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Improvement of Drones

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  • Improvement of Drones

    I'm sure there have been related discussions in the past, but here are my questions:

    Do you feel that drones improve over time? Do you believe they improve from aging or from playing (and all the dynamics that may be involved in both)? Do you think that improvement is more a function of improved skill in set-up (e.g., better selection of drone reeds, etc.)? Or is it a combination of the above in your estimation?

  • #2
    I'm a great disbeliever in woo-woo, but one thing that is straightforward is that wood continues to move for a very, very long time after manufacture, so change is certainly not surprising. Whether the change is good or bad, well...

    I do know of one set of MacRae drones that after little use for a long time, having been brought into service again, were noticeably improved after a decade or so of regular play.
    http://www.callingthetune.co.uk
    -- Formerly known as CalumII

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    • #3
      I wonder if it has something to do with the player getting used to the drones? will

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Calum View Post

        I do know of one set of MacRae drones that after little use for a long time, having been brought into service again, were noticeably improved after a decade or so of regular play.
        Like stringed instruments, which improve with playing. But does that carry over to such things as pipes?

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        • #5
          Well, on things like violins, there's a rational explanation, which is that the purfling acts as a hinge and vibration makes it more flexible - a new violin can be noticeably improved with a few minutes of heavy "power chording" on the bottom strings. On pipes, it's hard to explain why simply being played would lead to improvement; in the case I cited, I think that the wood simply moved in a way that happened to be beneficial, and it could easily have gotten worse, and of course we don't know whether the change in dimensions, of that's what it was, lead to the drone being closer to the maker's design or further away from it.
          http://www.callingthetune.co.uk
          -- Formerly known as CalumII

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          • #6
            In the ancient past I was a recorder player, and at one point considered ordering one from a top maker. I learned, as part of the investigation, that, of one hundred made, most likely after a year or so of playing, a few would deteriorate in tone, a few would improve in tone to become exceptional instruments, but that over 90% would not change. It depends on the character of the wood. It is likely that the same thing could happen with drones. In the short run, if I don't play my ebony set for a few weeks, they are quite cranky for a day or two after I resume playing them, and when I have purchased new pipes, I believe the sound improved over the first six months as they settled in.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Greenpipe View Post
              In the ancient past I was a recorder player, and at one point considered ordering one from a top maker. I learned, as part of the investigation, that, of one hundred made, most likely after a year or so of playing, a few would deteriorate in tone, a few would improve in tone to become exceptional instruments, but that over 90% would not change. It depends on the character of the wood. It is likely that the same thing could happen with drones. In the short run, if I don't play my ebony set for a few weeks, they are quite cranky for a day or two after I resume playing them, and when I have purchased new pipes, I believe the sound improved over the first six months as they settled in.
              You bring up a good point about stability of pipes with more consistent playing. I think that's likely more a function of the reeds; which, of course, is another difference between pipers and recorders. That is interesting information, however, on how recorders can change. Of course, Calum is correct regarding the difference with stringed instruments. Back to recorders and drones, however, besides dimensions perhaps changing, there is the question of how/whether the wood changes. I swear that my drones feel heavier and are more dense than when I bought them; but is that just my misinterpretation, especially without measurements, tests or other proof. I remember a young man in the junior band who had 1890s Center pipes handed down through the family. Handling his drone parts felt like I was holding pieces of granite. So heavy and dense. Again, was that a change from when they were first turned? And if so, what, if any, difference did that make?

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              • #8
                No two pieces of wood are the same. No matter what leaves the shop, a wooden instrument will change over time. I think with pipes, there's a strong selective effect: we keep playing the ones that sound good, and modify or replace the ones that don't. 50 years after it was made, there's a good chance that a bagpipe has either been discarded or reworked if it doesn't sound good.

                I don't think drones automatically improve over time. Some may move in ways that are detrimental (see above; they either get fixed or discarded). The wood generally does become denser over time, but that doesn't always translate into a better sound. Reeding has a HUGE impact on sound. So yeah, definitely "all of the above."

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