Q: What’s good about BJS instruments?
A: They’re different. They have a lot of work and thought in them. They’re visual art that you can take out and play. They start conversations.
They’re always interesting and often beautiful. Some are made of heavy materials and are nice and chunky to hold; some have nice designs, beautiful line art, and fine finishes. Some are customised for their particular owner’s ideas; some are just whatever looks and feels best.
Q: What’s the difference between the ‘bespoke whistles’ and the ‘engraved whistles’?
A: The bespoke whistles are 100% made from scratch, starting with a concept and bringing in whatever materials and techniques seem best. The engraved whistles use mass-produced plastic mouthpieces and (generally) standard factory whistle tubes, but are surfaced and engraved individually. The engraved whistles offer a lot more visual interest per buck invested.
Q: Are these proper instruments? Are they in tune?
A: Yes, they’re in tune! For technical reasons, tuning six-hole cylindrical-bore instruments is not an exact science (for instance, see this page here at Shearwater whistles), but these are eminently playable.
Q: What are the caveats and limitations of BJS engraved whistles?
A: The engraved high D whistles play exactly like shop whistles (nice ones).
Q: What are the caveats and limitations of BJS custom whistles and flutes?
A: They work, and they sound good, but nobody’s going to be winning the all-Ireland with them; they are all different and they are not as durable or precise as some very serious high end whistles. Some of them have quirks. BJS instruments are works of art and exploration, not precise tools for the virtuoso musician. For that, you want either a Colin Goldie or your grandfather’s heirloom penny whistle that he bought for sixpence in Doolin in 1937.
Q: What other folk instrument makers do you like?
A: Nobody seems to do the kind of decoration and custom construction I do, and I’m not really in the market for $400 whistles, but I can point at some makers I happen to like:
— Shearwater (built like tanks, great service, very good bass whistles)
— Bingamon (technically advanced, quirky)
— Tipple Flutes (easy to play, good price)
Q: I see you make a lot of bass whistles. Why? Are they easy to play?
A: I make a lot of bass whistles because they’re great — low and mysterious, never piercing and shrill (and as a result they’re quiet to practise on). It was a video of the great ‘Hatao’ playing ‘The Foggy Dew’ that got me interested in bass whistles and although they aren’t considered proper trad instruments, they are wonderful instruments in their own right, with all the organic nature of tin whistles and a far more accessible sound. Because they change pitch more slowly, you can interact with them more thoughtfully and you don’t feel you have to play at blinding speed.
They are also good, satisfying object to decorate, and can be made heavy and tough or surprisingly light depending on what you want.
They required EITHER very big hands OR a proper ‘piper’s grip’ — they’re big objects as you can see from the photos in the gallery.