You may wonder why I put the lesson about a tin whistle care and maintenance just after we learned how to produce the sound out of it. That’s because we want to make sure that you keep your whistle in excellent playing condition. If you are a beginner, you want to be clear if that squeaky or muffled sound comes from your playing or as a result of a dirty and clogged whistle. So, here’s a few things that will help to keep your whistle in good shape.
Cleaning a tin whistle mouthpiece and holes
The mouthpiece is a fundamental part when it comes to the whistle sound. And the common thing is that it can clog up quite often if you play actively. It depends on windway narrowness but also on the playing style. Foremost, never use a piece of metal, such as needles, to pick out the parts of dirt from your mouthpiece. It may cause permanent damage to the instrument.
The first thing you want to try is to cover the mouthpiece with your finger and blow into the whistle really hard a couple of times. That way, you can get rid of sudden condensed drops.
What I found as the best “tool”, is to cut off a narrow strip of an old credit card. You can easily put it into a mouthpiece and take the dirt and moisture off. Or, as an alternative, you can use a folded piece of paper, but make sure that it’s strong enough that it doesn’t bend. The great thing is that you can always bring it with you in your wallet (as guitar players do with picks) and use it whenever it is urgently needed, such as in a session or a live concert.
Of course, you can use the same procedure to clean the finger holes too, but this is definitely something not necessary to be done frequently.
Cleaning the inner body of a tin whistle
For cleaning the inner body (tube) of a whistle, there are special brushes commonly used for other instruments such as flutes or clarinets. Or, what I found out and personally use are gun/rifle cleaning rods. Also, there are other cleaning brushes usually used for bottles, keyboards, and other home stuff. It seems they come in various materials and sizes so you can pick the one that suits your whistle best.
Polishing a tin whistle
To be honest, I’m one of those who like to see the “scars” of the instrument. It showcases how much it was played. So, I just wipe it off with a cloth or a towel from time to time. However, if you are inclined to keep it shiny and without finger marks around the holes, please avoid using any strong chemicals (such as dish polishing paste or bathroom cleaners). It may take the tiny parts off the whistle surface, and it can (if done often) damage the instrument in the long run. What I’ve heard is a safe solution, just use a small amount of toothpaste to rub your whistle, it will do the job.
Deep cleaning (and also tuning) a tin whistle
If you do the cleaning regularly, then the deep cleaning is probably something you won’t need to be doing at all. Or at best, once in a couple of months of active playing. Keep in mind that this only applies to plastic or metal whistles, never do it with wooden ones.
Put the whistle into hot water and after a couple of minutes, you should be able to gently twist the whistle head (mouthpiece) off. Adding a little bit of dish soap is fine too. I’m not sure why, but if they are not originally tuneable, most of the brass/nickel whistles always come with a glued mouthpiece. Thus, hot water will help to melt the glue and take it apart. This way, you can reach the mouthpiece from inside. You can also use a credit card, but maybe the better solution, in this case, is to use ear scoops on a wet whistle.
The cool thing is that after you did this once, the detached mouthpiece becomes the tuning slide and you will be able to tune your whistle later whenever it’s needed! And by tuning, I mean to be able to move the mouthpiece slightly up or down and find the sweet spot to get the whistle in the correct pitch if you play together with other musicians.