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.
2010 UPDATE! -- I saw Gene again at the North Texas Irish Festival in March 2010, and he had a whole roll case full of whistles for me to look at. He is trying his hand at perfecting the lower keys, and he had a very nice low Bb. I ended up taking a blackwood whistle off of his hands. The blackwood was sweeter and easier to play than my Dymondwood. It was a lot like the Greenwood or O'Riordan whistles I had some time ago. Very awesome whistle!
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.
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.