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Old 11-08-2018, 09:34 AM   #1
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Join Date: Jul 2016
Location: Chicago suburbs
Posts: 12
Default Drone reeds: Do they vary THAT much?

I'm a relative newbie. To refresh:

Started on practice chanter in the mid-90s with a Chicago band. Got good enough on chanter for the PM to say, "Ok, go get some pipes." But life changed.

Back in just this past April, I picked up a set off craigslist. Got lucky. Circa 1955 Alexander, made by Charlie Wicks (they look like Starck pipes, even). Hardly ever used, near perfect.

I started a class at a nearby community college in September. Great teacher, former student of Sandy Jones. She got me going on a Warnock chanter reed and Selbie drone reeds. I think they sound pretty good. She thinks they sound great. In fact, the first time we got them up and really going, she said they sound great, that I'll never need another set of pipes to get anything that sounds better.

Before the class, though, I'd bought a set of Canning drone reeds with the cf bass. Not knowing where to start (I was trying on my own first), I read a number of places where people seemed to wind up with Cannings on their Starck pipes, and since mine are essentially Starck pipes, I thought it'd be a jumping-off point. Yesterday, I thought, "What if I try..." and put them in instead of the Selbies.


I was really surprised. To my ear - in the garage, anyway - I thought they were fuller, bigger, beefier, a little bit louder...better. I thought it was like I'd been a teenage piper and just hit puberty. BUT OMG did I have to blow a lot more and a lot harder.

Is that normal? Do Canning reeds just take that much more air to drive them, or does something need to be adjusted? Because if I could get that sound without that much labor, I'm in.

Thanks, in advance, for your feedback and counsel. Much appreciated.
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Old 11-08-2018, 01:10 PM   #2
Patrick McLaurin
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Default Re: Drone reeds: Do they vary THAT much?

I donít notice a difference in efficiency between Selbie and Canning setup against the same chanter reed. So perhaps thatís all you need to do. Adjust the bridle to make the Canning more efficient, but not so efficient they shut off. This is a trial and error process that requires very small movements of the bridle to make the effective tongue length shorter.
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Old 11-08-2018, 01:36 PM   #3
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Default Re: Drone reeds: Do they vary THAT much?

Drone reeds do vary a lot make by make, and I found Canning and Selbie to both be significant air hogs.

Reeding is very specific - different makes of pipes, and even different specimens of one make, will necessitate different reeds for good performance.

I am thinking that the stronger tone from the Cannings is due to the bridle being set too strong. I found them mellower vs. Selbie in my Lawries and Naills both (and they're both pretty different drones from one another). By adjusting the bridles, they'll probably wind up mellower and less wasteful of air.
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Old 11-08-2018, 03:27 PM   #4
el gaitero
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Default Re: Drone reeds: Do they vary THAT much?

In my experience the new MG White Mamba reeds by Rory Grossart have very sophisticated sound and are very air efficient. Brilliant reeds if looking for new.
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Old 11-09-2018, 03:44 AM   #5
Achilles Piper
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Default Re: Drone reeds: Do they vary THAT much?

Here is what I would do in your situation. You already have a setup which works well (with the Selbie drone reeds). Go back to that and make sure that it is near optimum i.e. 1) the tenors tuning reasonably close to the hemp line and 2) the bridles set so that deliberate over-pressure causes the drones to shut down, and 3) the drone sound pleasing to your ear. (If the drones don't sound great experiment a bit with the first two factors until you are happy with the sound.) Now, if you want to try the Canning reeds (why not, you have already bought them), introduce just one tenor at a time. Again adjust until you have it optimised before introducing the second Canning tenor reed. When you have two tamed you have a choice of introducing the Canning bass with Canning tenors, or going back to the Selbie tenors with Canning bass. Making incremental changes and optimising at each step is much easier than making one huge leap into the unknown. Another tip: the bass drone takes about as much air as the two tenors combined. Good luck!
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Old 11-09-2018, 07:23 AM   #6
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Default Re: Drone reeds: Do they vary THAT much?

Air consumption-wise, they CAN vary, though I don't think it should be THAT much. I echo the calls to check the efficiency of the reeds, and be sure they aren't taking too much air. Some reeds are plug and play, but many will need at least a little bit of adjustment.

Here's a video which touches upon this:

In particular, I think Achilles' suggestions are great. I just want to comment on and add to one thing, particularly to his #3 ... "[getting] the drone sound pleasing to your ear."

That one, #3, is not something set in stone. Lots of pipers have lots of preferences when it comes to sound. In short, tastes vary.

Myself, for example, I've come to find that the louder, fuller, and beefier the drones sound, the happier I am. Some people love that, while others might prefer that I "tone it down" a tad.

I competed solo for the first time over this past year, and my starting grade was 3. Overall, I enjoyed a pretty successful season, and am hopeful to move up to 2 for 2019. I competed at 13 venues, and I think that totaled around 45 contests or so. About 9.5 times of 10, I'd received very flattering remarks on the sound of the pipe. "Best pipe in contest, beautiful pipe, great drone sound, etc." For the rest, I would receive some comments like "Bass is booming ... drones too bold ... etc." Some judges followed up verbally as well. One emphasized that it wasn't "bad," but said the sound should be more "refined" for solo vs. band (note, I'm not bothering with a band at the moment).

I appreciate everyone's perspective and point-of-view, I truly do. Whether I decide to adopt any particular view, well, that's up to me. And I would you advise the same ... work toward finding the sound you like. It's not a simple thing, it takes time, experimentation, etc. Do listen to, and consider others' take, but do remember that tastes can vary greatly.

I've been playing actively for quite a long time, though I didn't compete until recently. I'm still wrestling with figuring out precisely what I like, though I have a pretty good idea. It's just refining it precisely to a middle ground where most people are happy with it, and so am I, is the last piece.

Going by the numbers stated above, I may have found that? I dunno, time will tell. I'm hopeful to test things out at the grade 2 level, and see what the comments are there. For one thing, I have noticed that all of the "dissenting" comments (saying the drones are too bold) were when the contest was indoors, in small rooms. As such, I've considered maybe finding an alternate setup for such situations. We'll see.

Anyway, hope some of this is helpful.


Last edited by Pppiper; 11-09-2018 at 07:27 AM.
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