Tin whistle clogging; techniques and anti-condensing solution

Water can condense inside the windway in the head of a tin whistle and start to block the correct flow of air.

Why does condensation happen?

If enough heat is robbed from the incoming air stream from your lungs, then this will cause water droplets to start to form in the whistle windway.

This could be because you are playing somewhere cold, and it can depend upon the design and materials of the whistle.

Some whistle designs will more effectively expel water droplets, and that could be something to do with the amount/pressure of air being blown down the windway.

Some materials conduct heat more efficiently, so they are more likely to rob heat in the windway and will cool down more quickly.

Aluminium and other metals are far more efficient in conducting heat than plastic or wood.

This doesn’t mean that all aluminium whistles will clog up and plastic/wooden ones will not. Remember it also has a lot to do with the design and player.

What can I do?

In most whistles clogging is a minor issue. When starting (or restarting) playing a whistle, you simply need to warm it up a little and blow it clear.

One way is to place a finger over the window on the front of the whistle head and give the whistle a good strong blow.

This will warm up the whistle a bit and clear the windway.

Another way of warming up a whistle is to blow directly into the window.

These techniques also warm up the air column inside the whistle so will help with tuning too.

Sometimes in performance situations on stage where you may need to start playing without any opportunity to warm up a whistle first by blowing into it, you can pre-warm a whistle by placing it into a trouser pocket or holding it under your arm.

What if warming and blowing my whistle clear is not enough?

If your whistle still keeps clogging with condensation even when you blow it clear and warm it up, then there something more you can do.

You need to make an “anti-condense” liquid and apply it to the whistle. This technique will cause water to sheet off the inside of the whistle windway.

An anti-condense solution.

The solution is one part of washing-up liquid to three parts of water.

I make up this solution in eyedropper bottles that I bought online. They are very cheap, just a few pounds for a dozen.

How to apply it to your whistle?

Hold your whistle upside-down. Place your thumb (or another finger) over the end of the head windway (which is now at the bottom).

Use the dropper to drip a few drops of the solution through the window and down the windway in the head.

When you remove your finger, let the liquid dribble out onto a cloth or tissue.

Lastly, blow through the window of the whistle to remove any excess solution and then lay your whistle down somewhere to dry.

That’s it.

How often to do this? Well, every now and then. I use the solution on one of my whistles and will often do it before a gig, but that is probably more than it needs. It probably only needs to be done say once a month or whenever you feel like it’s necessary.

Andrew Wigglesworth
Melodeon and whistle player

Slightly obsessed with playing traditional music.