It took them a little while to hop over the pond to TX, and then winter break happened, but I’ve finally recorded the Premium X-TREME drone reeds I purchased from designer Chris Armstrong toward the end of 2014. Today they are played in a set of Colin Kyo bagpipes (not pictured, those are my 1950’s Hendersons).
They’re “premium” reeds because some sort of hydrophobic material or coating comprises or is on the reeds which supposedly allows them to actively repel moisture. If I lived somewhere humid this might matter, but Lubbock is dry. Perhaps I should have spent less and gone with the regular version? I noticed a tad bit of moisture on them after a 45 minute playing session, but that evaporated in about 10 seconds after removing the drones from the stocks, so it would seem the stuff works (and that was in a bag that needs some seasoning). Chris actually mentions this effect in the instruction manual which must be downloaded, as it does not come with the reeds. The 45 minute session in the bag that was recently seasoned resulted in no visible moisture on the reeds upon removing the drones from the stocks.
What do I think, you ask? I think the tenors could be just a tad bit bolder. I also think the bridles are too wide. The bridles being as wide as they are make them difficult to move effectively. This is exacerbated by how soft the bridle material is. It’s not a pillow, don’t get me wrong, but there is some give to it so it’s not certain if you actually moved the bridle or just squished it a little bit. As such, my tenor reeds are actually set up just a little too hard as I’m not a patient person, and I still think they’re a little too quiet. They proved to be steady reeds indeed and they sound nice. The tuning plug is threaded and a fairly tight fit so I don’t think teflon tape is needed to ensure the plug is airtight, though I did add some to the bass just to be sure. The range of motion of the tuning plug is very generous allowing the reeds to be tuned to a variety of pitches, or altered to allow your drones to tune just where you like them. Perhaps I need to set mine up so the tenor drones tune lower on the pins which results in an amplification of the E overtone and generally makes them more brassy sounding. They don’t suffer from the buzz often associated with most carbon fiber reeds; in that regard they’re much like Murray Henderson’s Harmonic Deluxe drone reeds (white in the photo below). I will say, and I can be quoted as saying this to a few people prior to receipt of the reeds, that at the price the premium X-TREME reeds retail for ($130, non-premium are $100), I was going to be pissed if they were just hydrophobic Henderson Harmonic Deluxe (HHD drone reeds can be had for only $66, although I find them finicky as to whether they want to play some days). I almost got really pissed when I put the bass reeds next to each other, but the tenors are different so I calmed down. The HHD bass is a very popular one so I don’t guess I should be too surprised. Of course, there could also be differences beyond the surface so I won’t judge a book by its cover. (Edit May 8, 2019: The X-TREME bass is a completely different reed than the Henderson, despite their similar appearances. The X-TREME bass has a punch to it that I love.)
Here’s a shot of most commercially available carbon fiber tongued drone reeds. From left to right: Crozier carbon, Robertson spec Rocket, Redwood, Kinnaird, HHD, X-TREME, HHD, X-TREME, Crozier carbon, Kinnaird. Ah crap, I forgot the Canning bass, oh well, it looks like the Kinnaird but the body is brown and it uses a flat bridle.
Below you’ll find 3 recordings, 2 with the drones pointed at the microphone and 1 chanter side to help you get a better idea of the relative volumes. The pipe chanter is a blackwood Colin Kyo with a Gilmour reed in it that if I had to guess, has 4 chips in it. I am also currently working on blowing out the chanter reed more, so sometimes the high A is a little flat with some crow.
King of Laois, Rory Gallagher, Mark Sheridan, and The Big Yin – mic is drone side
The Quaker – mic is chanter side