860-749-4494     sweetheartfluteco@gmail.com
Irish Flutes

Frequently Asked Questions

Flute Facts

Fifes & Whistles

Sweetheart Craftsmanship

8 key Irish Flute
Q: Clogging problems in whistles?   DUPONOL!?
DuponolSometimes due to more powerful salivary glands, or playing on a cold instrument, or on an instrument which is made of Aluminum, with a narrow windway, you might find that you can hardly get all the way through a tune without the instrument seeming to squawk or just stop playing, due to condensation of the moisture in your breath inside the windway, collecting in droplets, blocking or distorting the air flow there. You can sometimes get the moisture out by covering the window with a finger tip, and blowing hard, or perhaps warm up the whistle by covering the holes and blowing backward (from the bottom) with several breaths.

Next you can try the "dishwater trick": Put a few drops of dish detergent into a half-glass of water, dip your whistle into the solution just past the window, take it out, shake the water out, and play. This may solve the problem for that evening of playing, or perhaps for a week or two. If not, your answer might be DUPONOL.

DUPONOL (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) is the active ingredient in many detergents that keeps the water from sticking to the surface of the silverware, and is used in huge quantities in swimming pools to keep the water from sticking to the sides and allowing algae to grow there. But you will not need an 80 lb bag of it. It has been packaged in convenient applicator bottles in the correct concentration by www.magnamusic.com (a great source of recorders and accessories) and can be ordered from us.
Duponol has become temporarily  (we hope)  unavailable. 
Instead,  we offer Moeck Anticondens as a substitute.

Anticlogging Applicator Bottle


Anticlogging applicator bottle, with instructions

  Temporarily unavailabe!
NOTE:  If  the only thing you are ordering is one or two bottles, be aware that shipping and handling costs will be $8.00. If you are ordering something else besides,  the additional cost for shipping a bottle of duponol is negligible

Q: Do you recommend a Break-In Period?
Our instruments do not need a "breaking in" period (as do some expensive recorders) because the wood is sealed. Please read the sections on Care of Instruments and Finish. If you have a break-in schedule recommended by someone else, feel free to apply it in complete safety.
Q: What Care of Instruments do you recommend?
Blackwood Flutes: During the finishing phase, the tung oil does not penetrate deeply to protect the flute from moisture fully (other woods allow deeper penetration). Although each wooden instrument deserves tender loving care, blackwood instruments require special attention every time. Here's what to do:

Daily: After playing, remove excess moisture by swabbing the bore with a recorder brush. Just as good is a soft, lint-free cloth or Bounty© paper towel on a slotted stick or flute cleaning rod. Always look inside the mortises (sockets). Always keep the instrument disassembled when not in use to preserve the fit of the tenons (the peg part of the joints). Don't use a chair as an instrument stand. Chairs are for sitting, and sooner or later, someone is going to sit on an instrument left in a chair.

Occasionally: Apply clarinet bore oil or almond oil to a cloth, then swab the inside and wipe the outside with it. Try not to let the oil get onto the pads of the keys. You might like to use a small jar to make your own bore oil. From a health food store, get almond oil and mix it 50/50 with virgin olive oil, then squirt-in the contents of a vitamin E capsule to retard spoilage. Inspect the tenons and when they need lubrication, apply cork grease (or Vaseline® or even butter). If tenons become loose, they can be built-up with Teflon® tape or re-wrapped by an instrument repairman.

Storage and Transporting: Remember that extremes of temperature and humidity cause terrible stress in the materials. Avoid hot sun. In dry climates or during the heating season, keep a humidifier running nearby. Also effective is a violinist's humidifier (a moistened wick inside a perforated rubber hose); this may be inserted inside the flute which is then enclosed in the case. These measures are necessary to prevent cracking, especially cracking of the barrel joint on flutes that have a metal tuning slide inside. If you travel to performances in winter, moderate the changes in temperature and humidity: once you bring the instrument inside, keep it wrapped in cloth or stored in its case 15 to 30 minutes before playing.

Q: A Flute or a Fife; what's the difference?
This distinction can be as slippery as the difference between a pond and a lake: there's no clear dividing line. We've listed here some features that tend to distinguish them. If the instrument in question is strong in the fife category, then call it a fife, and likewise for flutes.

A Flute can be rather complicated, with many keyed tone holes, and is designed to play in many keys with a careful scale on standard pitch. More training is required and proper technique involves high ideals of tone, attack, phrasing, etc.. The flute is a long instrument with a wide bore for playing in the first two octaves, and often the third. This configuration is ideal for playing mellow, multi-part music from many traditions, especially indoors with voice or other well-developed instruments. "Flautists" drink champagne.

A Fife has a simple construction, with only a few tone holes for direct stoppage by the fingers; it plays in only a few keys around B-flat; the scale and pitch may not be standard from one maker to another. Learning is easy, and technique is basic. The fife is a short instrument with a narrow bore for playing mostly in the second and third octaves, not the first. This configuration is ideal for unison projection of hard-hitting outdoor march music with drums. These musicians play in Fife and Drum corps; after the performance, corps play together informally in a jam session. Fifers drink beer.

Ireland and England have marching Flute Bands that play lyrical music. The lead is played mainly in the first two octaves, on high B-flat instruments that are similar to American fifes. Lower voices are played on B-flat, F, or E-flat flutes.

Q: What's an Irish Flute?
An "Irish Flute" could also be called an "Irish-Style Flute." It's just another name for the type of flute that was standard across Europe during the 1800s. It's usually built like this:
  • Length: 25 to 28 inches.
  • How held: The player holds the flute to the right while blowing across the oval blowhole.
  • Pitch: Non-transposing (the fingering for "G" gives "G" on the piano.
  • Lowest note: Middle C or D above it.
  • Common Playing Keys: D and G; others are possible with use of the key levers.
  • Material for Body: African Blackwood, Boxwood, Rosewood or Cocuswood.
  • Trim: Ivory or Silver rings.
  • Key levers: Normally closed. Brass, silver, or German silver.
  • Sections: three to five (sometimes combined).
    1. The head.
    2. The barrel (as on a clarinet). An adaptor that carries the metal tuning slide.
    3. The upper body. This left-hand section has 3 open fingerholes plus 3 normally-closed keys for chromatics.
    4. The lower body. This right-hand section also has 3 open fingerholes plus 2 normally-closed keys for chromatics.
    5. The foot which has 1 to 3 keys for a lowest note of D or middle C.
  • Bore: Straight in the head and barrel, then gradually smaller in the other sections.
  • Tone: The tapered bore strengthens the overtones for a "reedy" or "bottlelike" tone.
  • Scale: The open holes are drilled to sound F# and C#, so without using the keys, the primary (simplest) scale is the concert D scale. On some antiques, the scale is not very well in tune, and the 3rd octave is hard to control. Sweetheart Irish Flutes have an accurate scale based on A=440.

Applications: The Irish Flute is preferred at Irish Sessions or for solo playing; it blends well with fiddles or other band instruments. Harmonizes beautifully, and the best type of flute for playing all the ornamentation found in traditional Irish music. This type of flute is also good for performing historical flute music of the 1800s (see below). Moving away from the key of D requires the use of the (normally closed) keys. It can play in all 12 keys with increasing effort.

Q: What's a Keyless Flute?
The Keyless Flute was developed by Sweetheart Flutes around 1977. It's an Irish flute in two sections (head and body), with no metal keys or tuning slide. It's perfect for Irish music, where almost every tune is in either the key of D or G (the note C-natural is easily obtained with cross-fingering). The Keyless Flute is simpler, and more affordable while giving the player a great way to get in the game.

Flutes have been made in many short sections so they could be packed up, or to set the left-hand section at a more comfortable angle, or because good wood is scarce in long pieces, or because long reamers are hard to drive, or to taper the bore differently in each section.

Q: Aren't all Irish Flutes from Ireland?
Flutes like these were made all over Europe; the best makers worked in England, France or Germany (mass produced in Germany). Today, some Irish Style Flutes are crafted in Ireland but most are made somewhere else. Historically, as European musicians converted to the Boehm Flute, Irish folk musicians didn't. They preferred to play their ornamented music on the old style of flute. Now a-days, musicians worldwide use the term, 'Irish Flute.' It identifies this instrument design with the playing technique used in Irish traditional music.
Q: Why do Irish Musicians prefer this type of flute? How is Irish Style Playing related to the construction of the Flute?
This design helps the player produce certain effects that are important in Irish traditional music. The tapered bore gives the classic 'reedy' or 'wooden flute' tone, rich in harmonics and blending well; the cut of the blowhole supports this tone, enables the player artistically to manipulate the richness of tone, and quickens the response for ornamentation; six of the tone holes, covered directly with the fingers, speed ornamentation; these six are drilled to favor playing in the important keys of D and G; the other holes (for chromatics) are controlled by key levers, and normally closed so they can be ignored and won't get in the way when playing in the keys D and G; the range supports almost all the traditional music and bands. While the modern (silver) flute has its place, it simply cannot match the tone or support the ornamentation.
Q: What makes a good Irish Flute?
The tone is rich, can be manipulated by the player, is full when playing loudly and sweet when playing softly. The flute has a speedy response, accurate scale, with comfortable levers and hole spacing. The notes are stable; high and low notes can be controlled for loudness. The keys levers are easy to reach; they move freely and seal reliably. The tuning slide moves smoothly, and the physical appearance inspires confidence in the craftsmanship of the maker. The material is durable, long lasting, and if wood, well seasoned. It has a beautiful finish and is aesthetically proportioned: it is practical and also attractive .
Q: Why buy an Instrument made by Sweetheart?
While playing dance music, Ralph and Walt Sweet collected years of feedback from fellow musicians. We also collected or traded some of the finest flutes in the world and today, we build the best features into our instruments. Sweetheart Flutes are crafted by musicians for the highest quality at an affordable price. We play what we sell, and we stand by our work as we have done for 30 years.
Q: How are your Keys Mounted? Are there other methods?
Our key levers are Block Mounted in wood that projects from the body. Among antiques, this style tends to indicate older instruments made one-at-a-time. Post Mounted keys (as on a modern clarinet) appeared on later flutes made in large numbers at factories. Another method is Saddle Mounting: here, the posts end on a short plate that's screwed to the body. Metal flutes have long Ribs to hold the posts. In time, we plan to explore post mounting.
Q: What's a German Flute?
Early flute music was written for recorders (this end blown instrument was called flûte à bec in France and blockflöte in Germany). Later, the German countries popularized various forms of qwerpfeife (i.e., the cross blown or transverse flute). In some old usages, 'German Flute ' is simply a term to mean a flute that you blow across, not endwise.

Being no stranger to the industrial revolution of the 1800s, Germany produced thousands of flutes in the style of the day. Some of these flutes were treasured in Ireland and elsewhere. In some writings, "German Flute" refers to the design specifications, not necessarily to the country of origin. Today, we use the term, "Irish Flute" with the same freedom to mean the same instrument.

Q: How do these flutes compare with the Modern (Silver) Flute?
The standard flute of today is the metal flute heard in school bands, jazz ensembles, symphony orchestras and other professional settings. The initial design was patented in 1847 by Theobald Boehm of Munich, so these flutes are also called Boehm System Flutes. Albert Cooper and others made important improvements to the design over the years. Typically, it has a metal body tube with large holes and metal keys to cover every hole. The bore is straight in the body, but the profile of the head has a slight "parabolic" curve [the curve is NOT a mathematical parabola]. Common materials are silver or silver plated brass. Despite its advantages, the design was not generally accepted until late in the century. This design gives even response in all keys across 3 octaves.
Q: What's a Baroque Flute?
This flute is richer in overtones, and blends softly with other instruments in small ensembles found in Baroque chamber music. Similar to the Irish Flute but with more taper in the bore, it has a small, round blowhole and small fingerholes. This combination gives the player more control to play chromatics on 6 holes with cross fingering. The player also 'bends' pitch (flat or sharp) by covering more (less) of the blowhole and changing the blowing angle. Given a good sense of pitch and intervals, the trained player uses bending to execute an accurate scale in each playing key.

During this period, some instruments used a high pitch standard while others used low. Each Baroque Flute comes with an extra left hand body section for playing at low pitch (A=415) to be used in place of the A=440 section. Note: to use the A=440 section and just pull the head out would distort the scale; baroque players need to be prepared for both pitch standards. Traditionally, the Baroque Flute has one key lever for ease of playing D# as well as improving intonation and response in the 3rd octave.

Q: What's a Renaissance Flute?
This type of flute is very simple (2 pieces, straight bore) for early music ensembles or historic presentations of the period.
Q: What's a Walking-Stick Flute or Fife?
These have extended bodies; each is good as a cane and better as a real musical instrument. A novelty for the Victorian gentleman or a great gift for the musician who has (almost) everything.
Q: What are Folk Fifes; what are the applications?
Folk Fifes come in various keys, all based on A=440. The bore is sized to favor the first two octaves, the third octave being seldom used. These instruments are used in solo or ensemble with guitar, fiddle, accordion, piano, voice, etc.. They're great for dance bands, parties, Irish music, or recording; fine for playing lead or backup. They are quite capable of playing in their primary key, plus a fifth down and a fifth up. Thus, a folk fife in D is good for playing in the keys of D, G and A. Some musicians buy sets of these instruments so they can play in many keys.
Q: What's a Renaissance Fife?
Our Renaissance Fife is not based on any particular historical precedent. It's simply our name for a one-piece straight-bore folk fife in D. An affordable way to get started.
Q: The D Fife; what kind of music is it used for?
A folk fife in high D. Being small, it has better projection than a full-sized flute in D, and takes much less wind. Tunable, with great octave registration. If you can blow a fife, you'll love the tone. Perfect for Irish Sessions or dance music in D, G and A, and all other applications. The new Professional Model can now interchange as a three-piece set: 1) Body with, 2) Fife Head or 3) Pennywhistle Head
Q: The D Pennywhistle; what music and settings are appropriate?
It's a wooden version of a tin whistle, a popular instrument at Irish sessions, for beginner and expert alike. Also great for dance music in D, G and A, and all other applications. Tunable, with great octave registration. The new Professional Model can now interchange as a three-piece set: 1) Body with, 2) Fife Head or 3) Pennywhistle Head.
Q: The D Fife as compared to the D Pennywhistle; is one better than the other?
The Professional Model has a body that can interchange between fife head and pennywhistle head. Both forms of the instrument have the same fingering to play the same scale on the same pitch standard. You can use them with all the same music, but to blow across (fifehead) gives the player more control over loudness, loudness vs pitch, tone quality and artistic expression altogether. This form gives a huge degree of freedom, but blowing skills need to be developed. If you haven't tried to blow across a D fife, try it. You might get dizzy at first, but with a little practice you'll learn how to conserve wind, taking no more breath than the whistle. Potentially, you can really make it sing, and have a choice of when to do it. The total musical effect will be greater.
Q: The C Pennywhistle; who would use this and when?
Used in the same settings as above when playing tunes in the keys of C and F (or G).
Q: The Fifes in A and G; what are their applications?
These are more mellow than the D Fife and great for small hands. The Fifes in A and G give you some extra range for those occasional fiddle tunes that dip below D, beyond the range of the fife or flute.
Q: The Fifes in F; when would someone play these?
These Folk Fifes are great for harmonizing with instruments in the key of B flat, as used by some drum corps. Ideal for some tunes in F, B flat or C. When played alone, these flutes have a beautiful warm tone while the finger-reach is easier than on the long flute in D.
Q: What's a Drum Corps (Military) Fife?
These are typically B flat instruments intended to be played outdoors with drums. A good fife plays loud and clear in the second and third octaves. The bore is somewhat small to favor this range, while the first octave is seldom used. 'Fife standard pitch'; is about 30 cents sharp of A=440 these days in the U.S., and with only 6 holes, the third octave tunes up best with other fifes. To get chromatics, some fifes are made with 11 holes, even though most players have only 10 fingers. The charm of drum corps fifing is that it's simple and fun (and loud!).
Q: What's a Tabor Pipe?
A tabor pipe is like a pennywhistle, but has only 3 finger holes. Using overtones, the musician can play a scale of 13 notes while beating a little drum (the tabor) with the free hand. Tabor pipes were used all over Europe, and survive today in various folk cultures. They were popular among itinerant entertainers of Elizabethan England. Don't wait to become your very own one man band! Can you juggle with the free hand?
Q: The Tuning Slide; are there special considerations?
The slide is handy for tuning, especially if the instrument is a little cold; however, the slide can do only so much. Other pennywhistles don't have a tuning slide, and we've heard of some people buying our whistle and sliding it all the way in (2.5 mm too far). When played this way, it will be sharp overall AND the scale will be distorted: C# will appear sharp in relation to D. This happens because the note C# comes from a short tube and D comes from a long tube; 2.5 mm is a greater proportion of the C# length than the D length, with a resulting distortion of the musical scale. This issue is more critical on the small instruments such as the Professional Model Pennywhistle.

Standard pullout is 2.5 mm (or 0.100", just less than 1/8"). At this point, the Professional Model Pennywhistle, warmed with the breath, will play a good musical scale at A=440. From one brand of whistle to the next, the scale will be just a little different. If you're used to another brand, spend a little time playing ours, and you'll soon be blowing it in tune (we designed ours to be in tune when blown with modest and equal pressure). In another blowing style, notes are played near the point of breaking, and unfortunately, we can't make an instrument that plays a good scale when played both ways. If we want the pennywhistle to be heard above the rest of the band, we always use a microphone.

Q: The O-Rings; what's up with them?
The o-rings are tuning spacers, nothing more. The Pro Models should be assembled with the head pushed up against the o-rings. This way, the whistle/fife will play a good scale at A=440 for most people. If you need to play a little sharper, try removing one or both of the o-rings.

Yes, o-rings were invented to seal joints, but you can be sure that the cork is sealing the tuning slide without them. We made the o-rings a standard accessory because some customers were sliding the head too far in, and the instrument played out-of-tune as a result. But now, the o-rings make it quick and easy to "plug and play" at correct pitch. Alternately, we could have designed the instrument without o-rings, to be slid in all the way, but then there would be no room to tune it a little sharp when necessary. With the extra space and o-rings to fill it, the Pro Model Whistle/Fife has a standard setting and also the flexibility of custom tuning.

Two o-rings extend the slide by 1/8" (2.5mm). If you need replacements at no charge, please send a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

Just a reminder: during storage, the Pro should be disassembled so the cork will keep its elasticity.

Q: How well can I Tune my Instrument with the Slide?
Simple, two-piece instruments have a Mortise (socket) and Tenon ("peg") joint. The intention is to tune the instrument by lengthening it, but because the tenon has a thick wall (approx. 1/8"), a cavity forms. This added volume is small when playing on the long tube (all holes closed), but the cavity has a higher proportion when playing on the short tube (all holes open). This can result in a C# (or even B) that is flatter in relation to the other notes. Metal Tuning Slides have a wall that's typically 1/64" thick, so the added cavity is insignificant. They often slide more easily, too.

The Professional Model Pennywhistle has cork inside the mortise so the tenon has a thinner wall and smaller cavity, with the advantages just described.

Our traditional mortise-and-tenon instruments are designed to play a correct scale on A=440 when pulled out 2~3 mm. In a woodwind instrument, the holes don't move, so it plays on one pitch standard only (please read the sections about A=440 and Moving the Cork). With advanced techniques, you can learn how to bend pitch to match other standards (please read the section about Baroque Flutes). Meanwhile, make sure your friends are playing at A=440 !

Q: Should I Move the Cork to tune my instrument?
Moving the cork sharps or flats the fife overall (to tune-up with others), but it does other things, too. It changes "octave registration" (that makes hi-G exactly an octave above lo-G and makes harmonies sweet). At the same time, it changes the "response curve" (affecting richness, loudness, control, and wind requirements).

I have taught drum corps fifing for many years and made fifes for 30 years. My simple advice is that individual fifers should not move the cork on their own. There are times, however, that the lead musician or instructor, given a full understanding, should adjust corks for the group.

First, get fifes that are all the same make and model. Second, hire a teacher who will teach you to play together. Third, get a tuning instrument1 to avoid arguments. Fourth, qualify the source of intonation. Fifth, breathe warm air through each fife before tuning it or tuning to it.

Let each fifer play into the tuning instrument, and determine what person (whether veteran or beginner) blows a steady pitch without wavering. Next, have this fifer play octaves of several notes (except E3, F#3 & B3). If the high notes are too high, then move the cork away from the blowhole. If the high notes are too low, then move the cork toward the blowhole. This player on this fife with this cork setting at this temperature is now #1, the qualified source of intonation. Above all, the other fifers must tune up to #1. When the section is in tune, even non-musicians perceive it to be stronger.

For one-piece fifes, play G3 on #1. Next, play G3 on #2 (the fife being tuned) and if sharp, move his cork away from the blowhole (if flat, move toward). Compare #1 to each of the remaining fifers and adjust accordingly; settings will vary. The low notes tend to blend in.

Two-piece fifes can be tuned better. Qualify #1 as before. To pull the slide out makes the fife flat overall2. Move the slide in or out to the best average as you compare high and low pitches. If fifer #2 is flat on the low notes while sharp on the high notes, then move the cork away from the blowhole and push the slide in (and conversely).

Summary of Effects: To move the cork away from the blowhole flats the fife overall, it flats the high notes in relation to the lows (it compresses the octaves), the low notes become richer, it will be more difficult to control the high notes, and the whole fife becomes louder while taking more wind all the time. To move the cork toward the blowhole acts conversely. Most manufacturers set the cork for the best overall performance.

If you need to tune your fife section, and you know the results of moving the cork, then try it. You can always go back to "standard position"3

Please keep in mind that moving the cork can never change:

  1. Overblowing habits (a teacher is important)
  2. Difference of pitch standard, especially over the years (on today's fifes, the whole scale is about 30 cents sharp of A= 440, so it won't tune up to a piano, for instance).
  3. The scale of traditional fifes that plays flat on E33, sharp on F#3 & B3. If you want a better scale, drill holes for use with special-purpose fingering or get a Boehm piccolo!
  4. Conflicts of scale between fifes of different design. The pitch of F#2, C-nat2, C#2 & D3 is better on some fifes than on others.

    1Make sure the tuning instrument is designed for a range up to F7. The analog electronic type (including strobotuner) is more stable (it clearly identifies the main pitch). The digital electronic type (cassette size) tends to "hunt" (it gets confused with overtones that change by the second).

    2But C# goes flat in relation to D. The effect worsens and spreads to B, etc, as pullout increases.

    3Theobald Boehm developed a standard position for the cork: If the bore is 1/2" at the blowhole, then set the face of the cork 1/2" from the center of the blowhole. On Boehm flutes, the bore is 17mm at the blowhole and the cleaning rod is grooved at 17mm for this purpose. Important! Boehm's goal was to make the high notes in tune with the low notes. On McDonagh fifes, the bore tapers in the body; for them to harmonize across three octaves, they should not be restricted to "standard position".

Q: How did you get started making instruments, and how did it change over the years?
The Sweetheart Flute factory is in Hazardville CT; it was built in 1969 with only a general idea of flutemaking and a few tools. In 1971, Walt wanted a 10-hole fife for his 13th birthday, so he used a handdrill to make the extra holes in an ordinary maple fife. Later, Ralph took a plastic fife (made of linen phenolic), plugged the holes with 5-minute epoxy, and redrilled for the key of D. Its charisma was lacking, so he bought a lathe and drill press in 1973 when he created the first rosewood D-Fife similar to those made today.

The original motivation was the use of the fife to make live music for square dances and American contra dances. Ralph practiced backup accordion all summer, then in the fall of '74, debuted with Walt for a contra dance in Storrs, CT. A year later, they recorded with a fuller band on the LP, American Country Dances of the Revolutionary Era (now on cassette).

D-Pennywhistles were the next wooden instrument; Ralph dubbed them Flageolettes. Some of the traditional fifers called for a reproduction of the Cloos fife, whose manufacture presented new challenges of tooling (i.e., a gun drill and the machine to run it). Tabor Pipes and Irish Flutes followed. Then came Baroque Flutes, Keyless Flutes, plus fifes in G and A for a mellow sound. By 1978 the scene resembled Santa's Workshop making Tin Whistles, but that hectic production gave way to finer craftsmanship after Ralph's retirement from teaching physics at East Hartford (CT) High School in 1992.

Additional drum corps fifes were the M-1, Colonial Model, and the innovative Waltfife in 1991. The Nutmeg Volunteers and Warehouse Point juniors played on the Cloos reproduction. Elsewhere, The Westbrook Drumcorps adopted the Calliope model in 1998 whereas Marquis of Granby converted its fife line in 2000 to the Spikebore (a.k.a. 'pole in the hole'). In 1993, Walt recorded Complete Music for Fife and Drum, now published internationally by Mel Bay.

Meanwhile, the Keyless Flute has established afford ability for Irish musicians. Contra dance musicians use the D-Fife because it holds its own when played with piano and fiddle; the band Swallowtail recorded a stellar duet on D-Fifes.

Both Ralph and Walt were trained as engineers, and those skills come in handy every day to keep things running smoothly. We're constantly improving our instruments while reflecting on our collection of antique and modern flutes to keep our standards high.

Please read the Chiff & Fipple interview at http://www.chiffandfipple.com/ralphsweet.htm

Q: What's the Best Material and why?
African Blackwood machines well, leaves a fine finish, is not porous, and has good dimensional stability. Sometimes called Grenadilla, this is the classic material for wooden clarinets (they're usually not ebony). It's possible to use most any wood, but we have to work harder to get good results. Cocobolo leaves an excellent finish, but some people are allergic to it. Honduras Rosewood is great for general purposes. Dymondwood® has all the fine qualities required plus it repels moisture and has a finish that lasts for years with little maintenance. Maple is fine for beginners' instruments, but any serious player should buy the best instrument that the budget will allow. Cherry, Apple, Pear and Walnut are like Maple. Boxwood has a very fine grain, and is favored in making Baroque instruments. Purpleheart and Bubinga compare with other types of Rosewood. As craftsmen, we take pride in a job well done, and the better materials are part of a better instrument.
Q: How does the Choice of Material affect the Tone or other Playing Characteristics?
People often ask about the resonant properties of one species as compared with another, but we de-emphasize this issue. We say that the fineness of grain (not density or stiffness) is the biggest factor in attaining a smooth finish on the inside of the instrument, and thereby a good tone. In playing metal flutes, we have noticed that one metal is stiffer than another, and it makes a different sound up close to the instrument. This ambient sound gives the player a lot of feedback about his playing (it's not as noticeable to the audience). Truly, whatever motivates the player to perform better will make better music for all. As we see it, a smooth bore, an appropriate cut to the blowhole and a high degree of craftsmanship combine to make great instruments that give an accurate scale, good response, easy control and a beautiful tone.

Stringed instruments are a different case. The strings must make the wood vibrate in order to send the sound energy into the air. In a flute, it's the air column that resonates, and if the sidewalls vibrate, they're stealing power (and quality) from the sound produced. Makers of organ pipes know that the walls must be thick enough and stiff enough to prevent destructive vibration like this.

Q: Is a Dense Wood important?
Naturally, some of the best woods are very dense, but let's talk about some terms used by instrument makers. Dense means a high weight per unit volume: if two instruments have all the same dimensions, the one in the denser wood will weigh more. Hard means that it resists being dented or penetrated; the finish will last a long time. Abrasive means it wears out the tools. Free-Cutting means that it takes only a little force on the tool to cut the material, and the chips get out of the way easily. Stiff means that it takes a lot of force to flex it. Brittle means that a little flexing will break it. Porous means that air or moisture will penetrate it. Fine Grained means that the wood fibers are close together without open spaces (the finish can be made very smooth on the inside and on the outside of the instrument). If the cells in the wood are open, then an open space is likely to connect with others, cause leaks and hold moisture (in contrast, good material has Closed Cells). Stable means that it doesn't shrink or warp with changes in time, temperature or humidity. Natural wood has internal Stresses that change the shape of the material as it is cut. Although wavy grain is beautiful, Straight Grain is less likely to have internal stresses. For the best instruments, we use materials that are stiff, stable, fine-grained, straight-grained and have closed cells (non-porous); some of these happen to be dense and hard. The most desirable materials to work with are free-cutting, but not abrasive or brittle. Like all musicians, we want good performance and low maintenance.
Q: What is Dymondwood®?
Dymondwood® is a renewable material made by laminating northern birch in a tough resin under heat and pressure. The resulting material is perfect for instruments. It is free of knots or twisted grain, it is strong, has no internal stresses, maintains shape, has good weight, it cuts beautifully, and buffs to a high polish that lasts for years without maintenance. We have made several types of instruments in Dymondwood®; it looks like the best Honduras Rosewood while the tone, natural beauty, and playing characteristics are the best around. Dymondwood® repels moisture; still, it's best to store the instrument disassembled so the cork will stay elastic and seal the mortise and tenon joint between the head and the body.
Q: What is German Silver? Sterling Silver? Coin Silver?
German Silver is also called Nickel Silver, an alloy of nickel+copper+zinc. It contains no silver, so the raw material costs less. It resembles silver when polished but tarnishes yellow-green because of the copper content. The German word nickel means a demon, and that's how it behaves when we're trying to cut it.

Sterling Silver is 92.5% elemental silver, the remainder being copper or other metals. Sterling is the standard specification for most silver jewelry.

Coin Silver is 90.5% elemental silver; it is stiffer than Sterling.

Q: How do you Finish your instruments?
Our wooden instruments undergo a painstaking process that takes the better part of a week. They are soaked in diluted tung oil for two hours, let dry overnight, soaked again, let dry two days, then given two coats of finish tung oil before final drying. Blackwood has natural oils and these instruments require fewer coats. In nature, many of the North American hardwoods are rather porous, but this tung oil treatment seals them for proper performance. Moisture is also repelled by tung oil, better than by linseed oil, for example. Please read, Care of Instruments.
Q: Is all the work done by hand?
All Sweetheart Instruments benefit from 30 years of craftsmanship. Certain aspects of manufacture receive more handwork than others, according to the finesse required to ensure highest performance. We also use lathes, drill presses, etc., to bring you the best instruments at the best price.
Q:How is a Fife made in your shop (typical process)?
We start with Honduras Rosewood in a turning square (1" x 1" x 18"). The long piece is cut to length with a table saw, then bored using a gundrill in a metalworking lathe. Some instruments are reamed to create a taper in the bore. In another lathe, we turn the piece around the center to shape the outside and sand it. Next are the fingerholes, marked from a template or drilled directly with a drill guide in a drill press. The resulting burrs are removed with hand tools, while the holes are given a little rounding at the edges for comfort. Some blowholes are undercut with a compact router that follows an oval guide. The Sweetheart trademark is burned-in, and the serial number is engraved. Back to the lathe once again, we do finish sanding before soaking in Tung oil. Drying takes several days, then the instrument is corked, assembled and evaluated.
Q: Why the Overhung Ferrule on some Drum Corps fifes?
This feature on the Suffield Model is not a mistake. We call it the Modal Boundary for this reason: lowest D "sees" the step in the bore as a short tube, thereby raising the pitch for better registration of all the Ds; upper notes, with different modes of vibration, respond to this step in other ways. C-natural2, E3, and F#3 are greatly improved regarding stability, clarity, strength and pitch. For F#3, this fingering ● o ● ● ● ●gives the best pitch. The note B3 (as ● o o o o o), while a little hard to reach, is finally in tune: in contrast, simple fifes with traditional fingering sound a B3 that is 70 cents sharp (closer to a C).
Q: What is the Mathematical Basis of Music (without getting carried away)?
Sound is vibrations in air; faster vibrations make notes of higher pitch. The rate is measured in cycles per second or Hertz, Hz.

The basic interval is the octave. For example, the octave to A (440 Hz) is also an A, but at 880 Hz. 220 Hz is another octave to A. Notice that these numbers are related by multiplying or dividing, not by adding or subtracting. Keep doing that, and you will have all the A's you will ever need.

The next most important interval is the half-step or semitone, which is the interval between any two adjacent notes on the piano. Mathematically, it equals the twelfth root of two or approximately 1.0594631. Multiply 440 Hz (A) by that and you get 466.2 Hz which is A#. Do it again and you get 493.9 Hz which is B. Do it for the 12th time and you'll be at 880 Hz, at A, an octave above your starting point. Going down the scale, we divide by this factor, so G# is 415.3 Hz. Here's a table of Equal-Tempered frequencies using 12 and a base of A=440 Hz:

A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G# A
440.0 466.2 493.9 523.3 554.4 587.3 622.3 659.3 698.5 740.0 784.0 830.6 880.0

Note: Multiply (divide) each number by 2 to get the frequency in the next octave, etc. Instrument makers use tuning machines that have a smaller interval, the cent. It's 1/100th of a semitone. This means that one cent equals approximately 1.0005778. It's an octave (multiple of two) divided into 1200 (multiplicative) steps.

I have not explained the just diatonic scale, or the harmonic ratios based on perfect intervals. All these numbers relate to Frequency, that is, the rate of vibration. In nature, an instrument is likely to emit one frequency, and others that are mathematically related to it. Thus, when you play an A on your Irish Flute, it's giving off sound energy at 440 vibrations per second plus some energy at 880 Hz, plus some at 1320 Hz, 1760 Hz, 2200 Hz, etc.. Notice that these numbers are whole-number multiples of the base or Fundamental Frequency, 440. The higher frequencies are called Harmonics or Overtones. The particular set of them, each at a particular energy level, creates the Tone Quality or Timbre of the instrument. Irish Flutes and Baroque Flutes are richer in harmonics than the Modern (Silver) Flute. For further study, visit http://www.phy.ntnu.edu.tw/java/OTHERS/fourier2/index.html

When your ear hears all these frequencies, your brain organizes them and identifies them with one simple frequency called the Pitch. While a Pitch can have a number associated with it (440 Hz, for example), acoustic instruments will have other related frequencies also going on at the same time. The Pitch is usually the lowest frequency in the set; sometimes it's the loudest and sometimes it's present virtually, but not actually. For example, if an instrument is emitting frequencies of 2200, 1760, 1320 and 880 Hz, your ear and brain will imagine a pitch of 440 Hz because 440 is the basis for which all those other frequencies are multiples. This will happen even if the frequency of 440 Hz is not present in the sound energy reaching your ears.

Q: What does A=440 mean?
It means that a pitch of 440 Hz was used as the basis to develop all the chromatic notes in mathematical proportion. An "A" of 442 would generate a new set of numbers. Baroque music sometimes uses A=415.

More importantly, a specification of A=440 means that the instrument is constructed to play a scale that matches those standard chromatic frequencies. Let's say you have a folk flute in E-flat, whose scale does not include the note A at 440 Hz. Nonetheless, a specification of A=440 means that this flute's diatonic scale in E-flat aligns with the chromatic notes derived from A=440 (see above for a table of frequencies).

On some instruments, the scale is less than perfect. In those cases, we take the whole scale into account, placing more importance on scale steps I, IV and V. These notes are then used as a basis for specifying the pitch standard.

For example, 'fife standard pitch' runs about 30 cents sharp of A=440 these days. If many of the notes, especially the important scale notes are sharp of A=440, then we cannot say that we have an A=440 instrument. In this case, what is the pitch standard? Use the following formula:

F=(12th root of 2)cents/100x FSTD or F = (1.0594631)30/100 x 440 or
F= 1.01748 x 440 = 447.7 Hz. Working backward, what is the musical equivalent of 500 Hz? Using our table, the nearest standard pitch is B= 493.9. Plug that value into the following formula:

Cents Deviation =log (F / FSTD) x 100, so 500 Hz is 21 cents sharp of B .
  log (12th root of 2)

Q: What do "Concert Pitch" and "Non-transposing" mean? How can an Instrument be Non-transposing and Key of D at the Same Time?
Imagine a woodwind player starting nearest the mouth and closing finger holes one at a time. When he closes all holes as far as the left middle finger, it's called 'A', down to the ring finger is 'G', down to the right ring is 'D'. If these notes match up respectively with A, G and D on the piano, then the woodwind is Non-Transposing or Concert Pitch. However, if the woodwind is just a little longer or a little shorter, closing holes down to the left middle finger will still be called 'A' on this instrument (and the musical notation), but it won't match the A on the piano (alto recorders use a different system).

Many people would call this non-transposing instrument a "key of C woodwind" (in German or Continental nomenclature). We hesitate to use this phrase because the traditional flutes, fifes and pennywhistles have holes drilled to play an F# (not F-natural) and C# (not C-natural), so their primary scale is the D scale. Accordingly, we follow the English nomenclature and say these instruments are in the key of D, which means non-transposing, with a primary scale of D. Also important to remember: in this tradition, the right ring finger gives the lowest note (a D); in recorder tradition, the right pinky goes further to give the lowest note (a C).

Q: How did the Professional Model Pennywhistle come about?(by Walt Sweet)
On the low notes, the old D Flageolette responded well, but the top of the 2nd octave could have been better. Over the years, there were improvements, but no Herculean efforts led to any breakthroughs. Back to the ol' drawing board.

While I was busy designing drum corps fifes, I noticed an analogous problem. I made some that played well on the low notes, but needed a change to the geometry before they played well on the highs (where they're supposed to play their best). At the same time, I held the opinion that recorders had a 'bottlelike' tone quality, favoring the first register at the expense of the second. Starting in the spring of 2002, I changed one of the old flageolette windways, and the whistle now had better control (although my modifications were ugly). The existing design didn't leave much flexibility for the changes that I thought were necessary, so although I'd found out what to do, I didn't exactly know how I was going to do it nicely.

Meanwhile, I experimented with other methods of construction. I made a few whistles based on the more respected designs. I studied all the major brands. I figured that it would be necessary to redesign the instrument completely, as well as the production methods. We arrived at the present design in the same way that any other maker would: look around for some inspiration, combine some old things in new ways, and add some original thoughts. If we think the result is better, we start making them and start calling the recipe our own.

The choice of taper in the bore is easy to explain. With my strobotuner, this is what I found: Straightbore whistles tended to be 15-cents flat in the 2nd octave, while the popular taper-bore whistles tended to be 15-cents sharp. These findings were consistent with my pragmatic understanding of taper bores: other things being equal, taper stretches the octave; more taper means more stretching. What I needed was a rate of taper halfway between straight and the popular tapers. A few quick calculations and I had my numbers. Fortunately, we had a reamer of this rate that was already being used on the D fifes and piccolos. Had this been tried before? Yes, but then abandoned to give more control in the high notes. I tried taper again, but this time, the high notes were under control because of my changes to the windway. This was very good news: the 2nd octave would be better in tune, with more control. Moreover, it meant we could use one body with either a whistle head or a fife head interchangeably (we'd always wanted to offer this package). With this in mind, I built a fife head for this design of body and it works beautifully. Also, the tapered bore gave a sweeter tone. But why the curved windway? It's a production consideration that gives us more control of the internal geometry. Also, the round windway tends to keep moisture from collecting. The choice of a round windway was not based on the wish for a "round sound" or because another maker uses it (while some makers have good results). By September, my covert operations had been exposed, but the prototype had won some blessings of management. My first twelve whistles of the present design sounded their opening chiffs in November 2002.

Other features of this model: the first 5 holes have equal (maximized) spacing to accommodate large fingers; the hole sizes give an improved musical scale; the length proportions (straight bore to tapered bore) stabilize the pitch as the player varies loudness; the use of Dymondwood(r) reduces maintenance and offers lasting beauty; the material for the block guarantees that the windway will always have a smooth floor; the internal cork at the mortise (socket) means a thinwall tenon that can be pulled out without upsetting C#.

Q: What about Dynamic Range?(by Walt Sweet)
I've heard people use (and misuse) this term. To some people it means simply the loudness of a fife. To me, it means the potential for loudness, the degree of control it affords to the player, and how that affects other aspects of playing.

Some fifes can't play loud no matter what. When the player pushes harder, instead of more musical sound he gets noise (hiss or squeak). Sometimes the result is just resistance: a feeling that the instrument is pushing back because it can't give any more output, regardless of increased input.

On other fifes, I feel locked in. I discussed this phenomenon with my flutemaker friend. He referred to some famous modern flutes, saying the tone was "solid." However, what he explained was that the player had no other choice, and with that limitation, where's the art? Once, I heard a flute concert like this. The tone was solid, but never seemed to vary, and I was bored very soon.

We all like to play loud, but this makes the lips tired. When playing softer, you should still get a good tone (to rest up, if nothing else). Sometimes, an instrument doesn't give me this feeling. I get the idea that it wants to play at one loudness level with one tone quality with one type of attack, while everything else sounds noisy or anemic. I like to vary the tone quality from sweet and legato to bright and percussive. If I'm in good form, I can do more of everything (loudness, tone and attack), but I want a just proportion of all those elements if I'm tired or just playing softly. In short, to say that an instrument has a good dynamic range means that I'm controlling the instrument, not the other way around.

When I build these ideas into an instrument, it becomes fun to play, and helps the art come across for me, and for anyone else who plays it.

Q: What is the Policy regarding Returns or Warranty?
If for any reason you are not completely satisfied, please e-mail us at sweetheartfluteco@gmail.com, and we will be glad to help you.
Q: Do you do Special Orders?
We regret that our time is too short to offer special features.
Q: Do you Wholesale to Businesses?
Yes. Please send us your letterhead, catalog, tax number, copy of business license, credit references, website, and anything else that shows us you're an established business. Not all instruments are offered wholesale.
Q: What else? What lies in the future?
We're concentrating on the six- and eight-keyed flutes in Blackwood and Silver. These are available now, but in limited quantity. Post-mounted keys may save us some work while providing quality and classic beauty. The Boehm Flute in F above C needs to be resurrected (it's not currently in production).
Q: What else can I read?
Charles Nicholson was a famous flautist of 19-century England: This site deals with overtones and sound waves: Jonathon Landell is an excellent resource at Chiff and Fipple is a wonderful forum for flute & whistle players. Books worth reading:
Benade, Arthur A. Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.
Horns, Strings & Harmony. New York: Anchor Doubleday & Co. Inc., 1960.
"The Physics of Woodwinds." Scientific American, October 1960.

Boehm, Theobald. The Flute and Flute Playing in Acoustical, Technical and Artistic Aspects. New York: Dover Publications 1964.
Joof, Laura Beha. "Recorder Voicing and Tuning, and Use of the Tuning Machine." The American Recorder, November 1985.
Robinson, Trevor. The Amateur Wind Instrument Maker. University of Massachusetts Press, March 1981.