Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews of CDs, pipes, etc…

McGillivray’s Aurora Chanter

A friend of the blog has had Jim McGillivray send me one of his polypenco Aurora JM chanters to try out before sending it on to them. Jim has had a hand in designing several chanters, including the CE Kron Medalist and The Gael from Jim’s previous collaboration with Roddy MacLellan. The Aurora JM comes out of the shop of Dunbar bagpipe makers, which is consistent with all the work they do for him restoring pipes and making reproductions of old pipes for his piping retail business. The Aurora JM is different than both the Medalist and the Gael.

The Aurora JM is designed to be a flatter chanter (like the Gael in that respect), and it accomplishes that being a full 4 Hz flatter than a Shepherd MK 3, which I consider to be the flattest chanter used by pipe bands. Where my MK 3 comes in at 479 Hz with a Shepherd Bb reed, the Aurora comes in at 475 Hz. As an aside, this particular Bb reed is unlike my other Shepherd Bb reeds which actually tune to Bb in my Shepherd Orchestral chanter; this one is a few Hz sharp of Bb. The sharpest I got the Aurora was with an easy Gilmour playing at 25″ H2O and even then, I only got the pitch up to 480 Hz.

I found the finger spread easy to adapt to. Below is a photo with the Shepherd MK 3 on the left, Aurora JM in the middle, and a Colin Kyo on the right. You’ll notice the Aurora has a longer spread between the D and E holes, but the spread on each hand is normal, the same as the Shepherd, slightly longer than the Kyo.

I found the E to be a tad sharp and D to be a tad flat; C# and B were also flat for some reeds. After playing the chanter for 3 days in a row, I might be inclined to move B, C#, and D up the chanter a tad, leaving low A where it is. There’s plenty of room considering the gap between E and D; though that would increase the bottom hand finger spread. But, it’s not my chanter, in any sense of the phrase. One could also simply tape low A down to the rest of the notes, and that’s exactly what I did for the 3/5 reeds that had sharp low As to the rest of the bottom hand. Every reed had tape on high G.

Now for some audio. All recordings are of a set of 1950s Hendersons with X-TREME regular drone reeds; The Zoom H4n Pro field recorder is off to my left at head height. I haven’t been playing all summer due to travel and being home with the kids all day. So, my fingers aren’t in the greatest form. I particularly hate how tight my doublings are; sometimes the second grace note is non-existent. Kids are headed back to school in a few days so I’ll have to resume a more routine practice schedule once they’re out of the house. We start with recordings of the 25″ H2O easy Gilmour at 480 Hz. You’ll notice my drone reeds are set for a harder reed.

Hector the Hero – a tune I usually avoid because it’s close to being over done, but sometimes you just gotta play one of James Scott Skinner’s classics

Lark in the Morning, King of the Pipers, and Troy’s Wedding – two Irish jigs, the second of which is arranged by myself for highland pipes and a past tune of the month), followed by a popular jig by Colin Magee

Paul K’s, Battle of the Braes, and Glenlyon – a set of tunes I got from Fin Moore at a smallpipe workshop a few years ago

Next we’ll have some recordings with the Shepherd Bb reed which eased some during the session, ultimately settling at 29″ H2O, so it needed a wee push to get the drones in as well. This combination resulted in having tape on E and high G and pitched around 475 Hz.

Mrs. Duncan MacFadyen, Duncan Lamont, and Drumlithie – an MSR comprised of Donald MacLeod tunes

John MacColl’s March to Kilbowie Cottage, The Doune of Invernochty, and Roderick MacDonald – another MSR set, with tunes by William Lawrie, William Grant, and again, Donald MacLeod

Burden of Innocence and Happy Days – a tune I wrote followed by a tune any Battlefield Band fan would recognize

Eileen MacDonald and Hen’s March – off key highland jigs!

For comparison the following recording was made right after those above with the same Shepherd Bb chanter reed, but set in a Shepherd MK 3 chanter. This chanter has tape on high G (half the hole!), D, and C#.

Song for Winter, Hen’s March, and Eileen MacDonald – again, a Shepherd MK 3 chanter with the Shepherd Bb reed used in the recordings just above.

Returning to the Aurora JM chanter, I tried a third reed the third day. I pulled a non-ridge cut Sound Supreme out of my solo Colin Kyo chanter. It was not as good of a match as the Gilmour or Shepherd Bb reeds above. I had to tape low A (a last resort for me) and D and C# were still a tad flat, though all the tape came off the E; so tape only on high G and low A. This was a long session as well and I think my bag is due for another seasoning as moisture seems to be accumulating on the chanter reed. Most noticeable was the pitch that fell from 475 to 473 Hz as the reed got wetter. This reed plays a little harder than the previous at 31″ H2O.

Bloody Fields of Flanders, Lord Lovat’s Lament, Flett from Flotta, Battle of Waterloo, and 51st Highland Division – started off with the melody chosen by Hamish Henderson for his song, Freedom Come All Ye, then worked in some 4/4 marches including a true to timing as written rendering of Flett from Flotta (note the high A quarter note in the ending phrase)

Kantara to El Arish, Murray Huggins’ Sweet Chanter, and Murdo MacGillivray of Eoligarry – Kantara is a tough tune for me, so I play it as often as I can, the strathspey is my own composition, and Murdo was a past tune of the month with MacGillivray in the title!

The Rock and Hollerin’ for Haggis – two hornpipes by Texas composers, and both tunes were previous tunes of the month (so sheet music is available on the Free Tune Page, as are my compositions and a bunch of other stuff)

Kalabakan, The Sister, and Canongate Twitch – a medley quickly becoming a standard for me, the last tune being yet another tune of the month

Turns out the wife was still at work and my daughter was, thankfully, STILL standing in for me on the Nintendo Switch playing with her little brother, so despite how tired I was from the first set of tunes on the Sound Supreme reed above, I figured I needed to knock out a couple more reeds before the weekend zapped my time. I would certainly like to get this chanter on to its real owner. So, next we have a Troy/McAllister reed. I had to tape low A to get it down to the flatter D, C#, and B. No tape on the E here, so just tape on high G and low A. I had modified this Troy reed at some point in the past, taking some cane off the very tips in an effort to bring the high G down (I don’t recall this working, oh well). It did, however, make it one of the batch I received actually playable, haha. The other two I can’t even make squawk. My McAllister reeds come from back when I was trying the RJM chanter, it being the reed that Roddy MacLeod prefers and it also brought the flat D of that chanter up to the rest of the scale.

The Blackbird and Hilton McLaurin’s Jig – another tune of the month (this one was an Irish tune I rearranged for the pipes) and a tune I wrote for my father (the 2nd tune I ever wrote, and still one of my favorites and best, I think)

Lament for the Old Volunteers (74th’s Slow March) – another tune of the month, a slow one this time

Dusky Meadow and The Foxhunter – a Cape Breton strathspey and an Irish reel, both arranged by myself and past tunes of the month

Last, we have uno recording with a Husk reed because I forgot to turn the recorder on. Doh! Again, the low A is taped down to the flatter D, C#, and B. This 32″ H2O reed came in at 473 Hz. Just a tad of tape on E and the most tape on high G of the 5 reeds tested (1/3 of the hole).

Rusty Gully (Wee Totem Fogg) – a common border tune that was recently a tune of the month


  1. The high G seems well controlled with regard to pitch. While every reed needed tape on high G, what chanter doesn’t?! The fact that I never needed to cover more than 1/3 of the hole AT MOST says a lot in my opinion!
  2. The chanter is definitely flatter than most (non-Bb) chanters, coming in at an average 474 Hz with robust 30″+ H2O reeds. Really, it is just as flat as many Bb chanters which don’t actually get to 466 Hz unless you have the right reed, though I believe the Aurora will not get to Bb naturally, that is without taping of the bottom hand after pulling the reed out to get the high A to the Bb reference.
  3. I believe the D, C# and B are consistently flat enough that you’ll likely find yourself taping the low A down to their pitch, depending on the reed.
  4. The finger spread for both hands is normal. It isn’t the smallest, but certainly not the largest.
  5. Low G was generally very well pitched, with only one reed coming in about 10 cents sharp of the -31 cent tuning required by just intonation (I don’t recall if it was the Troy/McAllister or the Husk), but this is easily corrected by taping a tone hole or two (though I did not because I was already into recording and I’m lazy).
  6. F# was also well pitched. I never put tape on it for any of the 5 reeds and it sounded good to me. I never put tape on high A if I can help it, and it never needed it here.
  7. The reed seat is threaded. You’ll love this feature when fine tuning a reed means a simple clockwise twist further in. You’ll hate it when you twist a reed out and it pulls the bottom wraps of hemp off the reed and you have to rewrap it entirely losing all track of where the reed was sitting before.

October 2018 Tune of the Month: Ducks on the Mill Pond

Crazy (and long) post that includes the following: 1. Tune of the Month 2. The Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat 3. A Cocuswood David Glen highland pipe 4. Shepherd Bb chanter 5. Accidentals 6. Tunes outside the highland piping tradition. Whew!

This was my fifth year attending the Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat organized by Jim Conley in conjunction with the Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival in La Veta, Colorado. The retreat/workshop focuses on the playing of Scottish smallpipes. Returning as an instructor this year was Tim(othy) Cummings who gave us a couple more Appalachian tunes to augment our repertoire from the year before; additionally Tim gave me a couple “challenge” tunes which have been quite fun and in line with my desire to increase my own repertoire beyond the highland tradition, both of these tunes can be heard below. A short plug for Tim: he is an awesome smallpipe instructor, music collector, and all around nice guy. Any workshop with him will be worthwhile. The band Heron Valley was over from Scotland playing at the festival and so their piper, Euan McNab, also taught a few tunes in the Scottish tradition when he had time to escape his performance responsibilities. What a great, young band.

The tune of the month for October 2018 is a tune Tim gave us during the retreat: Ducks on the Mill Pond. This is a great little hornpipey reel from the Blue Ridge Mountains here in the U.S. Sheet music can be obtained from Tim for $1.00. Just uno dinero. He’s got a bunch of other tunes that can also be purchased for that paltry sum, some of which are featured further down in this post. Note that this and some other sheet music obtained from Tim’s website comes with two versions of the tune, a simple melody that accompanies the included lyrics and also a “hoedown” version; I am playing only the hoedown version. Listen here on my new-to-me 1910ish David Glen cocuswood bagpipe (more on that below):

Ducks on the Mill Pond and The High Drive (Gordon Duncan)

A tune that surfaced during a jam session at the retreat was The High Drive by Gordon Duncan, but all mayhem broke loose when we reached the last line of the tune, as it seemed I was at odds with a few of the other versions out there. Without realizing it when I learned the tune from the music book “Gordon Duncan’s Tunes”, the last line has 5 bars! The others did a good job of having me question my sanity but upon returning home from the retreat I was vindicated by the sheet music, muahahahahahaha. You can hear Stuart Liddell play the extra bar as well in this youtube clip:

On to the 1910ish cocuswood David Glen bagpipe. CITES developments have made me nervous for a while so when this pipe came up for sale I jumped on it. It comes with the original chanter which is mostly for provenance now as I haven’t found a reed that doesn’t squeal yet (a thought just hit me, maybe a border pipe reed?). The pipe was located in Canada and had 2 rings that were still ivory along with the chanter sole. I had the seller ship the pipes to Dunbar to have the ivory removed and replaced with Mexican royal ebony, also known as katalox. I think Rick at Dunbar did a great job, at a great price, and at great speed. The saying about car repair, “you can have it done fast, well done, and cheap; but you can only pick two” doesn’t apply to Dunbar bagpipes, you get ALL THREE.



I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with the pipes, but they don’t seem the most forgiving when it comes to drone reed selection. I’ve got a set of Rocket reeds in there now and they seem to go quite well. Canning reeds also seem to go well. For whatever reason, a lot of drone reeds just shut off. I’ve tied them into an old L&M bag and since my stash of Airtight smelled more gross than I remember a new bottle smelling, I’ve settled for seasoning the bag with 100% vegetable glycerin which turns out to be very runny. During the recording session I actually had some leak out around the chanter while I was playing! So I drained the bag a second time afterwards. Perhaps I need to get some more Airtight ordered? The drones come in right around concert Bb, 466 Hz, so I’ve paired them with a Shepherd “Orchestral” chanter, which is a solid Bb chanter. I’m playing a previous model Husk chanter reed. What will be obvious from the remaining recordings in this post is how well this chanter and reed combination plays the C and F natural accidentals!

You may have noticed I have not been posting much recently, save for the Tunes of the Month. I have been playing a lot of bagpipes in my new found unemployment, but not just highland bagpipes. In addition to Scottish smallpipes and border pipes, I am also playing in a border pipe ensemble using Jon Swayne border pipes in G. I understand they are English border pipes in G with some French chanter design influences, so I call them the Frenglish pipes. The chanter has the back thumb hole for the C natural (in highland terminology), and also plays the F natural and G sharp accidentals really well, in addition to having high B, C, C#, and D readily accessible in the next octave. This pipe has done a wonderful job making my fingers do new and crazy fingerings. Our repertoire is mostly English, French, Breton, and Galician. Here I am playing a Galician tune:

I also have a Seivane gaita chanter in Do (C) whose cork-like tenon wrapping fits perfectly into my 1960s Sinclair chanter stock whose drones I have tuned all the way up to concert C (Redwood bass reed, single Colin Kyo tenor reed, other tenor is plugged). Here I am playing a Galician tune:

Back to the highland pipes, influenced by my playing of non-highland bagpipes, I’ve got some more tunes for you on the new-to-me Glen pipes. First up is another Appalachian tune Tim gave us at the 2017 retreat followed by a jig I picked up from a Facebook video of uilleann piper Tiarnan O Duinnchinn. The Appalachian tune, Cluck Old Hen, utilizes C natural instead of our usual C#, which is fingered with the ring finger down instead of the pinkie. I play the song arrangement through twice followed by the hoedown version twice through. The jig that follows has no accidentals outside our normal A mixolydian scale, but it is also about a chicken so I figured they’d go well together despite being different time signatures.

Cluck Old Hen and When the Cock Crows it is Day

Next we have some bourrées. The first one is in 3/8 and is one of Tim’s challenge tunes. The rest are in some version of common time from the border pipe ensemble repertoire. You’ll hear heavy use of both the C and F naturals in the first and third tunes. You’ll also hear a mistake in each of the first three tunes, but the fourth managed to go unscathed.

Bourrees – the first one, “Calarem, calarem pas“, can also be bought from Tim’s website.

Lastly are some 3/2 hornpipes. If you have Gary West’s “Hinterlands” album he plays this set, turns out. However, I got the tunes from other sources. The first tune I’ve heard more recently in this very entrancing video on Facebook:

Comments in the video indicated the tune is called “Came Ye O’er Frae France”, however, what sheet music I can find doesn’t match what is played in the video so I transcribed it from the video (I have doubts about my transcription so I’ll have to work on it a bit more to make sure). I’m just gonna call it “A Lancashire Hornpipe”. Let’s just say, low G to C natural is tricky due to the ring finger and pinkie switch. The second tune is another of Tim’s challenge tunes: Mr. Preston’s Hornpipe. You may notice a dearth of gracenotes, which are less common in other piping traditions, which is just my excuse for sight reading the tunes and throwing gracenotes in there when I have the spare brain capacity to do so.

A Lancashire Hornpipe and Mr. Preston’s Hornpipe

Atherton Legacy & X-TREME Bass Drone Reed

I have been loaned a set of Atherton Legacy bagpipes to feature for the blog. They were acquired as half-mounted nickel and artificial ivory but were shipped to David Davidse to have the nickel engraved. They’re tied into a medium Gannaway bag (no grommets) and played with a Colin Kyo chanter and custom Husk chanter reed. Bore dimensions lead me to believe Atherton’s Legacy model is based in the Henderson tradition. Drone reed experiments ultimately led to the use of an X-TREME bass drone reed alongside regular Ezeedrone tenor reeds. A close second was just the standard Ezeedrone bass reed, however it blended more readily and was therefore subdued relative to the power of the X-TREME bass reed. Of course the Henderson Harmonic Deluxe bass reed was also good though not as bold, but trouble with consistency from this brand bass reed keeps me from using it. Other drone reeds tested include all commercially available Crozier reeds, Selbie, original Kinnaird, Henderson Harmonic Deluxe, Redwood, and perhaps a few others. The combination of Ezeedrone tenors with a carbon fiber bass is very common as are pipes made in the Henderson tradition, more than a coincidence in my opinion. Popular carbon fiber bass reeds used in this combination include the Original Kinnaird and now Evolution Kinnaird bass drone reeds as is the previously mentioned Henderson Harmonic Deluxe.

I am here to convince you that if you have not yet tried an X-TREME bass drone reed, you have not tried the best commercially available synthetic bass drone reed on the market. I used Original Kinnaird in my Gellaitry pipes for years until acquiring the X-TREME reeds at which point the X-TREME bass drone reed was used due to its superior tone. However, the Original Kinnaird tenor reeds remain in the Gellaitry as they give the tenors the extra power they need. A recording of this setup can be heard in this mp3 recording. Original Kinnaird tenors are too powerful for Henderson based pipes, and that proved true for this Legacy pipe; they were loud and brash. Henderson based pipes are known for their tenor volume and therefore a milder drone reed is needed. The X-TREME tenor reeds are a solid choice however regular Ezeedrone tenors offer a bit more harmonic overtone without being brash or nasal sounding. Following the success of the X-TREME bass reed in my Gellaitry pipes, it is not really surprising that it was also the best reed in the Legacy. It is deep and harmonic at the same time and is tonally superior to any other bass drone reed I’ve ever played, now proven in two commercially available pipes, Gellaitry and Atherton Legacy.

Vacation and illness have taken their toll on my playing ability and endurance. I hope you enjoy the recordings below. This is only a small selection of the music I played during today’s practice. The chanter and drone interaction was harmonically strong and very pleasing. A fine pipe capable of supporting the chanter quite well.

Irree ny Greiney (Sunrise) and Cullen Bay – This slow air was featured by Chris Armstrong’s band, Scottish Power, at the World Pipe Band Championships last year.

Paddy Clancy’s, Lark in the Morning, & Merrily Kissed the Quaker – A few jigs in the Irish tradition I’m working on. The first tune was July’s Tune of the Month.

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

Traveling with bagpipes: Cases, Ivory, and Competition.

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.

Pictures here:

front straps open inside2 inside1

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:


Kalabakan and Famous Bridge

Sleep Dearie Sleep, The Congress, MacPherson’s Rant, and The Tourist (last two a la FMM’s medley from a few years ago).

Dugald MacColl’s Farewell to France, Caledonian Society of London, Alick C. McGregor (an MSR I’ve been working on for a drummer)

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 (link 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
Wheelchairs/assistive devices
Deadhead/Crew baggage
Oversized pictures
Musical Instruments

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.

(1) Quote from Tucker,  Episode 94 “Tucker knows Best”, Red versus Blue.

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.


Silver and Moose Colin Kyo bagpipes

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.

King of Laois, Swallow’s Tail, Gravel Walk – mic drone side

Donald MacLean’s Farewell to Oban, Captain Colin Campbell, Rejected Suitor – mic chanter side

+++++Edit 2016-06-29+++++

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!

74ths Slow March, Sweet Maid of Mull, Farewell to the Creeks – mic drone side

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!

G1 Platinum reed in a Colin Kyo chanter

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.

Scales and Wings facing the mic, facing away, facing away, facing the mic

Echo Lake, (Don’t Remember), Room 35, Moonshine – facing the mic

Calista Anne McLaurin, Latisha McLaurin, Rory Gallagher, 1st Hype Cowboy Division – facing away from the mic

Leaving Port Askaig and The Quaker – walking back and forth perpendicular to the mic, first recording so high G a little out

G1 chanter review

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.

Mark Sheridan and Angus MacKenzie of Dumbarton – facing the mic

My Band’s New Medley – facing the mic

My Band’s Old Medley – facing away from the mic

My Band’s 4/4 March Medley – facing away from the mic

My Band’s 6/8 March Set – walking back and forth perpendicular to the mic.

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.

RJM chanter with a Troy McAllister reed

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
Rossshire Volunteers
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
?????? Bridge
Flame of Wrath for Squinting Patrick (memorized last week)

MP3s of the sets played in the YouTube video:

Brown Haired Maiden, Rossshire Volunteers, and Arthur Bignold of Lochrosque

Kalabakan, Crooked Bridge, and Flame of Wrath for Squinting Patrick

RJM solo chanter

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: