10 hole fifes (and 11 hole) with all open tone holes are a latter 20th century innovation and not historically accurate for earlier impressions, if that is what is important to you – these were made to meet a growing demand for still better tuned instruments largely for fife & drum competitions, and the development of the fife provided for greater versatility and more artistic expression. While flutes in the 18th century began to manifest extra tone holes and keys in custom form, the norm being six holes with a 7th covered by a key that facilitates a D#, the fife was not regarded as a serious instrument beyond its military and folk purposes. It is in the start 19th century that we begin to find examples of 2-piece fifes and with conical bores (France and Galicia (in Spain); extra tone holes beyond 7 not coming into being until much later; and more noticeably varying tonehole sizes and irregular placement to work towards better intonation. The musicologist David Munrow made a rather convincing argument with data to back it up that the fife (rather than the flute itself) is the direct precursor to the piccolo… The piccolo began to have keys from the early 18th century but the fife – however closely designed – was not to see the same until the late 19th century with still only six open tone holes, the others covered by lever keys. All that said – fife and drum today is a style of folk music and unless you are insistent upon a historically accurate approach, play what suits you!
“I have followed you as a fife maker since the late 80s when you worked for Pat. I have played the fife since the 60s and I honestly have yet to find any maker as good as you. Quality, playability, caring for the customer. I am always surprised when I meet fifers who don’t know you or play your handiwork. Thank you for the Ralph Sweet model fife and please keep doing your craft!” Frank Riccio, New York.
The Ralph G Sweet Signature Model
Ralph Sweet had developed his “M-1” fife in the 1980s and it remains in use to this day with modifications made over time. Key of trad-Bb, this model features a tuning slide with minimal-disruption tenon, conical bore, and the leeward cutaway that aids in third register playing as well as Ralph’s signature on the head. The cost of obtaining Blackwood has become too expensive so it will be made by custom order only… Mopane is the other option which is an excellent wood but simply not black. See the Enfield Model below for appearance.
Enfield “New Model” Model Fifes
This is pitched in “traditional Bb” (a bit sharp of A=440) and is the culmination of input by several employees of Ralph Sweet’s and Joseph Morneault’s. Conical bore like the modern piccolo, carefully undercut tone holes, embouchure with a leeward cutaway and designed to be responsive for the performer, so it is a clean sounding instrument with terrific intonation. Embouchure designed for the actual performer, not those few who lack air control and spend more time blowing all their air instead of playing the instrument. The tuning barrel and ferrules of stainless steel; glued on for strength and no more dealing with compressed cork… This fife is now only in TWO pieces! – a clean look and classy. The stainless tuning slide goes into a brass socket and is designed for a lifetime without galling, or oxidizing together and so sticking. Don’t be sucked in by imitations… This is the best of this design to be had! Six and ten hole designs as you choose. Available in African blackwood and for international orders it is available in Mopane. Special tone hole offset can be arranged upon request.
These are smaller, thus higher pitched, fifes designed for more of a folk music use over the fife & drum association. We offer them in the keys of D and C and have conical bores, rendering them more in tune with themselves than a traditional cylindrical bore would. They are available in Honduras rosewood and in African blackwood, but for international orders we offer mopane as an alternative – similar in colour to the rosewood, it is free from the recent CITES rules imposed on rosewood and blackwood.