The modern tin whistle, also known as the penny whistle, traces its history back back to 1843. It is a staple of folk music, and traditional Irish music in particular. First conceived by Robert Clarke, the Clarke Tin Whistle holds the claim of being the ‘original’ tin whistle. But the Clarke is not the only tin whistle out there. Indeed, there’s a whole world of tin whistles out there to discover, with each brand bringing its own unique sound and style.
With so many tin whistles on the market today, if you’re looking to buy your first whistle – or perhaps to upgrade to a more professional tin whistle – it can be hard to know where to start. Don’t worry. In this guide, we offer a run down and quick review of the best tin whistles for beginners, as well as the best whistles for those who are looking to take their whistling to the next level on a ‘professional’ level tin whistle.
Which Key of Tin Whistle Should I Get?
Before we dive in, let’s get first things first. Beginners to tin whistling often ask if they should get a tin whistle in C or D. We recommend you go for D, since the D major scale is the most commonly used in folk music, and the generally the most common key for a tin whistle. Start with a D, and branch out later to either a C, F, or G.
The Best Beginner Tin Whistles
The beauty of learning the tin whistle is that the barrier to entry is really low. There’s a reason why the tin whistle is also known as a penny whistle – many of the brands are cheap, with some inexpensive whistles available for as low as £6/€7/$8. Of course, we hope that the first whistle you buy will be the start of a wonderful whistling journey for you. But the good news is that, if you don’t take to it, you’ve really not lost anything. For this reason, too, whistles make a great first musical instrument for kids who are just getting into music. Traditionally, tin whistles are in the key of D, and if you are buying your first whistle, we recommend you stick to that key. In our opinion, the best economy tin whistles are Clarke, Feadog, Generation and Waltons. Read on to find out more.
From its origins in Suffolk, to their first factory on the outskirts of Manchester, the Clarke whistle carries a lot of history with it. The Original Clarke Tin Whistle comes with a wooden underlip, and either a natural finish, or black and gold finish. The bore is conical. The design is unmistakable. The Clarke Sweetone is a slightly cheaper alternative, with a plastic mouthpiece. Both look and sound great, and carry the unmistakable Clarke brand.
Price range: £8.50-£14/€10-€16.50/$12-$20
See all Clarke Tin Whistles.
Made in Ireland, Feadóg whistles trace their history back to 1978. Because of its Irish heritage, Feadóg lays claim to the title of the original Irish tin whistle. As well as carrying that weighty title, Feadóg whistles come in a range of beautiful colours, and they offer excellent value for money. If you want to go one-up from the Feadóg High D Black Pro whistle is very popular, offering improved playability and tone. They come with a brass or nickel-plated bore and plastic mouthpiece.
Material: Brass or Nickel-Plated
Price range: £7-£12 / €8-€14 / $9.50-$16.50
See all Feadog Tin Whistles.
Tracing their history back to Oswestry, England, Generation made their first whistle in 1966. The Generation whistle, sometimes referred to as the Original Generation Flageolet is now recognised around the world as a quality, affordable whistle that’s perfect for anyone starting out on their whistling journey. As well as the original Generation whistle, the new Generation Boho range offers these whistles with a beautiful paisley design, and improved playability. Generation whistles come with a brass or nickle-plated bore and plastic mouthpiece. They also produce a very wide variety of keys, if you’re looking to branch out from your D whistle.
Material: Brass or Nickel-Plated
Price range: £5.50-£11 / €6.50-€13 / $7.50-$15
See all Generation Tin Whistles.
The lesser-known Waltons tin whistle is equally worthy as the famous Clarke, Feadog, and Generation brands. The Waltons High D Mellow whistle is particularly popular with its slightly mellower tone. A slightly shorter body and rounded bore make this one of the softest sounding whistles on the market, whilst still retaining the livery you expect from an Irish whistle.
Price range: £7 / €8.50 / $10
See all Waltons Whistles.
The Best Professional Tin Whistles
Instrument makers have been building on the tin whistle for decades now, using new materials and design innovations to improve and vary its tone and texture. So if you’ve tried your hand at a beginner whistle, and want a whistle with a richer tone, there’s a world of professional tin whistles to choose from (not to mention the wonderful world of low d whistles). Here are some of our recommendations for anyone looking to branch out.
Dixon is a firm favourite at the more affordable end of the professional tin whistle market. Tony Dixon produces both high and low whistles of polymer and aluminium, and the quality you can get for the price point is astonishing. The Dixon High D One Piece whistle offers exceptional value and a wonderful tone. And for not much more, you can buy a tuneable Dixon high D.
Material: Polymer and aluminium
Price range: £14.50-£50.75 /€17-€60 / $20-$69.50
Browse all Dixon Whistles.
The New Improved ‘Shush’ Whistle is a fantastic upgrade from a starter whistle. Based on the Feadóg whistle, the Shush benefits from a serious amount of innovation that significantly dampens and also greatly enhances its tone. With an emerald green plastic mouthpiece, and brushed brass body, the whistle benefits from a special acoustic compound, as well as the distinctive ‘Sh’ blade, which is essential to the sound of the whistle. Not only is it a fantastic, quiet practice whistle – it offers a lovely tone in its own right. Unbeatable value for a great-sounding and remarkably quiet tin whistle.
Price: £40 / €47 / $54
See all Shush Whistles.
The rustic-looking Shaw is a handmade whistle that takes a traditional design, built in rolled nickel plate, with a conical bore and wooden underlip. The design affords a soft, warm tone that is particularly breathy. All the whistles are handmade by master craftsman Dave Shaw. These are excellent value whistles, with a really distinctive tone.
Material: Rolled nickel
Price range: £25 / €29.50 / $35
See all Shaw Whistles.
Based on the Feadog high D, the O’Briain new improved high D brass whistle is one of the best high D whistles on the market, and for not much more cost than the beginner whistles reviewed above. Manufactured by Cillian O’Briain in County Kerry, Ireland, they offer consistent and accurate voicing.
Price range: £32-£53 / €38-€62.50 / $44-$72.50
Browse all O’Briain Whistles.
If you’re interested in the soft tones of the wooden whistle, then iVolga is a great place to start. Based in Russia, iVolga’s beautiful high D wooden whistles come in stabilised maple or padouk, and are finished with brass fittings – available either as tuneable or non-tunable. These wooden whistles offer excellent value for money, and a warm, woody tone.
Material: Wood (padouk, stabilised maple) and brass
Price range: £30-£60 / €36- €71 / $40-£80
Browse all iVolga Wooden Whistles.
Manufactured by Kerry Parks in the USA, Parks whistles are known especially for the unique tone ring design, which enables you a good deal of control over the volume of the whistle – handy if you are looking to for a quieter whistle for practicing. Made from PVC, they offer a fantastic dynamic range, and an excellent tone for a very reasonable price. Parks’ combi sets also allow you to change pitch – C, D, or Eb.
Price range: £68-£86 / €80-€101.50 / $93-$118
Browse all Parks Whistles.
Syn is another professional-level brand that offers very good value for money, and excellent tone. Manufactured in Australia by Erle Bartlett, the whistles comprise a polished aluminium body, brass tuning slide, and delrin head. Since they require a little more breath, they are not recommended for beginners – but they do offer a beautiful full-bodied tone.
Price range: £100-£155 / €118-€183 / $137-$212
Browse all Syn Whistles.
Colin Goldie remains a giant in the world of whistles, manufacturing some of the best high and low whistles that money can buy. Goldie makes batches of the high D with different blowability – with the soft, soft/medium, and medium blow the most popular. Produced in small batches from his workshop in Germany, Goldie’s whistles sell like hotcakes, thanks to their unmistakably beautiful tone.
Price range: £240 / €283 / $329
Browse all Goldie Whistles.
Crafted in Oregon, USA, by Rob Gándara, Carbony™ whistles are made from an innovative carbon-fibre composite. These specialist musical instruments produce a fast note response for improved articulation, and an extremely consistent and stable tone. The Carbony Standard High D and Carbony Session High D are the ones to check out – there’s a reason why they’re amongst the most expensive whistles on the market!
Material: Carbon fibre
Price range: £260 / €307 / $356
Browse all Carbony Whistles.
Which Tin Whistle Should You Buy?
There’s always the matter of personal preference, but here’s our opinion. If you’re a beginner, we recommend a high D from Feadog, Generation, or Clarke. Once you’ve got to grips with one of these, you might want to try your hand at one of the mid-range professional high D whistles from brands like Syn or Parks. If you’ve enjoyed the high D, then definitely think about exploring the lovely tones of the low D, by exploring our guide to the best low D whistles. Still stuck, or got more questions? Get in touch! We’d be happy to help.
Feadóg vs Clarke Tin Whistle
The main difference between a Feadóg and Clarke Tin Whistle is that the Original Clarke has a wooden fipple and a breathier tone. Both are popular beginner whistles. Complete beginners sometimes find it hard to make a Feadóg sound good, but returning to it after acquiring a little skill, it sounds a great deal better.
We hope this guide has helped. If you have any questions about any of the whistle makers mentioned above, do get in touch and we’d be pleased to advise you. Alternatively, view the full range of high whistles and filter by brand, pitch, material and more using our high whistle finder. Happy whistling!