Fifes

Military-style, historical, traditional… Fifes for fife & drum corps, for folk music, for historical dance.

Traditional and Historical Models

The fife dates back, as far as we have been able to ascertain, to Europe around the 12th century.  That is not very clear, for it is a form of flute and flutes of varying forms are much, much older.  But the fife as distinct from the transverse (or horizontally held) flute certainly comes about around that time.  It is, in essence, what might be termed a “tabor pipe with benefits”; it consisted of a tube, almost always of wood, with a very tight bore meant to sacrifice the tone and volume of the lowest register to favour the second and third registers which, when played, carry quite the distance and could be heard over other, loud instruments such as its traditional association with the side or field drum.  Its obvious application was for martial use in providing recognizable tunes in company with the drum for military “camp duties” and specific “calls” during battle wherein troops could hear the commands without necessarily seeing the commander… Serving the purpose of radio communication, as it were.  But it also was known for folk dance music as well as work accompaniment music much like the pipe and tabor and can actually still be found in this capacity in some remote villages throughout western Europe.  As the transverse flute began to evolve, so too the fife which eventually became the piccolo, the instrument of choice in fife and drum music cultures such as for the Swiss Fasnacht.  In fact when performing on any fife one might benefit from regarding it more as a piccolo than a flute.

For your amusement, although copyrighted and not for general public re-use. – YE ART OF YE FYFE

The traditional fife is an example of an instrument still reflecting the varying pitches of the 18th and 19th centuries… You might do yourself a service to read this.

 

 

The Dillon/Cahusac Model Fife

Steve Dillon of Dillon Music has amassed quite the collection of early American and corresponding English fifes.  What he has learned from them has popped so many commonly believed myths about fife history.  Here is a replica of one made by Thomas Cahusac of London; an English fife from the time of the American Revolution but in use from roughly the time of the English civil war to the first half of the 19th century.  It is thick walled and in the key of C.


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The Callender 1787 Model fife

William Callender was a wood and ivory turner in Boston during the latter 18th century and many of his fifes survive today in private collections, such as the original to this one to be found in the collection of the Manchester Historical Society in New Hampshire.  Like the Dillon/Cahusac it is in C and plays alongside the other model but a thinner design and slightly tighter bore.  For something in Bb, please see the Yorktown Model below.


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Williamsburg Pitch Model

Back in the day when I was the fifemaker for Cooperman Fife & Drum Co, I regularly crafted a replica of a fife in the collection of Colonial Williamsburg for use BY Colonial Williamsburg Fifes & Drums.  In recent years I had been commissioned to make a few of this model for individuals, mostly in the reenacting world.  It plays flat of B (instead of the slightly sharp Bb of trad fife&drum corps today), which means it is not what you need when you wade into a fife&drum jam session.  Instruments in the 18th century generally played about a half tone lower than we think of the pitches today… So what THEY called a “D” in the 18th century would sound more like a “C#” to us; you might consider this to be somewhat in the key of C, 18th century style.  I do offer this only in Rosewood, currently, although I have made this in other woods in the past.  You may inquire, should you have something else in mind.


Williamsburg Pitch Fife




 

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Nach-Ferrary Model

Henry “Ed” Ferrary was a machinist from New Jersey who removed to Essex, CT in 1967, setting up his “secret shop” behind a bulkhead in his garage.  Until he moved on to the scene, other local fife makers were practicing their craft using older, cruder methods; Ed utilized a “secret method” that burnished the bore as it drilled it thus creating a fife far easier to play.  Ed was my first teacher of the trade, explaining his methods in a very rare moment of handing down his technique when in most cases he held very tight to his “secrets”.  This is an exact copy of the fife he made me which is the model he had made for some of the mid-western corps.  I offer it only in African blackwood currently.  It is so exact that I fooled a local “Ferrary expert” who is an old timer and was an acquaintance of Ed.


Ferrary fife



 

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Yorktown Model

Modeled after the Callender 1787 model above, this fife has been optimized to play traditional Bb for today’s fife&drum corps.  It is named for the Fifes and Drums of Yorktown for whom I made the first such fife.  Currently this offered only in Honduras Rosewood.

Yorktown Model fife.

 


Yorktown Model Fife



 

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French Fife 1790 model

    This model was copied from a fife in a private collection in France and the scholarship at hand asserted that it was from a military unit serving in about Paris in the late 18th century.  It is in the key of D which would be considered a “high-pitch”, the commonly encountered pitches for the era being about a half step lower – so they might have regarded this to be in Eb.   The original had serious intonation issues and so this copy has been “tweaked” to work better with itself and ensemble work.


French Fife 1790 Model



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Ralph G Sweet Colonial Model

Using a Klemm fife at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Ralph had created this model as a good, general design to cover fifers looking for an 18th century/early 19th century appearance while still being able to play in traditional Bb.  Simple, one piece, brass ferrules.  The key of C is also available, this pitch being actually the far more commonly used in the 18th century.


Colonial Model Fife



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Cloos Model Fife 

Ralph copied this from a model fife made in the late 19th century by George Cloos of NY.  Nickel-silver tapered ferrules, key of Bb only.  REALLY popular design for some Civil War impressions and amongst fife & drums corps from the late 19th century through the 1950s.

Batterie-fanfare Bravade de Fréjus, France – playing my Cloos model fifes.

Cloos Model Fife



 

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Simple Fifes in D

   These are what Sweetheart Flute Co called their “Renaissance Fifes”.  Key of D, basic, no frills.  59$ plus shipping.




 

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