Monthly Archives: September 2013

Robertson bagpipes with Robertson Rocket drone reeds

Today’s post is the first installment of a series that will cover a set of Robertson bagpipes on loan to me from David Murry (NY). I’ve played these pipes once before but they were shipped up to Dunbar to be refurbished, but now they’re back in my hands again. If I recall correctly they’re ebony with a few bits showing the lighter brown sapwood. They’re button mounted, nickel ferrules, and yellowed imitation ivory ringcaps that don’t quite look like anything I’ve seen before (not chalky like casein (which also doesn’t turn yellow), not celluloid as there’s no grain, not that stuff you find on Hardies as it isn’t shiny enough, so I dunno). David is offering the pipe for sale so in the interim I get to play them (they have sold). There’s no blowpipe or chanter but the drones are complete along with the complete set of stocks. I could also provide these carbon fiber Rocket drone reeds, though I’ll think you’ll find Cannings better suited once I get around to recording them. I’m playing them in my Henderson stocks so only the drones are being playing currently as I don’t have a spare bag to tie them into.

I was hoping the Robertson spec Robertsons would go a little better than the recordings indicate. The bass is big and the tenors mellow and with where I put the recorder (same spot as usual) you get a lot of bass without much tenor. There are spots in the recordings where you can hear the blend as for the most part I’m usually just meandering around the room, so they’re there, you’ll just have to wait for them. The tenors can be made bolder as I have the bridles as far down as they’ll go without shutting off for the sake of stability, though they are on the verge of being outside the normal operating range as indicated by the marks Mark Lee puts on the reed bodies to indicate bridle positioning. Live and in person, the blend was very nice, but I’m a tenor man so Cannings are in next.

Sorry about the fingers, digging up and lifting the ugly concrete landscaping in my front yard yesterday left my forearms like jelly.

Leaving Port Askaig, Angus MacKinnon, and Ellenor – A few band tunes out of order and in the wrong sets

74th’s Slow March, Donella Beaton, Braes of Melinish, and Rakes of Kildare – I’m about tired of hearing top notch players playing wussy versions of Rakes!

Hector the Hero, Cork Hill, Glasgow City Police Pipers, Clumsy Lover Jig, Troy’s Wedding – These jigs are a new band set except Clumsy.

Kanatare to El Arish, Susan MacLeod, and Lochiel’s Awa to France – Da MSR

David shipped some original Shepherd drone reeds (not SM-90), ya know, the black ones with white tongues cause he says the tenors sound fantastic. I don’t believe him (lol) but I *might* try them. For sure, next in the pipe are Cannings. Cannings have a great ring on the tenors that will really bring out the harmonics and the bass will blend a little better, I think.

Typical of Robertson bagpipes, the bottom joint on the bass is almost as exposed as the top joint. This poses some problem with reliable strike in with this Rocket bass, so hopefully I can find a bass (Canning carbon fiber or polycarbonate, or maybe low-pitch Genesis Kinnaird) to allow me to pull it down just a tad. I don’t like hitting the bag too hard because I’m afraid I’ll pop off the tenors.

For the drummers, with a metronome this time!

This post is a continuation of my initial post about helping drummers by providing recordings for them to play along with.

My “band” has no active drummers. Last time I played in a band with drummers was 2002.

Let’s just say I’m wholly ignorant of all aspects of solo drumming competition.

How often do solo drummers utilize a recording of a piper to play along with in competition (allowed in EUSPBA, maybe not elsewhere)?

If there was a repository of tunes played at band tempos specifically made available to assist drummers just so they could have something to play along with, would it be helpful to anyone?

Long story less short, my piping blog has been devoted to bagpipe sound research for a while and it still will be but in an effort to expand my website’s usefulness and connect with the broader piping and drumming community at large I’m toying with the idea of making a website with tunes played in ways that help or assist (or what have you) drummers.

What I get out of this is how to play for drummers. My first experiment was recording tonight’s practice session with a metronome going through my ear phones as I recorded one tune after another. For each tune I provide some sort of count and stay true to the metronome the best I can.

A little research showed that 80 bpm was common for 2/4 marches, though I’m a bit clueless as to strathspeys and reels (I went with 120 and 80, respectively). What are standard tempos?

Things I’ve learned so far:
1. It’ really obvious when you’re trying to speed up to catch up with the metronome.
2. An 80 bpm 2/4 is fast! (for this solo piper)
3. Phrasing is harder and easier with a metronome clicking away.

Warning, some of these down right suck, in my not so humble opinion, haha.

2/4 Marches:

Angus Campbell’s Farewell to Stirling

Highland Wedding

Hugh Kennedy


Jeannie Carruthers

Jimmy Young

John MacColl’s March to Kilbowie Cottage

John MacMillan of Barra

Mrs. Duncan MacFadyen


Bogan Lochan

Dora MacLeod

Susan MacLeod


Charlie’s Welcome

Would continuing this be a valuable contribution? I’m not the greatest piper in the world by any means, but I see this as another way to grow.

So, there it is. I’d love for other pipers to join in and contribute. I always said I’d play for a drummer if they needed me to in competition, but I rarely get the opportunity (as in never). I’d love the challenge of recording a specific tune for anyone to use, just give me the tempo and a specific setting if need be.

I got really tired of playing with a metronome. The band is picking up the tune Cork Hill which the score has taorluaths in. We took them out and put in just GDE. But, to make up for it I figured I would put some taorluaths into:

Troy’s Wedding

just for kicks, you know.

Henderson’s with Atherton MacDougall spec Rocket drone reeds

Here’s my 1950’s Hendersons with the Atherton MacDougall spec Rocket drone reeds. Hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoy playing them, way better than with what I’ve been calling Naill spec Rocket drone reeds that look eerily similar to what someone else claimed to have D. MacPherson spec….maybe they’re the same/similar? Anyone else out there have Rockets with an 8 written on the fiber glass bass and little dots on the tenors, and that’s it?

Patrick McLaurin (by Jack Williamson) – Jack named this nice 4 part 9/8 march after me, thanks Jack!

Mrs. Duncan MacFadyen (by Donald MacLeod) – played it kinda slow, but it’s a nice tune

John MacMillan of Barra (with roll off count) – this belongs in the previous post by I slowed waaaayyyyy down so, ya know, not very useful for drummers

Calista Anne McLaurin, Kitty O’Shea’s, and Mason’s Apron – all these recordings were with the Adrian Melvin reed that I’ve boogered up just a little as the blades are now a little off center after all my wetting and squeezing, but it being a ridge cut reed I figured I’d show you, considering that the post 2 down from this one deals with accidentals in pipe music, this recording is an excellent example of how ridge cut reeds don’t play accidentals that well. Can you tell I’m trying the 2nd time through Kitty O’Shea’s? Also shows the reed is a little unstable due to the offset blades as at the end the drones are more out of tune as the low A isn’t being blown out (blown in tune).

For the drummers, does this help?

I’ve been thinking about more ways I might contribute to the greater piping (and drumming) community. How useful would a repository of recorded tunes (with rolloff count) be to drummers? I’m not the best player in the world but I’m not THAT terrible. Surely others could contribute also. Record the tunes and post them to a website (this one?) for people to download, like drummers, who could then play along without having to have a piper on retainer. Would that be useful?

Concerning the recordings, I’d have to:

1. get some earplugs going with a metronome ticking away.

2. remember to count the roll off

3. not totally suck

4. perhaps focus the recordings more on the chanter and less on the drones (I’ve been doing it the other way around because drone reeds is a big focus of my blog)

5. play at a tempo useful to drummers (I’m a soloist, our band has no drummers)

6. actually play tunes drummers use in competition

7. what else…..?

All free of course. This post is all about realizing all these things based on my first few attempts at a collection of 2/4 marches where I at least added the roll off count to the beginning, but that’s about it. Tempos probably change a bit (a lot). Any drummers out there care to comment? Thanks!

Here’s my first shot at a bunch of tunes that I sort of know to maybe help somebody:

Angus Campbell’s Farewell to Stirling

Arthur Bignold of Lochrosque

Balmoral Highlanders

Cowal Gathering

Highland Wedding

Mrs. Duncan MacFadyen

The Clan MacColl


Adrian Melvin chanter reeds and more Rocket reeds to play with

Here’s a few clips of my carved up Colin Kyo chanter with an Adrian Melvin ridge cut reed. In an unmodified CK chanter the bottom hand comes off too sharp because the reed can’t be sunk enough to bring the top hand up sharp enough. In talking with Adrian, the reed I’m using is older and his newer ones balance much better in the CK chanter, so we’ll be ordering some direct to give them a shot for the band. CK chanters have a narrower reed seat than most chanters so if you play just about any other chanter, it isn’t necessarily something you’d have to worry about, especially since they’re better balanced now than before. His reeds have just a great crack on them. Having ordered easy strength, dry it was too hard but slobber on it a bit (quite literally) and squeeze the thick part of the ridge a few times and voila, perfect strength without any loss of crack. The crack and response from this reed is superb. Might give them a go if you haven’t already. Additional to the Melvin chanter reed, this post features Atherton MacDougall spec Rocket tenor drone reeds and a Naill spec Rocket bass drone reed in my 1950s Hendersons. The MacD bass reed was tuning on a nanometer so I switched back to my standard Naill one.

King of Loais, PM Calum Campbell’s Caprice, The Big Yin, and Scotaire Hornpipe – the first tune was chosen to feature the F which is just really sparkling with these Rocket tenors and Melvin chanter reed, as are B and D. I don’t know if it’s the chanter reed, the drone reeds, or both, but live this pipe is singing.

Skyeman’s Jig (arr. Duncan Johnstone) – out of John MacFadyen’s first book mentioned in the previous blog post. First jig in a set of jigs that ended in my drones being too far out to post the rest of the set (about time to reseason the L&M bag on these pipes, they’re getting temporally unsteady) and additionally the kids got home, opened the door, yelled at me, slammed the door, and I boogered up a few times, so, you just get the first tune, lol.

They all end on D

Well, I’ll have to gear up the blog again. I recently acquired a nearly new set of Rocket reeds intended for Atherton MacDougall pipes. I was hoping they’d go well in the Jeffers and while they sound nice, I still think Selbie are a better fit. However, they are a marked improvement over the Naill spec Rockets I had been using in my 1950’s Hendersons so here soon there will be a post about that. With every new set of drone reeds I acquire, I have to run them through every set I own to see which pipes they work best in. The ultimate goal is to simultaneously optimize the sound of each bagpipe and all of my bagpipes. Thankfully so far, most pipes like different reeds since I’ve only got one of each brand. Today was the try these new Rockets in the Gellaitry’s just to make sure they’re not better than the Kinnairds I have in there now. The bass seemed a little finicky so the recordings below have the regular Kinnaird bass back in coupled with the Rocket tenors. I’m also playing my newest Colin Kyo addition, a chanter with a boxwood sole and bulb to go with the boxwood on the Gellaitry pipes.

I had used my Zoom H2 to record something else in the interim and I forgot to reset the levels so the recordings in mp3 came out really quiet so I had to normalize them. Since Audacity doesn’t do a great job of re-encoding to mp3 after normalization, to save “resolution” I opted to save them has lossless wav files, so the recordings below top out around 35 MB of data (but at least they’re audible!).

Mrs. Lily Christie and The Quaker

Twisted Fingers and The High Drive – What we learn from this set is that The High Drive should be played round, unlike the way I played it. Also, Twisted Fingers is a tune I just recently learned (first day on the pipes actually, don’t worry, this was like the 30th take, lol) taken from John MacFadyan’s book 1, more about that below.

James MacLellan’s Favourite, Hen’s March, and Kenneth MacDonald’s Jig – I just recently found the first jig in John MacFadyen’s book 1 which you can buy at piping shops or through the College of Piping’s app for iPad (how I did it). Manawatu Scottish Pipe Band also played the first jig in their medley during the qualifier at the World Pipe Band Championships, of course I didn’t realize that until yesterday after recording the tune. Kind of like when you first learn a new word you start hearing it everywhere, I guess it goes for tunes too.

So, I’ve only got 2 chanters going at the moment, both Colin Kyo, both with Husk reeds. For some reason I keep thinking that maybe some other brand will hold the magic for Colin Kyo chanters, but then, each time I take stock of what I’m playing, it has a Husk reed in it that I spent just a little time boogering up to play at my strength level, and it goes pretty good.

I’ve ordered one of the new RJM solo chanters (Roddy J. MacLeod, yes that one) so expect that review after a while. We have to wait for it to be made and then shipped overseas so it’ll be a month or so, Roddy says.

Time to get some chanter stocks made with all the same inner bores so I don’t have to keep a bunch of different chanters going, argh.

Summary of bagpipe specs used in recordings above

Gellaitry Drones+ Atherton MacD Rocket tenors + regular Kinnaird bass

Colin Kyo blackwood chanter + Husk chanter reed

Gannaway zip bag