I reordered an AyrFire chanter from Colin MacLellan after selling my last one. Anyone who reads the blog enough will know I’m a big fan of Colin Kyo chanters but if you take a gander at my Modern Chanter Review page, the AyrFire and Henderson solo chanter were two chanters I regretted having sold. So, the AyrFire being available only in plastic at a steal of a price of only 118 pounds sterling with reed protector and reed included was the first to get repurchased as I’ve spent way too much dough on new to me bagpipes this year already (A smallpipes, C smallpipes, and an old Sinclair set).
Anyways, I recall the AyrFire chanter having reasonable finger spacing and excellent tuning. This still remains the case. Most of today’s initial practice session with the chanter involved unsteady drones as I was playing a set I don’t usually play, my Glencoe pipes. Glencoe pipes were made by Matt Marshall up in Canada who just recently got in contact with Ron Bowen stating he’s alive and well so I was feeling a bit nostalgic. However, it wasn’t the drones that were unsteady, it was the tuning of the chanter!
Being the first time I’ve played this chanter with this brand new reed, I had to sort the tuning. I’d tune the drones to low A spot on but then when I’d start playing the drones would go out of tune again, until I got back to low A. High A was a good octave right over the low A so that wasn’t the problem. So what gives? Well, the E was just a tad bit sharp, and so when I’d start playing my ear would hear that the E was out of tune and involuntarily I would adjust my blowing to play softer to flatten the E. After the two As, E is the most prominent note when tuning against the drones. The E harmonic on the drones is next largest after the A harmonics, so an an out of tune E is VERY easy to spot. I was thinking, dang, why did I play these drones to feature the chanter if they’re going to be unsteady on me? Well, once I put a spot of tape on E so I’d have to blow the chanter out to correct pressure the drones magically became steady! Why? Because I was no longer having to underblow to flatten the E to pitch. Voila! So, next time you think your drones are unsteady because they’re in tune at the start when you tune to your As, but then they go out once you start playing, check that your E is in tune and that you aren’t changing your blowing pressure to try to correct the tuning of E with pressure instead of what you should be using = tape!
What this also means is that steady blowing is not exactly the key to an in tune pipe. An in tune pipe is the key to steady blowing. I tell my band members this all the time. You blow, I tune. Tuning is my job, not yours. Don’t “blow tone” because then you’re searching for tuning and we’ll never get there. You blow, I tune.
So, on with the recordings. Glencoe (Lawrie spec) drones with old Canning drone reeds (carbon fiber bass) with AyrFire poly chanter with MacLellan pipe reed (presumably medium-hard because that’s what I asked for when I ordered direct from Colin). The strength of the reed is perfect! I might even go for a hard reed next time as if this one breaks in further it might be a tad too easy. The high A is beautiful and blends with the drones nicely. The F sparkles something nice too. It is a very nice chanter. I even threw my hard bottom hand tunes at it and my hand had no trouble adjusting to the chanter which has a slightly longer finger spread on the bottom hand than the Colin Kyo. Some people might think I complain a lot of finger spacing and hole size, but really my point is normally SPACED holes, which the AyrFire chanter surely has. I had no trouble playing low hand strikes, the holes are right where I’d expect them to be based on the finger spread. In contrast there are several other modern chanters with oddly spaced holes which I have difficulty playing not because of the finger spread or the hole size, but because of the spacing! The holes just aren’t where my fingers expect them to be. I’ve played a long Naill practice chanter nearly all my life, so that’s where my fingers expect to find the holes.
On to the recordings! I’ve only got two because all the previous ones had me underblowing to find the E and as such, they had unsteady(er) drones. I’ve got tape on high G, E, D, and C. The chanter tuned nicely to 480 Hz which is exactly where my last one tuned. This is a nice chanter. With many band chanters toping 480+ these days, the AyrFire is an attractive alternative that is easily tuned, at a flatter pitch, at a comparable (or cheaper) price.
I am fortunate to have had the chance to compete with the storied Manchester Pipe Band from Manchester, CT at the North American Pipe Band Championships held on August 2, 2014. The band is celebrating its centenary and invited alumni to come and play with them. While I’m not alumni, Bryan is and he not so subtly suggested that I come along too. We competed in grade 3 with the MSR Donald MacLean’s Farewell to Oban, Captain Colin Campbell, and The Rejected Suitor. Special thanks to Jared and Jed Otto for allowing me to tag along into the circle and to the rest of the band for the warm welcome. I made some excellent friends during the trip!
My big concern was taking my band pipes, 1950 Hendersons, that are mounted in a white substance that I didn’t want identified as ivory when crossing the border back into the U.S. and have my pipes confiscated. Luckily, I have a set of 1920 Robertsons on loan to me (hear some sound clips below) mounted with black casein projecting mounts and white casein ringcaps and bushes. So, they were my choice pipes to take. They were/are equipped with some old Rocket reeds that I think make them sound really good! Perfectly reliable strike-in (absolute must for band work), excellent volume, and steady tone; what more could you ask for? Of course, I would settle for nothing less!
My next main concern was how to protect someone else’s pipes on the 6 different airplanes I’d have to get on to travel from Lubbock, TX to Hartford, CT. Previous experience with a hard “flight case” pre-9/11 being checked in the pilot’s luggage area sold me on putting the pipes in the smallest carry-on possible ever since (it was going to be gate checked but they made an exception for my pipes, again pre-9/11). The plan is to make absolutely sure whatever you take them in will fit under the seat, because if the case is too big to fit under the seat (even within the specified max dimensions), with any luck a flight attendant will tell you they’ve run out of room in the overhead bins and you’ll have to gate check. In addition to being small enough to fit under the seat, I wanted to find a backpack so that I could carry my pipes around the games with me easily, but one that had padding on all sides just in case it was gate checked.
There are 2 bagpipe specific flight cases I know of. One is the Bagpiper Flight Case (reviewed by Bryan below) but it isn’t a backpack, and it’s ~$260. RG Hardie has a backpack flight case however it is larger (by 2″ in width) than the maximum allowable carry-on in the U.S. You hear horror stories of airline employees requiring you to place your bag in their bag checker cage and requiring a gate check of every bag that’s too big, regardless of the state of the overhead bins. No thanks. Camera cases are outrageously expensive and have tailored compartments that are too small. I eventually figured out that a laptop case might work. The trick is finding one that probably wouldn’t be too great at holding a laptop, as most have v-shaped compartments that narrow toward the bottom making them totally unsuitable for carrying anything that isn’t thin, but would hold a laptop quite snugly. U.S. maximum carry on baggage dimensions are 22x14x9″, with the one I found coming in at 19x14x9″, smaller than what’s required! I was set.
What I ended up with is a SOLO “Executive Backpack”. The price tag at Office Depot said $79.99 but rang up at $59.99. Amazon had one for ~$70. Unlike most laptop backpacks which will not work, this one has all the right attributes:
1. It zips all the way to the bottom. Most laptop backpacks only unzip half-way.
2. The sides are padded in addition to the top and bottom. Most laptop cases are only padded on top and bottom because laptops are thin.
3. Opens to a flat bottom. Most only open to a v-shaped padded area.
The obvious con when constrained by the carry-on dimensions and bagpipes is that you have to completely disassemble your pipes. Meh.
Packed for travel on the plane, I wrapped each part in foam pipe insulation, probably overkill as the pipes were never out of my possession, but one can never be too careful when dealing with airline employees. You’d be more in control of that situation with a cattle prod up your ass than an expensive musical instrument in your hand. My “case” worked great and fit under every seat, no problemo. Definitely take reeds out so when the TSA going digging around they don’t pull a chanter cap off or drone bottom out and booger up your reed. Don’t forget to take out razor blades and knives from your pipe maintenance kit before trying to go through security. I took my t-zip lube out too.
Recordings of the pipes produced well after returning from Maxville are here:
Bryan’s review of the Bagpipe Flight Case is here:
Maintaining a calm demeanor while subjecting your personal property to 21st century baggage handling restrictions at American airports has become increasingly more challenging. If you check your luggage at the front, there is the ever present danger that one’s luggage will end up in a more interesting place than you. If you decide to carry your own luggage on board, there’s all that scanning, poking, prodding, and shaking. So, if you want to transport bagpipes on an airplane, there are two options. The first option was to pack your pipes in with the checked luggage, but I wasn’t too excited about my clothes and expensive bagpipes ending up in Singapore. The other option was to carry my pipes on board. This option risks having the TSA dissect my pipes and break my reeds. I obviously wanted a safer option that would be airline friendlily, yet still protect my multi-thousand $$ bagpipes.
I decided to go for the the carry-on option. After all, Federal law dictates that airlines must accommodate musical instruments on the plane, so this is likely the best choice. Unfortunately, they are only obligated to accommodate instruments…IF THERE IS ROOM.
49 U.S. Code § 41724 – Musical instruments (linkhttp://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/49/41724)To make myself feel better about this whole process, I purchased a BAGPIPER Flight Case to transport my Colin-Kyo bagpipes to Maxville. The flight case is a roller board style case with pre-fitted soft foam forms for the drone tops, and a soft section that can accommodate bulky, grommeted bags with room to spare. There are several extra zippers and other hidden compartments for sundry items. The luggage locks with a TSA approved locking mechanism. The luggage is transparent to X-rays, so the TSA can prod and poke with impunity. The case includes a capped cardboard tube to transport a chanter. Large, sturdy quick release connectors are located on the outside of the luggage and smaller quick release buckles on the inside to hold everything in place.
If you are certain that you can place your luggage in the overhead bins, then this luggage works great. The BAGPIPER luggage fits in the overhead bins, despite the published size restrictions. The problem is that in today’s over-booked, inter-hub flights, the over head bin space fill up quickly. If you’re unlucky enough to be at the end of the loading, then you have to check your bagpipes. No ifs—and– or buts.. Yelling and screaming doesn’t work. I’ve tried.
If you have to check your bagpipes at the gate, you should ask for a blue GATE VALET tag. US AIR/American Airlines should make this available at the gate. This tag is specifically for:
First Class carry-on luggage
Strollers/ car seats
With this handy blue tag, you can leave your luggage at the end of the jet bridge and the baggage handlers will stow your luggage lovingly in a secure place in the belly of the plane. They will then unload your luggage and make it available at the end of the jet bridge at your destination. Make SURE to pick it up. If you forget, they will send your luggage to some sort of luggage purgatory.
If you want to ensure some overhead storage room, board the plane as early as you can. This will give you more chances to stow your pipes in the cabin. It may even be worth purchasing the early boarding priority that is offered by some airlines. However, if you want to risk it, even if they announce that all of the bins are full, they are often not.
The BAGPIPER Flight Case is a premium piece of luggage. It cannot be re-purposed for anything except transporting a single bagpipe through airports. However, if you want to protect your investment and your instrument, this luggage will take the risk out of your airport experience. Even if you will have to check the luggage, I have no doubt that it will be safe.
This solution is fairly expensive. The luggage that I purchased was approximately $225.00. The other issue I had with this luggage is that it is generously labeled BAGPIPER. If someone wants to steal something expensive, they’ll have a good idea what to go for. On the other hand, if you want to initiate lots of intra-queue conversations along the lines of, “Do you play the bagpipes? I love the bagpipes… My grandma had bagpipes at her funeral…. My family is Irish, are you Irish?.. Can you play Danny Boy”?
My final advice (1):
invest in real estate
there’s no such thing as a permanent record
always eat breakfast
all the girls on the Internet are actually dudes
you never buy the extended warranty on anything.. EVER!
and…oh yeah.. chicks like it when you tell them they’re pretty, but they also like it when you’re kind of a dick to them. So, mix it up a little.
Editor’s Note: We spent way too much time watching RedvsBlue on Netflix. Also, Bryan’s Bagpiper flight case got gate checked twice due to its size, but the pipes (engraved silver and moose Colin Kyo) were well intact, as was the case, so the case does its job well.
Bryan got a new set of pipes in the other day. Colin Kyo bagpipes with engraved silver slides and ferrules and moose antler projecting mounts, ringcaps, and bushes. They are beautiful pipes. Bryan acquired an older, fully mounted set of CK moose bagpipes a couple of years ago that you’ve heard on the blog before (because I bought them from Bryan) and he liked them so much he bought an engraved silver set. Murray Huggins of CK bagpipes is doing some fantastic work these days. Murray is an amazing guy who not only plays the bagpipes really well, but he has designed an excellent chanter and has really honed is pipe making skills including doing his own engraving. His projecting mounts are smaller these days, more elegant, along with short ferrules for an overall very sophisticated looking bagpipe. Check out the pipes!
Currently, I’ve got Bryan’s 15 year old Ezee drone reeds in there with these recordings. I’ll break out my reed collection in due course before I hand them back to him, hehe.
Drone reed library has been explored. What follows is my experience with Colin Kyo pipes. Ezeedrone, as above, gives a strong smooth bass with ringing tenors over the top. I recall CK being Hendersonish in nature so ask any gold medalist playing Hendersons why they use Ezeedrone, now you know. The Ezeedrones above were quite old, new Ezeedrones give a brighter ring. I tried Selbies next but being such a bold reed, the tenors were a pain to tune. If both tenors were on, it was impossible to tune them together with a seamless sound. I had the same problem with Selbies in my old Hendersons, these pipes don’t need the tenor volume help that Selbies provide and it becomes too much in the overtone department and become difficult to tune. Selbie bass is solid, but maybe half way between Ezeedrone and Crozier Glass with a tad bit of buzz. Crozier Glass give a big well balanced sound, but it is very buzzy from both tenor and bass. If you want big, buzzy, but also well balanced, Crozier Glass are for you. Canning gave me similar trouble as the Selbie, but were not nearly as troublesome. Canning are Ezeedrone’s brighter cousin in the tenor department. Finally, if you want a little more tenor than what Ezeedrone provide, head over to Redwood. They give great volume but are easier to tune than Selbie. What we have below is my favorite bass, Ezeedrone, which just comes off so smooth, solid, and easy to tune, with Redwood tenor drone reeds. Enjoy!
It has dawned on me that I don’t have recordings of my Colin Kyo bagpipes with just straight up Ezeedrone reeds in them, gah, you need to hear them with that brighter ring off non-worn out tenors. Check back soon!
The G1 platinum reed was so impressive in the G1 chanter I wanted to establish a baseline for its performance and try it in a Colin Kyo chanter. The first thing I’ll note is it wasn’t quite as loud in the CK chanter. The G1 is very much a band chanter and I like to consider the CK an all around chanter (I use it for solos and in my band), but you may call it a solo chanter if you’d like. I’m not sure I’d use the G1 in solos as I’d like my drones to be a more significant fraction of the overall sound. That being said, I’d say 50% of the big volume I got with the G1 chanter in the previous post was from this reed, it’s a nice big reed. The CK also tuned to 480 Hz instead of the 486 Hz of the G1 chanter. The C# was a tad bit flat in the CK, which is not uncommon, so I taped the low A down to the C#, but this ultimately didn’t affect the pitch the chanter tuned at too much, less than 1 Hz for sure. Pictures comparing the two chanters can be seen directly below with the CK on the left, G1 on the right. You’ll notice the G1 is a longer chanter, and therefore longer than most chanters. The hole spacing is very similar to the CK chanter which is why it is a very comfortable chanter to play. The tape on both chanters is indicative of what was required for the G1 platinum reed; although notice a lot of tape on the G1 chanter isn’t actually covering the hole very much or at all, it’s there just in case. The other reed, Husk, is what was in the poly CK beforehand; pay it no attention, I just needed a place to put it after swapping reeds and the G1 reed seat seemed like a good spot. You can click on the pictures for larger versions.
Now for some tunes! Sorry I didn’t get the high G and A in until the latter recordings, I was in a hurry. The pipes are my 1950’s Hendersons with Atherton MacDougall spec Rockets.
This is a review of the G1 chanter. This chanter is not the higher pitched version, but the regular version. The chanter is plastic and was ordered with the accompanying reed protector and G1 platinum reed. I believe John Elliott (the maker) told me the spacing between the bottom of the D hole and the top of the low A hole is 75 mm, and on a Kyo it is 74 mm as measured by me. Granted the holes are slightly larger on the G1 chanter but my fingers don’t lie, it is a comfortable chanter to play. John has made a great pair of products. The G1 platinum chanter reed has great projection for it’s strength (I’m going with medium, I usually play at 32″ H2O and this is just slightly stouter than my solo reed strength preference). The reed also tunes very easily in the chanter. I have the tiniest bits of tape on a couple notes and a little tape on high G. That’s it; the internal tuning of the chanter is VERY good. His products match perfectly to each other. His reed and chanter combination provides a strong scale throughout with a strong high A. My only quibble is it tunes at 486.3 Hz in my 75F home. It’ll hit 490 Hz in nothing flat outside in the dry West Texas heat. I’m thinking about picking up a Bb version with the expectation that it would end up somewhere in the low 470s but I’d really like something in the high 470s. John was kind enough to provide a picture of the regular and Bb versions next to each other and they really aren’t all that different. He states the holes are slightly smaller and farther apart on the Bb to attain the alternate pitch, along with internal modifications. The spread isn’t that much greater but the desire to play that flat doesn’t exist so I’m not sure I’ll spring for it just yet. So he’s got a 466 and a 486 chanter, I’d love to see a 476 chanter. The proof is in the pudding so take a listen to the audio down below. This chanter is louder than any other I’ve recorded, so pay attention to your speaker/headphone volume.
Scales and Scotland the Brave – Beware!!! First scale is facing the mic, second scale facing away, first STB facing away, second STB facing the mic again. Big volume changes!!! This reed and chanter combo is loud.
The pipes played are my Colin Kyo bagpipe with Ezee tenors and short inverted Ezee bass. Maybe I need to get my another set of Evolution Kinnairds to match the chanter/reed volume better (this is a solo setup). I find it no coincidence that John sells “Evo’ Kinnairds” from his online shop along side his G1 chanter and platinum reeds.
We’ve got a vlog today! All the tape is off of the RJM chanter (except E and high G) and here is some lame playing to prove it.
Text from YouTube description:
RJM solo blackwood chanter, tape only on E and high G, tuning spot on at 480 Hz with a day old Troy McAllister chanter reed that was artificially broke in with a bit of spit and a little squeeze at the tips to ease the reed and even less around the sound box to bring the pitch of the middle notes (C# and F#) up a tad.
Roddy MacLeod (designer of the chanter) uses Troy McAllister reeds personally so I figured what better reed is there to get the most out of the RJM chanter?
Brown Haired Maiden
Arthur Bignold of Lochrosque
Drone retuning as the chanter pitch went up a little or the drone reeds went flat a little, one of the two
Flame of Wrath for Squinting Patrick (memorized last week)
Today was very frustrating. I was getting my Colin Kyo pipes going again after the flapper valve broke off and I gave Bryan his Canning reeds back. So I installed a new flapper and put my Canning drone reeds in. I bought these Cannings earlier this year and we noticed that one of them was much more brash than the other. I contacted Ryan Canning and he has sent a replacement that has yet to arrive (edit: received!). But today, putting them in the CK pipes, they both wouldn’t hold tuning for anything. The slightest pressure variation and they’re going out all over the place. It was driving me nuts. These Cannings are nothing like the Cannings Bryan had in these pipes so I imagine the brash tenor is going crazy. I’ve got an older used set I’ll dig out and try in these CK pipes but until then, Ezeedrone tenors and a Kinnaird low pitch bass worked flawlessly. Nothing worse than dinking with drones for an hour when you’re trying a new chanter. Evidence that these Cannings work fine in other pipes can be had in this post (listen to the ones at the very bottom, made the same day as the recording in this post) and even in these Glencoes in a recording just the other day.
So, about that chanter. Below is the only decent recording I got of the new to market RJM solo chanter, designed by Roddy MacLeod and manufactured by Naill bagpipes. I was exhausted by the time I finally got this recording where the drones started in tune and stayed that way for more than 5 seconds, all I had to do was switch drone reeds. Below you’ll find some pictures. The first thing you’ll notice is how far down the low A is compared to my regular CK chanter. I could definitely feel my pinkie covering the low A hole from the top (see new EDIT below, added 9-9-2015). Tuning wise, I found the D flat. I tried brand new Husk and Melvin reeds, both drooled all over and squeezed to my strength. Both were in pretty far. But, both had a flat D and so I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a reed issue so I plugged my year old Husk that I’ve been using in all the most recent recordings on the blog in to see what happened. It had a flat D too. So in all the pictures below, you’ll see the tape where I had to tape the RJM holes down to the D, the only other hole not having tape being high A. Speaking of high A, it certainly has a different tone than you’ll get out of any other chanter, a selling point is being able to achieve Roddy’s famous high A. Concerning how far these reeds were in, the reed seat is quite cavernous, at least compared to the Colin Kyo I’m used to. I wonder if this is how he accomplished the feat of having both the high G and Piobaireachd high G tuned to the same pitch negating the usual adjustment of tape necessary between those two notes? Something I forgot to test. Oh yeah, the tone holes got taped too, about a third of the holes. It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t get the D up to pitch. Just balancing the A’s initially gave me a good octave everywhere, but D, right at 480 Hz, as claimed by Roddy. However, in taping down to meet the D I think I ended up around 475 Hz. If I keep this thing, that D hole is going to be oval. I’ll note 2 of my 4 blackwood CK chanters have had the D hole sharpened some by undercutting. I’ve done this to Bryan’s laminate CK chanter too which is how I know its easier to undercut the laminate material than blackwood. I also had a flat D with the McC2 chanter. Something about flat Ds, I dunno.
Fair Maid, Gallawa Hills, Leaving Port Askaig, and the Quaker – sorry about the bass dominance once I start marching, I guess I should march perpendicular to the recorder and not parallel to it, doh! Slow airs are taken over several orientations relative to the mic so you get a feel for chanter drone blend.
Photos below compare the RJM solo chanter (left) next to a Colin Kyo chanter (right), my standard chanter brand. They are both taped up for Husk reeds. You’ll notice the F# hole is a little lower on the RJM. On the bottom hand the D starts it off just a little lower than on the CK with the relative spacing to the C# and B about the same, but then the low A is much lower on the RJM.
EDIT November 4, 2013
I have been in contact with Roddy about the chanter and he says the flat D is unusual. He says he plays Troy McAllister reeds and so I’ve ordered a couple of those today to try. Roddy has offered to have a look at the chanter and so I’ll be posting it back to him for a look. Meanwhile, he’s sent me a picture of his RJM solo chanter as played at the Bratach Gorm in London on Saturday, November 2, 2013. Pretty cool he’s using his new chanter in competition and not his old one. Seems to work pretty well, he won the Bratach Gorm with it! You’ll note he’s got tape on D, so certainly not flat for him.
EDIT September 9, 2015
Roddy has redesigned his chanter a wee bit to raise the low A hole of the chanter to be easier to reach. He has kindly provided a picture with the old design on the left and the new design on the right. See below:
Here’s a few clips of my carved up Colin Kyo chanter with an Adrian Melvin ridge cut reed. In an unmodified CK chanter the bottom hand comes off too sharp because the reed can’t be sunk enough to bring the top hand up sharp enough. In talking with Adrian, the reed I’m using is older and his newer ones balance much better in the CK chanter, so we’ll be ordering some direct to give them a shot for the band. CK chanters have a narrower reed seat than most chanters so if you play just about any other chanter, it isn’t necessarily something you’d have to worry about, especially since they’re better balanced now than before. His reeds have just a great crack on them. Having ordered easy strength, dry it was too hard but slobber on it a bit (quite literally) and squeeze the thick part of the ridge a few times and voila, perfect strength without any loss of crack. The crack and response from this reed is superb. Might give them a go if you haven’t already. Additional to the Melvin chanter reed, this post features Atherton MacDougall spec Rocket tenor drone reeds and a Naill spec Rocket bass drone reed in my 1950s Hendersons. The MacD bass reed was tuning on a nanometer so I switched back to my standard Naill one.
Skyeman’s Jig (arr. Duncan Johnstone) – out of John MacFadyen’s first book mentioned in the previous blog post. First jig in a set of jigs that ended in my drones being too far out to post the rest of the set (about time to reseason the L&M bag on these pipes, they’re getting temporally unsteady) and additionally the kids got home, opened the door, yelled at me, slammed the door, and I boogered up a few times, so, you just get the first tune, lol.
I was sittin’ on the john at work perusing eBay on my iPhone when I ran across a buy it now for an african blackwood Atherton chanter. So I bought it, duh! This chanter came from Doug MacRae, at least, going by the eBay name. At the price point, I figured it wasn’t pristine and having a look at it, it has been undercut on just about every hole, C and up. Who did that, I have no idea. But, who cares? It plays GREAT! And it was easy to tune; of course the undercut modifications helped. Otherwise, I can see the top hand being rather flat. Couple no undercutting with the relatively narrow reed seat (compared to a Kyo, if that tells you something) and I can imagine it could be hard to get a reed in far enough to bring the top hand up sharp enough, so the undercutting was probably a necessity more than anything. None of the holes have been enlarged though. It came in right at 480 Hz for me. Same pitch as my band blackwood Colin Kyo chanter. Colin Kyo’s actually tune a wee bit higher (well, some of them), so I’ve got tape on my CK low A and the reed pulled out a little to get it down to 480 Hz. Below you’ll find a picture of the Atherton right next to said Colin Kyo. You’ll notice the hole spacing is effectively identical. Atherton on top, CK on bottom.
Onto the recording, I’ve got my D. MacPherson blackwood bagpipes with boxwood ferrules and ringcaps with Kinnaird tenor drone reeds and a Rocket bass drone reed accompanied by an Atherton chanter with a Husk reed. Tunes are Hector the Hero (James Scott Skinner) and the Rock (Jimmy Mitchell). I finally met Jimmy last weekend and got to chat a bit. Jimmy used to play with the Hamilton Pipe Band in Houston, TX and this series of tunes is one of the tracks on their album, First and Ten. Jimmy’s nickname apparently was “the Rock” and this was the first tune he wrote. I also got to hear the St. Thomas Alumni Pipe Band last weekend which has a lot of players from the old Hamilton band, so this set is for Jimmy, Hamilton, and St. Thomas Alumni! When I played with the Lyon College pipe band under Willie Muirhead, we also opened our second place medley at the World’s in 2001 in grade 3B with the Rock.
Simon McKerrell recently gave a recital at the King’s Hall at Newcastle University in England. It was recorded and he has subsequently released the tracks from the recital and they are available through iTunes and other digital media outlets like Amazon (google is your friend). It is not being released on any physical media like a CD. The liner notes are available on Simon’s website. The site also states that Simon was playing a set of 2011 Doug MacPherson drones with Ezeedrone tenor reeds and a cane bass. Now, using Ezeedrone tenor reeds is an incredibly common practice regardless of the pipe one is playing. I bring this up because the only audio I knew of for the longest time of MacPherson’s pipes was a YouTube video of Scott Hannah playing. Having enquired of Scott what setup he was using (via FB) he obliged with the info that he was playing Ezeedrone tenors and a Kinnaird bass. That YouTube video is here:
Obviously he is getting a very good sound. He told me to set the Ezeedrone tenors by mouth, that is sucking air through them at the same time and ensuring they sound the same note. He also mentioned efficiency which is always key.
Back to Simon McKerrell’s live album, I was on the fence about buying it because it was a live album, and not the Glenfiddich or whatever. But, once I saw he was playing a VERY modern set of pipes and that I happened to own a set of, I was totally curious what kind of sound he was getting out of them. My other concern of some pipe albums is the lack of drone volume in the recordings. Many do a fine job but I always worry I’m buying an album of a bombard with a couple of bumblebees in the background. Well, never fear, the reputation for MacPherson drones to be robust goes untarnished. The recording is very well done, and while there is clapping at the end of each set, I haven’t found any distracting noises during the tunes. It is so good, in fact, that I’ve listened to it about 4 times now and I haven’t even owned it 24 hours yet. Obviously an iPhone and headphones help one listen while performing other tasks, but you get the idea. I might also be so bold to comment on the playing and tune selection. While there are only 8 tracks they are all very good. Simon is also an uilleann piper and I think it shows some in his playing, which is very musical. Simon’s playing is very grace note filled, not that he’s playing any more than anyone else, but they seem to take up more space, connecting melody notes together, giving a very unified form of expression. For example, doublings are quite open in comparison to some of his peers, taps are all big and punchy, and his most excellent birl seems to last the whole A in some of his shorter reels. Simon is also not shy about substituting non-standard notes into several melodies, not for show, but they always uniquely add to the melody which is refreshing. Buy the album!
Now that I’ve bored you to death, what does this all have to do with Patrick? If you read my last post I had replaced the Naill spec Rocket tenors in my Henderson’s with Canning’s, Ezeedrone’s suave younger brother. I figured, ah, close enough. So I left the Kinnaird bass (I use a low-pitch one) in the MacPherson’s but swapped out the tenors for Canning’s. But, I have to make a valid comparison. So, here’s all Kinnaird’s:
I tried to keep all the variables constant, so that’s about as close a comparison as you’re going to get. The mic is about chanter level but behind and to my left, tenor side. I think I’ll stick with all Kinnaird, but part of that is I think I want the Canning tenors in the Henderson’s! Also, the MacPherson’s are the band pipe so I’m also looking for the most robust sound. But, that didn’t stop me from playing a few more tunes with the Canning tenors still in. The first is a set I’m playing with a band mate, with the Good Drying by Roderick MacDonald added onto the end. The second tune, Mason’s Apron, was in a medley I constructed for the band, and as such I had simplified it some, specifically, removed the hornpipe shakes and just replaced them with ‘slow’ slurs, you might call them. In that vein, I did the same to the Good Drying, which is full of shakes. Well, at least until I got to the 4th part where my brain got confused as to whether the next note was a C necessitating preparation for the the slow slur (no troublesome E grace note) or D necessitating a doubling (requiring the E grace note), the result being that some of the slow slurs on C turned back into hornpipe shakes on C. Oops. My bad, also, on the chokes.
Lastly, I left a couple of 2/4 Marches out of the last post, and I figured you haven’t heard a recording yet of my kids coming home, knocking on the door, and yelling “candy” at me before mom shoes them away so here’s one more.