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Uilleann, Northumbrian, Smallpipes + For all types of (non GH) Bagpiping discussions.

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Old 04-23-2019, 03:06 PM   #1
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Default SSPs with keys?

Wikipedia says about the SSPs:

"Scottish Smallpipes are normally bellows-blown like the Northumbrian pipes and Border pipes. Mouth-blown versions are also available, but they are less common because the moist air tends to injure the cane reeds. It is most commonly unkeyed, but occasionally high B, G sharp, F natural, and C natural keys are added. Though it would in principle be possible to add as many keys as to the modern Northumbrian smallpipes, not many pipers use a set with more than 9 keys. Most music written for the instrument uses only the nine notes of its unkeyed range."

I'm intrigued by the statement "it would in principle be possible to add as many keys as to the modern Northumbrian smallpipes", since I believe that the Northumbrian pipes can span two octaves.

Does anyone here have SSPs with keys on the chanter? If so, where did you get them and what do you think about them?
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Old 04-23-2019, 07:39 PM   #2
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Default Re: SSPs with keys?

I have a set of Dave Shaw shuttle pipes in D with seven keys, and currently 3d printing a few different designs of musette de cour with keys.
Getting to an octave and maybe a sixth with notes in between is the practical limit, if you want two octaves the only sensible choice is an uillien set, ....then there is Andy May's 21 key NSP I think?
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Old 04-24-2019, 03:45 AM   #3
Adam Sanderson
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Default Re: SSPs with keys?

I don't have a set with keys, but most smallpipe makers in Scotland offer it as a choice. A high B key is the most requested one, but Julian Goodacre, say, also offers a keyed chanter that allows high B, G sharp, F natural, and C natural.

Donald Lindsay's smallpipe chanter is keyless, but goes through nearly 3 octaves, including a full range of semitones available between low A and high D.

You can clearly hear the tonal range of Donald's chanter here.
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Old 04-24-2019, 06:30 AM   #4
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Default Re: SSPs with keys?

My first smallpipe chanter came with keys for High B and C-natural. Both of these are designed to be used by the top hand pinky.

I found this exceedingly difficult to utilize. I'd been playing for about 5 years before getting my smallpipes, and I had a really hard time getting that pinky to do anything. This chanter isn't used by me very often. The keys like to get stuck open, and I never really got the hang of using that pinky (reliably).

Nate Banton makes chanters with a wide array of keys, if one so wishes. Below is a nice example from his instagram. (https://www.instagram.com/p/BbM5XWgleFD/)

Looking closely, I believe this is a 5-key, A-chanter, with High C (or C#), High B, High G#, F-natural (in the back, hidden from view) and C-natural.

The C-natural key is, in my opinion, becoming unnecessary. Simply getting an extra thumb hole drilled in the back (for your bottom thumb) does the trick, and is MUCH easier to use. Nate Banton now does this by default.

As such, the current list of Nate Banton's key offerings are:

- High B key on Chanter
- High C/C# key on Chanter
- Low G# key on Chanter
- High G# key on Chanter
- Low F# key on Chanter

All very cool, though I think if I were to go for a keyed chanter again, I'd likely incline toward (if offered), High-B, F-natural in the back, and a thumb hole drilled for C-natural. Ideally, none of these would operate from the top pinky.

I've seen several folks with High-B keys, where the key is on top, and operated from a quick move up of the top index finger. I like the idea of hitting the f-natural with the bottom-hand thumb, and C-natural is quite easy to play with the extra back hole (play B with your other fingers).

~Nate (Silva, not Banton)

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Old 04-24-2019, 06:44 AM   #5
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Default Re: SSPs with keys?

Sorry, a brief, corollary thought ... none of my currently used smallpipe chanters utilize keys, and I rarely lament their absence. A high-B key that's not operated by the pinky might be nice someday, but I know it's not a note that I'd use all that often.

All of my chanters have holes drilled for a minor third though (c-natural on an A chanter), and that's quite useful.

I think the statement on the Wikipedia page is quite correct. If one were to add tons of keys to the smallpipe chanter, at a certain point it'll start to become a different instrument. In a way, you might as well take up Northumbrian smallpipes. I don't know if this is true (it's only my inference), but I don't find it coincidental that the Northumbrian style is rather staccato in nature ... it seems (to me) that this style makes it much easier to liken the movements of fingers to those from keys.

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Old 04-24-2019, 04:58 PM   #6
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Default Re: SSPs with keys?

I have 4 sets of smallpipes, one of which is made by Kinnear and is in the key of C.
It's my only set that has keys, one for C Nat and the other for high B.
It's a gorgeous instrument, but I will admit the transition to using the 2 keys took some concentration. As stated before by others, my left hand pinky has long been a casual spectator, not a contributing member of society. But it came along after some effort, certainly less effort than learning the bellows.
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Old 04-24-2019, 05:42 PM   #7
Michael Korchonnoff
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Default Re: SSPs with keys?

I have a Sloan set with A and B flat chanters, both having high b and g# keys mounted on the chanter, also a C and D chanter with just the high b. Over the years I have enjoyed those keys and use them very often on Border tunes and songs. For the high b I use the left pinkie and do the g# with the side of the right index. It became second nature after a short time.

I found that the high b is definitely the most useful, the g# a little less but still great to have. Now I see that having a natural C would be great. For the (fortunately few) tunes that require a low F#, I tape shut the two tone holes below low G - it works fine but produces a very nasal sound. Sure beats closing those holes with the knees!

I also play a 11-key set of Northumbrian smallpipes and most of the keys are operated with the right thumb, with the exception of the two highest notes (left pinkie) and one low note with the left pinkie. Playing closed fingering sure helps to steady the chanter.
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Old 04-25-2019, 02:49 PM   #8
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Default Re: SSPs with keys?

Thanks to all for the replies!

I am attracted to the range of the Uilleann pipes and the Northumberland pipes, but they seem to more rare and much more expensive. Finding a teacher is also problematic. One piping instructor that I corresponded with suggested that I start on the GHB pipes because they are much more available and teachers are easier to find, so I bought a practice chanter and am working at learning the basics.

We'll see what happens after that...
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Old 04-25-2019, 05:28 PM   #9
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Default Re: SSPs with keys?

Colin Ross made my small Pipes in the mid-1980s.
The chanter has one key for a high B position.
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Old 04-26-2019, 04:46 AM   #10
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Default Re: SSPs with keys?

Crofter, what sort of music do you want to play? Any type of bagpipe has a symbiotic relationship with the traditional music for which it is made, which is why the Uilleann pipes are rarely heard in Scottish traditional music, despite being able to play all the notes.
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