In addition to some 1950s Robertson pipes featured in the previous post, I was also loaned a set of Atherton Legacy pipes. My primary goal is to confirm that Ackland reeds work in them as well as they do in all the other pipes I’ve tried the reeds in. Verdict: I have not yet found a set of drones that Ackland don’t work well in. Their harmonic volume just works and they help bring the most out of those pipes lacking in the tonal character department. Most of these tests (using the pipes I own) are recorded in the Big Ackland Drone Reed post save for the 1950 Robertson test as it includes several other drone reed combinations for comparison.
In this post we’ll be exploring Atherton Legacy pipes with Ackland reeds coupled with various relative orientations between me and the microphone. People always try to dismiss recordings as inaccurate reflections of what a pipe truly sounds like and I generally disagree. I would agree that many recordings are disingenuous about the relative chanter and drone volume balance which is why I will sometimes indicate where I’m standing relative to the microphone, but even that may not be useful if there is no frame of reference; hopefully a frame of reference just may be what I establish with this post. However, as I only thought to do this *during* the recording session, well, it is what it is! I should point out that all my recordings are only ever done with 1 microphone. Well, that’s not entirely true as I use a Zoom H4n Pro field recorder which has 2 microphones on it which produces stereo recordings but the point is there is only one source of recording = 1 “track” with no mixing multiple sources and certainly no mastering. I just record the whole session in one mp3 file and then splice out the audio I want at the end with no re-encoding. One aspect of these Ackland reeds is their relative boldness over most other commercially available drone reeds. I think it’s important to convey this accurately when recording which can be a challenge when there is only one microphone. It requires that I choose a representative orientation to the microphone that accurately captures a natural balance of the chanter and the drones.
Fair Maid & Swallow’s Tail – The same tune set and method as used in the Robertson post linked above so a direct comparison to those can be made. Mic is behind me during the 1st part of Fair Maid, I then spend the 2nd time through rotating 360 degrees, and then at the start of the reel I side step and rotate back around so that the mic is in an imaginary corner between my chanter and tenor drones (front left corner, if you will). At all times the mic is about 5-6 feet away and 5’10” or so.
John MacColl’s March to Kilbowie Cottage, Clachnaharry, & Roderick MacDonald – In this MSR, I “march” (amble more like it) back and forth in front of the mic (perpendicularly, you might say) and then I end up in about the same spot for the strathspey and reel as above for the Swallow’s Tail with the mic off the front left side between chanter and tenor drones (if I’m remembering correctly).
My preference is for the mic in the front, left corner (Swallow’s Tail and the SR of the MSR set). Of course, I also like the mic behind me for the full drone effect, though I think it takes a solid 3rd place behind mic-in-front for fidelity. Dead last is the mic on the right side which is a no-brainer. Hornpipe Jig sets are so fun!
At the “end” of the design process with Terry Ackland I figured I needed to put my advice where my mouth is and switch all my pipes over to Ackland drone reeds. With a little hesitation, I committed and I couldn’t be happier with the drone tone out of each of my sets of pipes. All of them. Gellaitry, Henderson, Terry, Sinclair, David Glen, Colin Kyo, etc. This page will contain recordings of Ackland reeds in all my pipes as I get around to recording them. Check back for updates!
As you’ll find on my Modern Drone Reed Review page, I am all about bold drones and I assert that requires bold drone reeds. Drones should not hum in the background, but stand out and interact harmonically with our modern, bold chanters. Before, I’d have to sift through a few brands of reeds to find the best fit for performance and tone with each different brand of pipe. This usually involved a combination of Kinnaird, Redwood, and X-TREME in most pipes with a couple of other brands thrown in on occasion. But now, I’m convinced you can just throw a set of Ackland’s in there and be golden.
2020-8-28: I start with Colin Kyo Bagpipes. I love these reeds in these pipes. A big bold tenor sound is what you get (bass too, of course). Maybe a bit too bold to start as I had the bridles set back a wee bit; though don’t let the recording setup bias you immediately as the first orientation I have with the mic has the tenor drones blaring right into them, I do rotate around eventually to get a slightly more even balance:
For the recording below, I swapped out the tenors for Ackland tenors with a -0.001″ design specification change which mellowed out the tenors a little bit. The overall blend is very good and Terry Ackland will make you these if you want; I think I’m still sold on the original (see further below recording that starts with Hector the Hero).
2020-8-31: I also recorded a more common drone reed setup so you could hear how much more vibrant the Ackland reeds are. The recording setup is exactly the same. Ezee tenors and Kinnaird bass. A great tone for sure, but just too refined for my taste.
2020-9-1: I then revisited the normal set of Ackland reeds (the same reeds as the first recording above) but I optimized them a little more for efficiency by moving the bridles down just a wee bit (any further and they started to shut off). I think it brought the tenors down to a much better level and I really enjoy the blend here.
It’s a GREAT HIGHLAND BAGPIPE and mine are going to live up to the name. Of course, don’t take that the wrong way; by no means am I going to play gut buster reeds to get the loudest chanter sound I can (my reed preference is around 28-30″ H2O), I’m after the best overall sound I can get and that means drones and drone reeds that give *audible* harmonics that give my chanter a new fuzzy sound with each new note.
2020-9-13: We now switch to the pipes I’ve owned the longest, since I was 15 or 16 years old, so two decades now: 1950s Henderson Bagpipes acquired from Jimmy McIntosh by my parents. The mic is in the same spot but I felt the recordings were coming off a little quiet so I increased the recorder’s recording volume +5 relative to above recordings of the Colin Kyo pipe. I’ve always had a wee bit of trouble reeding these Henderson pipes. They last held a full set of X-TREME as the bass was fantastic and the mellow X-TREME tenors brought the tenors in line. The bass tone was great and the result was a bass heavy blend that was a nice sound that I enjoyed in my rotation of pipes. But now, with Ackland reeds, the tenors are still under control but the sound is that much more glorious for the volume the Ackland tenor reeds bring. These Ackland are the 466 (Bb) model.
I attempted to keep the same recording set up as used before, though as noted the mic setting changed and since the pipe changed from Kyo to Henderson, so did the chanter; so the mic position in the room is the same as is where I’m standing and rotating, but all else has changed.
My favorite thing to play these days are MSR and HJ and that’s about all I practice. I’ll be walking back and forth in these during the march (unless I’m sight reading the music off the bed), so there will be a variety of orientations you’ll hear the pipes from.
David Ross of Rosehall, Tulloch Gorm, & The Keel Row – A new set for me, still sight reading. Tulloch Gorm is such a hard tune, an excellent challenge both technically and rhythmically; I play the birls straight from B and C which is tough, especially since my birls aren’t that great to begin with. Keel Row is such fun; make sure you hold the initial C and B on the GDE (I think I rushed off the endings of the GDE just a bit) and the A and G on the tachums in the ending phrases. David Rose of Rosehall is so melodic especially when you put the 2nd (actually 1st) throw back into the second part and fix the 4th part second ending.
Hugh Alexander Low of Tiree, Top of Craigvenow, Willie Murray’s Reel, Fiona Ferguson, & Thief of Lochaber – Another newer set for me. Hugh just loves to sit on low A and G. Craigvenow is a great darado exercise; I’m changing the placement of the darado in the 2nd bar between the 1/2 and 3/4 parts to add some variety in what seems a bit tedious to me when they’re all played on the same beat. Willie Murray’s is great fun with drive; love playing taorluaths from C instead of GDE at the end of the phrases in the 1/2 parts. Fiona is a classic from MacLeod that I follow up with a jig I’ve known forever, The Thief of Lochaber (with 3/4 parts by MacLeod).
The Clan MacColl, MacBeth’s Strathspey, & Traditional – My most recently memorized new MSR, forgive the bobbled 3rd part – 2nd line restart in the march, accidentally went into the 4th part ending. MacBeth’s is another challenging strathspey though I’m starting to get a handle on it. Traditional is another great reel from MacLeod’s books, I usually miss the D doubling in the ending phrase but I’m working on it; I’ve played my own rhythm for so long I don’t remember what is usually played (MacLeod has it written mostly round).
2020-09-15: Now I’ve got the Chris Terry pipes with Ackland drone reeds. Since I’ve only been practicing my MSRs I figured I’d play other stuff for the recordings, stuff I haven’t played in a while. Please excuse me forgetting how stuff goes!
2020-09-17: Gibson pipes! This is also the first time I will not be playing a Colin Kyo chanter, but the Gibson chanter that came with my new-to-me Gibson R-110-D pipes. Actually, everything about this setup is different than all my others. Instead of an old L&M elk hide or a Gannaway bag, I am using a medium Canmore hybrid bag (no MCS) and an Apps 2019 ridge cut reed (that’s a little too hard for me as I’m breaking it in, apologize in advance for all the chokes). This Gibson chanter is probably ~2004 and has pretty good tone. I notice the E hole is rather large making it a bit sharp and I’m curious if that is specific to this era of Gibson chanter. In other tests I noticed plastic pipe reeds (Glenarley and McLaren) which usually suffer from flat Es in all other chanters had less of a problem in this chanter. Though, as you’ll hear in the recordings, I had a tough time really perfecting how much tape was needed on the E hole. It being a big hole was problematic as it needed more than just a little tape and the more tape you put on a hole the more unstable the note becomes. I’ll get there, it being a harder chanter reed than I’m used to didn’t help.
2020-09-25: Glencoe pipes! Glencoe pipes were made by Matt Marshall (a former Lawrie craftsman, so I like to think his pipes are in the Lawrie tradition) up in Canada. I was breaking in a reed but decided it was just too hard so swapped in an old chanter reed that plays at 23 in H2O (!), so very low pressure. So I had to bring the bridles down on the drone reeds a bit (especially the bass) from where they were set for the harder reed. So just goes to show they work with easy reeds too! Back to a Colin Kyo chanter.
2020-10-28 Atherton Legacy Pipes! Took the reeds out of my Glens (I’m out of new reeds, haha). Bag a little leaky as haven’t been played by their owner in a bit so didn’t get too many recordings where I wasn’t already tired.
Calista Anne McLaurin & The Long March Home – The Long March Home is a composition of and the title track of Dan Houghton‘s album “The Long March Home”. You should buy both his albums; his playing isn’t always technically perfect (mine certainly isn’t) but IT IS ALIVE. And very musical.