Category Archives: Drone Sounds of the GHB

Drones are the most expensive part of the bagpipe. This is to be a resource of what different makers’ drones sound like with whatever particular reed happens to be in the drones.

Ackland Prototype Drone Reeds in Colin Kyo pipes

I spent my afternoon Sunday playing with the different widths of tongue blades on these Ackland prototype drone reeds. I discovered the wider tongue gave a smoother, simpler tone whereas the narrower tongues gave a more harmonic tone. I much prefer the narrower tongues. The previous post featured the wider tongues, so this post will feature the narrower tongues.

I recorded this go around with the Zoom H4n Pro feeding the audio into my iPhone 8 via a Blue Mikey Digital (the previous blog post used recordings made with just the Blue Mikey Digital’s microphones instead of bypassing them as I did this time).

Pipes are all Colin Kyo, Husk chanter reed.

Ackland Prototype Drone Reeds in the Terry Pipes

I have been testing drone reeds for Terry Ackland for a wee while and I feel his latest reeds are his best yet. These reeds started out VERY bold and the current iteration is just bold, which is good I think. Early versions were incredibly harmonic (and loud) and were fun to play, but unlikely to be adopted due to the sheer imbalance between chanter and drones. So the volume has been dialed back a far bit, so upon listening below you can imagine how loud they initially were. Other recent (using that term loosely here) blog posts of prototype drone reeds would have been older versions of these reeds.

I’m currently testing different tongue widths. I’ve tested both extremes that he recently sent me, I haven’t gotten around to the two middle sizes. Both narrow and wide are incredibly air efficient and rock steady. Due to these two qualities, and despite their harmonic boldness, they are quite easy to tune. They also hold their tuning so the only thing you have to stabilize is your chanter pitch. The wider tongue is less prone to squealing when filling the bag and stopping. These are the wider tongues in the recordings below. The reeds really don’t need a strike to the bag to get started, you can just blow up the bag and they’ll come right in; I strike out of habit.

My entire practice session with the wider tongues was recorded on my iPhone 8 using a Blue Mikey Digital Recorder. It has 3 gain settings: 1) Loud environment 2) Auto-gain 3) Quiet environment. All the recordings were on auto-gain (I think) except the MSR which was recorded with the Loud environment setting (because bagpipes are loud), which resulted in a quieter recording. I usually just use the Blue Mikey as an interface between my iPhone and Zoom H4n Pro recorder through its input jack, but I was lazy today. Although the practice session was broken into 8 pieces, the recorder was going for ALL instances of playing. Tuning, mistakes, etc. are all included. (I just lied, I did omit setting the bridles and initial tuning, but oh well.) There was a gap of time between takes 2 of 3 where I had to retie the middle and outer tenor drone stocks due to a nasty leak that just appeared. Make sure you’re NOT tying bags near the star cut hole, but a bit below! Details of the sets are in the YouTube description field which probably doesn’t appear in the linked videos below, so if you want the tune names head over to YouTube.

Robertson Rocket Drone Reeds

Much ado has been made about how Rocket reeds shouldn’t be played in pipes they’re not made for. In general, I’ve found this to be mostly nothing to worry about. I’ve put all sorts of glass tongued Rockets into all sorts of pipes. The worst that ever happened was they consumed air like nothing else, but still sounded great, haha. But one day I acquired a set of carbon tongued Rockets that were made for Robertson pipes and the bass just would not work in the seller’s Hendersons, if I recall correctly. I had the exact same experience. Now, the tenors generally work in any pipe, it’s the bass reed that is selective for a specific bore design. Starting the bass sharp, as one lengthens the bass drone it comes close to in tune, but starts growling and then starts going out of tune again. Here’s what it sounds like in a set of Chris Terry pipes (which are purportedly (Duncan?) MacDougall based):

Chris Terry with carbon Robertson spec Rockets

As any regular reader would know, I’ve got a friend with not one but two sets of Robertsons: 1920s ebony and 1950s blackwood. So a quick jaunt to his house to test if these reeds actually worked in some sort of pipe, and they do! They work just grand in Robertson pipes. Go figure?!

1950s Robertsons with carbon Robertson spec Rockets

It turns out this friend has his own set of *glass* Robertson spec Rockets, which allowed us to confirm a statement that used to appear on the Kron website (I’ll post a screen shot at the bottom in case the link dies) that stated carbon Rockets were generally mellower than glass Rockets. The glass Rockets below are definitely bolder than the carbon Rockets above (same recording conditions, sorry there’s no chanter).

1950s Robertsons with glass Robertson spec Rockets

We didn’t record it but the carbon Rockets worked just as well in his 1920 ebony Robertsons which is curious because there are some bore size difference between the two. It’s like the reeds just know they’re in a set of Robertsons!

Now, I have gotten these carbon Rockets to work in one other pipe, Keith Jeffers. I had to dig through my archive of recordings that I never shared on the blog before to find one but I do have proof from June of 2014:

Spanner in the Works, Room 35, Moonshine, & Mark Sheridan

It all just goes to show how fickle bass drones and reeds are! The key is to find one that is steady and consider yourself lucky if it sounds great too!

THAT high A!

An attribution error takes us down today’s rabbit hole. I’ve played the tune Eileen MacDonald (C.M. Williamson) for a long time. PM Angus MacDonald also plays it on his Ceol Beag in the Castle album, followed by Nameless Jig he attributed to the same composer. However, it turns out Nameless Jig is listed as Unknown in Scots Guards Vol. 2 on page 150 and is by PS A. M. Lee and H. Workman. Of course, that I already had the music in a book was only realized AFTER I transcribed the tune off of Angus’ album, doh! Thanks to Mic Sorrentino for the heads up! Unfortunately I can’t share the sheet music with you due to copyright concerns, but I figured I’d play the tune along with one of my own compositions that, un-ironically, doesn’t have a name yet either.

The pipes I’m playing in the recordings below are my Chris Terry drones with Redwood tenor and inverted Selbie bass drone reeds along with a decade old plastic Colin Kyo chanter with a current model Husk reed in it. Redwood tenors are bold reeds, which is even more evident since I keep the microphone behind me. I was so taken with the high A blend that I recorded a couple of other sets that feature high A as well. Hope you enjoy!

Unknown (Lee & Workman) and Unnamed (Patrick McLaurin)

Sleepy Maggie, Dancing Feet (George S. MacLellan), MacArthur Road (Dave Richardson) <- still getting the kinks out

Glasgow Police (Donald MacLeod, arr. Scots Guards) and Troy’s Wedding (Colin Magee) <- this is one of our band sets

Mic Sorrentino had suggested Unknown be a tune of the month, though I’d rather find a tune I can share the sheet music for. In the spirit of that though, if you’d like to hear my first run through Unknown and Unnamed on the pipes (a different set of pipes) and with a lot more errors, you can hear that below. Tune of the Month started as a challenge to learn a tune each month and I would post a recording at the beginning and again at the end of the month so progress could hopefully be heard. I’ve pretty much ceased doing that from the start but you’ll get to hear the progress of an hour long piping session. Pipes are 1950’s Hendersons with X-TREME drone reeds all around, Shepherd Orchestral (Bb) chanter with former model Husk chanter reed. I have several pipes and so I play each of them a little bit each day, hence the change in which bagpipe was being played between the beginning and end of my practice session.

Unknown and Unnamed <- just learning the tunes at the beginning of the recording session; the X-TREME bass is a beast is it not?

Prototype drone reeds and the entire practice session

There’s a LOT to conquer in this post.

  1. I’m unemployed now so I figure I’ll start practicing for real, haha. Expect a lot more posts, although the kids get out for summer in a month so we’ll see how that goes. Got any topics you want covered?
  2. I’m testing some prototype drone reeds. This post has them in Colin Kyo bagpipes with the mic in front of me. Yesterday had them in Gellaitry bagpipes with the mic behind me; a single recording of that is HERE. The chanter is exactly the same as it fits in both pipes (older Colin Kyo with Sound Supreme reed). I like to stand behind people when I’m listening to them play so that I can hear the drones at their best, but when listening for chanter drone balance, those consulted thought it best to record from the front. However, the mic is still up high at about 6’4″. What do YOU think of the drone tone?
  3. These reeds are a second iteration, the first having VERY bold tenors with harmonics flying everywhere. The tenors have been dialed back a bit but still have non-negligible overtones, more overtone amplitude than many commercially available reeds currently on the market. What we’ll see below is that the drones go out of tune more often due to these overtones (not really). A while back I wrote a couple of posts (The Illusion of Drone Locking and Tuning Tenor Bold Pipes) about how there was a trend in pipes (MacDougall-ish) and reeds (mellow tenor, big bass) that posited the stability (why such pipes were/are in demand) perceived with such pipes with dominant bass and mellower tenors was not actually stability, but the inability to hear the drones going out of tune because the higher frequency overtones weren’t loud enough to be heard (the beating frequency is faster for overtones than for the fundamental for the same amount of out-of-tuneness). In the recordings that follow, you can hear the drones go out of tune and it’s not super obvious sometimes, but the overall tone just sounds…dirty. They eventually settle in a bit, but even the last track has me retuning beforehand. It is terribly fun to play with such overtones WHEN they’re in tune! But it is a bit distracting when the drones start to drift. If your tenors weren’t as full of overtones, it would be harder to notice the drones drifting because the lower frequency fundamental wouldn’t sound out of tune over the length of a typical note. Take note that retuning involved moving all 3 drones in the same direction every time, so they’re largely moving together, but not with the chanter pitch. Note that I tune the outside tenor first with the other drones off followed by tuning the middle tenor to outside tenor with the bass off, then I turn the bass on and the middle tenor off. Also note that most movements of the drone are tiny little twists that move the drone very small amounts up and down. I usually hate tenors with overtones because I can never get them tuned, but these reeds are very easy to tune. Also, these two tenor reeds are not identical as one has a smaller aperture than the other; this is on purpose as various designs are tried. Perhaps if they were more similar I’d experience even less difference in tuning drift.
  4. I played for the first time in a month yesterday, the hiatus due to sinus illness. So this is my second day back on the job. What follows is my entire practice session, tuning included, broken into chunks. Some of it is garbage but I’m posting it anyway. Maybe you’d like to hear me suck at playing? If you’re interested in listening to me tune to these audible overtones, listen to the tuning clips. *If you’re just here to listen to the audio that’s in tune with minimal flubs, look for asterisks to denote less-sucky recordings.*

1_jeannie_carruthers – don’t bother, warming up

2_reels_that_sucked – ugh, how does that tune go again?

3_drone_tuning – straightforward drone tuning, a little bit of wondering if I need to do something about high G

4_donella_beaton-curlew – something like that, I should buy a metronome, huh, not the tune I meant to switch to

5_drone_tuning – high G gets a little mod too

6_pm_calum_campbells_caprice-big_yin-arnish_light – yeah…keeping tunes straight is HARD, and huh, phrasing needs “work” – you can hear the drones start to drift at the end

7_drone_tuning

8_kalabakan-sleepy_maggie-dancing_feet – hey, I didn’t totally screw up, just maybe started a little faster than my brain could remember how the tune went

9_E_tuning – notice how it just sounds dirty with hard to hear beat frequencies

10_king_of_laois-lark_in_the_morning_merrily_kissed_the_quaker – I hate that the drones were out for this set, from the get go, my bad, can you tell?

11_out_of_tune – confirming out of tuneness

12_drone_tuning – fairly straightforward

13_mo_ghile_mear-neilis-ger_the_rigger*Listen to this one*

14_high_G_tuning

15_snug_in_a_blanket-thornton_jig-humours_of_trim – did they settle yet? maybe not…*Okay you can listen to this one also*

16_drone_tuning – just a tad bit out as suspected

17_seth_hamons_gamble-paddy_cronins-ballater_rant-lady_doll_sinclair – *Listen to this one* I think it went okay despite not remembering how a tune I wrote goes

18_cowal_gathering-susan_macleod-murdo_macgillivray_of_eoligarry – yeah….ugh……meh…..phrasing sucks in the march, especially the ending phrase; focal dystonia is lame, I thought it was going a lot better than it sounds in this recording, haha

19_aires_de_pontevedra-muineira_de_casu – *Listen to this one* high G, you are my favorite note! It is probably obvious there are lots of versions of the second tune, as I fumble between them, lol

20_ellenor-quaker – haven’t played either in ages, at least that’s the way it feels! Drones seem to be holding well enough to this point.

21_drone_tuning – just a little out, and then I make them a lot out, and then I fixed it…

22_irish_giant-humours_of_whiskey-eavesdropper-paddy_clancys – a few muffs due to fatigue so I decided to turn around half way through so you can hear them with the mic in front of me at the beginning and behind me at the end

Poly or Blackwood Chanter?

I was asked if there were tonal differences between poly and blackwood chanters. I said, “Maybe, but you wouldn’t know which one was which.” See if you can tell the difference and perhaps which one is which. The two recordings below are EXACTLY the same setup (Chris Terry drones, Redwood tenor reeds, X-TREME bass reed, the SAME John Elliott chanter reed {Sound Supreme, not G1}, L&M hide bag, same recording session, same original mp3 file, and the same standing position as best as I could remember) except one was recorded using a poly Colin Kyo chanter and the other using a blackwood Colin Kyo chanter. The chanters are roughly the same “older” vintage and both came in just shy of 481 Hz (modern Kyo chanters come in under 480 Hz in my experience). Both had tape on high G and the poly also had tape on E. The recordings are a bit drone heavy and I slightly regret that, but oh well. It’ll go toward correcting the balance of all those professional recordings where the drones are almost inaudible.

Fair Maid & Arnish Light 1

Fair Maid & Arnish Light 2

 

Check the comments for the which is which!

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.

My 2 Week Competition Season

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.

Bessie McIntyre, Alick C MacGregor, Captain Lachlan MacPhail of Tiree – I almost make it to 90 bpm by the end!

Highland Harry and Charlie’s Welcome – a bit quick into the terminal taorluaths in Highland Harry and just outright missing a few gracenotes in Charlie’s, haha. Someday I’ll get it!

Clachnacuddin Hornpipe and Rakes of Kildare – Clachnacuddin Hornpipe is an old version of The Inverness Gathering arranged by Capt. John A. MacLellan and son, Colin, and is a previous tune of the month with sheet music available in the archive.

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.

Colin Kyo pipes tied into an “old” L&M bag

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.

Kind of Laois & Rakes of Kildare

Mo Ghile Mear, Neili’s Polka, & Ger the Rigger

Angus MacKinnon & Frank Thompson

The Big Yin & Picnic in the Sky

Patrick O’Connor’s & Tom Billy’s Polkas – picked these up from Jerry O’Sullivan at the Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat

1950s Hendersons + X-TREME tenors + Ezeedrone bass

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:

Jeannie Carruthers, Inveraray Castle, and The Rejected Suitor

The Redundancy and Donella Beaton

Captain Calum Campbell’s Caprice, The Big Yin, and Picnic in the Sky – granted, not competition music but a new set of mine