Whether you’re into sob movie soundtracks (Titanic) or the whole rustic appeal of J.R.R Tolkien’s Shire, chances are you fancy the sound of a tin or penny whistle.
The instrument has been used in everything from folk and jazz to pop, and as already mentioned, movie soundtracks (Titanic, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and many more).
So, what’s a tin whistle exactly?
Simply put, it’s a flute-like instrument that comes in different keys. It features six finger holes and a diatonic 6-hole design. It’s one of the must-have instruments if you’re looking to play Irish or Scottish traditional music, and a nice unique addition to many other musical genres.
7 Best Tin Whistles for Beginners and Veterans
Without further ado, check out the reviews of my favorite tin whistles for every budget and level of expertise.
Table of Contents
- 7 Best Tin Whistles for Beginners and Veterans
- How to Choose a Key
- Mouthpieces 101
- Tuneable and Non-Tuneable Tin Whistles
- Body Material and Shape
The Clarke SBDC tin whistle is a top seller worldwide. It’s in the key of D and comes with a wooden mouthpiece.
The sweet flute-like tonality is consistent and music to my ears. I like that each instrument is handmade. The consistency of the construction and the tonality are worth every penny. Not that this tin whistle is expensive in any way.
Not exactly a flute player myself, I always appreciate it when beginner instruments are easy to play and also sound good. The notes coming out of the Clarke CBDC pennywhistle are warm and easy to control with sustain thanks to the small spacing between each finger hole.
Another reason why this tin whistle drew my attention is the manufacturer’s reputation. The ease of play wouldn’t be as enticing if not for the guarantee of quality and longevity.
This is a bargain if you’re just starting your journey into woodwind instruments. The Woodi set features two tin whistles, one in the key of D and the other in C.
The D whistle will likely be the first one you play. It has small spacing between the finger holes and it’s easier to learn on. The C whistle is the one you will transition into once your playing and confidence improve.
Made from ABS plastic resin, the whistles can produce some impressive tunes. The notes are a lot clearer at times than what you hear coming out of metal whistles. This is definitely helpful to students.
On the other hand, you get less power even though it’s easier to blow and sustain notes with the Woodi Irish whistles. Notes on the low register are emphasized and sound warmer. But the overall tonality is quite balanced and you should have no problem using either whistle for any music genre.
Have I mentioned that getting two for the price of one is a good deal any day of the week?
Here’s another beginner-friendly penny whistle by Clarke in the key of D. The Clarke CWD has the looks and the tonality you need to emulate Celtic folk legends. The green whistle is something you can use in a pub, when you’re taking lessons, and even when performing in small venues.
Another cool thing about it is that you get some fingering charts and classic songs that you can learn right off the bat.
The Celtic Knot below the mouthpiece is a nice stylish addition. The mouthpiece is made of plastic. It’s not as sought after by professional penny whistle players but it can be changed later on. It’s certainly easier to learn various blowing techniques on plastic than it is on wood.
The Feadog penny whistle looks a bit flashier than most. It’s finished in either brass or nickel. Both models feature a touch of green in the form of the mouthpiece.
Looks aside, these tin whistles sound very impressive. Although just D whistles, which are usually reserved for beginners, you can squeeze enough power out of them. The notes are clear and there’s more than enough definition on the low register to please both beginner and intermediate players.
Feadog went to great lengths to ensure that the tone isn’t overly complex and rich in overtones. The 11.75” length and the close proximity of the finger holes are ideal in many situations. One thing to note is that you may want to remove the sticker.
The Feadog tin whistle features a “Key of D” sticker on it which may not appeal to everyone. Luckily it should be easy to remove without damaging the material.
While most people look for either D or C tin whistles, some want or need more professional niche tunings. Flageolet offers the 6578 penny whistle in Bb tuning.
The 6578 is considered a high whistle due to the richness in higher register notes. Even so, it’s still limited by a two-octave range like all other tin whistles. Because of this, it’s only used in songs that don’t go beyond its register and when it can accompany the vocal range of the lead singer (if there is one).
The whistle is not particularly hard to play either compared to a D whistle. However, intermediate players would have an easier time approaching this tuning.
One important thing to keep in mind is to get your transpositions right when reading music for Bb whistles. Especially if you’ve practiced a long time on a D whistle. This is something that many beginner and intermediate players forget to do.
The Sweetone D is another example of flawless Clarke craftsmanship. This penny whistle is very easy to play, not just because it’s tuned in the key of D but also because of its sleek design and good note sustain.
A song sheet is included, as is a fingering chart. This makes it even easier to pick up the basics before starting lessons with an instructor. The construction doesn’t get much more reliable than the tin-plate design.
And, even with the plastic mouthpiece, there’s almost no distortion or inconsistency in tonality. It’s also worth pointing out that the full black design and the carry pouch score a few style points too. Even if it may be difficult to spot the fingering holes during your first couple of days on the instrument.
Brass Irish Whistles are known for their ease of play. However, I rather think that this Waltons whistle is best suited in the hands of an intermediate or expert player.
The C tuning may have the same two-octave range but getting the notes will take some time. Once mastered, this whistle can blend itself into many genres. The warm melody and tone richness are impressive in this price range.
The construction quality is also very good and if you’re looking for an instrument that will last for years to come, this one won’t disappoint.
How to Choose a Key
If you’re new to tin whistles, you may have yet to understand how the keys work with these instruments. Depending on the key of your whistle, the sound will be different but so will the playing difficulty.
I recommend a D whistle if you’re new to the instrument. It’s easier to learn on a D whistle because the finger holes tend to be closer to each other. In contrast, C whistles are preferred by soloists because they have a richer and more complex tone. Also, the finger holes are further apart so they require some extra dexterity.
As it is with all flute-like instruments, the mouthpiece can affect your sound. It will also determine the level of difficulty of the flute in some regard.
With tin flutes, you usually get to choose between one of two mouthpieces: plastic or wood. The former is very popular due to its ease of use and low cost. You’ll have a much easier time sustaining notes when blowing into a plastic mouthpiece.
The latter is the traditional mouthpiece. Wood looks great and allows you to squeeze every inch of warmth out of the tone. However, sustaining notes and performing maintenance on a wooden mouthpiece can be a bit of a drag at times.
Tuneable and Non-Tuneable Tin Whistles
Tin whistles can either be tuneable or non-tuneable. As the names suggest tuneable tin whistles can be tuned to other keys, while non-tuneable whistles are restricted to one key.
For beginners, a non-tuneable tin whistle should be more than enough as you’re still learning how to play the instrument and getting used to playing along with music.
Once you’re more experienced, you can move to a tuneable whistle. These are ideal for playing with a wider variety of music and playing with others.
Tuneable tin whistles are necessary if you want to play in a professional setting.
Body Material and Shape
Before you buy your first tin whistle, the material the whistle is made from, and to a certain extent even the shape, should be taken into consideration.
Conical shaped bodies have holes that are closer together which can help when playing in the upper register. Straight shaped bodies are louder and have a clearer tone.
The material can affect the quality of the sound the whistle produces, as well as its durability.
The most common materials for whistles to be made from are:
- Carbon Fiber
Each of these materials have their own traits and characteristics when it comes to their sound and build.
Aluminum is a new material when it comes to making instruments. It’s very light, which means that the body can be thicker to make it more durable, without adding a lot of weight.
Aluminum is a soft metal, giving it a nice and mellow sound. It is, however, acoustically ‘inert’, meaning that the sound isn’t improved by the resonance of the body.
Aluminum also reacts to saliva, meaning that corrosion can occur over time.
Preferred by instrument makers for hundreds of years, brass is fairly durable and produces excellent sound.
Brass has great resonant qualities and a smooth internal finish can further enhance its acoustics.
Using thicker brass does add weight to the instrument, and unfinished brass can tarnish with age.
An excellent material for instruments because of its resonant properties. Wood is very popular for wind instruments like tin whistles.
Wood is very sensitive to temperature and humidity, which can greatly affect the playability and intonation of the instrument.
Carbon fiber has steadily increased in popularity due to its increasing affordability.
Carbon fiber is also very hard and resonant, similar to hardwoods, and is easily shaped. This gives it similarly great acoustic properties.
Even though carbon fiber is becoming more affordable, it’s still a very expensive material and is generally reserved for high-end instruments.
The original material, which is where the tin whistle name comes from. Tin is very cheap and doesn’t suffer acoustically from any imperfections.
Because of how cheap it is, tin doesn’t have very great acoustics.
Plastic whistles are fairly cheap and easily made. Plastic doesn’t provide any real color or resonance to the tone, making the sound fairly flat and neutral.
Plastic is also not the most durable material, and plastic whistles are really only suited as cheap beginner whistles.
Start Your Journey the Right Way
As with any other instrument and even lightweight ones like a melodica, the best tin whistles for the occasion are influenced by many factors. You can’t just go out and buy a whistle in the key of D and play it with any band or song if the octave range doesn’t cover the melody.
If you know what type of songs you would like to play or compose and what musicians you want to accompany, then buying a tin whistle should be easy. Get one in the proper key and start honing your skills.
Also, don’t forget that there’s quite a bit of music theory you need to learn, even if you don’t plan on transitioning between keys. These may be small instruments but they’re more complex than you might realize.