Quality Irish Flutes

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a 6-hole and an 8-hole flute?

The 8-hole flutes have two non-fingered exhaust ports. This allows the flute to be longer without changing the pitch of the flute. On many Irish flutes these exhaust ports are in the position of lower notes on the flute. For example, on a low D flute the first exhaust port, if covered, would play the C#, and the second exhaust port, if covered, would play the low C note. On some flutes these ports can be fitted with keys if desired. The exhaust ports on my 8-hole flutes are not in the positions just described. On my flutes, at least, I cannot detect a difference in tone or volume between a 6-hole and an 8-hole low D flute, and the fingering is exactly the same for both flutes. Some players feel that the longer 8-hole flute looks more like a traditional Irish flute, and, depending on the weight of the headjoint and tuning slide, it may feel more balanced in the hand. Some players can sense an additonal blowing resistance because of the extra three inches in body length. With the lightweight machined pvc tuning joints that I construct, I don’t think that a longer flute is needed for balance, and I prefer the shorter and lighter 6-hole flute. If you are interested in reading about this in greater depth, the topic was discussed on the flute forum at Chiff & Fipple:  http://chiffboard.mati.ca/viewtopic.php?t=53652

Should I get the inline or the offset finger holes?  Will I be able to finger the low D flute?

Inline finger holes are probably the standard for Irish flutes. However, keep in mind that the low D cylindrical-bore flute is a large flute. The design of my low D flute utilizes fairly large finger holes, and the space between the finger holes may be too much of a stretch for some people for a variety of reasons, including hand size. One way to partially compensate for the larger distance between the finger holes is to offset the holes for the left and right ring fingers. I offer the choice of either inline or offset finger holes for every flute.

I have given the specifications for my larger flutes on the page “Flute Finger Hole Comparison”. If you have a question about whether you will be able to comfortably reach the finger holes on the low D or larger flute, it may be a good idea to layout the hole positions on a flute-like-object (pipe, broom handle, etc.). This should give you a good idea as to whether you will be able to comfortably finger the flute and whether offset finger holes would be a help.

Personally, I believe that offset finger holes are great and that they make ergonomic sense. Some virtuoso players on the silver flute (Robert Dick, for example) recommend an offset G for the left ring finger). I personally think that it also makes good sense to also offset the hole for the ring finger of the right hand. My default offset is about 3 mm, which is large enough to ease the fingering but not too large should the player choice to use piper’s grip for one or both of the hands.

Another thing that can make a larger flute more playable is to have a joint on the flute between the two hands (3-piece flute). This allows you to rotate the endjoint of the flute making is possible to adjust the fingering between the two hands. I think that the easiest of my larger flutes to finger is the 3-piece flute with offset finger holes. I now have a separate Flute Finger Hole Comparison page where I compare the finger hole layout of my flute with three conical-bore wooden flutes and a popular conical polymer flute. The conclusion of the data on that page is that in terms of the layout of the finger holes my flutes are very similar in finger hole layout and playabilty to some of the leading conical-bore wooden and polymer flutes. However, there are flutemakers who have designed a conical flute especially for people with small hands. Please inquire for my recommendation.

Do your pvc Irish flutes sound like a traditional wooden Irish flute? Are your flutes easy to play?  Does the Tipple-Fajardo wedge inprove the tone of the flute?

To answer these questions, am going to copy what Jem Hammond of Wales wrote on the Chiff & Fipple forum.

“There are differences in the ways cylinder bodied flutes (or whistles) respond from the ways conoid bodied ones do. The Tipple/Fajardo wedge in the head does not really affect that. The wedge is a tuning-correction substitute for the Böhm “parabolic” head taper, necessary for a cylindrical body. It doesn’t much affect the other playing characteristics of the instrument. One notices differences in one of Dougs flutes between having the wedge in or out, sure, and not just the intonation, but it still sounds and feels like a cylinder-bodied flute either way, never quite like a conoid one.

Of course these things are to some extent subjective, are perceived differently by player and hearer (if at all by the latter), and even where there may be objective differences, they are not easy to define/describe well. I think (going out on a limb here!) there would be some consensus among competent fluters that cylindrical bodied flutes have overall a rounder, more open tone. They can be quite easy to get quite rich, loud and powerful low tones on, but those sounds have a different character (partials component) to the equivalent ones on a conoid body. The player’s perceptions of “resistance” and response will also be different between the two types of tube, and not just with Doug’s, nor solely attributable to embouchure cut. I have played both metal and wooden Böhm system flutes and also a fine Rudall Carte Böhm-tube wooden simple system flute. All had quite a different feel and response (and to my “behind the flute” ears, sound) compared to my conoid flutes – individually different, of course, but with a “family” resemblance. Doug’s flutes (and I am a fan) in playing terms feel more like those, as one might expect. But to really understand, you have to have the opportunity to to try out the two types of body in direct comparison and also be a good enough player to make your own evaluations.”

Michael Eskin (see audio files page) shared his thoughts about my flutes, also on the Chiff & Fipple flute forum:

“I’m a great advocate for Doug’s flutes, really been enjoying the F flute I received back before Christmas.

I prefer to play my antique Metzler flute with the Hamilton headjoint mostly because of the smaller hole size, lower air requirements for the same tone quality, more fluid octave transitions, and less work required with breath and embouchure adjustment to play with (hopefully) good intonation and clear articulation.

Doug’s flutes are awesome for what they are, particularly his most recent designs. That being said, and I’m guessing it will be similar for others who have played for a long time (I’ve been playing flute since 1967, and wooden flute since around 2000), there are subtle, but significant differences between the continuous attention required to play a Tipple flute and a top-maker modern or antique wooden flute with the same level of good intonation and clear articulation.

That means that Ben Jaber or I can make a demo video with Doug’s flutes that accurately represent what an long-term wind player can do with the instrument. Someone who hasn’t been playing for a long time on a good wooden flute, may not appreciate the distinctions between the feel of the two instruments or the unconscious and continuous tiny adjustments going on to make Doug’s flute do (what) we want it to do that we might not have to do on a high quality wood flute.

I’m not saying that the effort difference is bad or good. It is just what a wind player does to adapt one’s playing on any instrument to make it sound as good as possible. I’ve played supposedly good wooden flutes that required more adaptation to play well than Doug’s PVC models. You just do what you have to in order to make things sound good.

Doug’s flutes are an amazing value, well built, and are generally consistent. They can be played easily by new players, and played well by experienced players. That being said, they are their own animal, very distinct in their own playing requirements and idiosyncrasies as compared to a high-end wooden instrument, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

In addition to Michael’s conclusions, which I do not quibble with, I think that when you become accustomed to playing one kind of a flute, say, for example, a top quality conical-bore flute, you no longer have to consciously think about the process. It all feels seamless, and you just do it. However, when you then pick up a flute that plays differently, say one of my cylindrical-bore pvc flutes, for example, it is understandable that you would have to make conscious adjustments unless you played the flute long enough until the playing process with the new flute would also become unconscious and easier. For the most part I really don’t think that conical-bore flutes are inherently easier to play. After all, nearly all modern concert flutes have a cylindrical bore and play differently than conical flutes. I think that it mostly depends on what you become accustomed to. I do agree, however, that flutes with smaller finger holes are easier to cover, and in this regard, easier to play.

Do you make flutes with interchangeable parts? For example, can I purchase a single headjoint that will fit several flute bodies?

At the current time I am not offering combo flutes. Off-the-shelf pvc varies considerably in wall thickness, roundness, and concentricity. If I used a type of loose-fitting joint where spacing material, like cork, string, or O-rings would be used to fill the gap, I could have interchangeable parts, and it would be easier to retrofit older flutes. However, I have been machining joints without any spacers. Using this method, I carefully fit each headjoint to a particular flute body. Although it is time-consuming to machine a joint that accurately, I think that the resulting joints are superior, needing no maintenance or lubrication. Thus, I can make a new headjoint for an existing flute body, as I turn the tenon on the lathe to match the flute-body socket, which I bore in one drilling process with less micro control. However, for the reason just stated I am not able to make a new flute body to fit an existing headjoint.

Other than color, what is the difference between the white  and coal black pvc pipe?

The white pipe (3/4” schedule 40) I purchase from my local hardware store. I am able to sort through the stock and choose the pieces that I think will make the best flutes. I look for thick walls and concentric shape. The white pipe is rated for drinking water. This pipe is the hardest pipe that I have and makes very nice-sounding and durable flutes. I water sand and polish the surface of the white flutes so that, when finished, they look like polished ivory. By the way, some of the most expensive 19th century Irish flutes were made from ivory. The flutes are available with or without the black faux vinyl rings.

Because of color code restrictions, it is hard to purchase black pvc of this dimension in the USA. The only black pvc that I am aware of in this size is unrated (no plumbing markings on the pipe) and is made for outdoor furniture, although I think that it is extruded on the same machines that make schedule 40 plumbing pipe. I also purchase it from out of state. The black pipe that I receive is not as uniform in dimensional characteristics as the white pipe, although what I have been receiving in the last year or so is pretty good. In the past, some of the pipe has been slightly non-concentric with regard to the bore and the outside surface of the pipe. Rather than seeing this as a defect, I take advantage of the non-concentricity by orienting the embouchure hole in the thickest part of the pipe wall. A small amount of the black pipe that I receive also has small air bubbles in the matrix of the pipe near the inner wall of the pipe. This causes a flute bore with a series of small blisters. In the past I have offered flutes made from similar white pipe, and I called them “dimpled bore” and “speckled bore” flutes. These flutes were sought after because of the excellent acoustic characteristics of the flutes. I believe that something to break up the smooth surface of the flute bore will cause additional turbulence in the flutes, and for Irish flutes, where the goal is to produce a more complex tone than the concert flute, this additional turbulence can be seen as an asset rather than a defect, in my opinion. Anyway, I am including flutes made from this speckled-bore pvc with my general lot of flutes made from the black pvc, and you can request it specifically (if available), if you wish. The black flutes are not highly polished like the white flutes. Instead, I leave some striations in the surface so the flutes are hard to tell from blackwood when finished. With the brushed silver rings the coal black pvc makes beautiful flutes. The black flutes have become my best selling flutes, and based on feedback that I have received so far, I can say that my customers have been very pleased with the way the black flutes look and perform.

I lost the instruction sheet that came with my flute.  Can you post an online copy?

                Doug Tipple’s Irish Flutes 

Helpful tips for playing the flute: The Irish flute is usually fingered with the index, middle, and ring fingers of both hands. My suggestion is not to try to cover the holes with your fingertips. Trying to play this way may lead to a cramped, uncomfortable hand position. Instead, hold the flute in a relaxed position and cover the holes wherever it feels most comfortable and natural. Some of your fingertips will likely extend over the finger holes. There is a lot of variation in how people hold the Irish flute, so you may want to try different methods. I personally like to use a classical fingering with my left hand and piper’s grip (flat fingers) with my right hand. Please look at the videos at my website to see how accomplished players hold the flute.

Making a nice tone on a flute may take some time to master. Personally, I think that it is well-worth the effort. Just place your lower lip next to and centered on the embouchure hole. Now, with pursed lips blow a steady stream (not too forceful) of air towards the opposing edge of the blowhole. Imagine that you are blowing through a straw. Now flatten the straw with your lips so that a flat stream of air hits the sharp edge of the embouchure. Rotate the flute until the best tone is produced and continue to hold the flute in that position. Many beginning players blow too hard and become out of breath. Blowing too hard will also sharpen the note. An experienced flute player can make a strong tone with only a small amount of air.

For the best Irish flute tone (complex and dirty) traditional flute players tend to direct more air down into the flute, whereas a concert flautist will blow more over the embouchure hole producing a brighter more open tone. I tune my flutes with the Irish-style embouchure. I have designed the flutes to be at standard pitch (low D = 293.7 Hertz) with a 7 mm (1/4”) extension on the tuning slide. This allows the flute to be adjusted slightly sharp or flat from standard pitch. This is very convenient if you want to tune to an instrument that is not at a standard pitch, for example, a flat accordion. You can expect some variation in the amount of headjoint extension depending on your personal embouchure, as people blow the flute differently. For the best flute tone it is important to swab out the moisture in the bore of the flute rather frequently. This is especially true for pvc and other polymer flutes. The long swab that I provide allows you to do this quickly without having to take the flute apart. I recommend leaving the flute assembled and stored in its bag when not in use.

The tenon joints are machined on a lathe to a close tolerance. On some flutes I use a small piece of plastic box tape to adjust the tenon joint. This is not a defect, as some spacing material allows you to adjust the tenon joint to your liking. The most expensive Irish flutes in the world use wrapped thread or cork for this purpose, but tape works well and is easy to adjust on pvc flutes. The joints may need cleaning and readjustment with new tape from time to time. If the joint is too tight, you can use a lubricant such as petroleum jelly or cork grease.

I give additional instruction on fingering and playing the Irish flute on the FAQ and finger chart pages at my website. Also, please keep in mind that most likely it will take time (maybe months or years) before playing the Irish flute will feel completely natural and you are able to play at tempo throughout two octaves. It may be a good idea to get some instruction in the beginning, but whatever you do,  enjoy your time with the flute.

I am a beginner, and I am looking for instructional material for the Irish flute. What do you recommend?

I think one of the best and most comprehensive books available is Grey Larsen’s “The Essential Guide to the Irish Flute and Tin Whistle”. It can be purchased from many sources. Here is its link at Amazon.com. Please read the summary and reviews.

http://www.amazon.com/Essential-Guide-Irish-Flute-Whistle/dp/0786649429

One of the best-reviewed instructional books that was just published in 2011 is “An Fheadog Mhor”, an Irish Traditional Flute Technique spiral-bound book with CD by Conal O Grada. I have a copy of this book, and it is terrific and highly recommended.

http://www.conalograda.com/

I also recommend the Irish Flute tutorial presented by Seamus Egan on CD-ROM and produced by Mad For Trad. Sample tutorials are available at the website. This CD-ROM may often be purchased used on ebay or other sources, as well.

http://www.madfortrad.com/

Michael Eskin, a very talented multi-instrumentalist and teacher living in the San Diego, CA area has recorded with my pvc flutes (see audio files page). He has a new online site with YouTube hosted instruction videos at TradLesson.com. Currently, there is only one Irish flute video, but you can watch the fingering and listen to the tunes on the other whistle videos. I wish Michael well in his new teaching endeavor.

http://www.tradlessons.com/

Finally, I would like to mention two websites with information about the Irish flute that are comprehensive in scope and are especially useful for beginners as well as intermediate players.

A Guide to the Irish Flute

http://www.firescribble.net/flute/begin.html

Terry McGee, Flute Maker

http://www.mcgee-flutes.com/

Lastly, you need to know about the online flute forum at www.chiffandfipple.com. You can search on a special word or topic, or, as a member, you can ask a question. The worldwide Irish traditional flute community is waiting to reply.

I am looking for online sources of music for the Irish flute. What do you recommend?

Whenever I try to play your flute (low D flute), I have trouble making a good sounding note and my fingers start to cramp after about ten minutes. Is this normal?

If you have never played a flute before, it is normal for it to take several months of practice before you acquire the necessary skills to play the flute without discomfort. The muscles in the lips need to strengthen to be able to play the higher notes. The ability to move between registers on the flute will only come with practice and may require some instruction. Also, with regard to fingering a large flute, hands and fingers that are not accustomed to making the stretch that is required to cover the finger holes will naturally cramp and cause some discomfort in the beginning. In time, as with playing any instrument that requires stretching the fingers (guitar, piano, etc.), the finger stretches become easier and more comfortable with practice. It is important not to overdo it in the beginning, as problems such as tendonitis may result. The choice of conventional or piper’s grip may have a lot to do with how easy or difficult it is for you to hold the flute and cover the finger holes. Ideally, the player should be able to hold the flute in a relaxed position and cover the finger holes with ease. Personally, I like to cover the left hand finger holes with a conventional grip and the right hand finger holes with the piper’s grip. Here again, some instruction may be very helpful.

I am having difficulty blowing a good note on the flute. Can you give me some verbal instruction on how to do this?

Making a nice tone on a flute is easy but may take some time to master. Personally, I think that it is well worth the effort. To begin, see that your lower lip is centered on the embouchure hole. Some teachers recommend covering part of the embouchure hole with your lower lip. However, for my large-bore flutes with the smaller embouchure holes, I personally cover very little, if any, of the embouchure hole with my lower lip to play the strongest notes. Now, with pursed lips blow a steady stream of air towards the opposing edge of the embouchure hole. Imagine yourself blowing through a straw. Now flatten the straw with your lips a blow a stream of air toward the sharp edge of the embouchure or blow hole. Rotate the flute until the best tone is produced and continue to hold the flute in that position. Beginning players of the flute often blow too hard and become out of breath. Blowing too hard also tends to sharpen the flute tone. With good embouchure control a skilled flautist can make a strong flute tone with a small volume of air, mostly directed down into the flute. However, don’t expect to master this skill in a couple of weeks. It actually may take months or even years to develop the necessary skills to play at tempo throughout two octaves.

Can I play a simple-system flute in keys other than the fundamental key? If I am unable to finger the large low D flute, what other keys can I reasonably expect to play on smaller flutes in higher keys?

Actually, you can play every flute or whistle in several other major and minor keys other than the fundamental key of the instrument. A discussion of this topic is covered on a thread at the whistle forum at Chiff & Fipple.

http://chiffboard.mati.ca/viewtopic.php?t=48323&highlight=key+chart

A very useful chart is presented to illustrate this topic at the Sassafrass Grove Website:

http://www.angelfire.com/mo/sassafrassgrove/WhistleRoll/Tin_Whistle_Key_and_Mode_Chart.html