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Old 07-04-2019, 01:21 PM   #1
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Default Fitting cane drone reeds according to bore size

Hello all,

I'm attempting to learn how make my own cane drone reeds after inheriting a set of WW1 Hendersons (I can't confirm this, but it's been everyone's best guess) whose tenors tune nearly off the pin with premade cane reeds.

I'm curious if the cane diameter of the reeds should correspond to the diameter of the bore of the drone: because the reed tongue ends and connects to the tube cane, is the cane not effectively the beginning of the bore of the drone? In that case, wouldn't a mismatched reed diameter create tone or instability problems in a drone? If that were a potential problem, it seems like it would be necessary to sand down the end of a carefully fit cane reed so it would sit completely flush with the bore. Clearly, nobody does this, so I guess any difference is either unnoticeable or nonexistent.

Also, would excess space in the funnel shape of the reed seat not create different acoustic properties if the reed was heavily hemped up and pulled all the way out to flatten the dorone? I'd think it it would create a pressure differential in a sort of pocket in the funnel/ cone shaped reed seat before the cylindrical bore of the drone starts but after the tube of the reed ends. Would it be similar to the way acoustics are changed in the tuning chamber of a drone? It's a similar shape.

If anyone knows how to do this, I'd really appreciate the input. I've googled this a million different ways but I can't find anything except for a couple fractured remarks across this forum.

Also, does anyone know if the bore of a drone is typically completely cylindrical from right above the reed seat to the bottom bore measurement (the inside of the tuning pin?) I can use a caliper to measure the latter, but I can't figure out a way to measure the bore at the very bottom of the drone after the reed seat.

Thanks so much!!!
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Old 07-11-2019, 05:32 PM   #2
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Default Re: Fitting cane drone reeds according to bore size


I can't answer your questions directly, hopefully a reed maker chimes in. What I can say is that I have a lower pitch solo chanter, and I got a set of cane reeds made to play with it - I simply asked a reed maker (Chris Apps) who sent me a set that he selected for lower pitch. They tune right where they should. I don't notice them being bigger in diameter than regular cane reeds, but they are longer. I suppose you could just cut them to the length you need to get the drones to tune where you want.
What kind of chanter are you trying to tune to?
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Old 07-12-2019, 05:46 AM   #3
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Default Re: Fitting cane drone reeds according to bore size

One of my regrets is that many years ago I threw out my grandfather's two biscuit tins full of old drone reeds. Most of those very old reeds were much wider than the ones you get today, and with only a couple of layers of hemp fitted nicely into the wide reed seats of early 20th century Hendersons. That said, the few reeds I tried didn't work well. I figured that if those reeds had been any good they would not have still been in the biscuit tins, they'd have been played and then thrown out when they expired. At least that was my reasoning when I threw them out.
Skinny modern cane reeds in those old Henderson drones require a lot of black waxed hemp, but to me it doesn't seem to adversely affect the sound. When the pipes passed to me from my Dad (there's a long chain of inheritance here) I found that someone (possibly Dad) had inserted small pieces of plastic tubing into the reed seats to allow them to take modern cane reeds without extra hemp. Luckily no damage had been done, or glue used, so the plastic inserts were easy to remove.

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Old 07-12-2019, 01:47 PM   #4
William McKenzie
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Default Re: Fitting cane drone reeds according to bore size

Knowing what pitch you're trying to reach would be key here as the others have said.

clowerpower it sounds like you're looking for the physics of harmonics to understand what would work best. You have the right idea about the steps and such in terms of how they effect a reed and overall output. Maybe you already know how it works but the basics are that it's a kind of dance between changes in pressure versus velocity and naturally the reed plays a huge part in how this works. When pressure inside a pipe bag it gets to a point where it overcomes atmospheric pressure and the resistance of the tongue/bridle material that's keeping it open, the tongue closes. This pulse of the drone reed tongue quickly closing creates a mini pressure front inside the drone bore as the reed has forced a bit of air and a sort of 'shock wave' if you will. Because of the slightly higher pressure of this pulse from the pressure in the bag over the atmospheric conditions outside of the bag, the pulse naturally travels up and out of the drone top. As it does it creates a low pressure front just behind it and now atmospheric pressure is higher than the lower pressure inside of the drone. Thus it a reverse pulse goes back down the drone until it reaches the tongue and forces it open again to try and equilibrate once more. And over and over again roughly a couple of hundred times a second (for tenors) and half that Hz again for the bass drone.

The steps after a reed and inside the drones do have an effect on this obviously as they amplify the sound a lot by letting these sound/pressure waves expand and contract. The pressure from the bottom sections opens up into the larger drone tops which changes this relationship between the pressure and velocity. Do this well and they have internal resonance and find true balance. Do this poorly and you have drones people complain about not "locking" or not sounding "full". Really it's all manners of grey and not black and white.

While the cane reed body diameter or bore size you speak of could make a difference in terms of the frequency, velocity and pressure changes, the bigger picture like you've noted is that it is probably more negligible in the end compared to other variables. Most synthetic reeds for example are designed to be acceptable in a majority of pipes which means all sorts of bores, reed seat sizes, and wild age ranges of drones. While less controllable with cane reeds, I believe the bigger deal in any drone reed is what the bridle, tongue and opening underneath the tongue are doing (or how large they are) since they make such dramatic differences in output. How big of a pulse they are making as a combined effort, how balanced they are to the pressure inside versus outside, and what material they are made out of (how loud of a 'clap' the tongue makes with the reed body as it closes for lack of a better descriptor). If you can balance these things then you will have utmost efficiency and hopefully a good sympathetic resonance inside the drone which will produce much more volume and harmonics while the reed is cycling at it's optimum (least amount of air, smallest tongue movement). Experiment a bit with different sizes of cane along with the bridles and see what you come up with, you could find some really interesting observations.
Happy Piping
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Old 07-28-2019, 04:36 PM   #5
Jon Snow
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Default Re: Fitting cane drone reeds according to bore size

I've had success with super-gluing brass tubing into cane reeds to lengthen them. Use a drill bit that's the same diameter as the brass to ream out 1/4 inch or so into the reed. Deburr the end of the brass tube, put superglue on it, and shove it in. Then cut off the brass with 1/4 inch or so sticking out, wrap it with hemp, and you're done.

You can also put beeswax on the tongue of the reed to flatten it. Makes it heavier and vibrate more slowly.
Michigan Scottish Pipes and Drums
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