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Technique & Instrument Related to techniques, to the instrument, to the components, to maintenance.

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Old 07-30-2019, 06:55 PM   #1
MacTallanambeann
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Default Chanter reeds, what makes good, what makes bad?

Hi all,

I am curious about the mysteries of the chanter reed. I see a lot of those very cheap Pakistani made ones on fleabay and I was wondering what is the secret ingredient that makes a Scottish made (other countries also available) reed better?

I must confess at this juncture that a friend gifted me a dozen or so of the Pakistani made reeds a number of years ago and I actually found some that worked fairly well although some were far too easy and 'squealy' and some seemed to pitch very high for reasons that I couldn't figure out.

In general I have found getting that 'right' reed for a particular chanter to be quite a hit and miss affair over the years and I am wondering also if anyone has ever written anything in-depth about the ins and outs of reeds and why they can be such a pain in the butt to get just where you want them.
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Old 07-30-2019, 08:17 PM   #2
John Bolt
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Default Re: Chanter reeds, what makes good, what makes bad?

Hi all,


2 books come to mind!


The reed book by the school of school of piping
The Complete Guide to Highland Bagpipe Reeds by Chris Apps
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Last edited by John Bolt; 07-30-2019 at 08:21 PM.
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Old 07-31-2019, 08:55 AM   #3
MacTallanambeann
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Default Re: Chanter reeds, what makes good, what makes bad?

Thanks for that info I will track them down. I have been somewhat of a piping hermit for many years and not involved in what has been going on in the wider piping world.
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Old 07-31-2019, 04:20 PM   #4
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Default Re: Chanter reeds, what makes good, what makes bad?

Essentially, what makes good reeds good is that they are very consistently made. Obviously the design must be right but first of all you must be able to turn out dozens of reeds with identical dimensions. Once you've got that cracked you can then tweak the design until it sings (hopefully...)
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Old 07-31-2019, 06:31 PM   #5
MacTallanambeann
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Default Re: Chanter reeds, what makes good, what makes bad?

So, in theory, and I know that theory very rarely relates to real life, no matter where reeds come from or who made them, if they are made well to the correct dimensions and from decent cane they should be good reeds.


What I find odd is that, in the past, I have examined numbers of reeds be they cheap, expensive, dead or dying and I find it really hard to understand how you can have two reeds that appear to be of the same dimensions, design and material, degree of wear or freshness and yet, when fitted to the same chanter they produce different tone and even quite noticeably different pitch.


It's witchcraft I tells ya!
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Old 08-01-2019, 07:58 AM   #6
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Default Re: Chanter reeds, what makes good, what makes bad?

Some of the critical measurements can't be detected by eye - for example, the curvature of the inside of the cane is vital, but once tied on there's no way of seeing this. Similarly the thickness of the reed at the tips - one gets a sense of what is too much or too little but invisible changes still make a difference. Lastly the hardness of the cane itself makes a huge difference (and is the other factor consistent reedmakers pay attention to).
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Old 08-01-2019, 10:56 AM   #7
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Default Re: Chanter reeds, what makes good, what makes bad?

I think perhaps I will stick to just finding the ones that suit me best, concentrate on my playing and trust to the reputable makers to do the making of them


I did once make a synthetic reed from layers of thin styrene laminated with cyanoacrylate (superglue) and then made up in a cut style just out of interest that impressed a lot of folk I played it to but, unfortunately it's performance dropped off completely after a minute or so of playing which I am guessing was due to the temperature rise from the warm air blowing through. At that point in time I realised that my ignorance of the process and lack of knowledge of materials properties far outweighed my interest and the amount of time I was willing to give to the subject.
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Old 08-03-2019, 05:11 PM   #8
Shawn Husk
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Default Re: Chanter reeds, what makes good, what makes bad?

Great topic...

"... if they are made well to the correct dimensions and from decent cane they should be good reeds."

This pretty much sums it up in all reality.

High quality cane is a must. Proper dimensions, of which there are many many to deal with. Being absolutely consistent with every single dimension. Being able to tie a reed in exactly the same every time. A very high degree of attention to detail. All of these factors go into making a great reed. There is also a wee bit of magic that goes into it as well ;)

If you are lacking in any one of these areas the reed will suffer.
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Old 08-03-2019, 05:35 PM   #9
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Default Re: Chanter reeds, what makes good, what makes bad?

I'm not intending to muscle into the market by any stretch as I don't have the patience, access to tools and materials or free time and it would be a bit daft of me to throw myself into it as I would only be supplying myself so would only require no more than a dozen a year if that.

Just out of sheer curiosity where do you get 'good quality reed'? Do you grow your own? Some time ago I did contemplate buying some Arundo Donax plants as I thought they would be quite a cool addition to the garden and I could play about with reed making but I discovered that, according to the experts, I live too far north and the plants would most likely die off in the winter and not thrive well plus I don't think that, even though it's wet here for a large part of the year, that it would be wet enough for these plants.
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Old 08-03-2019, 06:15 PM   #10
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Default Re: Chanter reeds, what makes good, what makes bad?

Given the way the weather is going these days you might be able to grow it, though I wouldn't promise anything. A lot of zoning advice is based on pre WWII climate research. It's also quite invasive, it takes a bit of getting rid of.


The usual source for small scale making is tube cane for bassoon reeds, which use the same tube dimensions we do. You can get a half kilo of tubes from Howarth for about twenty quid, and that will give you plenty of shavings. Hobby suppliers can do brass tube, though commercial makers have their tubing custom made.
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