Monthly Archives: December 2015

Unstable Drones? Check your E! + AyrFire chanter & MacLellan reed

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.

Mo Ghile Mear, O’Neili’s, and Ger the Rigger

March of the King of Laois, 1st Hype Cowboy Division, and Pressed for Time