View Full Version : Mouthblown Smallpipes - A few questions
05-07-2002, 08:46 AM
I have been considering purchasing a set of mouthblown smallpipes. I figure they would be fun to play, not bother my wife and neighbors as much as the GHB, and also give me added practice in blowing, fingering, etc. Plus, I don't know if I want to learn any bellows technique right now.I am considering a set of Gibson Firesides, but have also noted that they make Ceilidh pipes with a common drone stock. Does anyone have experience or an opinion on these two choices? Also, I had a conversation with the church choir director who asked about the notes on the A set and where they appear on the treble clef, as he would like to find some music that we could perform with organ and pipes, assuming that I get a set in "A". I also enjoy playing with guitars and fiddle. Should I consider a Fireside (or other maker) set in "D"? Is the chanter considerably smaller than the "A" chanter? Finally, what ones SOUND the best, in your opinion.
Thanks for any insight you folks can share.
05-07-2002, 07:06 PM
Scan further back in this forum. There's a couple of threads relating to your question, specifically those titled Gibson's New Small Pipes, dated 22 March, and Best Key for Smallpipes, dated 24 March.
I can't speak to the sound of the new Ceilidh pipes but I can attest to the Firesides in D, which I've played in a ceilidh band for the past two months. The D or A chanter will work fine with guitar or fiddle; they're both 'friendly' keys for these instruments. In my experience, the 'D' chanter blends very well because it's bright enough and loud enough not to get lost among the other instruments. As one forum visitor pointed out, the 'D' chanter plays in the same pitch as the fiddle, whereas the 'A' chanter would be an octave below, perhaps putting it at a disadvantage from a volume perspective.
Though I'm not a keyboard player, it's my understanding that neither of these keys would be considered 'keyboard friendly' though some electronic keyboards can be 'shifted' to accommodate easier playing. If you choose the 'D' chanter you will have to transpose your music for the benefit of the other musicians.
And now a word from the 'A' chanter owners...
05-08-2002, 09:21 AM
I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but you can only get a really decent sound out of bellows pipes. Mouth blown pipes have to have reeds that withstand the moisture and hence are rather less delicately built. Hence, they don't sound as good. That said, some are distinctly OK. Bellows technique is not insufferably difficult to learn, certainly quicker than it was to learn blowing technique. D pipes are probably a better choice for playing with fiddle as previously mentioned from a volume point of view. I wouldn't worry about the keyboard - any keyboardist who can't play three chords on D and A shouldn't really be let out in public anyway.
05-08-2002, 01:25 PM
Thanks Calum (and Barry) for your response. The only real reason that I am opting for mouthblown is the cost - my wife seems to think that the $$ could be better spent on JEWLERY?
That being said, what mouthblown ones do you think are acceptable?
I think it depends what you want out of your pipes. The Shep upper Ds sound quite nice, and I think the Fairylore (despite the name)have excellent drone sound. To my ear the Gibsons sound a little course, as do the Walsh. That being said, I think the Walsh's pipes might be what you're looking for. They're quiet, compact, relatively cheap and easy enough to maintain. I respect what Calum has to say about the drones, but for your purposes you shouldn't have to be too picky. As for chanter selection, I think it varies. Be prepared for 'D' to be a bight of a squeeze if you have largish hands. I like A, good for guitars (which you'll almost always find at a session - if you want to do that) and a bit mellower than the D. I play both, and I think these days the A has been my fav. Playing any kind of small pipe with an organ is going to be tough. Unless it's a relatively mellow one I think it might sound a bit unbalanced. Just my two cents. Good luck whatever you do. Cheers.
05-08-2002, 05:47 PM
Since I've moved to the East Coast, I've been very fortunate to be part of all kinds of music "sessions" and performances. I've taken my smallpipes to Cape Breton, Halifax, other parts of Nova Scotia and all over PEI to play. I've had the opportunity to play with, and meet some really great musicians.
Having said that, in my experience either of those chanters (A or D) are perfectly acceptable.
There are many fiddle/pipe tunes that have become very popular for both instruments. For example: 'Sleepy Maggie' (aka Drowsy Maggie), 'Mrs. MacLeod of Raasay', and 'The High Road to Linton' are all very popular tunes for both instruments. Each of the latter is played in the key of "A" on an 'A' Chanter (a piano/keyboard player that's familiar with the music should have no trouble playing with them). A fiddle tune actually transposed to the pipes like "Brenda Stubbert's" is in 'A minor'. Again, this is with an 'A' Chanter.
With an "A Smallpipe" most tunes (with exceptions) are played in 'A' or 'D' (this is good info. for the guitar player or piano player...).
With the "D" pipes, it's quite often either "D" or "G".
This is essentially a long-winded way of saying : I'm a fan of both bellows & mouth blown pipes - A or D - both have their merits.
It's all just for fun anyway, right?
05-09-2002, 10:11 AM
Go for the new Celidh pipes by Gibson. The Walsh shuttle pipes are too quiet and sound like a practice chanter. While the Gibson Celidh's are mouthblow with plastic reeds, they don't really sound like it and have more volume.
Haven't tried the parlour pipes but have heard them. They sound like quiet GHB's. Is that the sound you want or a smallpipe sound?
Just had a thought about this...find out if the chanter is made to small-pipe sepcifications or, if it's out sourced, then who made it. Some of those mouth blowns use standard PC chanters or reeds, which is going to give you a...pc sound. Go with makers that have some experience with different types of pipes. The complaint that I've heard from other small pipers (one which I agree with) is that highland pipe makers tend not to know (or care) how a small-pipe should be turned, instead making a mini-highland pipe. I think that's what hurt Naill when they started with 'lowland' pipes. Which has also made me think of Mark Cushing. I believe he makes a mouthblown poly small pipe, and he's been in the business for years and years. I'd heard he might be getting out of the business though, or at least cutting back. Dunno. Might be worth checking out, as his poly small-pipe chanters (I've only heard the A and Bb) sound nice and are quite cheap.
05-10-2002, 05:07 AM
Originally posted by Barry Taylor:
The D or A chanter will work fine with guitar or fiddle; they're both 'friendly' keys for these instruments. I have not yet seen in this discussion one very important point that is worth discussing. Using the D chanter in a normal session, e.g. majority of the tunes being Irish, has the unfortunate result of playing the tunes "inside-out", i.e. tunes that fiddlers would normally play in G might be playable only in D on the SSP, and vice-versa. Using a D chanter in such a session would require all of the other musicians to adapt to you, rather than you blending in with all of the other musicians. The additional problem is that with a D chanter you could not at all access the standard A tunes.
If the session is a normal Scottish session, e.g. tunes normally in A and D, less commonly in G, then the A chanter is the way to go, the only problem then being the low pitch of the A pipes getting lost in the overall session sound. Using the A chanter does not require the other musicians to adapt to you.
Unless the session is one primarily oriented toward other pipers w/D or A chanters, then I think the best compromise for Scottish sessions is a set of A borderpipes, set up to play as quietly at possible. The A borderpipe chanter is set up to play in the same octave as the fiddles, resulting in a wonderfully balanced sound. The borderpipe also doesn't get lost in the overall session sound.
Lastly, for strictly Irish sessions, leave the pipes at home. Simply not the right instrument, for a plethora of reasons.
05-10-2002, 01:09 PM
I agree with a lot of what Matt said. To take it one step further, if you are considering a Gibson or Walsh type SSP to play with other instruments you might as well just learn to circular breathe while playing your practice chanter, because those two makes are essentially a plastic PC plugged into a bag. As far as plastic PCs go, they both make good ones.
Alternatively, you might consider Ray Sloan's new mouth blown SSP, which is made of a wood fiber compound, permali, I think. Check out his web site for details: www.ray-sloan.com (http://www.ray-sloan.com) I haven't heard these pipes, but Ray is one of the best pipe makers working today.
05-10-2002, 03:35 PM
I would agree with Matt about the ideal session instrument being A borderpipes, smallpipes do tend to get lost if there's a lot of players.
I disagree with the idea that using a D chanter 'requires the other players to accomodate' you and that this will be seen as a problem... all the sessions I've been to are quite happy with either. After all if you play the standard pipe tunes on a D chanter all the fiddle players have to do is play on the D and A strings instead of A and E. Not hard! I would suggest maybe learning tin whistle or flute if you're going to go to Irish-based sessions a lot though as you will quickly get frustrated at the limited range of the pipes and want to join in on the tunes that go into the second octave.
Dang, there's too many instruments out there! And too many good tunes to play on them! :woohoo:
05-11-2002, 06:44 PM
Originally posted by John Dally:
Alternatively, you might consider Ray Sloan's new mouth blown SSP, which is made of a wood fiber compound, permali, I think. I play a set of border pipes made twenty years ago by an amateur maker called Brian Gumm who was, I think, the first to make pipes from Permali (he had a source through his job - don't know how legitimate :wink: ) and I can testify that this is an excellent material for pipes - looks like wood, feels like wood but does not shrink/expand like wood. Of the sets of pipes I brough to the US from the UK it has been the best at aclimatising.
This is really just to say don't be put of by the unfamiliar material.