. 

If you have this problem and effect a solution, post in the comments for this post so we can all benefit from your effort. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Don't Fear Being Wrong

Hi gang,

This morning while waiting for the moka pot to finish my second cup of coffee, I got out my grandfather's fiddle, as I often do while the pot heats, and played a tune that I recently learned on the flute. Now, the fiddle is SO not my first instrument. It took me several times through before I was enjoying it at all. And that doesn't mean anyone else would be enjoying it even then. If you play music you know exactly what I mean. 

Thinking about what was going on - my inability to play the notes I wanted - I noticed that playing a note on the fiddle is WAY easier than playing a note on the flute. The problem with the fiddle is ALL the notes are equally easy to play. The problem is not playing A note. It's playing THE note. 

By contrast, once you can play notes on the flute, opening and closing a finger hole pretty much gets you into the ballpark. Not so with the fiddle. It will - and does - play any note within it's range quite happily, and your problem is not to play the right note, but to avoid playing the wrong notes. 

Fast forward a few hours into my day. I may have just sat down with the third cup of coffee, I don't remember. But following a few clicks around the web looking for something else, I stumbled upon this talk from the 2011 TED conference. I've always enjoyed these talks and encourage you to randomly sample some others from their web site. There are MANY! But I digress...

This particular one is entertaining and pertinent to just about any human endeavor, including playing music. So many people fear playing in public, especially at the early stage of their music. Why? Fear of failure. Fear of being wrong. You know what? It's not that bad. Of course, if you suck, keep learning until you don't suck. But really sucking is way different from being able to play a tune perfectly at any speed. You don't need to be error-free to have fun playing in a session or for relatives. You just need to share what music you do have. The act of sharing can never be wrong.

Here's the video, enjoy!  Carey

Monday, October 22, 2012

Care Of Parks Whistles


I just got back from a week counting migrating raptors in the Florida Keys. They are mostly young birds who follow the coastline down and then jump across to Central and South America. For details visit

Upon return I found a question from a new customer in Germany. He was wondering how best to clean his Walkabout. Here's the meat of my reply. I thought others might have similar wonderments:



There are no wood parts. The fipple block feels like wood, but it's really sanding marks pretending to be grain. 

You can clean it with water, soapy water, or put the parts in the top rack of the dishwasher (standing up is best.) Just be sure not to use a "heat dry" or any other setting that would get the temp near or over 100C. Too much of this might lighten the engraved markings, but won't hurt if you have a really big mess to clean up. 

For stubborn beer residue or whatever, you can fold a strip of business card in half and when moist, run it into the windway. The only real sensitive part is the edge or labium. If you poke to strongly with something too stiff, like a wire pipe cleaner, you could damage it, and the sound will not be so clear. 

Condensation is normal as the whistle warms up. I usually find I have to give it one blowing out about the third tune in the first set. I can do this while playing if the tune provides and opportunity to play a second octave A or B. Otherwise, put your finger over the window and give it a good blow. Once warm, there should not be much condensation. 

If you want to minimize the problem, you can put a little soapy water in the windway, wipe off the outer parts and leave the soap in the windway to dry. This will help the water move out more easily and may just clear it during normal play. 

The plastic doesn't mind being played hard and put away wet, but watch for growth inside if this is done a lot. A good way to kill bacteria is to dry them out. 

Friday, October 12, 2012


Quick post today, announcing "Wolfhound," a new Irish music band in southwest Florida.

We are Wolfhound, South-West Florida's premier Irish Music Band! From the jigs and reels to the old ballads and the foot-stompin' drinking songs, we represent and celebrate the history of the Irish-American experience like no other!

Check out the sample tracks and let me know what you think. (That's me on the right end)



Sunday, August 26, 2012

All Ready

The yard is clear and the house ready. It's looking like Isaac won't hit us too bad, but there are mandatory evacuations of some beach communities. Shelters are opening for these people this morning. Storm surge of 3 to 5 feet is predicted.

That doesn't sound like a lot, but the floor of our house is only 8.5 feet up.

One new thing the last couple years is some shelters are declared pet friendly so people with pets have a place to go.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lanai Getting Full

Photo of most of the stuff from the yard in the lanai. Still putting the tracks for the hurricane shutters in. I have to chase each hole with a tap and wire wheel the bolts the clean off the corrosion.

Interruption in Production for Isaac

Sorry those waiting for whistles will have their wait increased while we prepare the yard and house for a wind and storm surge event. (First post from my Android phone.)
Predicted path:

Friday, August 17, 2012

Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich workshop and house concert

A couple days ago I held a house concert at Parks Whistles headquarters. Clearing the living and dining rooms of bulky furniture gave plenty of space and good acoustics for an afternoon workshop on West Kerry tunes and an evening concert by Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich, well known button accordion player from Boys of the Lough and Beginish.

Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich working his magic. 

Another generation takes up the bow. 

Brendan and myself having a few tunes with coffee the following morning. What a pleasure to have so much music in the house for two days. If you are not familiar with Brendan and his music, that's easy to fix. There are several YouTube clips of him playing in various venues around the world, and his latest CD will give you a taste of the music he performed during the evening concert. (Available from

So now those who are waiting for me to ship their whistles know what has been holding me up. My apologies. It's back to the shop today!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Walkabout or Every?

Poor blog. If nothing is going on I don't post anything. If too much is going on, I don't post anything.

Here's a note I seem to be sending out a lot recently, so I thought I'd post it on the blog. Not that I don't want to hear from you, but to save you some time so you can write me with other questions.

Q: Is there any difference between your three-piece Walkabout and the two-piece Every models? I'm considering getting one of your whistles, but I'm not sure why I should prefer one over the other (except for the price difference).

A: They are made with the same tooling to identical specs save for the extra join between hands. If you have other whistles and carry a whistle roll or similar, you have no need for the Walkabout. But, if you want a whistle you can carry in your pocket, purse or backpack very easily, it's the Walkabout you want. I also find the Walkabout fits the pocket in my car's door much better than the Every Whistle. 

So, for playing they are the same, for carrying the Walkabout is to be preferred. 

Hope that helps,


Friday, May 25, 2012

Visit To Baltimore

At the end of April I visited Baltimore. I had hoped to visit several sessions, but things conspired in a good way to keep me otherwise occupied. I have an aunt and three cousins in the Baltimore area and I wanted to visit them first of all. Originally thinking I'd go up in early May and catch the cherry blossoms and a session in DC too, that plan changed when another cousin in VA announced a wedding for the first weekend in May. 

The net result being I only had a chance to stop in to J Patrick's on the Tuesday after the Baltimore Irish Arts Center held their Baltimore Irish Trad Fest 2012. Originally I was supposed to get in to BWI at 5 PM on Saturday and I thought maybe I could catch the Saturday evening concert and session at Liam Flynn's Ale House. But our plane was delayed 5 hours and I didn't get to BWI until nearly midnight. I think it was midnight by the time I cleared the airport in the rental car.

Anyway after all the excitement of the weekend, the Tuesday session was a small, quiet affair. Which I found quite enjoyable. It gave me a chance to play some flute with Dan Isaacson on uilleann pipes, Donna Long on fiddle and Patrick MacCubbin backing on DADGAD guitar and also giving us some tunes on his flute. The four of us sitting around one of the small drink tables had a nice session. As expected I did a fair amount of listening, but that's good. Why travel someplace else just to play the same tunes you always play at home? They were all great players and very nice people. If you are in Baltimore, try to make it to J Patrick's. I know I will be there again sometime. There are sessions on many if not most days of the week, so check the schedule.

From the chat I gathered the festival went quite well, and everyone was still enjoying the warm glow days later. Maybe it would be smart to be sure to catch the festival next time I'm up that way, provided of course there are no family weddings. (The wedding was great by the way, glad I could make it.)

Stay "tuned",


PS - If you have not clicked on the links above, do yourself a favor and browse around the sites. You'll be glad you did. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Just Intonation and Equal Temperament Whistles

Again a customer has asked a question that I suspect others have had but have not asked me, so I will post below my response to the question "Are your whistles tuned to concert tuning?" Feel free to e-mail me or post a comment if you have questions or comments. 



Hi Jenny and Phil, 

There are two aspects to the tuning of an instrument - the base note of a scale and the intervals within the scale played by the instrument. 

On my non-tuneable Ghost whistle I am responsible for both. On my tuneable whistles, the player is responsible for the base note of the scale, and I am responsible for the intervals within the scale because I decide the position and size of the tone holes. 

By default, my whistles are tuned in "Equal Temperament"  (ET) which is the way modern orchestras, pianos and guitars are tuned. I'm assuming this is what you mean by "concert tuned." (I feel obligated to note that concerts are given on traditional instruments too!) 

"Concert Pitch" will tell you what frequency a particular reference note should be tuned to. A=440 is normally used today, but the ensemble is free to agree on another pitch if they so choose, and everyone can accommodate it. Which is hard for things like accordions and pianos to do.

Once a reference pitch has been agreed, the next question is how are the intervals to be spaced? This is not very often thought about, since the maker of the instrument pretty much builds in the intervals. Fiddles and trombones have much more freedom to play what they will in terms of intervals. And harps and other instruments with individually tune-able strings at least have a chance, but it is a chore to re-tune for each key change.

Note that if A=440 is agreed, we can still have our C land in different places if we don't agree on the intervals we will use for our scale. So, all "concert" instruments today are tuned A=440 and Equal Temperament. 

Just Intonation is the "natural" tuning of western instruments before the advent of "classical" music, and keyboard instruments. Simply put, you play a note, and then play a note one octave up, and it will be twice the frequency of the first. The other notes you play will fall on "nice" fractional intervals between the two. 

The limitation (I didn't say "problem") of this approach is your playing is pretty much limited to one octave. When you play in the next octave, those perfectly places tone holes need to be in different places. So to allow compositions spanning more than one octave that were being penned by the "classical" composers, they had to agree to average out the location of the notes so they sounded equally good/bad regardless of which octave was being played. 

I default my instruments to Equal Temperament because the first thing I expect customers to do is go find their piano or electronic guitar tuner and see how I did making the instrument. 

I do offer D whistles in "Just Intonation" (JI) tuning, which I expect you are referring to when you say "trad tuning." These are most often purchased by pipers whose bagpipes are JI tuned, but solo players and people who play with baroque groups like them too.

Can you play a Just Intonation whistle along with a piano or guitar? Can you play an Equal Temperament whistle along with a baroque ensemble? The answer to both is a qualified yes, because player technique can push the notes for each hole around a bit. This is more easily done on a flute than on a whistle, but in each case you do have to actually PLAY the instrument vs. just blow and move your fingers. 

An experienced musician, and I'm speaking more about their ear than their lips and fingers, will know if they are flat or sharp compared to the others they are playing with and can make some adjustments, within limits, to the tone they are playing. 

Comparing one common interpretation of JI (which I use) to an ET C scale, here are the differences in cents for each note:

     C    -4
     C#  -12
     D     0
     D#   12
     E     4
     F    16
     F#  -14
     G    -2
     G#  -10
     A     2
     A#   14
     B   -15

So depending on the notes played and their duration, you may get by with an ET whistle in a baroque group. You will have to bend the note one way or the other 16 cents at most. That said, it is of course simpler to have the appropriate instrument to start with. But you still have to listen and play the right tone.

Question: What do you call three flutes playing A?

Answer: A chord. 

Why do people bother with JI or "traditional tuning" any more? Because if you live within the limitation of one octave, the music sounds better. And with today's computer technology MIDI instruments can me controlled to play JI in any key with the push of a button. And, knowing the root note, I expect they can produce notes in multiple octaves that are nice round fractions of the root tone. 

HERE is a link to a graphic demonstration of JI vs ET intervals. Sadly, this kind of on-the-fly re-tuning of the notes being played is not possible when playing a physical instrument. But you will see the reasons for each tuning I think. Please realize that when the narrator says "Clearly out of tune." he means clearly the intervals are not ideal for the selected root note of the scale. They ARE in perfect tune to the Equal Temerament tuning of the scale, which is what all of our keyboards, guitars, pianos, clarinets etc. come with these days so we can all play together in whatever key the composer (or singer) has selected for the performance. 

Let me know if you'd like more info or if I've said something that isn't clear to you. Google will find more that you care to read if you search for "Just Intonation." 

(Sadly the best site "" has been hacked and it's content replaced with some blather and I would expect the buttons to download a virus, so don't follow that link when it comes up in your search.)



Wednesday, February 29, 2012

You Can Tune A Piano But You Can't Tune A ...

After writing a response to a session mate (is a singer/guitar player who is taking up the whistle) who asked what I use to tune my whistle I decided it would be good to share what I wrote with my customers and customers-to-be. So, here's more than you ever wanted to know about tuning your whistle(s):

Melissa, a chara,

The best tuner is your ears! This is because how you blow the whistle will change it's pitch. Softer = lower, harder = higher. Thus it is possible to blow any particular note into or out of tune, within limits. Those limits are maybe plus/minus ten cents or so. So a whistle player is constantly tuning, just like a singer or fiddle player. 

But it's good to have the whistle adjusted so it's wanting to play in tune to start with, so at sessions I use an acoustic tuner like this one I bought at Guitar Center. I actually have recently been using a tuner app in my Android phone, which I think works much better, but it should! The phone is a lot more sophisticated. 

I tune the low A to Ian's fiddle because he can't tweak the tuning on an open string, and it makes him nuts if we're out of  tune with each other. Most other notes he can slip his finger around to match whatever I'm blowing. 

But don't expect a whistle to be in tune all across it's range. It's not how a whistle works, and that's part of the character of a whistle.

As for tuning the whistles when I make them, there is a lot that goes into it. Since I can put each hole wherever I want I have to decide what conditions I am tuning the whistle for. What I mean by that is since the speed of sound changes with temperature, and to a lesser extent with humidity, a player will adjust the length of the whistle so it plays in tune under the conditions that exist when they are playing. I have decided that 78 degrees is a good mid-point to aim for. 

Then, when I'm setting the hole locations in the shop, I have to look at the temperature there, sometimes in the 90's sometimes in the 60's and tune the whistle so it plays 15 or 20 cents sharp or flat across the board at the amount of extension I want the player to use at 78. Then I know it will play best at 78 degrees, and higher and lower temps can be accommodated to some extent. 

The complication is that the holes would have to move proportionally as the temperature changes. But once the holes are drilled, they move in unison. So when you sharpen the whistle by say 2mm, the high notes move 2mm and so so the low ones. In a perfect world the high note hole would move less than 1mm while the bottom hole moved 2mm. 

Another "problem" is the straight bore of the typical whistle. This causes the notes of the second octave to tend flatter than the low octave. The solution as a player is to blow the second octave harder. You are already blowing harder to get the second octave to sound, so you have to blow harder-harder to get the high A and B in tune. But go right ahead, that's what a whistle sounds like. 

On top of that, if you change the size of the sound producing window, like of you were to close off the "Parks Tone Ring" a little bit to soften the sound, the whistle will play flatter. It is the same thing as making the holes at the other end of the whistle smaller. 

I'm telling you all this because by definition the whistle will be in and out of tune depending on what notes you are playing and the dynamics involved. That's part of the character of the whistle, and what makes a whistle sound different than a recorder for example.

Ha, I'm sure that's way more than you wanted to know. But hopefully you have some idea what the whistle will be doing and what you can do about it. 

Tóg go bog é,


Friday, February 17, 2012

Slowly Learning Gaeilge (Irish Gaelic)

I've been having fun learning Gaeilge and thought some readers might be thinking about it too, so I thought I'd mention how it's going. 

In a word "mall" meaning "slow." Not so much because it is hard, the language is very organized and un-ambiguous (unlike English.) It's just very different. Spoken Irish has different sounds from English, so that takes a little getting used to, and they use combinations of letters to make some sounds we have single letters for. For example "V" and "W" which do not exist in their alphabet. (The missing letters are: j k q v w x y z. )

Broad consonantPronouncedSlender consonantPronounced
bhEng. "w"bhEng. "v"
(thanks to

How do you know if the "bh" you are looking at is a broad or slender consonant? That's straightforward - if the closest vowel is a slender vowel (i, e) the consonant is slender, and if the closest vowel is broad (a, o, u) then the consonant is broad too. 

They do have two ways to pronounce vowels - long and short. If it's long, it has a fada, or an accent mark like this: á or í. You have to look close at the "i" to see if it's a dot or a fada. 

But that's basically it. Once you learn the rules and how to pronounce the sounds the rest is just like learning any other language, adding vocabulary as you go along. 

And of course that goes better if you have people to speak it with or at least listen to. And there are Gaeilge programs on the web. A good one is
As for learning, I think has a very good approach and you can start and stop as your schedule demands. It is operated by a husband and wife team who are very nice and helpful people. Check them out. 

So if you are at all interested in Gaeilge, do some wandering around the web and see what strikes your fancy. 

Slán go fóill. 

Is mise le mas,


Friday, February 10, 2012

Feedback Word Cloud

Looking thru some e-mails I saw a mention of this site that will create word clouds from straight text. What would anyone want to do with that?  Well, after a few moments I though about tossing in the 20 or so feedback e-mails that I've received from customers which are scrolling on my home page. And here's the result:

(Click image to enlarge)

I like it! I think it needs to go on my home page for a while.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Caloosahatchee Celtic Festival

Last Saturday the Caloosahatchee Celtic Festival was held in downtown Fort Myers. The usual Celtic goods and good food were present as was a mix of local and imported talent. Here is a long shot from the pavilion near he river:

The weather was perfect, the beer cold, and the entertainment very entertaining. Jaime, the instructor at a local Irish dance school took on one of the fiddlers in an impromptu speed contest. The applause-o-meter said Jaime won by a wide margin:

Jaime and her troop often dance for us (The Boys Of County Lee) at various events and when Wednesday is not a school day, the whole class will stop in at the pub where we have our Tuesday evening seisún and dance among the diners. Good fun! They do well in the national competitions too. 

All the acts were great, but I especially enjoyed the Celtic roots rockers Rathkeltair. They did a few covers and a lot of original stuff. 

So Saturday was consumed at the festival, Sunday played a brunch gig at The Bay House in North Naples from 11-2 with a group of friends (some of which were on stage at the festival but I didn't get a pic) then I beat it up US 41 to North Fort Myers to catch what I can of the seisún at T P Hoolihan's pub. Monday was a birding excursion to Circle-B-Bar Reserve. Tuesday was catch up on e-mails and play the Tuesday seisún at Ballyourney, followed by a Wednesday seisún at The Dublin Ale House

Whew. I hope you are having as much fun as I am. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

New Profile Pic From Savannah Visit

I finally got tired of my profile photo. It's been so long they've painted the pub yellow and removed that bench. The current photo, which is posted in this post so after I change it again folks will know what I'm talking about, was taken in May 2011 when we stopped in Savannah on our way to McGee Marsh in Ohio for the spring warbler migration. I'm playing one of my Bb whistles.

This is what has to say about this monument:

Historical Marker

Savannah's Irish and Robert Emmet Park

Once known as the Strand and later as Irish Green because of its proximity to the Irish residents of Savannah's Old Fort neighborhood, this park was renamed in 1902 for the Irish patriot Robert Emmet (1778-1803) to commemorate the centennial of his death. Emmet, who led an unsuccessful Dublin uprising for Irish independence and was executed for treason, was a hero to Savannah's Irish community. Emmet is best known for the speech in which he asked that his epitaph not be written until "my country takes her place among the nations of the earth.” Emmet Park remains an important center of ceremonial congregation for Savannahians of Irish descent.

Erected by the Georgia Historical Society and the St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee.

You can click the image to view it larger, when you can read 

To Americans of Irish descent 
Past - Present - Future
Erin Go Bragh

Here's what the whole monument looks like:

There was a lot more Irish going on in Savannah than I expected. Their St Patrick's Day Committee has a permanent brick-and-mortar office with a really cool sign.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Well, it's been another period of no posts. I seem to go in spurts like that, sharing what's going on and then focusing on actually doing things, and not communicating about it. But I'm like that I suppose. My wife says when I get interested in something I focus on it. 

I have not made any real progress on the black whistles because while the mandrel approach does work, it is somewhat unpredictable. Maybe it's lack of practice on my part, but sometimes I get a nice looking mouthpiece and sometimes I wrinkle it as I'm trying to get it to slip over the mandrel. I think it's due in part to the mandrel not being heated and cooling the part before it's fully expanded, causing it to bind. I may try making a mandrel with passages for the hot air so I can keep the mandrel warm from the inside and possibly improve the repeatability of the forming. 

But, then how to get the parts off and allow them to cool? The seem to do best when allowed to cool on the mandrel, but this will mean each mouthpiece will take a LONG time to make compared to turning and parting on the lathe. The temperature of the shop compared to the temperature of the mandrel causes varying amounts of shrinking while the part cools off the mandrel. 

So this is the main technical hurdle at the moment. The other reason for a lack of progress on the black whistles is the need to make white whistles for customer and dealer orders for the holidays. At one point I had a backlog of over 100 whistles, not counting multiple bodies for most of those. I'm not complaining! But I believe existing orders come before R&D, so not much R&D has been done. 

But with the holidays past I'm about to catch up - in fact I hope to ship all outstanding orders today, or at least have them ready to ship tomorrow. And then I'll get back on the black whistle project, and hopefully let you know how it's going from time to time. Maybe I'll set a reminder in my things to do to prompt me to post....