Monthly Archives: April 2012

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