Tim Gellaitry bagpipes, tonal differences between blackwood and brownwood

I never knew how much the tone of a set of pipes was affected by the wood they were made out of until these last few days. Tim Gellaitry┬ásent me a set of pipes made of a brown wood to try because he knows I like to experiment with different setups and wood choice really hasn’t been something I could have studied up until now. I already own a set of his blackwood pipes so I can make a direct comparison between these brownwood pipes and my blackwood pipes. (edit 12-18-2012: I have since discovered the bushings on my blackwood set are 1/16″ larger in diameter than bushings on the brownwood set).

Upon receipt, these pipes are very brown. Not ugly brown (a la Pakistani) but instead a pretty brown. I don’t know the name of the wood, so I’m going to call these pipes brownwood.┬áHe says the wood itself is a lot like ebony. I played an ebony set of Robertson’s about a year ago; the first thing I noted in them was the strong overtones and overall sweet sound. What’s the first thing I noted with these brownwood pipes when I struck them up for the first time? Great overtones and a sweet sound. Relative to my blackwood set, the brownwood set has a smoother sound whereas the blackwood has an edge to it. The difference between butter and its knife. The overtones of the buttery brownwood set are distinct from the edgier sound emanating from the blackwood. So, some recordings.

The ONLY thing that changes in the recordings below is the material the drones are made out of (and my chanter kept getting flat after switching to the brownwood pipes so the tuning isn’t spectacular on the brownwood recordings, until the last one anyway). Both are Tim Gellaitry bagpipes made to the same specs. I kept the blackwood stocks, Colin Kyo chanter, drone reeds, bag, actual drone reeds, and relative standing position to the mic all the same. The blackwood ones were recorded first, then I swapped out just the brownwood drones into the blackwood stocks and transplanted the reeds; I never stopped the recorder. The chanter is tuning fairly high in pitch as it is very dry in Lubbock. I think I’ll pull the reed out a bit and tape the bottom hand for the next round of recordings coming soon to fully feature the brownwood pipes. I use Kinnaird drone reeds, regular pitch.

blackwood – Scale + Scotland the Brave

brownwood – Scale + Scotland the Brave

I spliced the scales together here for a more direct comparison. Again, you can hear the chanter has gone a wee bit flat on the brownwood, I had to remember to blow it out.

Scale – Blackwood drones then Brownwood drones

Here are some tune sets. Today was not a birl day, hence the change of jig.

blackwood – Sleep Dearie Sleep + Old Chanter

brownwood – Sleep Dearie Sleep + Hen’s March

By the time I got to the brownwood pipes the chanter started to go flat a little bit, as can be observed in the brownwood recordings above (and mentioned earlier). For my last recording for the day I spent what little time I had left to record correcting the chanter tuning. So, we’ve got a short tunes I ran across in The Gordon Highlanders Pipe Music Collection Volume I a few days ago. Probably my favorite solo piping album of all time is Hugh MacCallum’s. A lot of my original repertoire comes from playing tunes that he played on that album. So I figured I’d play a tune named after him. Stay tuned for the next installment on the blog where I start out with the brownwood pipes so there’s no funny business swapping drones boogering up the chanter tuning.

brownwood – Hugh A. MacCallum (Archie Duncan)

Lastly, I do not own these brownwood pipes, they are just currently in my possession after already being in the U.S. Tim Gellaitry tells me they are for sale. A customer opted to have an identical set but with slides added to the tuning pins, which is what gave me the opportunity to play this other set. If you’re interested in purchasing these pipes, definitely give him a shout. I have only played the drones and will not be utilizing the stocks or blowpipe. I believe this brownwood set is one of two in existence. Tim mentioned publicly on Facebook (so I have no qualms about reposting it), “it bores and turns very similar to ebony with the dull bores .Very dusty and hard on your tools. It’s used by a lot of woodwind makers as they prefer the tone.” As I said I own a set of blackwood pipes by Tim (also featured in this post) and they are honestly a great set of pipes. Absolutely top notch craftsmanship (I haven’t seen better) and superb tonal quality. They have been my set of choice for solo competition since I acquired them in 2010. His drones are steady as a rock and sound absolutely fantastic. Finally some pictures!

4 thoughts on “Tim Gellaitry bagpipes, tonal differences between blackwood and brownwood

  1. I have sets of MacLellans in cocobolo and blackwood. Similar to your recordings, the cocobolo is rich and complex and the blackwood is clearer and crisper. Very similar to what I hear of your files.

    Thanks for the blog – its great!

  2. Hey John,
    Thanks for stopping by the site. Glad to hear your experience is similar to mine (the scientist in me is hard to repress!). Your description is spot on. I had the chance to hear a set of cocobolo MacLellans in person and they had a very rich sound.

  3. Cool stuff, Patrick. Have been curious about this kind of thing as of late. The ebony sets I’ve played (MacpHersons, Hendersons now) have had that richer sound compared to the ABWs. Not sure I can describe what I am hearing, the blackwood is a bit brighter. Chanter overpowering the brownwood a bit? Both very, very, nice though.

  4. Hey Matt,
    After a bit of investigation it turns out the bushing sizes on my blackwood set are bigger than on this brownwood set. The next test for me to do is to tape over part of the holes on the blackwood set and see if I hear decrease in volume akin to what the brownwood set is putting out. So, unfortunately, my observations can’t be boiled down to only differences in the wood used. :o(

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