The kind of things I do on the side in the whistle world

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ie: Probably of interest to nobody here :)

I've been reviewing whistles for years, and have had a free website which gives out free sheet music for a decade and a half. Among internet tinwhistlers, I'm almost 'internet famous'. Every festival, faire, or music gathering I go to, I meet several people who tell me that they've used my site as a resource. I get about 2 million hits a year, which always amazes me since it's such a niche market. I even had a guy ask for my autograph at Dragon*Con, which kind of weirded me out a little, ego-boosting though it was.

Whistle makers are usually happy to send me whistle samples, though some super-successful makers (think like the Stratocaster of whistles) usually have years-long waiting lists, and so don't need the extra advertisement my site gives. That said, I've been lucky enough to play just about every single whistle manufactured today, and quite a few that aren't. I even own a rare Feadan, the first tinwhistle actually manufactured in Ireland--prior to that, the old tinwhistles like Clarke and Generation were actually made in Britain.

The site hasn't made me much money..probably $2000-3000 over the years, but it's kept itself paid for, and has brought to me a wealth of experience and pleasure.

Anyway, I thought I'd share a sample of the kind of things I do. These kinds of reviews have become a 'benchmark', and other whistle review sites that have sprung up have copied the form (see Pipers Grip, a low whistle review site here: for example)

Review housed at

Gene Milligan Dymondwood Soprano D whistle review
(Review written May 2009)

I try to make it out to the North Texas Irish Festival every year. I know a lot of the performers, and a lot of my friends go, so I always have a good time. There are a few things I have to do every year, like my own little tradition: pet the wolfhounds (naturally), shop for soda bread (yum!), and, of course, shop for whistles!

Most of the time, I don't see much new. Usually you can find a vendor or two selling some Clarkes, some Generations, and a couple of high-enders, like Chieftains. Sometimes, I run across some bamboo whistles or bamboo flutes, and these can often be hit-or-miss for playing in a band. The key of "approximately D" can be lots of fun playing solo, and I've bought my fair share of these kinds of instruments at NTIF. But when you play with others, you need a higher benchmark.

So, I was really excited to see a vendor selling wooden whistles that I had never seen or heard from! Another fellow was there trying them out, and was playing a tune I knew, so I snatched a whistle up quickly tuned to the other guy, and we jammed out for 4 or 5 minutes. It was loads of fun, and let me know that the whistles, which not only looked good, were consistent enough for two whistlers to play together and be in tune.

So, I thanked the anonymous whistler, grabbed a business card from the vendor, and finished up the day at NTIF. I can only focus so much on whistles before the rest of the family gets restless. I'm sure you know what I mean. Later, I contacted the whistlemaker, Gene Milligan, and told him that my brief encounter with his whistles was pretty positive, and asked him if he'd like me to review his whistle. Gene sent me a great Dymondwood whistle for review.

Gene has been a luthier for 35 years, working at one time with the legendary NBN Guitars, and is a member of the Guild of American Luthiers and the Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans. Gene also has over forty years of experience working as an engineer. So, it really shouldn't be surprising that the whistle he sent me was top-notch. Gene told me that he's still striving to improve his process and whistles. I don't know a whistlemaker that isn't! But from the sample he sent me, he's already got a good handle on the craft.

At a Glance
Whistle Reviewed: Gene Milligan Dymondwood Soprano D whistle
Models Available: Gene makes C and D whistles out of hardwoods and Dymondwood, with Delrin heads.
Construction: Tunable wood or Dymondwood with sterling brass ferrules, Delrin head.
Price at time of review: $185 US
Available From:
Milligan and Son Besides catching Gene at a festival, the best way to get one of these whistles is to contact Gene at his website.
How Acquired: Product sample from manufacturer

The whistle looks very nice, and is very professionally crafted. It's an eye-catcher, and all of the non-whistlers that have seen it have commented on how nice it looks. The brass ferrules can be polished (if you're careful!) or will quickly start acquiring a nice looking patina. This is one whistle where I actually like the look the patnia gives the overall appearance.

Here's the full whistle. This is a top-notch, professional job. The holes are round, well-spaced, and lined up perfectly. The Dymondwood has been lathed and polished smooth, like glass, and there are no pits or tear-out on the wood. I took this whistle to work, and the guys at the cafe downstairs saw it in my hands and immediately asked "Is that a new whistle? Wow!" Wow is right..the whistle just looks great, bottom line.

Here's a close-up of the mouthpiece. The windway floor is curved, in a manner similar to Thin Weasel or Paul Busman whistles (among others). I've seen several high-end whistles that have difficulty pulling off the windway construction cleanly. From my own experience, I know that if your lathe isn't centered exactly, or your drill wanders a fraction of a degree, or you're off a smidge when you cut the bottom of the mouthpiece away, you'll see it here. Gene's is perfectly formed and centered. Speaking of the bottom of the mouthpiece, where the whistle rests on your lower lip: The cut here is a gentle slope. It's not quite a "beak" like Generation, Oak, or other plastic injection-molded heads have. But it's not the stubby mouthpiece that Susatos or Abell whistles have. It's somewhere in between the two, and it fits very comfortably in my mouth.

Here's another angle on the mouthpiece, showing the labium ramp. The ramp shows signs of tooling, and isn't completely polished. I'm good with that, because it tells me that Gene spent some time getting the ramp exactly right, and then left it alone.

The Milligan whistle has a brass metal-on-metal tuning slide, which is plenty long. Pushed all the way in, the whistle is +35 cents when warmed up, and a full semi-tone flat when pulled all the way out. That should be plenty of variability for just about anyone! The slide itself is snug and stays put. It doesn't wiggle or slide while playing,
On the backside of the whistle, Gene has laser engraved his mark on the head, and his name, the whistle key, and the whistle number. He's also hand-engraved the whistle number on both the head and the body, so if you have more than one Milligan whistle, you should never accidently put the wrong head on the wrong body.

A shot at the end of the whistle, showing the last three holes, and the brass ferrule. As with the rest of the whistle, everything is lined up, centered, and nicely finished.

Playing Characteristics
This whistle has the same kind of woodsy complexity that I enjoyed with my Abell whistle. It's not that "scratchy" kind of complexity that a Generation, Sindt or Feadog has. But there's definitely a bit of impurity in the sound that gives it a nice, rich complexity. Even though the whislte is loud, the second octave does not feel screechy or painfully overbearing.

Sound clips of the whistle:
Twisting of the Hayrope
Frahers Jig
Farewell to Whalley Range

Volume: Very Loud. You will have absolutely no trouble being heard with this whistle. I'm pretty sure it's the loudest whistle I've ever owned.

Responsiveness: Highly responsive. The whistle doesn't have much start-of-note noise, and so each note resolves itself very quickly. That means the whistle easily handles playing quick ornamental notes in succession, like in crans. The ornaments come out crisp and clear.

Tuning: Perfect tuning. Each note of the scale takes just a little more breath than the last. There's no strange breath characteristics to get used to where one note may require a lot of push and the next note very little push to be in tune. There are no surprises here, and the whistle is easy to just pick up and play in tune.

C-natural: OXXOOO C-natural is spot-on. Using this fingering, this note is as stable and strong as the rest of the notes. None of the other cross-fingering methods produce an acceptable C-natural.

Hole size and placement: The holes are centered, well-rounded, and evenly spaced along the whistle. The reach should be accessible to just about any average person.

Air volume requirements: High. This whistle just takes lots of breath. It kind of reminds me of the old-school Sweetheart whistles from a few years back in terms of how much breath it takes. This may make playing the whistle a little difficult for the beginner.

Air pressure requirements: Average in the first octave, a bit above average in the upper end of the second octave.

Clogging: I haven't really experienced any clogging at all with this whistle. I've played it at gigs, around the house, outside in the cold, and at extended practice sessions. I imagine the Delrin head and the curved windway have a lot to do with moisture control.

Wind Resistance: This whistle works great in the wind. It took 25mph gusts outdoors before the whistle really started to have issues.

This is definitely a professional performer's whistle. Between the wind resistance, the volume, and the Dymondwood and delrin construction, this whistle will get a lot of outdoor play. There's only a small handfull of whistles that I really would consider to fill that role: The Abell, the Copeland, the Burke Composite D, and now the Milligan. Gene's whistle would probably be up there with the Abell on that short list, which is very fine company indeed.
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