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McManus Ebonite D Review

(Review written August 2019)

I've been hearing about Roy McManus' whistles for a little while. But I am not really buying a lot of whistles these days. I have a backlog of whistles to review, and I've been slow to get around to it. But when I heard he was making them in ebonite, I was very interested. I'm always looking for good whistles that I can play outside and not worry too much about maintenance. When I wrote to him asking about availablility, he kindly offered to send me one.
Note that the price listed is the 'starting price' for a whistle, and this can change based depending on the choies the player makes when working out their purchase. There's currently a 4-6 week build time after ordering a whistle.
At a Glance
Whistle Reviewed
McManus Ebonite D
Models Available
soprano E to alto G in ebonite and hardwood (Eb, D and C only for ebonite)
How Acquired
Product sample from manufacturer
Tunable construction with metal fittings
Price at Time of Review (in US Dollars unless otherwise noted)
£180 ($221 USD)
Available From
McManus Whistles
McManus facebook page (preferred)
This whistle has an amazing red swirled pattern in the ebonite. Ebonite is the same stuff that they used to make bowling balls out of. It's surprisingly lightweight for how sturdy it feels. I did a bit of an internet search, and there are some crazy patterns being made in ebonite these days for the pen-turning industry.

Roy makes whistles in both hardwood and ebonite. When making them in wood, he prefers African Blackwood, Indian Ebony and Mopane when available (though sometimes he does work in other woods, as well).

A picture of the full whistle. I'm not sure these pictures will do justice for how awesome the red and black ebonite looks. Thre brass is polished to a bright sheen. The red swirls in the black ebonite look so exotic. I really love the look of this whistle.

A close-up of the head area, showing the mouthpiece and the tuning slide.

Even closer, you can see that the ramp is clearly hand-tooled, which means that Roy's giving each of these whistles his personal attention.

The last few holes of the whistle, and a better look at some of that beautiful read swirl. Though it's hard to see, the key is etched into the bottom of the whistle.

I had to take a few pictures and experiment with lighting to get this to come out. The back of the whistle has Roy's maker's mark.

Playing Characteristics
Extremely full tone, loud, expressive, and handles anything I throw at it. This is a dream whistle for me. For people who like a little quieter, a little breathier, or a little more 'pure drop' in their sound, maybe it won't be so much for you.
Sound clips of the whistle:
Leitrim Fancy
Off to California

Tone: This whistle has an extremely 'fat' and full tone, with a very miniscule amount of windiness in the tone to add complexity. At first, I thought it sounded a lot like my Abell (which is one of my most dearly loved whistles). But when I played the Abell and the McManus back to back, the McManus whistle sounded so much more full, and the Abell sounded thin in comparison. That's pretty amazing, since the Abell does not have a thin tone.

Volume: Loud--even louder than my Abell. I asked Roy about this, and he stated that he felt that there were enough quiet whistles in the market, and he aims for good volume in his work.

Responsiveness: Crisp and responsive. I have no problems at all with this whistle.

Tuning: In tune up the scale. While it's easy to blow this whistle in tune and be stable, I can also exert a little effort and push each note ± 20 cents with breath control, allowing for emotional expressiveness. That said, I did have one surprise--venting the 2nd octave D (OXXXXX instead of XXXXXX) is about 17 cents sharp and requires a bit of work to bring under control. This is only a minor quibble for me, as the fully-closed second octave D is completely in tune with the expected breath.

C-natural: The standard cross-fingered OXXOOO makes a perfect c-natural. Any other semi-standard fingerings do not prooduce a c-natural even close to being in tune. So if you're used to using a different configuration, it's probably best to half-hole this whistle.

Hole size and placement: The holes are well-centered. The sizes and placements are extremely similar to my Abell, with the slightly enlarged E whole and slightly smaller F# hole. This configuration makes the holes nearly evenly spaced along the whistle body. The hole edges are also well polished, making them feel nice and smooth under your fingers.

Air volume requirements: Slightly high, but nothing like a Clarke original or a Shaw. When comparing to my Abell, I run out of breath just a couple of notes more on it. That said, I generally take breaths lonng before I get to the point of desperation, and when I played this whistle in session, I didn't have any issues at all taking breaths at my usual spots.

Air pressure requirements: Slightly high, taking a touch more pressure than my Abell. But there's a satisfying amount of backpressure that goes with it, letting you lean into the instrument. And it's not so high that I feel like it's a chore to play the instrument, like some others I've played in the past.

Clogging: Good. I played this whistle for hours at sessions, without a problem. A couple of times, the whistle would start to feel a little wet, but a quick cover-and-blow would solve the issue and I never once got waterlogged to the point that it wouldn't play reliably.

Wind Resistance: Moderate. I could feel the whistle wanting to cut out when a moderate breeze blew directly across the whistle, especially in the bottom 3 notes. If you were to play this outside in a stiff breeze, you'd probably have to do a bit of wind management. I expect that I could play it in a decently windy location if I kept my back to the wind.

It's been a long time since I've been really smitten with a whistle. There have been a few that have immediately caught my fancy from the instant I picked it up. The Greenwood and the Milligan are on that short list. Others, I grew to love over time, like the Abell and the Copeland. The McManus is love at first sight. I've already retired my Abell to the whistle to the whistle bag, and am playing this whistle exclusively for now. Will the love last? Only time will tell. But I am smitten.

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