Having switched studios, my daughter’s yearly dance recital did not conflict with the Rio Grande Valley Celtic Festival & Highland Games in May (Albuquerque, NM) so I finally had a chance to return to a favorite games of mine, after 15 years if I’ve done my figuring correctly. At only 5 hours away this is the closest piping competition to Lubbock, TX. Two weeks later, I competed at my first indoor competition, the Austin Piping and Drumming Competition; Austin is 6 hours away. If I were not going to Yellowstone for vacation, I’d also attend the Pikes Peak Celtic Festival in Colorado Springs in another 2 weeks (about an 8 hour drive), making my competition season 4 weeks long. But, that’s it really for games that have piping competitions. There’s one in Tulsa, OK in September but I can’t find a website, hrm.
With owning many pipes, the first thing to do is pick which set of pipes to play in competition. The pipes I play most are my band pipes, my old Hendersons. The only other two currently in rotation are my Colin Kyo and Tim Gellaitry sets. It had been some time since I featured Tim’s pipe in competition and so I decided to go with them. This decision was reinforced by the glorious drone tone I’ve been getting with them. I have always loved the tone of them as one of the best and most stable using all original Kinnaird drone reeds, however I have recently switched to Chris Armstrong’s X-TREME bass drone reed and it is all sorts of fantastic. THE BEST BASS DRONE I HAVE EVER HEARD. Coupled with the tenors still using original Kinnaird, I get a most excellent, harmonic drone tone. I got many compliments from fellow competitors and judges alike on the tone of the drones. It should come as no surprise, my chanter of choice is Colin Kyo. A custom straight cut Husk was used in ABQ as their weather is similar to Lubbock’s but it started double toning on F in the humidity of Austin so about 10 minutes before I was to start my series of performances in Austin, I had to switch to a different CK chanter equipped with a Gilmour reed that’s as probably as old as my 7 year old son, luckily it played nicer with the humidity.
Below, you’ll find recordings of the pipes as played in Austin, though the chanter isn’t quite settled in for non-humid Lubbock as I’m still moving the reed and tape back to where they were prior to Austin. EJ Jones once told me it takes days to tune a bagpipe. TRUTH.
The mic is behind me so you can hear the drones clearly (understatement of the month). Most of the tunes below are competition tunes and some are ones I actually played, but not all.
One topic I have pondered much in recent years is tempo. I grew up listening to recordings of pipe music about as old as I was. Much of my MSR repertoire mimics the 1984 Grant’s Piping Championship album (available on iTunes if you can tolerate the random distortion from the “old” recording). While digitizing this album yesterday from my old cassette tape, I took a few tempo measurements. Iain MacFadyen played one of my MSR: Kantara to El Arish at 74 bpm, Inveraray Castle at 142 bpm, and Captain Lachlan MacPhail of Tiree at 95 bpm. Truly an engaging performance. The slowest reel came from Hugh MacCallum’s John MacKechnie at 85 bpm, Malcolm MacRae’s at 98, Murray Henderson’s at 92, Gavin Stoddart’s at 90, and Bill Livingstone’s at 94. Other strathspey tempos were anywhere from 128-138. Marches in the low 70s. I feel that common tempos have fallen to slightly lower values at the current time. Marches are often in the mid 60s, strathspeys right around 120, and reels in the low to mid 80s. While I have enjoyed more measured performances, with great care taken in rhythm, and have tried to mimic them on occasion, I have come to the conclusion that I prefer slightly faster tempos. Marches are for marching and strathspeys & reels are dance music (and I don’t mean modern highland dancing). Strathspeys are a derivative of reels evidenced by, if nothing else, the often quoted SWMW emphasis in 4/4 time strathspeys which directly coincides with the cut time of reels: 2/2. Piping has many idioms, and I find myself favoring the THIS IS A HIGHLAND BAGPIPE AND I’M GOING TO GET YOUR BLOOD PUMPING style because MACPHERSON HOLDS THE FLOOR.
The Rock – a round hornpipe by Jimmy Mitchell (“The Rock” is a nickname that was given to Jimmy)
Growing up in Texas, I got to hear this tune from various groups Jimmy was associated with: Hamilton Pipe Band (precursor to the St. Thomas Alumni Pipe Band) and The Rogues. Hamilton featured the tune on their album “First and Ten” coupled with Hector the Hero (by James Scott Skinner). As with many other albums, these groups and their music influenced my repertoire and I’ve played The Rock for many years. Fate would have it that the first two parts became our introductory tune for the Lyon College Pipe Band medley at the World Pipe Band Championships in 2001 (2nd place in grade 3B under Willie Muirhead). I ran into Jimmy after a long hiatus at the North Texas Irish Festival where he and The Rogues are still jammin’ with Doug Frobese filling out the pipe section (Doug followed Donald MacPhee as pipe major of Hamilton). I get a request for the sheet music to The Rock regularly and so I asked Jimmy if I could share it as a tune of the month and he agreed! Yay!
In homage to its roots, I perform it here with Hector the Hero and the graduated tempo increase into The Rock. Played on my Gellaitry pipes (original Kinnaird tenors/X-TREME bass) and Colin Kyo chanter (Shepherd Bb reed that is as hard as a rock, pun intended).
Well, I’m just about done being sick since Thanksgiving. Being married to a pediatrician, having 2 kids, and teaching at a university of 35,000 students keeps one exposed and infected with every respiratory illness that goes around each year. But I’m coming back.
My original goal for Tunes of the Month was to expose people to great competition type tunes that were seldom played, e.g. Murdo MacGillivray of Eoligarry. However, I got into a really big Irish music kick (could you tell? polka polka polka) over the winter break and so I’ve been throwing that stuff at you instead. And…it continues! Sort of.
Willie’s Fling – Novice Tune of the Month – A great little 2 line strathspey you’re supposed to play like a reel. Don’t let the tempo catch you off guard, it sounds good slow also.
Muineira de Casu – Intermediate Tune of the Month – A great 3 part “jig” from Galicia that’s a hoot to play and will challenge your Scottish based idiomatic playing like no other. I’m playing the first of 2 versions provided in the file; the second version is more common in the folk bands I’ve heard play the tune.
Here’s some audio of me playing these tunes in a set together, though if you keep up with the blog recent posts have included these tunes for a little while.
When I first acquired my Colin Kyo bagpipes from a friend they were “tied” into a grommetted Gannaway bag. At the time this did not bother me. On a tangent, I’ve longed neglected my old Henderson pipes due to difficulties with reeding the drones. With X-treme tenor reeds, a short, inverted Ezeedrone bass reed, and a new bass bottom with a bigger bore the Hendersons have been singing tied into an old L&M bag I got off of someone for $50. So, I’ve been playing my old Hendersons a lot. In addition, my Glencoe and Terry sets are also both tied into old L&M bags. I LOVE THEM. Anyways, my Colin Kyo pipes weren’t being used much due to the bag issue as I came to dislike the bulk of the grommets on the Gannaway. So, on the hunt for old L&M bags I came across one that never even had the holes cut. Sweet! So, I’m set to go now. And they sound fantastic with their new bag.
The problem started when I thought a live Facebook broadcast of a practice session of me playing my newly set up Colin Kyo bagpipes was a good idea. Lots of people tuned in, but when I went back to listen to it, there was a lot of audio quality loss. This was a Facebook thing as I guess they think video is more important. The source of the audio was my Zoom H2 recorder wired into the lightning port of my iPhone via a Blue Mikey Digital. So, this post is to offer the audio simultaneously recorded by my Zoom H2 during that session so you can hear what the pipes really sounded like. I haven’t included all the recordings because the first few were during warm up and had me sorting the chanter tuning. I last played the chanter with the bag unseasoned and so it was setup for a wet reed (pushed farther in the seat), but the bag having been seasoned since then left the reed dry and therefore sharp, and then flat because I pulled it out too much, and then just about right.
Colin Kyo drones + Colin Kyo chanter + regular Ezeedrone reeds + 5+ year old Gilmour chanter reed that just won’t quit.
I’ve finally gotten back into playing my first set of pipes, a set of 1950s Hendersons. Years ago I played them with Selbie drone reeds and they sounded good, very good, for quite some time. Over the last few years, as I’ve acquired other bagpipes, they’ve fallen by the wayside, to rest in the back of a drawer (I have a chest of drawers dedicated to bagpipes). But, I’ve decided that maybe the 1960s Sinclairs aren’t going to be my band set after all since we’re not going to tune to Bb since that’s a pain; not all Bb chanters actually tune that easily to Bb. So, we’re moving up a few Hertz to 473 Hz and I reevaluated which pipes I was going to play and I’ve been trying my old Hendersons again. I am borrowing the bass bottom joint from my Kron Standards in place of the Henderson’s; the Henderson bottom joint is bored the same as the tenor bottoms which I find odd. The slightly larger Kron Standard bass bottom bore gives a little more power to the bass. We’re talking going from an ID of 0.310″ to about 0.322″. I’d like to get another bass bottom joint at around 0.340″.
I’m running them with X-TREME tenor drone reeds and an inverted, short Ezeedrone bass. I find they are quite stable and don’t need much movement to retune them. That, and they’re tied into an old L&M bag I bought off someone for $50 several years ago; the bag is a dream. New Colin Kyo chanter, Husk reed.
The competition in Salado, TX is coming up soon so I’ve been thinking about what tunes I’m going to play solo. I’ve got plenty to pick from, just have to settle. Here is what I practiced today:
Well, it’s not exactly a perfect comparison. I just happened to play the same sets on both pipes in recent days. Here’s the skinny:
1960ish Sinclair drones with Redwood bass + Rocket tenors (no markings) + original Sinclair chanter (though carved) with Husk chanter reed = 467 Hz with a clear high A
1974-1983 Glencoe drones (1 of about 250) with Canning bass and tenors + Colin Kyo chanter with Gilmour chanter reed = 476 Hz with the crowiest high A ever (I just can’t throw this reed away, all the other notes sound so good)
Glencoe pipes were made by Matt Marshall up in Ontario after having immigrated from Scotland in 1974. Matt worked at R G Lawrie bagpipes before moving so I figure his pipes are of some sort of Lawrie specification.
It is amazing how much easier the Colin Kyo chanter is to play! The Sinclair is my band chanter so it gets a lot of play time. But today, I whipped out the Glencoes with Kyo chanter and my fingers were like, “Aaaahhhhhh, I know where the holes are!” Had a blast.
What’s in a Heritage? Pun intended, but this post is about non-Heritage Kron drones. I bought a set of Kron standard pipes off eBay. First, I spent some time gleaning information from the internet about my new-to-me pipes. The history of Kron pipes starts with the fact that Robertson taught Kilgour and Kilgour taught Charley Kron how to make pipes. So there’s a grandfather in the lineage of pipemaking who was quite a master.
According to this direct account from Charley himself on Gordon MacDonald’s Island Bagpipe “Bagpipe ID” website, my new to me Kron drones were made between 1995 and 1998. Mine are stamped C.E. Kron on each drone piece and are therefore missing the Kilgour stamp indicating they were made after Kilgour left in 1995. Charley states he and Dave Atherton stopped stamping the drones around 1998.
The Heritage line of Kron pipes wasn’t released until 2001. Therefore these pipes are the Kron standard model. This was confirmed by many before I bid on them on eBay. Jim McGillivray tells the story of the birth of the Heritage line in this post on the Bob Dunsire forum: http://forums.bobdunsire.com/forums/showthread.php?t=62266.
If you look at Andrew Lenz’s collection of drone bore measurements, Shawn Husk and Mark Lee both report the Kron standard bass middle small bore at 0.422″, shy of the Heritage’s 0.438″ and David Glen’s 0.44(0/6)”. I bring this up because my Kron standard has a bass middle small bore of 0.378″. In Charley’s account, at some point the bass middle bore was opened to increase the volume of the bass drone, so I obviously have an earlier set of the Kron standard model before the bass middle was opened. All other specifications on my pipe match those listed on Andrew’s website. It is interesting to note that most pipes have bass middle small bores of 0.420″+. Skimming through the bore measurements, Gillanders, Grainger, and Lawrie are the only other semi-modern pipes with (some) bass middle small bores below 0.400″.
Apparently many (including Ron “Ringo” Bowen and Jim McGillivray) thought the bass was (still?) too quiet on Kron standards in 2001 (see Bob Dunsire link above in the 3rd paragraph). I’m curious when exactly the bass middle small bore was opened. Was it before or after creation of the Heritage line in 2001? Charley Kron mentions a review of Kron standard pipes in Piper and Drummer Magazine that was not very good due to a weak bass. So was the bass middle small bore increased as a result of that review or was that review of a Kron standard pipe that already had the bass middle bore opened? Research of the rec.music.makers.bagpipe news group lists many posts by Dave Atherton during his tenure at Kron. This post by madman/Dave on March 12, 1999 indicates the specifications of the Kron pipe hadn’t changed in 12 years. So a Kilgour & Kron pipe should have the same specs as early Kron pipes. This post by madman/Dave indicates, at least up until he wrote the post March 20, 1999, that the bores of Kron standards are the same Kilgour’s going back to ~1968. In this post by Andrew Berthoff we learn the date the survey of pipes was published in Piper & Drummer magazine: February 1996, the same survey that “panned” Kron pipes, as Charley put it. So, the bass middle small bore was not opened in response to the survey since it was in 1996 and at least up until 1999 the specifications of the Kron pipe had still not changed. Of course, Kron has modified his standard design yet again since Dave left in 2007 saying that he modified the bass drone once more, “borrowing elements from the Heritage bass,” to “beef up the sound.” See: http://cekron.com/bagpipes.htm. I don’t see any similarities between reported Kron standard bore specs and Heritage specs so I’m guessing no one has tabulated the new post-2007 Kron standard bores.
Many have quoted that Kron standards are modeled after David Glen bagpipes. However, if you compare the bore specifications between Kron standards and David Glen, you’ll not find many exact similarities (e.g. the difference in bass middle small bore quoted above). Mark Lee has confirmed the David Glen specs in Andrew’s bore specification sheet in this forum thread. Perhaps they mean they sound like, not patterned after, David Glen pipes. I cannot find any quote where Charley states they were designed after David Glen pipes. Dave Atherton once told me that his Glen style pipe was similar to the Kron standard pipe, though I don’t know if he meant the specs were the same or the resulting sound was the same. I have no idea what David Glen bagpipes sound like so I can’t make any comparison regarding tonal similarities despite their specification differences. Ringo, again from the Dunsire post linked in the 3rd paragraph, posted that his experience with the Kron standard pipes is that they are more like Lawrie pipes. I had come to a similar conclusion based on the similarity between bass middle small bore specs between Lawries I have measured and these Kron standards. However, my conclusions about similarity with Lawrie pipes was before I played and heard the Kron standards. I have a set of Lawrie reproductions in the form of Glencoe bagpipes made by Matt Marshall. I’m not convinced they’re tonally similar, though they aren’t really dissimilar either as I’ve heard wider extremes of bagpipe sound than between those two.
These Kron Standards are unique in my collection of bagpipes (I currently have 8 sets of highland bagpipes). The bells on the drones are very square with no fountain to speak of. The projecting mounts are well proportioned and attractive.
I played them first with the Original Kinnaird tenors they came with from the previous owner. The Kinnaird bass gurgled, coughed, and shut off. A couple hours later I reversed the tongue direction and it started working normally. Until that discovery, I played a standard Ezeedrone bass. Without cheating, what pitch do you think I’m playing at?
Then I figured I better switch out some drone reeds so I spent some time mouth blowing through a few. There weren’t too many that were better than original Kinnairds but Canning offered a different tone in the tenors. The Canning bass didn’t fly too well. Here the Canning tenors are accompanied by a working original Kinnaird bass.
Ultimately though, the Canning tenors were sucking air so I took them out. There’s nothing like an inefficient bagpipe to make your playing quality drop like a rock. Out came the Canning tenors and in went the original Kinnaird tenors now paired with the original Kinnaird bass. The pipe was efficient yet again and fun to play instead of a chore.
I was getting pretty tired by that point (they are tied into a large Gannaway, which is a bit too big, and probably hasn’t been seasoned in 2 years) but I wanted to run a few more drone reeds through so I mouthblew through some more. I plan to try a Selbie bass soon which had roughly the same tone as an inverted Ezee drone bass which were two of the best sounding bass drone reeds, though that’s very subjective. The Redwood bass had a different tone so that might be something to try as well (it’s currently rocking in my Sinclair pipe). I think the original Kinnaird had good solid tone. The standard Ezee bass was quite good too although I have concerns about stability based on pitch fluctuations with pressure. Crozier reeds of all sorts weren’t very promising; I haven’t found a pipe the V2 carbon reeds sound good in yet, though I haven’t been trying very hard. Ezee tenors were too mellow. Not sure I’ll bother with X-Treme, they are going well in my Colin Kyo pipes (ah, but I guess I should…).
I have a stash of Rocket reeds so I plugged some of those in last. One set had tenors that were bright like the original Kinnairds but smoother. The bass was also rather big. These Rockets are marked 32281 on the bass reed body, 375 on the bass reed tongue, and 266 on the tenor reed bodies. I don’t recall what pipe they were designed for.
A Rocket bass with 263 written on the body didn’t promise anything more than the Selbie/inverted Ezee and Rocket tenors with no number (but I believe were made for Atherton Premier pipes) were quite mellow when mouthblown, so I never blew them in the pipe. I look forward to trying more of my Rocket reeds once I get them back from loan. I’m using a Rocket bass in my Chris Terry pipes (on loan) and Rocket tenors in my Keith Jeffers pipes (on loan). I’m also using old Rockets in my Hendersons currently tuned with G drones, so not sure I’ll try those cause I’d hate for them to work well and have to come up with another set of G drone reeds on extenders. All this just goes to show there’s a lot to be said for matching reeds to pipes!
One thing I was quite surprised about is how flat the drones are. If you were trying to guess my pitch without cheating, I was playing at 467 Hz, just about spot on Bb. I’m using an old Sinclair chanter that I’ve carved to play in tune. Regular old Shawn Husk chanter reed.
The drones tune fairly normally with most reeds at this pitch, just a tad of hemp showing on the tenors and the bass is only a couple inches off the mount. Tuning screws are all out so the reeds are flatter too but that’s how I set up all my reeds. The bass on my old Sinclair pipes that the chanter came with is way higher on the pin than these Krons, albeit with a different reed. These Krons are also very blended. I kept wondering if the tenors are shutting off but then I check and they’re on and when you turn them off you’re like, oh, they were contributing quite a bit of tone.
They are very stable pipes with the right reeds. Like my Gellaitry, they sound good with the original Kinnaird tenor reeds which give the tenors a bit of power. There’s a lot to be said for the stability of original Kinnard drone reeds. I wonder how well Evolution Kinnaird’s would work? I don’t have any.
The quality of production of the pipes is very good. Even after almost 20 years you could swap the tenor bottoms between tenor tops and stocks without changing the hemp. The tuning chambers are still perfect. There’s no change in resistance as you move the drone tops up and down on the tuning pins.
I am thankful for Charley Kron, David Atherton, Mark Lee, Andrew Lenz, Ron Bowen, Bob Dunsire (RIP), and Gordon MacDonald for personal discussions and/or for their various websites and internet forum comments. Documentation is great!
My band here in Lubbock, the Llano Estacado (and District) Pipe Band (LEAD Pb), has recently switched from playing at A 482 Hz to playing at A 467 Hz, otherwise known as Bb. It is a glorious pitch to play at. I’m playing some 1960ish Sinclair pipes with its original chanter with a Shawn Husk chanter reed. I’ve Selbie tenor drone reeds and a Redwood bass drone reed. I think I need to spruce up the tenors a bit to match the bass. Hear below and enjoy!
As with most of my piping adventures, this one starts with someone asking me how to do something and then I take it way too far; and end up somewhere really cool! A local piper asked me, “How do you get your drones to tune to A440?” The answer, brass tubing! For bass drones and reeds, you’ll probably want 3/8″ K&S engineering brass tube, for tenors maybe the same or maybe 11/32″. It has to go on the outside of the reed tenon (where the hemp on the reed goes) but also on the inside of the drone reed seat (so it can’t be too big around). There are commercial drone extenders available but they do not get you down to A 440 Hz. The drone reed has to basically be sticking out the bottom of the drone stock just a little bit to have any chance of getting to A 440 Hz. See photo below of a tenor drone.
I’ve had limited success with 1/4″ tube put inside the bottom of the drone reed. It would seem to be drone reed dependent.
Of course, since I have yet to take this too far (there’s nothing new so far) I’m not actually going to use this to play with an A 440 Hz chanter (although I do have one). I’m going to use these now super flat drones to play with a normal A 470+ Hz chanter. Except, I won’t be tuning the drones to A but to the note G. Woot!
These are 1950’s Henderson pipes with Rocket drone reeds, Colin Kyo Pipeband/Samurai chanter, Shawn Husk chanter reed.
What’s tricky about tuning the drones to G is you have to retune the entire chanter. In a pinch it means taping every note except the Gs, and maybe F(#). I also tune the C to a C natural so as to play in the key of G. The tuning offsets can be had in the this chart (look at the middle table, the top table is the normal offsets for tuning against A drones; the bottom table is the offsets for tuning against B drones).
I can tell, you’re excited, because it sounds so cool! Hey, you can do it too! How? Go buy some brass tube (hobby or art shops usually have this), a tube cutter, and a cheap hand reamer (harbor freight has these). You’ll also need some teflon tape to seal the gap between the tube and the drone reed whether the tube goes on the outside of the drone reed tenon or the inside. Don’t forget the tube will have to also seat well in your drone reed seats. How to actually get it down flat enough is up to your pipes and your chosen drone reed. I’m using old Naill spec Rockets in the recordings above (there’s an “8” written on the bass drone tongue but that’s the only marking). The tube will need to be cut long enough so that the drone reed sticks out into the bag just a tad (bass drone stocks for tenors anyone?).
You’ll also need a chanter that doesn’t mind a lot of tape. I went through 3 before I found one that worked well enough for my liking: old carved up CK, Kron Medalist, and finally, third time’s a charm, a new CK Pipeband/Samurai prototype chanter (Thanks Murray Huggins!). Make sure you set your equal temperament regular old Korg $20 tuner to read in tune/green light on low and high G (instead of low and high A). Then use the offsets from the table linked above to dial in your chanter. Again, I tune the C to a C natural so there’s lots of tape on my C (this is really where things can get wonky, you’ll note a reluctant chanter when it is hesitant to switch to the C natural note if coming from B or D). I guess you could learn to cross finger C natural, but meh, I’m lazy. You could also buy a Boderiou Bagad chanter that comes with pastilles (inserts) that turn your C into a C natural for you (also F into F natural if you wanted to play in C major, muahahahahahahaha).
Lastly, you’ll need some tunes to play! Never fear, I’ve been playing smallpipes like this for a few months now and I’ve collected a lot of tunes in the key of G (again you need a C natural here; what’s the point of G drones if you aren’t going to play in G major?). The tunebook of my collected tunes can always be found on my Free Tunebooks page (you’re looking for the “A dorian chanter tunebook” as G major has the same notes as A dorian). I update it as I find new to me, but not copyrighted, tunes; always check back to see if there’s some new tunes. Also hit me up if you know of tunes that would work but I don’t have them in the book!