Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews of CDs, pipes, etc…

Just needed to play my MacPherson’s!

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:

Deer Forest – all Kinnaird

Then swap the Canning tenors in:

Deer Forest – Canning tenors swapped in

The first line of the tune from each of the above recordings spliced together:

1st line Deer Forest, first all Kinnaird’s then Canning tenors swapped in

and finally the low As from the beginning of each spliced together:

All Kinnaird then Canning tenors swapped in, low A only

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.

Wee Michael’s March (John McCusker), Mason’s Apron, Good Drying (Roderick MacDonald)

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.

Rossshire Volunteers (John Connon) and Cowal Gathering (PM John McLellan)

I have no idea why everyone doesn’t play Kinnaird drone reeds.

Super short post today. As you know, I play nothing but a full Kinnaird setup in my Gellaitry pipes and they sounding uhmayzin (that’s some west texas drawl fer ya). I done figured I’d put them in my MacPherson pipes and see how they went. The answer: fantastic. So, why don’t you play Kinnaird drone reeds? I just ordered me some from Gord at islandbagpipe.com so I could play a set in both pipes without swapping out. The one recording below is of a tune I wrote followed by one I didn’t played on the MacPherson pipes with Kinnaird drone reeds, accompanied by a Colin Kyo laminate chanter with a Shawn Husk chanter reed that has had its middle carved away as it was a bit too hard. Sorry about the E being a little out and that squawk in the middle.

Marcus McLaurin of the 772nd Tank Battalion, WWII (Patrick McLaurin) and Spanner in the Works (Hamish Moore, I’m told)

Big Comp Tunes and the McLaren Synthetic Reed

One nice thing about having 3 pipes is you can be pretty sure at least one of them will be going really well. Right now, those are my band pipes. 1950’s Hende’s with Naill-spec Rocket tenors and a Canning polycarbonate tongued bass (I prefer this over the carbon fiber bass). My fingers were going fairly well so I whipped out the big competition tunes. The biggest disappointment was having to rerecord the Lucy Cassidy/Curlew set after the MSR as I fumbled really bad in the last line of the Curlew and by the second go around my fingers were getting tired (as I had spent the previous 45 minutes testing prototype drone reeds before I decided to whip these tunes out upon putting my regular reeds back in) and hence my grip unfortunately got a little tighter with the fatigue and my E grace note problem reared its ugly little head in the 3rd part of the Curlew (just listen for all the missing grace notes in the 1st and 5th bars after the throw). I’ve been able to retrain that finger to play taorluaths (so I have some hope of playing a crunluath at some point, now you know why I don’t play Piobaireachd), GDEs, and the occasional D doubling/shake when it’s feeling cooperative but my pinkie is bound and determined to ruin every single E grace note I try to play. Relaxing the fingers helps A LOT! Anybody know how to cut the nerve between my brain and my left pinkie finger? Enough excuses, I did go on to play Crossing the Minch and Donella Beaton as a backup HJ, so there you go. Another note on the Curlew though. The first bar of each part starts with a D throw and the last bar of each part starts with a GDE on CAA. This is all well and good if you’re playing a light throw but I think a heavy throw fits much better and instead of GDE on CAA I prefer to play a taorluath from C to A; note that there is still a GDE pattern but the D and E grace notes are wrapped up in the taorluath. I feel this gives it the right amount of bubblyness to match the heavy throw at the beginning of the line. Colin Kyo chanter and Gilmour reed, but I bet you knew that! If you’re new to the blog, I place the recorder up on a book shelf and walk around in circles (when I’m not playing in the walk-in closet anyway, there it’s about belly height but I face away from it) because I hate not being able to hear the drones in recordings of the bagpipe; so the chanter might seem quiet at points because the drones are pointed right at the mic as I walk around.

The Rossshire Volunteers (John Connon), Susan MacLeod (Donald MacLeod), Charlie’s Welcome (out of Scott MacAulay’s book, adaptation of Duncan Johnstone’s setting)

Lucy Cassidy (George McIntyre) and The Curlew (Donald MacPherson, Clydebank)

Crossing the Minch (Donald MacLeod) and Donella Beaton (George Johnstone)

I’ve added a direct link to the Bob Pekaar Tune Encyclopedia on the right side of the webpage at the top of the “Non-Bagpipe Blog-oid Links” section in case you want to locate any of the tunes I play.

The newest version of the McLaren synthetic chanter reed doesn’t seem all too different from the last version I played with. Noticeably, it now has 2 rubber bands instead of 1. Previously, I had only gotten it to work in the Kron Medalist, and I have found the same to be true pretty much even now. However, I had to remove one band to get the best result. Otherwise the Medalist resembled a smallpipe chanter with a rather muffled low A coupled with the rather strong high A offered by the synthetic reed. Removing one band allowed the volume of the low A to increase significantly. Removal of both bands resulted in a wonky E that could be blown over a wide ranges of pitches. Here is a very quick snippet of the Kron Medalist with the McLaren synthetic reed:

High Drive (Gordon Duncan) and Arthur Bignold of Lochrosque

Trying the reed in a couple other chanters was unsuccessful. The McC2 chanter played well with both bands on the reed, with no soft low A, but the high G was 30-41 cents sharp even with the hole over half covered with tape, probably a function of having 2 bridles on the reed. Hear the few notes played on the McC2 here:

1st part of Arthur Bignold of Lochrosque

but discover here why it isn’t going to work here:

1st part of the High Drive (Gordon Duncan)

Overall chirpiness is what kept the AyrFire chanter from working well with the reed as well. The McC2 and AyrFire required the use of both bands on the reeds to keep the E from going wonky; otherwise the combination might have worked if only one band could have been used to minimize the tape on high G, though I’m not overly confident about that conclusion.

Gellaitry’s with AyrFire and Colin Kyo chanters

Sorry for all the posts as of late. You can tell how this goes. Patrick gets new piping product in. Patrick goes crazy with recordings. Patrick gets in trouble for shirking his duties around the house. Time spent piping dwindles. Repeat.

But, I really wanted to clear up something in my last post (which has been edited), and that is my manipulations of the MacLellan reed were the source of the unsteadiness of the reed and not the oval low A hole as I suggested. In addition to trying the MacLellan reed that I disfigured in a Colin Kyo chanter, I also dislodged my favorite solo reed from my favorite solo chanter (gasp, I know) and tried it in the AyrFire chanter. Sure enough, the disfigured MacLellan was unsteady in the Colin Kyo and the AyrFire played fine with my solo Gilmour reed. Yay! Recordings below in my solo pipe (favorite, duh!), Gellaitry’s with Kinnaird drone reeds.

Although the MacLellan reed is now kinda bleh, I did notice when reeding the Kyo that I had to pull the reed out quite a bit and the pitch ultimately settled around 472 Hz. Which is pretty cool because my solo Gilmour is usually around 485 Hz, but it’s a really easy reed about to give up the ghost. The Gilmour in the AyrFire came in around 480 Hz. So, note to self: try some more MacLellan’s in the Kyo for a flatter pitch, and not a gut buster reed. The high G was a bit sharp and required a bit of tape, but that could be my fault with the reed manipulation stuff. I mean, the blades aren’t even aligned anymore. Another note to self: do not use pliers to hold reeds while you hammer a nail into the bottom of the reed (which doesn’t do anything by the way); just stick with the mandrel inserted far enough that it actually does something. Enough talk, more playing.

1. Colin Kyo – MacLellan reed – Delvinside – laminate chanter

2. AyrFire – Gilmour reed – Delvinside, Thief of Lochaber (arr. Donald MacLeod), I Laid a Herring in Salt, Troy’s Wedding, Kenneth MacDonald’s Jig (Norman MacDonald)

3. AyrFire – Gilmour reed – 74th’s Farewell to Edinburgh, Shepherd’s Crook, Miss Proud

4. AyrFire – Gilmour reed – Clumsy Lover (Neil Dickie, hornpipe), 1st Hype Cowboy Division (Murray Blair) – last time I played these was like 10 years ago

I did notice my fingers getting a bit tired so I switched back to the Colin Kyo with the Gilmour reed to see if it was just fatigue from playing so much or fatigue from the slightly different finger spread/spacing on the AyrFire. It would seem to not be fatigue from amount of playing but from adjusting to the AyrFire, so you get one more recording. I think the Colin Kyo still has the smallest finger spread of all chanters and that helps me play it well, and other chanters not so much, haha, hehe, doh.

5. Colin Kyo – Gilmour reed – Up ‘an Adam (Murray Blair) – sight read, blackwood solo chanter

AyrFire chanter again and the band pipe

The medium reed I got from Colin in the AyrFire chanter was just a tad on the easy side as I stated in my previous post. Except for one day a long time ago I’ve never had any luck using a reed mandrel to open up a reed to make it harder. Until today. Turns out I’ve been a pansy and just not sticking the mandrel up far enough the reed’s rear end. I previously always tried to make sure the mandrel never extended beyond the binding hemp (the black stuff, well, usually black), but with that I could never actually get the mandrel to open up the reed using the suggested twisting motion. So, today I tried using a nail. Literally just stuck the nail in, held the reed, and took a hammer to the end of the nail and guess what? Nothing happened. Go figure. So I was like, “crap.” How am I going to make this reed just a tad bit harder? Step 1: Stick that mandrel in there! Not like all the way or anything, but the tip of the mandrel will likely need to be beyond the binding thread just a tad to get to the end of the staple. This worked so well, I took it too far. So then I had to break out the pliers and kinda squish the reed back together. I squeezed in the same area, about half on the black binding, half on the reed (though I’m unsure if the pliers were even touching the reed). Colin would be proud, or disgusted, I’m not sure which. The reed now plays at a grand 33-34 inches of water, just where I like it. It now has a bit of resistance I can lean against. This inspired me to play a set of tunes I haven’t played in forever, and so the recordings kinda suck, but the first hornpipe is one I first heard on Colin’s World’s Greatest Pipers album, the Fairie’s Hornpipe. It’s spelled Fairy in Duncan Johnstone’s Jigs and Hornpipes book but what’re you gonna do. Now, I’ve left out a good 20 minutes of destroying this reed prior to my mandrel discovery so I can’t say for sure yet if the critique I’m about to lay down is against the reed (and my non-existent ability to not mess it up) or the AyrFire chanter. I had a heck of a time getting a semi-decent recording because the drones always sounded out of tune. Why? Because I can’t blow steady and something about the low A on the AyrFire or this reed allows a bit of fluctuation on low A. I mean, I was swapping out drone reeds left and right and casting voodoo spells all over Murray Henderson, Xavier Boderiou, and curse the thought, even Mark Lee for making unsteady drone reeds. Okay, that last one gave me a reality check. So I got real and figured out I can’t blow worth a squirrel poop. Anywho, I’ll need to swap in another reed and see if this characteristic stays with the chanter or follows the reed. I can’t help but wonder if these elongated, oval holes might be the source. You’ll notice at the end the pitch is a bit variable before I cut out, something that isn’t present in the second recording with a different chanter and reed. EDIT: I can say for sure it’s the reed, my manipulations are undoubtedly the reason for the lackluster steadiness of the reed; see next newest post for recording of AyrFire chanter with a Gilmour reed that I haven’t disfigured (too much). So it’s the AyrFire chanter again in the MacPherson’s only this time I’ve gone back to the HHD tenor and Crozier glass bass combo. I’ve been swapping so much recently I decided to finally get my band pipes settled again so I tried to record the tune set again on my band pipes (Henderson’s with Rocket tenors and Canning polycarb bass) with the standard Colin Kyo chanter/Gilmour reed combo. My birls sucked more but I didn’t have the big flub half-way through Fleshmarket Close. Ah, I suck. I would say enjoy but I think try not to die would be more accurate.

Fairy’s Hornpipe, Jolly Beggarman, Pigeon on the Gate, Fleshmarket Close, Kelsey’s Wee Reel – Da MacPherson’s

Fairie’s Hornpipe, Jolly Beggarman, Pigeon on the Gate, Fleshmarket Close, Kelsey’s Wee Reel – Ze Henderson’s

Marr poly chanter + Gellaitry drones

Recently I had the chance to review a set of Marr drones (recordings here and here), and now I’ve played a Marr chanter as well. The chanter has a unique design so it is easily recognizable. I ended up with tape on every finger hole except the A’s, so the chanter is in general, a tad sharp. That’s not a terrible thing though (and maybe intentional, I dunno), as you’re pretty much never going to have a flat note! In that, the note with the least amount of tape was high G, which is odd in that every other chanter, this note has the most tape. Needless to say, I like it! However, for those of you who like to play the sharper version of high G in Piobaireachd maybe need not apply, as this chanter may not get you there (see this post and this post). That said, this would seemingly be a great band chanter as you’d never have to worry about carving the chanter. Whereas McCallum bagpipes has a band chanter with effectively the same property (never having to carve a hole) because they’re big and oval (the holes all still requiring tape), the Marr chanter keeps the hole size to a reasonable level (still round too) and you just tape them down a bit. The holes are a bit bigger than what you’ll find on most solo chanters, but that would seemingly be to compensate for the need for tape so that no notes become noticeably quiet in comparison to adjacent notes. So, it was quick to tune once I got tape on the holes. A picture of the chanter right next to my Colin Kyo chanter is below. Note that the exact same brand reed (Gilmour) was used in both chanters (you can see the CK tuned very well with no tape save for high G, furthermore, you can see the CK is capable of the sharper Piobaireachd high G [which is stupendous by the way]). You can click on the picture to get the full size version. Not the greatest picture in the world, I admit, but you’ll notice how all the holes between low A and high G (not including them) are higher on the Marr, which is consistent with those notes being sharp and the tape needed to tune them.

Lastly, some recordings with the chanter plugged into my Gellaitry pipes. The first is of some common 4/4’s and then on to a couple tunes I’m learning (so cut me some slack!). Also, it’s a new reed so the high A isn’t quite broken in yet. I also retied the blowpipe stock and went back to a shorter mouthpiece. The whole pipe is more comfortable now, yay!

Rowan Tree, Murdo’s Wedding, Wings, Scotland the Brave

Abercairny Highlanders and Miss Proud

Marr drones + Gael and McC2 poly chanters

You may recall from recent post that a friend of mine won some Marr bagpipes. So, just the other day we had a drone reed optimization party to get the best drone reeds for each pipe. Out of Redwood, Henderson Harmonic Deluxe, Ezeedrone, Selbie, Wygent, Kinnaird, Colin Kyo, and Crozier cane we settled on Redwood tenors and a Selbie bass in the Marr’s. The Redwood tenors are very bright and solid while the Selbie bass gave a very deep and broad bass tone. Both he and I have never had much luck with the Redwood bass reed, regardless of pipe. Though the subject of another blog post, my Gellaitry’s ended up with Kinnaird tenors and a Wygent bass. Other reeds of note were the Crozier cane and Henderson Harmonic Deluxe tenor reeds.

Before we get to the recordings, a little bit about the chanters. There’s a thread on the bobdunsire.com forums at the moment that is a review of Bb chanters. Although the Gael is a 470 Hz chanter (not 466 Hz Bb), it is the first to be reviewed and a direct comparison is made in one post between the Gael and McC2 chanters. Specifically, that they are not too different pitch wise (Gael ~3 Hz flatter) and so one might as well go with the McC2 as the commonly accepted superior chanter (ya know, Willie McCallum designed it and all (though Jim McGillivray designed the Gael, also note the Gael was designed as a band chanter for lower grade bands to get their pitch down)). So, I’ve got both of those chanters in poly. So what follows are the same tunes played on the same Marr bagpipe with the same drone and chanter reeds, the only difference being the chanter. For those into such things, the drones are tied into a grommetted Gannaway bag.

So, you’re bored of reading my discourse now, so on to the recordings! Oh wait, the Gael came in at 472 Hz, the McC2 at 480 Hz. That’s a difference of 8 Hz for those of you too lazy to do the math yourself. Also, I’m walking around in a circle relative to the recorder (a Zoom H2), so you’ll hear tenor, bass, and chanter dominant parts as I walk around. Also, sorry about the lip seal noises, I passed my dissertation defense at the expense of not practicing for the last 2 months.

Gael – Swallow’s Tail and Rakish Paddy

The B on the Gael was a teeny bit flat. I’ve got tape on C, D, and F. The high G is in tune when I remember to blow out the high A.

McC2 – Swallow’s Tail and Rakish Paddy

The McC2 is pretty well balanced with tape on high G, F, E, C, and low A.

Redwood reeds in Gellaitry pipes

Highland Bagpipe Company had a promotion going on that if you spent more than 50 pounds you’d be entered to win a set of Marr bagpipes. Well, I didn’t win, but the friend I told about it did. But, I did end up with a set of Redwood drone reeds. Tim Gellaitry told me on the phone he thought they sounded nice in his pipes so I figured, why not? You’ll find the drones go out towards the end of each recording as my sessions are short so the only recordings I get are of things getting warmed up (except the last recording, of my tunes, where I’m about done warming up but had to stop to attend the kiddos). I find the tenor reeds to move with the chanter very well, the bass less so and therefore requiring more tuning, but they all settle in nice. They are very bold reeds. I get quite a nice lovely ring off the tenors, with maybe a bit of edge to them. This fiber glass thing has me wondering about Wygent’s and the reintroduction of Crozier’s versions. We’re having a spot of trouble getting them going in my friend’s Robertson’s (same guy who won the Marr pipes), the bass being a bit temperamental (it’s either off or growling), but hopefully we’ll get it sorted (though it’s a bit tough to beat Canning’s in Robertson’s!). I don’t find that the tuning pin (not screw, it just a pressure fitted o-ring) does just a whole lot, and the bridle is sensitive, but you’re not likely to find many bridles that aren’t. I got them set quickly though. Sorry for the gaffs!

David Crosbie Miller, Battle of Waterloo, 51st Highland Division

Congress Reel, Farewell to Connaught, Rakish Paddy, Dick Gossip’s Reel, Ger the Rigger

Last but not least are some tunes I wrote, the first is the first I ever wrote with a name my dad came up with, the second named after my dad, and the last named after my wife. You can find sheet music here. Enjoy!

Empty Quiver, Hilton McLaurin, Latisha McLaurin’s Jig

Oh yeah, old style Kron band chanter with Gilmour reed.

McLaren synthetic reed + Kron Medalist chanter

I’ve had a couple McLaren synthetic reeds laying about for quite a while. I purchased them new when they first came out (2009) but never had any luck with them. I could never balance the scale in any of the chanters I had/have. Correspondence with Malcolm McLaren, the manufacturer, resulted in me getting a second batch that wasn’t much better than the first. I chalked it up to long distance shipping and Lubbock’s climate, as the youtube demonstration of the reed had it sounding decently well in what I believe was a Naill chanter (I didn’t have the same result).

As I was trying to put together a recording of the Kron Medalist chanter for the blog I found a hard time reeding it without getting a flat F# and C#. I tried many brands and while the severity of the flatness would change, it would never go away. So, before I put it up, I figured, why not put a McLaren in there and see what happens. AND BOY  WAS I SURPRISED! I’ve got 1 piece of tape (high G) on the Kron Medalist with a strength 15 (~23-24 inches of water) McLaren synthetic reed.

First thing I noticed, you have to blow these reeds out. I regularly play a smidge above 30 inches of water so I felt I had to go easy on the reed, however I found the pitch would drop off just a bit and the reed will cut out, as you’ll hear in the recording below. Also, my drones weren’t set well for this easy of a reed, so they tended to drop out when I didn’t keep the pressure up, so in the first tune I played with this setup (Hector the Hero), you’ll hear the tuning go in and out as I unnecessarily baby the reed and show off how poorly my drone reeds are set to play at this pressure (and how poor my blowing is in general).

Lastly, I noticed (outside of blowing/pressure issues), my whole pipe NEVER had to be retuned. It stayed right where I set it (low A = 480 Hz). Yes, as you go up the scale, it starts sounding a bit, well, thin isn’t the word I’m looking for. If a cane reed on high A sounds like a fine wine glass, the McLaren sounds like a regular wine glass. One last thing. Since I didn’t have much to lose with the reeds, I’d moved the bridle all over the place and have just approximated where it was when I received it from Malcolm, so the state of this reed as I’ve played it isn’t necessarily what you’d get straight from McLaren.

Here ’tis:

Long list of tunes – first time out on the reed

Salute to James A. Henderson

Scots Air Hornpipe

Oh yeah, pipes are 1950’s Henderson’s with Crozier Cane tenors and Colin Kyo bass on a Monarch medium swan neck bag, Crisler adjustable blowstick, and a TrueFit cover.