How can you decide which tin whistle is the best to start with? There are huge variances in quality even when we are talking about an instrument that’s less than $20. I decided to make a one stop shop where you can find the whistle that fits your needs and your price point.
The tin whistles with the most value for each price point are as follows:
|Price Category||Brand||Model||Price Range|
|Enthusiast||Mixed (Tweaked Whistle by Jerry Freeman)||Mellow Dog||$30-$100|
The first thing to decide is what price category of tin whistle works best for you. If either you are just starting, you have significant experience, or if you are career serious about the tin whistle, there are tin whistles that fit every price category. Read on to find the tin whistle that works for you.
Best Beginner/Entry-Level Tin Whistles
If you are just starting with the tin whistle, this is the price range you want to start with. Tin whistles are very different from other instruments in that inexpensive tin whistles can sound very good. If you were buying a cheap saxophone or trumpet, you’d definitely notice a difference in sound quality, but chances are with an entry-level tin whistle you will be able to do just fine.
Most Common Key for Tin Whistles
Often when deciding on which tin whistle to buy you want to make sure you get the easiest to learn, and therefore the whistle that fits in with most music and will have the most information.
Therefore, choosing the right key for your tin whistle will put you on the right foot.
By far, the most common tin whistle key is D. The second most common is C.
Attributes of Entry-Level Tin Whistles
Even though a beginner tin whistle can sound beautiful, there are attributes of entry-level tin whistles that you’ll commonly find:
- Curled Brass with an Uncomfortable Seam: Some whistles are basically made up of a sheet of metal that has been curled inwards forming a cylinder. Leaving a seam where the two edges are joined. This doesn’t necessarily affect the tone, but it is subtly less comfortable to hold
- Defects in the Mouthpiece: Beginner tin whistles can cost anywhere from $8 to $50. Some of these are manufactured, and therefore there can be some tiny defects in the mouthpiece just from the forming of the plastic. The mouthpiece (called a fipple on a tin whistle or a recorder) is where the sound is made, so even tiny obstructions of plastic can make a big difference in sound. Many of these can be manually fixed if you are careful
- Leaks: This goes along with the previous point, but a severe defect can be a leak. If the mouthpiece is not glued on properly, then air can leak out in the joining between the mouthpiece and the tubing–this is almost fatal for the tin whistle and you’ll have all kinds of issues. I’ve heard of some being able to detach and attach their mouthpieces on these types of tin whistles.
- Simple and Basic Appearance: There’s no mistaking a beginner tin whistle by it’s appearance. Although the appearance doesn’t affect the sound, the goal for companies that manufacture entry-level tin whistles is to produce them as inexpensively as possible. For example, my tin whistle is not much more than painted brass. It looks fine, but it won’t turn any heads. 🙂
- No Tuning Capabilities: Although not an essential part of a tin whistle, entry-level tin whistles don’t have tuning mechanisms. The tone the whistle came with is the tone it is. Temperature, any silencing method (click here if you want to learn about ways to make your tin whistle play quieter), and the amount of air you are blowing all affect the pitch–furthermore, sometimes it’s nice to be able to tune to another instrument (especially one that can’t be tuned or be tuned easily, like the piano)
- No Built-in Silencers: This is not really a component of most whistles out there, but there are whistles that have a tone ring that can actually control the volume of the tin whistle (how cool is that!). You won’t see this functionality on an entry-level whistle.
- Plastic Mouthpieces: This isn’t necessarily a con, but just something to be aware of that you almost exclusively will find entry-level mouthpieces in plastic
These aren’t dealbreakers for beginners, but to be sure, it’s good to know what you’re getting if you buy an entry-level tin whistle.
Best Tin Whistle In the Beginner Price Category
Perhaps I’m biased, but I spent some time listening to others play entry-level tin whistles, and I’ve arrived that the Sweettone Tin Whistle is the best tin whistle in the entry-level price range, and is the best tin whistle for beginners.
The Clarke Sweettone (link to Amazon) is the whistle that introduced me to the tin whistle. It has a fantastic sweet sound, and although very inexpensive looking and feeling, it gives a sweet sound and is good for a beginner because it’s easy to make your notes, and I found similarly to this reviewer that the notes feel in tune.
One super important aspect of this whistle is that it requires little air to play. This is great for beginners since more breathy whistles (like the Clarke original), are more difficult to play, especially for longer practice periods..
Additionally, the plastic mouthpiece is fairly indestructible–it won’t swell up with moisture, although I have found that it does get clogged with saliva as you’re playing and you have to clear it on the occasion.
The tin whistle that will give you the most bang for your buck. It’s super inexpensive and will help put you on the right foot when learning the tin whistle.
Furthermore, if you want a different look but with the same sound, the Celtic (green) tin whistle is attractive and is very popular. See here for details (Amazon)
Best Enthusiast-Level Tin Whistle
As you might expect–enthusiast-level tin whistles are somewhere in between entry-level quality and professional-level quality. For tin whistles especially, the lines are even more blurred, since, let’s be frank, tin whistles are simple instruments, at least in comparison to others.
This means that you can get an amazing sounding tin whistle for under $100 that you can play professionally that will do everything you could possibly want in a tin whistle.
In the enthusiast-level tin whistle there are many more features than you get from entry-level whistles.
Attributes of Enthusiast-Level Tin Whistles
- Tunable: In this price range you’ll start to see mouthpieces that can be adjusted so you can tune your tin whistle. This is a game changer if you are wanting to play with other people. Nobody wants to have the loud, high-pitched instrument that’s not in tune with anyone else. … (maybe I’m hasty in saying nobody)
- Fancy Aesthetics: Engraving, more interesting designs–you definitely will see prettier tin whistles in this price range than entry-level tin whistles
- One-material Bodies: Most of the entry-level whistles are made of two different materials for the mouthpiece and the body of the whistle (often plastic and brass), while in this category you’ll see tin whistles made of one material. This gives a sleek and appealing look to the whistle. No guarantees that these sound better, though. 😉
- Advanced Features such as the “Tone Ring”: This isn’t a feature of most whistles on the planet, but Parks whistles are made with a term they coined as “Tone Rings”. These tone rings allow for adjusting the volume of the whistle without compromising the sound quality. Since, no matter what, changing volume will affect the pitch, these whistles are also tunable.
- More In Tune: One attribute of all whistles is that the tuning for each note is slightly different. The higher quality whistle you’re able to find, the better in-tune the whistle will be up and down its range
Best Tin Whistle In the Enthusiast-Level Price Category
Man, I thought the other two categories were hard to research for. It’s not been easy to pick the best out of so many good options.
If I had to choose, I’d go for the Mellow Dog.
This is not sold direct from the manufacturer, this is a heavily modified whistle.
Jerry Freeman is a tantamount tin whistle tweaker (say that 10 times fast). He’s famous for taking well known tin whistles and finishing them.
Many of these tin whistles are made out of good materials, but the quality-assurance process isn’t as in-depth as a handmade whistle. Jerry takes these whistles, cleans them up and makes modifications taking entry-level whistles to the next level, such as modifying the ramp (where the sound is really made in the tin whistle). Freeman even adds features such as tuning to an otherwise fixed-pitch whistle!
The Mellow Dog is a famous example in the tin whistle world of a tweaked whistle from very inexpensive whistles (Walton’s Mellow D). If you spend 10 minutes on the Tin Whistle subreddit, you’ll hear tons of mentions of the Mellow Dog. To learn more about it, check out TheTinWhistle shop, here.
Best Professional Tin Whistle
This is a really hard thing to ask of me, since there are so many beautiful professional-level whistles out there. I’m going to choose one later on based on my research, but just know you’ve asked a difficult thing. 🙂
Let’s find out a little bit more about professional-level whistles and what to expect from them:
Attributes of Professional-Level Tin Whistles
- Handcrafted: The premier tin whistles aren’t manufactured, they are handcrafted. The incredible part about this is that even though they are premier instruments, they are still less expensive than a mid-grade saxophone.
- Premier Materials: Premier woods, metals and handcrafted plastics are used rather than simple brass tubing and manufactured plastic. Hardwoods, sometimes exotic woods like Australian Gidgee or African blackwood (although this wood is considered endangered now and is rarely seen). Roy McManus’s handcrafted whistles can be found in ebonite, making some really beautiful whistles.
- Tunable: Often professional whistles have a tuning slide allowing for adjusting pitch.
- Made on Demand: Since many professional-level tin whistles are handcrafted by artisans, there are waiting lists, and sometimes these kinds of whistles aren’t available due to life-circumstances of the artisan.
- Tuned and Ready to Play: One complaint of lower-quality tin whistles is that some notes don’t play in tune while others are more in tune. This is honestly just a fact of life for many, many whistles. Although this problem is not completely gone for professional-level tin whistles, there is definitely a higher expectation that the notes are more in-tune up and down the scale.
- Beautiful Aesthetics: Some less expensive whistles can look beautiful, no doubt about it, but professional whistles definitely have a look and feel that is of the highest quality.
- High Sound Quality: While less-expensive whistles can have decent sound quality, it’s common for them to vary in quality from whistle to whistle (especially manufactured whistles), while professional-quality whistles you pay for extra attention to each whistle guaranteeing a beautiful sounding instrument. Whistles in this price range can have their own style and sound, so you must listen to examples to get a feel for what kind of sound you want.
Best Tin Whistle In the Professional Price Category
From multiple sources and reviews, (such as Phil Hardy), the Oz tin whistle is one of the best money can buy:
For a detailed review of the Oz Vambrace, you can check out TinWhistler, where he does a breakdown of the tuning of the instrument with more detailed pictures and information.
The Oz Vambrace is made from a Acetal plastic or Gidgee hardwood, and beautifully engraved bronze or sterling silver fittings depending on the model. It has a sweet sound and is responsive.
If you were looking a top-of-the-line custom tin whistle, this is a fantastic instrument. At the time of this writing, these whistles are being made for ~$400 USD not including shipping (from Australia). Check out OzWhistles.com for more info.
I had a really difficult time deciding between the different tin whistles so I am featuring several of the whistles that are good and are great options in each price category.
Beginner-Level Tin Whistle Runners-Up
- Clarke’s Original Tin Whistle (Amazon): Has a very breathy sound requiring a lot of air, but also has a beautiful sound. A little bit more difficult for a first-time player because of the air requirements.
- The Walton Mellow D (Amazon): This is one of the most popular tin whistles out there. The finger holes I noticed are easy to cover and it’s really easy and natural to make a sound. I found that the intonation was a little interesting, but I’m sure there are different fingerings that could be used to get the proper tuning.
- The Generation Tin Whistle (Amazon) is another extremely common tin whistle. Many complain of variances in the quality of the tin whistles. Fortunately, however, little bits of plastic can be cleaned up without danger of harming the whistle making your sound more consistent.
Enthusiast-Level Tin Whistle Runners-Up
This was a tough one… it’s definitely worth mentioning some really excellent options in this category:
The Susato Kildare (see on Amazon) makes many excellent whistles, and it has a sharp powerful sound, which works well if you want to be heard in a noisy spot.
The Dixon Trad (see on Amazon) is a go-to whistle that is tunable, and has a sweet and solid sound.
Parks Whistles (see on their website) make their whistles with their “tone ring”, allowing you to control the volume of the whistle. This is a fantastic and amazing option if you are practicing in an apartment, or if you are trying not to wake up your baby or bother your spouse. 😉
If you’re interested in other ways to control your tin whistle volume, BTW, I made a big list of ways you can do that in another one of our articles here.
Professional-Level Tin Whistle Runners-Up
Professional tin whistles can vary in cost tremendously. The tin whistle that seemed the most intriguing to me was this one:
The McManus Ebonite tin whistle (see their website) is widely acclaimed–these are also created by an artisan, therefore they are made to order.
The TinWhistler does a fantastic review here on this whistle.
The Best Low D Whistle
Low Whistles are usually much more expensive than their higher counterparts. Low D whistles require more material since they have a much larger bore, but also they are less commonly played.
The sound of a low D is enchanting even haunting. It’s a beautiful instrument, although most beginners don’t start here for a few reasons.
The number one reason is that Low D whistles require much more air. Breath control requires a lot of diaphragm coordination and thus it adds one bit of complexity for someone learning the tin whistle.
The second reason is the grip. It’s very straightforward to play a high tin whistle with the pads of your fingers, but with a Low D, you’ll often have to use the middle pads of your fingers–many people with small hands or shorter arms find it difficult to cover the holes completely, or even reach them in the first place.
This is a fantastic comparison between several low D whistles:
Low D whistles are a bit more pricey, and you really don’t start to see tin whistles until the $60 (for the least expensive) range
Dixon makes a low D (Amazon) that is very well rated and will be satisfactory for those starting out.
Enthusiast or Professional
The MK Pro (mkwhistles.com, featured in the video above)
Goldie Low Whistles (colingoldie.de, also featured in the video above)
Tips for Choosing a Tin Whistle
I tried to find the tin whistles that best exemplified each price category. There are so, so many options, and it was difficult to filter down to really good options for each one.
You may find though, that you have different preferences and priorities. In the decision making process, here are some crucial tips so you can find the tin whistle that works for you.
- Pay attention to the size of the holes: This may sound like a boring tip, but the size of the holes can make a big difference. With bigger holes, it’s easier to get a feel for the fingerings, which is very important for a true beginner. If you get a whistle with holes that are too big and you have small fingers, than you will have some extra work ahead of you to cover them. Low whistles come with bigger holes, so if you have small hands, be prepared for that
- Know the difference between a conical or cylindrical bore: If the hole at one side of the tin whistle bore is bigger than the other, than you have a conical bore. If it’s the same size on both ends, it’s cylindrical. Cylindrical bores typically sound more breathy, and require more air, and you’ll likely have to use your breath pressure to keep the higher octave in tune, while a conical bore you get some of that automatically
- Playing with a group? Make sure you can tune! As any serious tin whistler knows, you may have to carry around several tin whistles so you can play songs in various keys–and past that, if you are playing with other melody instruments, you want to be able to tune your whistle, so make sure and pick a whistle that can be tuned.
- Don’t worry about the tin whistle material: This is controversial– some are convinced and swear that the material of the tin whistle affects the sound. Others disagree. I’ve written a post that shows an example that may change your mind on this.
How To Learn the Tin Whistle
Now that you’ve done the hard work of purchasing the tin whistle. Now what? There are really two parts to learning the tin whistle (besides knowing music in general).
- Learning tin whistle technique. The tin whistle has a rich amount of techniques that are specific to the tin whistle. Check out my post if you want to learn more about many of the techniques for the tin whistle.
- Learning songs and styles. Choosing a songbook that will walk through all you need to know about the tin whistle is tricky, and knowing what is important to practice can be daunting. I tried to help you out on these questions in my tin whistle learning plan, here.