I purchased every chanter for this independent review.
A while back a had a post dedicated to reviewing modern chanters. It has been in need of update for a little while. More chanters have come out and my perspective on chanters has changed so I felt the need to rewrite/reorganize the content from the post into a dedicated page. The first step was to copy and paste that post into this one, and then edit it. Here goes.
There are a lot of really good chanters out on the market today. A lot. So many, that a ranking system as used before is inadequate. As such, I’ll aim to just just give you the low down on each chanter from my experience and let you come to your own conclusions.
You can find recordings of most of the chanters somewhere on this site; I’ve tried to provide a few links. Finally, recognize that any advice I give comes from my own experiences. Take it with as large a grain of salt as you deem worthy.
* Indicates it was designed by a Gold Medalist (hope I got them all in there).
@ Indicates I kinda wish I hadn’t sold it.
$ Indicates it’s what I use.
Apps – Designed by Chris Apps and made by MacLellan bagpipes. I found this chanter to tune alright, but that it has an odd bottom hand spacing. Again, comfort is a big thing for me. I find the more I have to think about where my fingers are going, the worse my playing gets, so I just did not have fun playing this chanter. I also found it incompatible with Apps G3 reeds obtained direct from the maker at the same time as the chanter purchase. Perhaps West Texas just does crazy things to reeds. There is a recording of it here.
*AyrFire – This is a chanter designed by Colin MacLellan in conjunction with Ayrshire bagpipes. A slightly bigger spread on the B and low A, which are also elongated. It has a very good and well balanced scale. It also has one of the flatter high Gs I’ve come across making it a good chanter for those who live in dry climates. Very rare (never?) to squeal on high G grace notes. Only comes in Delrin. Recordings can be had here (<- recommended), here, and here. I acquired a second one and it was just about as good as the first, though it would seem maybe the high G has come up in pitch just a tad since the first; it works well with Shawn Husk’s new chanter reed design (2017).
$Colin Kyo – My chanter of choice. I first tried one of these as a courtesy from Murray Huggins, the sole craftsman behind Colin Kyo bagpipes (named after his son). I immediately paid for the chanter. I have since bought and sold many of the other chanters listed on this page. I now have too many Colin Kyo chanters to count in blackwood, laminate, and plastic. Everyone in the band has bought Colin Kyo chanters (admittedly because I like them so much and declared them our band chanter, but I’ve heard no complaints and only compliments from band members). There are several appealing aspects of the chanter. 1. The finger spread is small and evenly spaced. There is not a chanter with a smaller finger spread that is also spread as evenly as this one. This makes for very comfortable playing. I have experienced the inability to hit the heavy strikes on some chanters and it always drove me mad. With this chanter I’ve realized, my fingers were used to one thing (the practice chanter I was using) and were just “looking” in the wrong place for the holes. Heavy strikes, nice and solid with this chanter because the holes naturally fall where your fingers will find them. No adjustment necessary. 2. There are several brands of chanter that do no perform well in Lubbock, TX (where I live). Specifically, being a very dry climate reeds are very susceptible to chirping on high G grace notes, especially with tape added. The climate being dry means high Gs are usually quite sharp and require lots of tape. I’ve experienced this chirping problem with many chanters. However, with the exception of one or two very questionable reeds over the course of the time I’ve been playing Colin Kyo chanters, I’ve never had one chirp on high G grace notes. I’ll note that they are as much of a hand crafted product as they can be and so most of my CK chanters tune consistently around 481 Hz but there is one that comes in around 476 Hz. Older chanters will likely come in around 481 on a mild day, newer ones will come in around 478 Hz. In all, the Colin Kyo chanter has made playing more enjoyable for me these last several years. I’ve never had more fun playing my pipes than when there is a Colin Kyo chanter in the stock. Listen in this post and this post. Of course, just about every recent post on the blog was recorded with a Colin Kyo chanter so click around, you’ll find plenty of recordings.
Dunbar – I have played both older and newer Dunbars and just can’t get them to go well. It seems there isn’t a sweet spot to find when setting the reed and I always end up with tape everywhere. Balancing the A’s, the other notes just require too much refinement. They seem to have a tendency to chirp on low A when playing high G grace notes relentlessly which just makes them unusable in dry climates. Audio file coming soon (or not, got a brand spanking new one and couldn’t get it settled; I put a reed in it and F# came in right at F nat., so it never made it in the pipe; same reed in the Kron poly listed just below worked fine.) So, I dunno, not my thing.
G1 – Made by John Elliott in Scotland. Instead of regurgitating what I already wrote in a dedicated review, I’ll just link to it here. Main takeaways are smallest finger spread of a band chanter ever, excellent natural tuning, and it trends on the sharper side, 486+ Hz for me.
*Gael – Designed by Jim McGillivray in conjunction with MacLellan bagpipes. This is a good chanter at a flatter pitch (sub 475 Hz) but it hasn’t really caught on. The one I played had been carved a little and was obtained in used condition, so I can’t speak directly about its awesomeness. However, if you’re looking for a good chanter on the flatter side (not A440 flat though), this IS the chanter for you. The high G is on the flatter side helping those who play easy reeds or live in dry climates. I remember it having a great woody tone to it, of course that may just be the pitch. Jim also help design the Kron Medalist with Charley Kron and Dave Atherton. It seems anything Jim gets his hands on is a great product. Listen in this post and this one, too.
Gibson – This chanter tunes well enough but mellow. I understand they’ve changed their design a bit in recent years so these comments don’t reflect their current product line. I’m looking for a minimum amount of crack from my chanter, and the ones I’ve played just don’t have it. Of course, it could have been the reed(s). We’re all at the mercy of reeds. Listen in this post.
@*Henderson – Designed by Alastair Dunn and made by R.G. Hardie, of which he is general manager. This is one chanter I keep thinking back on *almost* regretting its sale. It tunes easily but has the sides of the holes sanded to smooth them out which at the time of ownership just meant to me that I had to work harder to cover the holes as I felt they were sanded too much. I’ve played 100 year old chanters with less wear on the sides of the holes than what was artificially done to the one I had. With that said, the harmonics on F and oddly enough B, were outstanding. Stuart Liddell has played one of these for quite some time as has Alan Bevan (I understand both have been Gold Medalists with this chanter). Listen in this post. If I were looking to buy a set of pipes from a retail shop and was therefore limited to picking a brand of pipes that is sold through retailers (Gibson, McCallum, Hardie/Henderson, Dunbar, Shepherd, Naill, etc.) I’d try to get a blackwood Peter Henderson chanter.
*Inveran (the Donaldson Master Chanter terminology came out after this review, I don’t know if anything about the chanter changed other than the name) – Designed by Brian Donaldson who also makes Inveran bagpipes. A completely modern set of his pipes and chanter can be heard here, here, and here on YouTube (video is of Jack Williamson from KS, a young and quickly advancing young player). The chanter itself has excellent tone and is easily tuned. It’s bright and clear. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is just a bit of sharpness on the top hand relative to high A, but hey, better than having flat notes and I could be wrong! You can hear me playing mine here and here. The newest recording is here. I’d really like to try one of these “newer” Donaldson Master Chanters!
*Kron Medalist (H500+) – Jim McGillivray designed the Kron Medalist with pipe makers Charley Kron and Dave Atherton. This is a really nice, sweet sounding chanter with the exact same finger spread and spacing as the Colin Kyo, pretty much. Pitches about 3 Hz flatter than the Colin Kyo, MacLellan, Naill and just about every other chanter except the MacCallum McC2, where the pitch is comparable. Out of the box, I’ve noticed the C and F to be a bit flat; the F is NOT a double toning F where blowing it out would be the issue, it’s just a bit flat. Having reed lips that are too open often leads to a flat C and F (go figure, the two notes that are actually C# and F#) but I feel it is actually the chanter design that leads to the two notes being flatter. Perhaps with very well broken in reeds it isn’t a problem, but practically I need something that will tune with just about any reed. For a while this recording with a synthetic reed is the only example I had of the chanter (and the only chanter to work with MacLaren synthetic reeds) but I’ve managed to surpass the flat C and F and so now there are a few recordings with a cane reed here.
Kron poly #219 (older model) – I have had both older and newer Kron poly chanters, the difference being whether it is numbered < or > 600. The newer ones have a bigger tenon. They are quite nice chanters! I obtained both used, and was warned by Charley Kron that the modifications on the post-600 models were to correct a potentially flat F of earlier models, and the older chanter has had its F# hole carved, shall we say, “some”. Otherwise, a good overall chanter coming in right around ~475 Hz. Hear it here. I’ve had some difficulty with a double toning F in more humid environments, for what it’s worth.
MacLellan – This chanter is remarkably similar to the Colin Kyo on the exterior where finger spacing and hole size are concerned. The only difference in reality are the C and D holes on the MacLellan are placed slightly higher than on the Colin Kyo (never flat then!). This chanter has a good sound that won’t blow your ears out, a good solid solo chanter. I’d have kept it were the C and D holes more similar to the Kyo, but I didn’t feel like switching chanters. There’s not much else to say, I won’t deny being beaten in competition by people playing this chanter! Listen in this post.
MacPherson (Doug) – This chanter is a little on the mellow side and tunes a bit flatter than most chanters these days, in the mid 470’s. I generally avoid taping low A and high A if at all possible, so the chanter seems just a little unbalanced to me when I have to put a non-negligible amount of tape on low A to get the tuning true, not a big deal really though. The relative tuning of the other notes were all very good. Listen in this post.
*McCallum McC2 – This chanter was designed by Willie McCallum and is manufactured by McCallum bagpipes. This chanter tunes very easily but has a little teeny bit of a stretch on the bottom hand for those of us with smaller hands. I’m 11″ taller than my wife and while my palm is much larger than hers, my fingers are only marginally so. If it isn’t obvious already, I put a lot of stock in the comfort and stretch of a chanter. Slightly flatter in pitch than most chanters on this page by about 3-4 Hz on average, similar to the Kron Medalist. No noticeable flat notes, like the MacLellan in that regard. Has a big fat round tone that is very bold and would probably make a good band chanter as well. I think the high A can be a bit over bearing if you don’t have a little crow in it. Lastly, I specifically feel the space between the C and D holes is too small. This is either due to the C hole being a little higher (perhaps in an attempt to prevent any flat Cs) or the D hole being a little too low (I have experienced the occasional flat D on the few of these that have been through my hands). Either way, this chanter has consistently been sold to others because my bottom hand just can’t find the C and D holes for movements like heavy strikes. If the spacing were just a bit more even on the bottom hand, I think I would really like this chanter a lot more. Listen to a poly one in this post and this post, too.
Big Oval MacCallum – This is probably a great band chanter for those bands that are used to carving every hole on band chanters. However, I find the chanter harder to play than I’d like. I just can’t cover the holes cleanly (remember short fingers that aren’t so big around). I joke that my pinkie finger goes in the low A hole instead of over it. It tunes well and is loud, but doesn’t mean much to me if I can’t play it well. This chanter can be so loud that special attention must be paid to using drone reeds that are loud enough to balance out the whole pipe (I’d recommend Selbie, Kinnaird, or maybe even Crozier glass drone reeds for this purpose). Listen in this post and this post. McCallum also makes two smaller holed versions of this chanter: smaller ovals and round holes. A version of the smaller oval holed chanter (at least that’s what I think it is) as played by the Spirit of Scotland Pipe Band can be heard here and here. That was a really nice chanter.
Naill – This brand is a classic and has a very traditional solo sound. Problem is you HAVE to carve B, C, and D (well, maybe not D). I’ve heard just breathtaking harmonics coming off F. One of, if not the, most harmonic chanters on the market. Not so easily reeded if you don’t want to carve it though. I’ve played an older one (~1980’s?) and new one, and it never fails that the B and C are too flat. I sold my new one to a friend who had 1 reed that played great and in tune and it was AWESOME. He later told me he had to carve the B and C out for it to tune with any other reed. It still sounds spectacular, because he’s been told by judges it would have won best chanter of the day! If there were such an award. Never recorded, no longer in possession, BUT!!!!! I bought another one because I was jealous, then I carved B, C, D, and F, and here’s a recording! Yay! I also have a circa 2000 ABW Naill chanter recording is in this post. The C was actually a tad sharp, but the B and D were flat, but only a little. Not too shabby! And HERE is a late 1980’s Naill chanter with Naill drones (this chanter was carved in the past with what was probably an obsidian arrowhead, but hey, it’s in tune).
*RJM – A solo chanter designed by Roderick (Roddy) J. MacLeod and manufactured by Naill. Incorporates his modifications to his early 1980’s Naill chanter, though he states his Naill is seemingly different than most in that his has a slimmer profile and different hole positions. I’ve played old and new Naill chanters and I recall them being very similar, and they are different from the RJM solo chanter. So a slimmer profile, different hole spacing, different drills for hole sizes, all coupled with a bore change and you can rest assured the RJM chanter is not just a regular Naill chanter with the flat notes fixed, it is a completely different chanter altogether. I’ll note that a few others, in addition to me, have noticed a flat D. Roddy plays Troy reeds and I’ve verified that they don’t exhibit the flat D, but my usual got to reeds of Gilmour and Husk gave me a flat D in addition to a couple other reed brands I tried (G1, Shepherd, and Grossart). The projection is really good and otherwise, except the D with some reeds, the tuning is spot on with very little tape needed. The high A has a very distinctive tone that is easy to hear. The biggest drawback FOR ME is the hole positions. The low A hole is farther down than I’m used to, and probably farther down than any other chanter I’ve played (edit 9-9-2015, Roddy has redesigned the chanter to accommodate a higher low A hole, I have not played the new version). The finger spacing of the older design reminds me of my A440 chanter which has a larger finger spread out of necessity. Again, on the older design, the top of the low A hole on the RJM begins about a quarter of the way up from the *bottom* of the low A hole on a Colin Kyo chanter. The spread between E and D is a little longer too which is consistent with the flat D I was getting with some reeds. I make a similar comment regarding the McCallum McC2 chanter (which was designed to not need any carving, implying that if anything a note would be made sharp or the hole oval) which begs the question is there a fundamental difference between the ambient environmental conditions that leads to flat Ds in Lubbock, TX? I’m being serious. Or, the other side of the coin, sharp Ds in Scotland? You can hear it with the chanter taped down to the D in this post and this post. It can be heard with a Troy reed in this post where the D was up to pitch. The pitch is about 475 Hz taped down to the D, with a Troy reed it comes in around 480 Hz.
Shepherd – I’ve played older plastic Shepherd and a ~2000 blackwood Shepherd. Like the Naill I found the B and C often flat. The blackwood was the best I’ve ever played. It was never recorded and no longer in possession. They’re very popular band chanters but like the Dunbar I often experience chirping high G grace notes which make them impractical.
Sinclair – tunes easily but can be a dominatrix volume wise, super crisp, get an old one if you don’t want your pitch in the stratosphere as my poly 2009 hit 496 Hz on low A where the same sharp reed in the Colin Kyo was ~486 Hz. Obviously flatter reeds would help. Need big drones. Listen in this post.
*Strathmore – Designed by Murray Henderson. The first thing I noticed about this chanter is it having a small reed seat (little smaller than the Colin Kyo) and a SHARP high G that would get wonky sometimes when taped. I also couldn’t get the reed in as far as I would have liked to, but that wouldn’t have helped the high G problem. Granted, every one of my chanters has tape on high G, it’s a given. Even the Colin Kyo occasionally has almost half the hole covered. The high G hole has to produce both the Ceol Beag and Ceol Mor high G which can have different tunings if you like to be adventurous (most people tune them to the same pitch 31 cents flat of equal temperament). I also found the E to be a teeny bit flat. All the other notes were tuned excellently though without tape, low A needing just a bit of tape as I couldn’t get the reed in far enough. It has potential, and the harmonics are nice, but a few little quirks keep it from being best of the best. It was designed by Murray Henderson and is used by himself and his daughter Faye, both having won prestigious competitions with it, so it can’t be all that bad. It has small finger spacing and holes (I like) with a little longer stretch than the Kyo. It was never recorded and is no longer in my possession. I’d like to give this chanter another try, so we’ll see if another one comes along.