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.

Supporting Causes: la Marseillaise and “Trick or Treat”

Yesterday Paris was attacked and many lost their lives. I understand those who were in a stadium that was attacked starting singing the French national anthem. To show my support I arranged it for the bagpipe and the sheet music can be had by clicking here. It fits on the bagpipes quite well except it requires C and F natural in a couple spots if you’re to play the main melody, but dropping down to low A (which is the chord) is what I’ve done as my chanter’s C natural doesn’t sound very nice; either the C# or C is in tune, but not at the same time due to different taping requirements and both notes appear in the tune. There are also some transient high Bs in the ending phrases; I have substituted high As with what I think is minimal disturbance though I am not honestly very familiar with the melody. I guess I should try to play it on my friend’s new Kinnear smallpipe chanter with high B, F, and C natural keys…

la Marseillaise

One thing I appreciate about France from a piping perspective is the innovative piping of the Breton tradition and Bagad bands. Most notably, their use of minor scales, special chanters with pastilles for playing F and C natural without cross fingering, B instead of A drones (here’s a YouTube video of me playing a Scottish tune with my drones tuned to B and the scale adjusted accordingly), and the low F# instead of low G (other, older blog posts on these tunings here and here). These guys are real innovators and have adapted the highland bagpipes as needed to reflect their cultural traditions. A similar innovator is Lincoln Hilton, a piper in the SFU organization. He has recently put his compositions and arrangements, commonly employed by SFU, up for sale on his website with all proceeds going to fund cancer research in Australia in support of Andrew Bonar, a fellow SFU band member, who has recently been under treatment for cancer. One of Lincoln’s newest tunes is entitled “Trick or Treat” (link to his debut YouTube video playing the tune) for Halloween, the day before his fund raiser went live. This tune is awesome. It is in D minor (A phrygian) instead of our usual D major (A mixolydian), which means it requires an F and Bb instead of our usual F# and B. My tempo is dodgy but I’m working on it!

Link to mp3: Trick or Treat – Sinclair drones with Selbie tenors (a note about these at the bottom of this post), Redwood bass which is freaking awesome in this pipe, Colin Kyo chanter, Husk reed, 3M Scotch 35 vinyl electrical tape since my usual pinstriping tape isn’t wide enough to cover enough of the F# and B holes to flatten them as much as was needed to tune to D minor.

One issue with using alternate notes is how to tune them. Highland pipes are tuned using just intonation because all chanter notes must harmonize with the drones which are playing the note A (Bagad bands have developed sharper drones that tune to B thus necessitating special chanters where the notes more naturally harmonize with B drones). I’m still playing A drones, but I had to tape my chanter’s B down to Bb and my F# down to F, but how do I tune these notes? Luckily, I wondered about the tuning of non-standard notes back in 2013 (click the link) and had already figured out where these notes should tune if you were referencing a chromatic tuner which is useless for bagpipes unless you know which notes are supposed to register as “out of tune” and in which direction, sharp or flat, and by how much they need to be “out of tune” in order to be in-tune using the just intonation scale. That was a run-on sentence, no doubt.


  1. Tenor drone reeds: I started this recording session with old Wygent tenor drone reeds at the recommendation of Shawn Husk on the bookface and while they sounded glorious, they are gloriously bold and thus a big pain to tune, and stay in tune. The slightest differences in tuning between the tenors were noticeably audible making for an unstable bagpipe. I still maintain the steadiness of mellow tenor, blended drones a la MacDougall is really a lack of boldness in the tenors especially with regard to higher overtones making them sound as if they’re locked in tune when really, you just can’t hear that they’re out of tune. I’m not complaining, it’s good enough for me! I gave up on the Wygents and plugged my Selbie tenors in (Ezee are also too tedious to tune for me). The Selbies are surprisingly mellow in these Sinclair tenors despite being quite bold in most other pipes (my 1950s Hendersons for example are impossible to tune with Selbie tenors for the same reason these Sinclairs are impossible to tune with Wygent tenors = the tenors are just too bold and rich). To clarify, you can no longer hear the wawawa due to the lower frequencies but the higher overtones still indicate the drones aren’t quite together, and it’s getting those higher overtones matched which I just don’t have the patience for.
  2. A friend gave this 3M Scotch 35 vinyl electrical tape a long time ago. It seems to hold for long periods without getting gummy. I haven’t tried it in super hot weather yet, but perhaps soon.

No Hornpipe Shakes for Me

Due to my focal dystonia, I am incapable of moving my E finger with any coordinated speed. The dystonia manifested in about my 9th year of piping and I’ve been playing for 19 years now. Since then I’ve gradually become able to play GDE grace note patterns, taorluaths, and even D doublings (but only from a higher note). This means I can also play hornpipe shakes from notes higher than D down to D or C fairly reliably. However, a lot of hornpipe shakes occur from notes below D or C and my focal dystonia still prevents that. From the top notes the pinkie and ring fingers are already up in the air and so I imagine they’re easier to pick up coming from a state of having already been in the air, but from a lower note the tension is already there and the contraction of my pinkie finger upon trying to play an E grace note kicks in and no E grace note comes out.

If you’ve listened to my blog for a while you might have noticed the odd tune where I’ve removed the hornpipe shakes in favor of delayed slurs. Tunes filled with hornpipe shakes I usually avoid posting to the blog but I figured I’d get over it and post a few of my favorites where I’ve had to remove the hornpipe shakes in order to make my fingers be able to play the tune.

The pipes are the new-to-me Sinclairs mentioned in the previous post. I had a go with Ezee in the tenors the other day which will be posted at the bottom but I’d like to feature the pipes with Selbie tenors which I much prefer. The Ezee are a bit richer, but also harder to tune. The Selbies are not as bold as the Ezee (which I find odd and opposite of what I’d expect). I like the Selbies more because they are easier to tune because they are less bold. Additionally, the Ezee tenors do not strike in well and cut out if blown in from a howling state which they are wont to do upon strike in. Basically, terrible reeds for a band pipe. Pulling off the tenor volume a bit with the Selbies also lets the Redwood bass shine quite remarkably in my opinion.

One thing you’ll have to put up with is the fine line this reed has between a crowing high A and a sharp high A. I need to pull this reed out just a tad so I can blow through the high A more consistently.

Recorder off to the left (tenor side):

Leaving Port Askaig and The Quaker – this one’s a bit rough and is provided only for comparison to the Ezee tenor recordings below since they mic was in the same spot as this recording

Recorder behind (drone side):

Hector the Hero, The Rock, 1st Hype Cowboy Division

Recorder off to the right (bass side):

Mason’s Apron and The Good Drying

Recorder behind but farther away (drone side):

Humours of Ballyloughlin, Scarce O’ Tatties, Old Chanter, and Leisa McCord

Here are the recordings using Ezee tenor drones with the Redwood bass. They all are recorded with the mic off to the left (tenor side).

Kalabakan, Bridge Something, High Road to Linton, Sleepy Maggie, and Dancing Feet

Room 35, Moonshine, and Glenlyon

What drone reeds to use in Sinclair bagpipes?

I recently acquired a set of (probably 1960s) Sinclair bagpipes.


I mouth blew all my drone reeds and decided that a regular Ezeedrone bass or a short, inverted Ezeedrone bass was best. Many other bass drone reeds were muted. This set would be a small bore Sinclair set, I believe. Apparently early Sinclairs and maybe now modern Sinclairs have bigger bores in places, but with a bass bottom bore at 8 mm I think this set falls in line with the smaller bore pattern attributed to their age. Many tenor reeds had the opposite problem of being too bold. So I settled on a lovely set of Rockets until they wouldn’t sound regardless of bridle position once I added a chanter, so then I just went with straight Ezeedrone tenors.

In the recordings below, we’ve got the original Sinclair chanter paired with a Gilmour reed I’ve been playing for years that’s still too hard for me. It tunes right at Bb (low A = 466 Hz). I put tape on high G and D, and the B is flat, with the F sometimes flat. Short, inverted Ezeedrone bass and regular Ezeedrone tenor reeds. I thought the sound was good although the tenors lacked a little sparkle, in my opinion.

King of Laois and The Thornton jig

Neili’s and Ger the Rigger – POLKAS!!!

Pressed for Time, The High Drive, and The Big Yin – hornypipe type things

Troy’s Wedding, The Snuff Wife, and Thief of Lochaber

After a conversation with Stuart on the bookface (someone who also recently picked up a set of Sinclairs), he floated the idea of using Selbie tenors so I figured, why not? The redwood sounded a bit bold as did the Kinnaird but perhaps a plastic tongue vibrant reed would spruce up the tenors without making them too loud. (Thinking about it, I might try Canning next as they’re a bit bolder than Ezeedrone as well.) I mouth blew the Selbie tenors again and was pleasantly surprised so I went with it. Still using the short, inverted Ezeedrone bass but now with a 480 Hz Colin Kyo chanter.

Aires de Pontevedra, Muineira de Casu, Kittly Lie Over, Leisa McCord (EJ Jones), Rory Gallagher (Gordon Duncan) – this is quickly becoming my international jig set

I then decided I might play a slow air but I couldn’t help from getting the felling that there was some instability in the bass. So, I did something I never thought I would ever do. I reached for the Redwood bass drone reed to put it in. When I was mouth blowing the reeds it was one of the best sounding bass drone reeds, but in every other pipe I’ve tried this reed in, it isn’t very good. Primarily, it has a hard time starting. Well, in this pipe I think it sounds pretty darn glorious paired with the Selbie tenors which makes my favorite combo so far.

Fair Maid and Donella Beaton – let’s see how many times I can make the same mistake twice

Bessie McIntyre, Captain Lachlan MacPhail of Tiree, and Alick C MacGregor

Lastly, I figured I put the Redwood tenors in there to go with the bass, but ultimately I think the Redwood tenors are too bold.

Mo Ghile Mear, The Herring Wife, and Rakes of Kildare

Angus MacKinnon and Frank Thompson – the BBQ set (Angus Frank)

Which is your favorite?

What drone reeds to use in David Naill bagpipes?

I have had several inquiries about what drone reeds to use in Naill pipes as of late. The answer, I don’t know. There’s a guy in my band who plays Naills and has good tone with Crozier Carbon tenor reeds (original, not V2) and a polycarbonate non-inverted Canning bass reed. The Croziers are quite buzzy in the tenors as to be expected but it works well and generates a full sound. The buzziness is most apparent to me because I’m the drone tuner! From a few feet away it’s actually quite pleasant. I have 3 of these polycarbonate Canning bass reeds and they’re all just a tad different. I’ve noticed small differences in Canning tenor reeds before, so consistency seems to be an issue although Cannings are a good reed I regularly recommend.

I’ve been real fond of Redwood tenor reeds as of late so I told him to try them with a Kinnaird original bass. I believe Kinnairds to have a higher level of consistency and general appeal over the polycarbonate Canning bass and so I was hoping it would work well as it does in so many Henderson based pipes. The Redwood tenors were a go, but the Kinnaird bass, not so much. I found it difficult to hear the beating of the bass and the tuning point seemed to be very narrow, with little room for error. The tuning changed between when I was moving the drone on the pin versus on my shoulder which is a situation that doesn’t work. So we put the polycarbonate Canning bass reed back in and while better, I still wasn’t satisfied with the ease of tuning the bass. My first criteria for which bass reed to use is “can I tune it?” Second, “does it blend well with the tenors?” If in a band setting, “does it strike in reliably?” That’s about it really. So, I grabbed a favorite Rocket bass of mine, an Atherton spec one. Ahhhhh, the tone is glorious, as can be heard below (still with Redwood tenors). Unfortunately, while the Redwood tenors are commercially available, not sure how to get my hands on more of these Rockets reliably. We need to test another couple bass reeds. I’m thinking Crozier Glass will be a good fit, but we shall see!

Fair Maid and Troy’s Wedding – Listen to that F (and B)!

Old Chanter and Rakes of Kildare – I’m still working on holding the Es in the 3rd part of Old Chanter.

I Love Gellaitry Bagpipes

I had a lot of fun playing random stuff yesterday. I hope you enjoy listening in on my jams:

Galician, Irish, Scottish Set: Muineira de Casu, Kitty Lie Over, & Rory Gallagher

The best 6/8 march ever followed by one I don’t remember very well: Leaving Port Askaig & Farewell to the Creeks

The grooviest tune I know followed by the second grooviest I don’t quite know: Pressed for Time & The High Drive

Ain’t no sissy Rakes around here: Rakes of Kildare, Snuff Wife, Thief of Lochaber, & The Hen’s March

New drones – what do you think?

So a guy in my band dropped off a new set of pipes. I hemped up the drones of his set to fit into my band pipe’s stocks (of Chris Terry manufacture). So the audio that follows is of my band set – the drones + these new drones. I figured I’d knock out a few of our band sets while I was at it. Sorry about the sharp F and flat high A, at times, and occasional cut out. Band chanter is Colin Kyo. Band reed is Gilmour. I used Redwood tenor reeds and an Ezee drone bass reed of some ilk (not the standard reed). The mic was placed behind me since we’re listening to the drones here (I’m a drone guy, what can I say?).

Scarce O’ Tatties, Cork Hill, and Portree Bay

Kalabakan and Bridge something or other

Glasgow Police Pipers and Troy’s Wedding

High Road to Linton, Sleepy Maggie, and Dancing Feet

Calista McLaurin’s and Kate Martin’s Waltzes

The bass drone may be a tad quiet, of course Redwood tenor reeds offer a bold tone without the harshness of other bold tenor reeds, so it may be relative. Both the tenors and bass tune very low down on the mounts. I guess that’s to be expected since the drones were probably made in Pakistan and are therefore expected to be quite flat relative to modern bagpipe pitch (my band chanter tunes to A 482 Hz). Do your ears feel violated now? I kind of do. I just spent 30 minutes recording Pakistani drones when I could have been playing the usual Terry, Gellaitry, Henderson, or Glencoe drones. If you’re wondering, the Colin Kyo pipes are off with Murray getting a refurb and the Jeffers pipes are being played by student; I didn’t sell them ;o). Of course, the original Pakistani pipes were unplayable. The bag looks like paper (not leather!), the SM-90 knock off drone reeds looked gross, I have enough experience with Pakistani sets to not bother with the chanter, and there ain’t no way in hell I’m going to put that blowpipe in my mouth. Who knows what carcinogenic lacquer/dye they put on that thing. The drone reed seats aren’t really tapered as they end in a hard edge despite being bigger than the bore for a short way up the drone (not enough to get a drone reed all the way up in there mind you, which would be nice since the drones are so flat).

Anyways, just goes to show Pakistani drones do work, sort of. After you buy a real bag, real chanter, real drone reeds, and a real chanter reed. Yeah, probably should have just started with a real bagpipe from the get go. Less mucking about, and you won’t feel violated for having gotten them to work and realized you could have been playing a real set of bagpipes the whole time.

Once I get a new field recorder (this Zoom I’ve been using for years won’t leave “low” gain mode making it unusable for what I’m about to say), I plan to start uploading audio of my new addiction, bellows blown smallpipes!

I still own Gellaitry’s ya know!

Just thought a little reminder was in order, here are my Gellaitry‘s with Redwood tenors and an original Kinnaird bass. I guess I should have recorded these with the mic in front of me instead of behind for once, these drones are loud with these reeds! CK chanter and Husk chanter reed this go around.

74th’s Slow March, Room 35, and Moonshine

The Rock and Scotsaire Hornpipe

X-TREME drone reeds in the Robertsons

The previous post had me playing these X-TREME drone reeds in Colin Kyo pipes, but today they’re in some 1950’s Robertsons. Adjustments to the reeds to get the tenor tops back at the hemp line were to bury the reed all the way into the seat and screw the tuning plug all the way in.

The recordings below were artificially amplified as I forgot to reset the gain on my Zoom H2 after setting it to a quieter setting yesterday. I don’t think this amplification has distorted the audio as the program I manipulate mp3s in is made to splice mp3s without re-encoding them. Amplitude modulation should be trivial. You might hear a cell phone ring at some point. My bad.

I played them for an hour today. Still no moisture on these premium versions of the reeds. I think I believe Chris now when he says they actively repel moisture. I need to try some other drone reeds again just to make sure they get wet; maybe Lubbock’s just so dry nothing gets wet. This bag is fairly new to me and it’s recently seasoned so I’m not accustomed to how wet it lets reeds get yet. I’ll play some Rockets in them tomorrow at band practice and see what happens and update this post with what I find out (Rockets weren’t wet either, I’ll to find an unseasoned bag to do this test in).

Tonally, I think they’re solid reeds. Still a little tenor quiet, but I believe this lends just a little more ease when tuning the drones along with some added stability. The louder the harmonic overtones are (yes I know, kind of a redundant series of words) the easier it is to hear when you’re drones are out of tune. Presumably this would make your drones easier to tune, however, you need a finer and finer tuning motion to really lock in those higher overtones, so I say you can reach a point where those overtones are too loud and tuning is harder, because you can definitely hear they’re still out of tune and you’ve been at it for 5 minutes already. There’s a limit to how steady one can blow. When the higher overtones are attenuated, it may be harder to hear that the drones aren’t exactly in tune, but hey, that’s not a bad thing! I believe this is the main effect people speak of when they say a drone has a wide tuning range: the overtones are reduced such that you don’t hear the clash of the overtone frequencies between tenor drones, you just get to focus on the fundamental (lowest) frequency tuning. Thus if you wanted a more stable pipe, the easiest thing to do is pick a set of reeds with less overtone amplitude in the tenors, all else being equal. I might call this the MacDougall effect: reduced overtone amplitude leading to easier tuning and a perceivably more stable bagpipe. Alright, if I keep typing someone is going to cry heresy.

Sleep Dearie Sleep, Donella Beaton, Snuff Wife, and Thief of Lochaber

Cowal Gathering, Susan MacLeod, and Captain Lachlan MacPhail of Tiree – for all you brave soloists live streamed yesterday during the Winter Storm competitions. Great stuff and thanks for putting yourself out there!

Kalabakan, something about a bridge, Johnny and Ali’s March (Brian McAlpine), and Dancing Feet

Hector the Hero (James Scott Skinner), Iron Man (James Scott Skinner), and Orange and Blue – my fingers are done, but good snapshot of the drones in the slow air.

X-TREME drone reeds

It took them a little while to hop over the pond to TX, and then winter break happened, but I’ve finally recorded the Premium X-TREME drone reeds I purchased from designer Chris Armstrong toward the end of 2014. Today they are played in a set of Colin Kyo bagpipes (not pictured, those are my 1950’s Hendersons).


They’re “premium” reeds because some sort of hydrophobic material or coating comprises or is on the reeds which supposedly allows them to actively repel moisture. If I lived somewhere humid this might matter, but Lubbock is dry. Perhaps I should have spent less and gone with the regular version? I noticed a tad bit of moisture on them after a 45 minute playing session, but that evaporated in about 10 seconds after removing the drones from the stocks, so it would seem the stuff works (and that was in a bag that needs some seasoning). Chris actually mentions this effect in the instruction manual which must be downloaded, as it does not come with the reeds. The 45 minute session in the bag that was recently seasoned resulted in no visible moisture on the reeds upon removing the drones from the stocks.

What do I think, you ask? I think the tenors could be just a tad bit bolder. I also think the bridles are too wide. The bridles being as wide as they are make them difficult to move effectively. This is exacerbated by how soft the bridle material is. It’s not a pillow, don’t get me wrong, but there is some give to it so it’s not certain if you actually moved the bridle or just squished it a little bit. As such, my tenor reeds are actually set up just a little too hard as I’m not a patient person, and I still think they’re a little too quiet. They proved to be steady reeds indeed and they sound nice. The tuning plug is threaded and a fairly tight fit so I don’t think teflon tape is needed to ensure the plug is airtight, though I did add some to the bass just to be sure. The range of motion of the tuning plug is very generous allowing the reeds to be tuned to a variety of pitches, or altered to allow your drones to tune just where you like them. Perhaps I need to set mine up so the tenor drones tune lower on the pins which results in an amplification of the E overtone and generally makes them more brassy sounding. They don’t suffer from the buzz often associated with most carbon fiber reeds; in that regard they’re much like Murray Henderson’s Harmonic Deluxe drone reeds (white in the photo below). I will say, and I can be quoted as saying this to a few people prior to receipt of the reeds, that at the price the premium X-TREME reeds retail for ($130, non-premium are $100), I was going to be pissed if they were just hydrophobic Henderson Harmonic Deluxe (HHD drone reeds can be had for only $66, although I find them finicky as to whether they want to play some days). I almost got really pissed when I put the bass reeds next to each other, but the tenors are different so I calmed down. The HHD bass is a very popular one so I don’t guess I should be too surprised. Of course, there could also be differences beyond the surface so I won’t judge a book by its cover.


Here’s a shot of most commercially available carbon fiber tongued drone reeds. From left to right: Crozier carbon, Robertson spec Rocket, Redwood, Kinnaird, HHD, X-TREME, HHD, X-TREME, Crozier carbon, Kinnaird. Ah crap, I forgot the Canning bass, oh well, it looks like the Kinnaird but the body is brown and it uses a flat bridle.


Below you’ll find 3 recordings, 2 with the drones pointed at the microphone and 1 chanter side to help you get a better idea of the relative volumes. The pipe chanter is a blackwood Colin Kyo with a Gilmour reed in it that if I had to guess, has 4 chips in it. I am also currently working on blowing out the chanter reed more, so sometimes the high A is a little flat with some crow.

King of Laois, Rory Gallagher, Mark Sheridan, and The Big Yin – mic is drone side

Captain Calum Campbell’s Caprice, Mrs. Martha Knowles, McPherson’s Rant, and The Tourist – mic is drone side

The Quaker – mic is chanter side

Chris Terry drones with Colin Kyo chanter (481 Hz)

Yesterday’s post had me playing Chris Terry drones with a Bb Campbell Tunable pipe chanter. Today I offer the same drones, and Rocket drone reeds, coupled with my band Colin Kyo chanter. The mic caught a bit too much of the bass (when will I ever learn?).

The first set starts with the tune to a song called Caledonia written by Dougie MacLean. As far as I know, it’s a song about missing Scotland and being ready to do anything to return home. It seems to be a good tune on the pipes. It’s been requested of me a few times and I finally got around to it. Coupled with that is a hornpipe by Kevin Gerard who posted his composition on the Facebook group, “Bagpipe Compositions“. The other two sets are the HJ and MSR I got 1st and 3rd, respectively, in grade 2 at last weekend’s competition down in Salado, TX.

Caledonia, Fork Tailed Devil (Kevin Gerard)

Donald MacLeod and Hen’s March

Major Manson’s Farewell to Clachantrushal, Highland Harry, Bessie McIntyre