Monthly Archives: April 2012

I have no idea why everyone doesn’t play Kinnaird drone reeds.

Super short post today. As you know, I play nothing but a full Kinnaird setup in my Gellaitry pipes and they sounding uhmayzin (that’s some west texas drawl fer ya). I done figured I’d put them in my MacPherson pipes and see how they went. The answer: fantastic. So, why don’t you play Kinnaird drone reeds? I just ordered me some from Gord at so I could play a set in both pipes without swapping out. The one recording below is of a tune I wrote followed by one I didn’t played on the MacPherson pipes with Kinnaird drone reeds, accompanied by a Colin Kyo laminate chanter with a Shawn Husk chanter reed that has had its middle carved away as it was a bit too hard. Sorry about the E being a little out and that squawk in the middle.

Marcus McLaurin of the 772nd Tank Battalion, WWII (Patrick McLaurin) and Spanner in the Works (Hamish Moore, I’m told)

Big Comp Tunes and the McLaren Synthetic Reed

One nice thing about having 3 pipes is you can be pretty sure at least one of them will be going really well. Right now, those are my band pipes. 1950’s Hende’s with Naill-spec Rocket tenors and a Canning polycarbonate tongued bass (I prefer this over the carbon fiber bass). My fingers were going fairly well so I whipped out the big competition tunes. The biggest disappointment was having to rerecord the Lucy Cassidy/Curlew set after the MSR as I fumbled really bad in the last line of the Curlew and by the second go around my fingers were getting tired (as I had spent the previous 45 minutes testing prototype drone reeds before I decided to whip these tunes out upon putting my regular reeds back in) and hence my grip unfortunately got a little tighter with the fatigue and my E grace note problem reared its ugly little head in the 3rd part of the Curlew (just listen for all the missing grace notes in the 1st and 5th bars after the throw). I’ve been able to retrain that finger to play taorluaths (so I have some hope of playing a crunluath at some point, now you know why I don’t play Piobaireachd), GDEs, and the occasional D doubling/shake when it’s feeling cooperative but my pinkie is bound and determined to ruin every single E grace note I try to play. Relaxing the fingers helps A LOT! Anybody know how to cut the nerve between my brain and my left pinkie finger? Enough excuses, I did go on to play Crossing the Minch and Donella Beaton as a backup HJ, so there you go. Another note on the Curlew though. The first bar of each part starts with a D throw and the last bar of each part starts with a GDE on CAA. This is all well and good if you’re playing a light throw but I think a heavy throw fits much better and instead of GDE on CAA I prefer to play a taorluath from C to A; note that there is still a GDE pattern but the D and E grace notes are wrapped up in the taorluath. I feel this gives it the right amount of bubblyness to match the heavy throw at the beginning of the line. Colin Kyo chanter and Gilmour reed, but I bet you knew that! If you’re new to the blog, I place the recorder up on a book shelf and walk around in circles (when I’m not playing in the walk-in closet anyway, there it’s about belly height but I face away from it) because I hate not being able to hear the drones in recordings of the bagpipe; so the chanter might seem quiet at points because the drones are pointed right at the mic as I walk around.

The Rossshire Volunteers (John Connon), Susan MacLeod (Donald MacLeod), Charlie’s Welcome (out of Scott MacAulay’s book, adaptation of Duncan Johnstone’s setting)

Lucy Cassidy (George McIntyre) and The Curlew (Donald MacPherson, Clydebank)

Crossing the Minch (Donald MacLeod) and Donella Beaton (George Johnstone)

I’ve added a direct link to the Bob Pekaar Tune Encyclopedia on the right side of the webpage at the top of the “Non-Bagpipe Blog-oid Links” section in case you want to locate any of the tunes I play.

The newest version of the McLaren synthetic chanter reed doesn’t seem all too different from the last version I played with. Noticeably, it now has 2 rubber bands instead of 1. Previously, I had only gotten it to work in the Kron Medalist, and I have found the same to be true pretty much even now. However, I had to remove one band to get the best result. Otherwise the Medalist resembled a smallpipe chanter with a rather muffled low A coupled with the rather strong high A offered by the synthetic reed. Removing one band allowed the volume of the low A to increase significantly. Removal of both bands resulted in a wonky E that could be blown over a wide ranges of pitches. Here is a very quick snippet of the Kron Medalist with the McLaren synthetic reed:

High Drive (Gordon Duncan) and Arthur Bignold of Lochrosque

Trying the reed in a couple other chanters was unsuccessful. The McC2 chanter played well with both bands on the reed, with no soft low A, but the high G was 30-41 cents sharp even with the hole over half covered with tape, probably a function of having 2 bridles on the reed. Hear the few notes played on the McC2 here:

1st part of Arthur Bignold of Lochrosque

but discover here why it isn’t going to work here:

1st part of the High Drive (Gordon Duncan)

Overall chirpiness is what kept the AyrFire chanter from working well with the reed as well. The McC2 and AyrFire required the use of both bands on the reeds to keep the E from going wonky; otherwise the combination might have worked if only one band could have been used to minimize the tape on high G, though I’m not overly confident about that conclusion.

The Kron Medalist

Well, my solo reed is about done. Any squirreliness you’ve noticed in the last couple posts where I mention its use can be solely attributed to its lackluster performance. I’ll have to try that mandrel trick again and see if that helps. But, I used it one last time for this post on the Kron Medalist chanter. In my past attempts at recording this chanter (well, it was a different one that I ended up recording with a McLaren synthetic reed) I could never get past flat C and F. This is probably because the reeds I was trying weren’t completely broken in, but they did go fine in other chanters. So I figured, can’t get any more broken in than this reed so plop it in there and away we go. The first track was meant to exhibit the very awesome high A, except it went sharp about 20 seconds in so you’ll have to catch a glimpse from the latter two recordings, Song for Winter being a good one, F too, and B, good chanter. Me likes. As it stands, the first recording is just an example of how inconsistent my grips are, one day I’ll get that tune down. Pipes are the Gellaitry’s again.

PM George Allan (Donald MacLeod) and Braes of Melinish

Song for Winter and Maggie’s Pancakes (Stuart Morrison – fiddler with Tannahill Weavers)

Herringwife and Donella Beaton (George Johnstone)

Gellaitry’s with AyrFire and Colin Kyo chanters

Sorry for all the posts as of late. You can tell how this goes. Patrick gets new piping product in. Patrick goes crazy with recordings. Patrick gets in trouble for shirking his duties around the house. Time spent piping dwindles. Repeat.

But, I really wanted to clear up something in my last post (which has been edited), and that is my manipulations of the MacLellan reed were the source of the unsteadiness of the reed and not the oval low A hole as I suggested. In addition to trying the MacLellan reed that I disfigured in a Colin Kyo chanter, I also dislodged my favorite solo reed from my favorite solo chanter (gasp, I know) and tried it in the AyrFire chanter. Sure enough, the disfigured MacLellan was unsteady in the Colin Kyo and the AyrFire played fine with my solo Gilmour reed. Yay! Recordings below in my solo pipe (favorite, duh!), Gellaitry’s with Kinnaird drone reeds.

Although the MacLellan reed is now kinda bleh, I did notice when reeding the Kyo that I had to pull the reed out quite a bit and the pitch ultimately settled around 472 Hz. Which is pretty cool because my solo Gilmour is usually around 485 Hz, but it’s a really easy reed about to give up the ghost. The Gilmour in the AyrFire came in around 480 Hz. So, note to self: try some more MacLellan’s in the Kyo for a flatter pitch, and not a gut buster reed. The high G was a bit sharp and required a bit of tape, but that could be my fault with the reed manipulation stuff. I mean, the blades aren’t even aligned anymore. Another note to self: do not use pliers to hold reeds while you hammer a nail into the bottom of the reed (which doesn’t do anything by the way); just stick with the mandrel inserted far enough that it actually does something. Enough talk, more playing.

1. Colin Kyo – MacLellan reed – Delvinside – laminate chanter

2. AyrFire – Gilmour reed – Delvinside, Thief of Lochaber (arr. Donald MacLeod), I Laid a Herring in Salt, Troy’s Wedding, Kenneth MacDonald’s Jig (Norman MacDonald)

3. AyrFire – Gilmour reed – 74th’s Farewell to Edinburgh, Shepherd’s Crook, Miss Proud

4. AyrFire – Gilmour reed – Clumsy Lover (Neil Dickie, hornpipe), 1st Hype Cowboy Division (Murray Blair) – last time I played these was like 10 years ago

I did notice my fingers getting a bit tired so I switched back to the Colin Kyo with the Gilmour reed to see if it was just fatigue from playing so much or fatigue from the slightly different finger spread/spacing on the AyrFire. It would seem to not be fatigue from amount of playing but from adjusting to the AyrFire, so you get one more recording. I think the Colin Kyo still has the smallest finger spread of all chanters and that helps me play it well, and other chanters not so much, haha, hehe, doh.

5. Colin Kyo – Gilmour reed – Up ‘an Adam (Murray Blair) – sight read, blackwood solo chanter

AyrFire chanter again and the band pipe

The medium reed I got from Colin in the AyrFire chanter was just a tad on the easy side as I stated in my previous post. Except for one day a long time ago I’ve never had any luck using a reed mandrel to open up a reed to make it harder. Until today. Turns out I’ve been a pansy and just not sticking the mandrel up far enough the reed’s rear end. I previously always tried to make sure the mandrel never extended beyond the binding hemp (the black stuff, well, usually black), but with that I could never actually get the mandrel to open up the reed using the suggested twisting motion. So, today I tried using a nail. Literally just stuck the nail in, held the reed, and took a hammer to the end of the nail and guess what? Nothing happened. Go figure. So I was like, “crap.” How am I going to make this reed just a tad bit harder? Step 1: Stick that mandrel in there! Not like all the way or anything, but the tip of the mandrel will likely need to be beyond the binding thread just a tad to get to the end of the staple. This worked so well, I took it too far. So then I had to break out the pliers and kinda squish the reed back together. I squeezed in the same area, about half on the black binding, half on the reed (though I’m unsure if the pliers were even touching the reed). Colin would be proud, or disgusted, I’m not sure which. The reed now plays at a grand 33-34 inches of water, just where I like it. It now has a bit of resistance I can lean against. This inspired me to play a set of tunes I haven’t played in forever, and so the recordings kinda suck, but the first hornpipe is one I first heard on Colin’s World’s Greatest Pipers album, the Fairie’s Hornpipe. It’s spelled Fairy in Duncan Johnstone’s Jigs and Hornpipes book but what’re you gonna do. Now, I’ve left out a good 20 minutes of destroying this reed prior to my mandrel discovery so I can’t say for sure yet if the critique I’m about to lay down is against the reed (and my non-existent ability to not mess it up) or the AyrFire chanter. I had a heck of a time getting a semi-decent recording because the drones always sounded out of tune. Why? Because I can’t blow steady and something about the low A on the AyrFire or this reed allows a bit of fluctuation on low A. I mean, I was swapping out drone reeds left and right and casting voodoo spells all over Murray Henderson, Xavier Boderiou, and curse the thought, even Mark Lee for making unsteady drone reeds. Okay, that last one gave me a reality check. So I got real and figured out I can’t blow worth a squirrel poop. Anywho, I’ll need to swap in another reed and see if this characteristic stays with the chanter or follows the reed. I can’t help but wonder if these elongated, oval holes might be the source. You’ll notice at the end the pitch is a bit variable before I cut out, something that isn’t present in the second recording with a different chanter and reed. EDIT: I can say for sure it’s the reed, my manipulations are undoubtedly the reason for the lackluster steadiness of the reed; see next newest post for recording of AyrFire chanter with a Gilmour reed that I haven’t disfigured (too much). So it’s the AyrFire chanter again in the MacPherson’s only this time I’ve gone back to the HHD tenor and Crozier glass bass combo. I’ve been swapping so much recently I decided to finally get my band pipes settled again so I tried to record the tune set again on my band pipes (Henderson’s with Rocket tenors and Canning polycarb bass) with the standard Colin Kyo chanter/Gilmour reed combo. My birls sucked more but I didn’t have the big flub half-way through Fleshmarket Close. Ah, I suck. I would say enjoy but I think try not to die would be more accurate.

Fairy’s Hornpipe, Jolly Beggarman, Pigeon on the Gate, Fleshmarket Close, Kelsey’s Wee Reel – Da MacPherson’s

Fairie’s Hornpipe, Jolly Beggarman, Pigeon on the Gate, Fleshmarket Close, Kelsey’s Wee Reel – Ze Henderson’s

AyrFire chanter and drone reeds in the MacPherson’s

The illustrious Colin MacLellan is throwing his hat into the “big name piper having helped design a chanter” ring with a collaboration with Ayrshire Bagpipes Company. This company is known for making the Big Bore blowpipe and bagpipes made out of crazy materials like Tufnol and polycarbonate. Other chanters designed by big name pipers include Willie McCallum and another reed maker, Chris Apps. Colin and Brian Mulhearn call their new chanter the AyrFire, which is emblazoned across the top of the chanter. Colin has been a reed maker for a while. The last batch of reeds I got from him several years ago were straight cut reeds but he looks to have joined the ranks, or perhaps lead the way (I don’t know), in what is a growing number of reed makers making hybrid chanter reeds. That is, they aren’t true straight cut but they aren’t ridge cut either. Other reed makers I’ve noticed with this design include the Caldwell reed and the Husk reed. The idea is to capture the best of both type reeds. I prefer straight cut reeds simply because they can last a while and when set at the right pressure don’t need to be fiddled with. I really have never had a ridge cut reed that was the right strength, they’re either too bloody hard or too easy, and I can’t get them in between. I digress. If you shell out a couple extra bucks your AyrFire chanter comes with a MacLellan reed and a chanter cap with no opening but made of a soft wood which I presume is to absorb the moisture off the reed. I ordered a medium and what I was given came in at about 31 inches of water operating pressure. Just a teeny bit on the light side as I prefer 33-34 but dang, that’s being nit-picky. I’m quite sure Colin doesn’t consider himself a mind reader, though I’m unsure if he measures the strength with anything other than experience. It’s a nice reed. It’s also a nice chanter. The finger holes are comparable to the Colin Kyo except the E may actually be a tad higher and the B and low A holes are a little lower and aren’t round but elongated (as opposed to oval). However, there’s no funky business as far as the relative hole spacing goes so I had no trouble finding the holes for C taps and those pesky heavy D taps even. In the recordings below I set the high A just a tad flat as I’m lazy and taped the high G, F, and E. Note the C isn’t flat, even from the get go, which is cool. The first recording has a quick scale that features my out of tune drones which is nice. It came in with low A right around 478-9 Hz which is comparable with just about every other chanter on the market excepting the McC2 and Medalist which I find a few Hz flatter. It is dry as Mars here in Lubbock so high G’s tend to be quite sharp which took a little tape to the high G and even so, there was no chirping on G grace notes on low A. Ridge cuts, and dry reeds in general, are infamous for this chirping so I’m glad I don’t have to bother with that. About now you’re wishing I’d shut up and “get on with it” (think I can work a Monty Python reference into every post?) but ONE more thing. There are four recordings below, though shall not count to three unless thou proceedeth to four, five is outright. I be doodling with drone reeds as usual so you’ll find different combinations. I’ve also never recorded some of these tunes before even though I’ve known them a while. This is unfortunate because I totally messed up the 6/8 swing in them, so my bad, I know now, gotta fix that. So, if you’re not recording yourself, I promise you have no idea what you sound like! Laters.

Miss Ishabel T. MacDonald – AyrFire chanter – MacLellan reed – MacPherson bagpipes – Henderson Harmonic Deluxe reeds

Mrs. Lily Christie – AyrFire chanter – MacLellan reed – MacPherson bagpipes – Henderson Harmonic Deluxe tenor reeds – Kinnaird bass

The Sweet Maid of Mull – AyrFire chanter – MacLellan reed – MacPherson bagpipes – Kinnaird reeds

Bonnie Dundee – AyrFire chanter – MacLellan reed – MacPherson bagpipes – Kinnaird tenor reeds – Henderson Harmonic Deluxe bass