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The Old Ways are Still the Best

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  • The Old Ways are Still the Best

    It's been quiet on the BDF of late, so I thought I would do a post/diary regarding my latest adventures in piping which is a return to cane drone reeds. Not actually sure if this should go in the Beer Tent or Technique, but I have put it in Technique/Instrument as it will probably lead to lots of discussion on reeds and setting them up (I hope).

    I am based in Sydney, Australia, and we are currently in lockdown. The area I live in has been particularly affected, so I won't be going anywhere soon. I am working from home and have had a bit of a resurgence in my piping over the last couple of months - both with tunes and pipes. I get lessons on-line so I am busy learning a new piobaireachd (The King's Taxes) plus a bit of light music. I must admit that I have let things slip a wee bit over the past couple of years, so I am spending a lot of time on technique, getting old tunes going again and of course my pipes. Every lunch time I play for about 40 minutes or so and feel that I am starting to get some sound back again.

    My current set up is:
    Pipes - Naill's - DN5 - silver/imitation ivory 1998
    Chanter - Naill - 2011 blackwood
    Chanter reed - McPhee
    Drone reeds - Cannings in the tenors and a Kinniard Evolution in the bass
    Bag - Gannaway hide - tied in with no zip - Old skool!
    Moisture control is a Moose valve in the blowstick stock

    This is what I am currently using - I did have Redwood tenors in for a few years and liked them but tried the small tongued Cannings as an experiment and found them to be quite good.

    As a baseline, here is a sound file I did last week:

    https://soundcloud.com/user-715963442/an-eala-bhan

    I know the high A is a bit on the scratchy side and the more I listen to it, the more things I hear I don't like, but on the whole it's not too bad. My Naill pipes are solid with a big, solid sound.

    My project is the get some cane drone reeds going and see what they sound like. I must add that I have been piping for a long time - I learnt as a child back in the 1970's, so I started out on cane and hide. It wasn't until the late 80's that the Geoff Ross black plastic reeds with the cane tongues came out. At first we all thought they sounded coarse. Then came the Wygents and the Ezee-drones along with the Shepherds and in a few years we were all playing plastics. I still think they don't come close to cane, but they are easy to set up and you don't need to play them every day or so to keep them going. You can put them away under the bed for a couple of months, get them out and they will work. Coupled up with a synthetic bag they are trouble free. You just look after the moisture control etc. Just quietly, I think hide/sheepskin bags are less maintenance, but you need to play them regularly - sheepskin, every couple of days at least.

    Day One,

    Today is the day! I bought some cane reeds last year with all the good intentions of getting them going again but just wasn't playing enough to justify it. Just going to concentrate on the tenors - get them going first and then do the bass. Funnily enough I only had three tenor reeds. Maybe one or two got lost or something. They are brand new and haven't been played. However, they do look a bit on the thin side. I picked out two likely looking suspects and so the first thing was to put some extra hemp on the end to fit them into the socket. I would have preferred some fatter ones, but at least I suppose I won't have any trouble pitching them correctly. My Naills tend to tune a bit low on the pins.

    Middle one first. Put the reed in and give the tongue a flick. It actually makes a noise when I blow it! That's a start. I have a Blair tuner on the table and it's blowing around 465. I should add that I am currently pitching around 475 when the pipes are warmed up and going. I move the bridle up a bit and blow again and I keep doing this until I am around 474 or so. Surprisingly, it's going ok and I don't have to put a hair under the tongue, nor do I have to unduly bend the tongue. You know, the old put a finger on the bridle and bend the tongue. Seems to be ok so I do the outside tenor.

    Same deal here, although the bridle seems a bit loose. Bridles are the key to your cane reeds. Not to tight and not too loose. This one is way too loose, so I get out the black waxed hemp and tie a new one. It's been years since I have done this and I vaguely remember it is sort of a couple of turns and a few half hitches. I stick it in the reed seat but it just doesn't seem right. It just won't work. Even bending the tongue a bit doesn't seem to do any good. I fiddle with the bridle and re-tie it. Still no luck. Some reeds just don't want to work. Not sure about cane reeds these days, but 30 years ago, you had a hit rate of about 50% or less. And that's just getting them to go. To get a really good sound, you had to go through a lot of reeds. I take the reed out and get the third and last reed. Hope this one works because it's the last one. I used to have a whole bunch of them held together with a rubber band - but they are long gone. I learnt a long time ago, to throw all the rejects away, as that way you won't be tempted to try and resurrect them.

    I put extra hemp on the end of the third reed, give the tongue a bit of a flick and then a mouth blow. It works! In the seat it goes and another mouth blow. It's pitching around 468. A bit more fiddling and blowing and I have it around 474 like the other.

    OK - time to blow the pipes. I put a cork in the chanter and blow them up. All over the shop, as I expect but I get them reasonably close. A bit more blowing and fiddling with drones and they are pretty close now. Chanter goes in the stock and I blow them up. Already, I notice that the sound is completely different. After a bit of initial tuning, I play a few 3/4 marches and then another retune. Gosh they are moving around a lot. You can hear them move after just a couple of bars. They actually switch on and off OK, which is also a good sign. A couple more 3/4's and they are a bit more stable now. The outer one is tuning a bit on the low side, whilst the middle one is right on the hemp. Not going to worry about that at the moment. Not to going to worry about balancing them either. The aim is to get them going first. I play a few 6/8 marches and after that another re-tune. They are still moving about and haven't settled down yet, but that's normal. It will take a week for them to really steady up. Other people might have different experiences, but that's how it has always been for me.

    All up I play for about half an hour for my first session. The reeds are working, are not constantly shutting off and don't have any hairs under the tongues, so it's all pretty good so far. It's spring time here, so the moisture isn't too bad today.

    That's it for the first day. Will get them out tomorrow and see what happens. I fully expect the next day to have a few problems, especially with the reeds stopping but you have to persevere through that. There will be much flicking and bending of tongues, maybe a hair or two. We will see what happens.

    I might add at this stage, but I don't believe in the old paperclip trick, where you half unbend a paper slip and stick up the back end of the reed to spring the tongue open a bit. In the old days, this was the absolute last resort as it tended to make the reed roar or sound really coarse.

    This post has been longer than I thought, but hope it generates some discussion and people find it interesting. I will add to the thread with updates of how the reeds are going. Hopefully by the end of the week, they will be sounding good enough to upload another sound file.

    cheers
    Andrew
    O Wad some the giftie gie us
    To see ourselves as others see us

    http://www.blacktownpipeband.com

  • #2
    More ramblings ahead I am afraid. This post will contain a lot of thoughts and musings about tuning, reeds, set-up, tunes and practicing as well as my experiences etc. Be prepared.

    Day Two

    I always knew that the second day would not go smoothly. It never did when blowing in cane reeds before. As soon as the moisture hits, everything changes. The reeds swell and tongues can grab, change dimensions and all of that sort of stuff. My custom when starting a practice session is to get the pipes out of the box, and quite lately they have just been sitting in the bag/box on the bed in the spare room fully assembled with the bass drone sticking out, the chanter is already out and a cork in the stock. I blow them up and see where the drones are sitting, usually they are fairly close. However, it’s day 2 and the middle tenor was working but the outer one decided that it didn’t want to do anything. It’s always the outer tenor! I pulled the drone out and gave the tongue a wee bend and a mouth blow and then stuck it back in the stock. Blow up the bag and see where the drone is. At least it was working, however, after the tongue bend, the drone went a fair way down the slide to get into tune. They always do this, and as you play and the tongue settles back down, it will come back up again. From experience it will take about 10 minutes to get back to where it was.

    It always amazed me that that in band competitions, coming up to the line, and someone has a drone that doesn’t work, they, or the Pipe Major will pull it out and give the tongue a big flick or a bend and then stick it back in! It will take at least 10 minutes to settle down, by which time the competition event will be long over. Don’t they get this? Much better to leave it shut off that have it out of tune, or even worse, roaring or double toning. Believe me, I have heard and seen pipers start up in band comps with double toning drones and not even be aware of it, much to the consternation of the Pipe Major and the pipers next to them.

    Anyway, drones seemed to be going OK. Chanter goes in and blow up again. Spend a minute or so tuning. I always shut off the middle tenor and tune the bass to the outer, and then move both up and down together to get them in with the Low A. In this case as the outer had just been fiddled it was the other way round. The bass is a known factor, so I tuned the tenor to the bass until it came in. Then the middle. They were sounding a bit raucous but that was ok, I was hoping they would settle down.

    I always start my practice session off with some 3/4s. I have quite a repertoire of them by now and play them in pairs, rotating them through each practice. This time it was Shoals of Herring and My Land. However halfway through the first tune, the outer tenor stopped. I was given advice many, many years ago, that if your drone stops, you keep playing and let the moisture seep in a bit. After about twenty minutes you give the drone top a flick and the reed will start up. I kept going until the end of the 3/4s and popped the drone top but the reed went for about 20 seconds and stopped.

    A bend of the tongue later and still the same. I think it was time to try a hair under the tongue. I have found that the hair has to be pushed right up to the bridle which I did. However, this sent the reed crazy. It started double toning and needed a pop on the drone top to bring it back it into line. The drone moved way down the slide accordingly, plus it wasn’t stable.

    Next on the repertoire was a couple of 6/8 marches, 4 parts of course. Again, I have quite a collection and rotate them each practice. This way, they keep fresh in the memory banks. However, the outer tenor was proving problematic with the hair. So I decided to remove it, which I did and this time it wanted to work and off I went.

    With the cane tenors in, it is now a vastly different instrument to what it was before with the synthetics. The tuning is different and takes some getting used to. Even after all these years of tuning my pipes, band member pipes etc, I still find it’s a new ball game with a different setup in an instrument that I am on quite intimate terms with. It’s the old adage “know thy instrument”. Even after a bit of a break, the instrument (even with the same setup) can be different and you have to get to know it again. I have spoken to other pipers and they have found the same thing. It’s not like that with my guitar. Or perhaps it is, but I don’t recognise the nuances enough to be able to tell.

    I played out the rest of my session, about 40 minutes in total, tuning between sets of tunes and after, pulled the drones out to let the moisture dry a bit.

    That was the second day – so far so good. Not expecting smooth sailing tomorrow either, but we will see.
    O Wad some the giftie gie us
    To see ourselves as others see us

    http://www.blacktownpipeband.com

    Comment


    • #3
      Great stuff, really enjoying your posts. I've got a cane bass coming in the mail so am looking forward to fighting with it, having only ever used synthetic reeds.

      Comment


      • #4
        Ah... Drewz Drones... :-)

        Living in this Old Stone Cave--as I do--I was immediately enthralled by the
        title of your Thread.

        Nothing----Nothing----sounds like----cane!! :-)

        And---Welcome Back--and Into--the Fold!! :-)

        The synthies do have--their rightful place--and playing in cold--wet weather--
        is--and of course--one of their preeminent advantages.

        But that being said--when ever I am to play--in some old stone church--or in
        some other--and equally special setting--where the reverberations--will send
        the heart soaring!!--then in my Old Pipes--it is out with the synthies--and in
        with the cane. (And especially--in those smaller old stone amphitheaters!! :-)

        Some trouble?? Well--yes.--But worth it??--Ever so.--Ever so

        I envy you your new adventure!!--and I am sure--Great Enjoyment!!--shall
        be yours!!

        All the Best!!,


        Pip01

        Last edited by Pip01; 09-14-2021, 07:21 PM.
        My friends all know,
        With what a brave carouse...

        Comment


        • #5

          Day Three

          Really looking forward to getting the pipes out now. Although, my lunchtime sessions in lockdown have been quite enjoyable. Older tunes, that have slipped of the radar as well as the memory banks are coming back also. Mind you, some of that is because I have been playing them on my practice chanter for that very reason. I have quite a good repertoire built up over the years, and playing a separate set of tunes each practice session is no problem. I seem to have more than enough 3/4s, 6/8 marches to get me through. I remember playing at a Ceremony of Hope (Cancer fundraiser event) a couple of years ago where I led a candlelit procession around a sporting oval and I just played 3 /4 marches one after another for the full 800 metres and still had a few tunes left at the end.

          Anyway, I digress somewhat. Where was I? Oh yes, tunes for my practice sessions. I follow the same routine each session. Pipes up and running with a fairly rough tune up. Play a couple of 3/4s to settle the pipe down and myself and just listen to what’s going on. Another tune up and then play 2 x 4 parted 6/8s. Another tune up and by this time they are going pretty good (or should be). If I am practicing on a regular basis, around about this time, I will notice that the sound is “there”. It’s not something I can define but I can tell when it’s all working. By this time, it’s all going well, so I usually play a slow air, 2 if they are wee ones and just listen to everything. I won’t keep repeating myself by saying that I retune between each set because I do. It’s just minor adjustments by now as the pipe is starting to stabilise. The next bracket of tunes are the odd ones, ie 12/8 marches, small strathspey and reel sets, or a favourite of mine, 4 x 2 parted Donald MacLeod 4/4s ie Battle of Waterloo, David Crosbie Miller, Flett from Flotta and 52nd Highland Division. Then it’s a hornpipe and jig – each tune played twice. From here on in, I play all my tunes twice, to correct any errors for the first time round and to help really lock them in. My 2/4 march of the day is next, a comp strathspey and a comp reel. Then, depending on how I am feeling or how the pipes are feeling, I will do a complete piobaireachd, or just an urlar, or even the toarluath/crunluath variation. This is 40-45 minutes of practice easy. I don’t vary the format, just rotate the tunes around.

          Back to the cane tenors. Over the course of the 3/4s and 6/8s the drone tops started going up. Which is pretty much what I expected after a tongue bending. Play my air, and I am quite liking the sound. This is the third day and although they still aren’t really “sitting”, it’s not going too badly. I did say earlier that this will take me a week of playing.

          I play my two parted jig set – Merrily Danced the Quaker’s Wife/ Queen of the Rushes / Rocking the Baby and Kesh Jig. Then it’s my hornpipe, twice through The Flying Scotsman and twice through Isabelle Blakely, an old favourite recently resurrected – got this one out one of the Rab Mathieson books. You know how it goes, sit down with a book and a practice chanter and just play stuff at random and sometimes you find a tune you really like and learn it.

          My comp march for today is Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band followed by Susan MacLeod and then Sound of Sleat. The drones seemed to peak somewhere in the middle of these tunes and the sound and tuning just dissipated. The drones had started coming back down the slides whilst the chanter hadn’t really changed all that much. Not sure if it was me or the pipe. I am still getting my “match fitness” back and I am not as young as I used to be. Maybe the reeds are still soaking up moisture like the greedy little sponges they are. Not sure, anyway that’s about 40 minutes of playing. Time to put them down and get something to eat before going back to work.

          Tomorrow is another day.
          O Wad some the giftie gie us
          To see ourselves as others see us

          http://www.blacktownpipeband.com

          Comment


          • #6
            Drewz Dronez, wowoooo.... You are certainly overperforming for a piper down-under. Your routine is inspirational to be sure. KUTGW. (keep up the great work).

            Comment


            • #7
              It's enjoyable reading your day to day account. It gives me the itch to try cane. Once you are happy with the sound please add a recording,

              Comment


              • #8

                Day Four


                As you may have gathered, although I am playing my pipes daily, the postings on the forum are not going through on a daily basis. I jot down a few notes after each session and fill in the rest from memory.

                The reeds are still settling in although getting better. As usual, they are shutting off at the start of the session and need a bit of tongue bending to get them going, after which the tops of the drones come down and gradually work their way back up the slides again. The outside one is still the rogue tenor and doesn’t settle down as fast as the middle one. I have been wondering if I should swap the inner and outer tenor reeds around. Like most pipers, I like to use the outside tenor as my tuning anchor. I tune the bass to it and use the two of them together to tune to the chanter. And then I bring in the middle one. After that I try and do all three together, but over the years, I still find it more accurate to stop the middle one. Get the tuning of the bass, tenor and chanter combo sorted and then tune the middle one in last. I have heard people say that by stopping a drone, you change the pressure and it won’t be as accurate as all doing all three together. It is, however, really gratifying that when watching major events, such as the Glennfiddich, you see them tuning up by stopping the middle tenor and then bringing it back in again. Can’t get much better validation of your tuning technique than watching Roddy McLeod do exactly the same as you do!

                Ok so they are roughly in tune and have belted out a couple of 3/4 marches, this time it was just one, Kilworth Hills, with 4 parts. That’s a really great tune and I never get tired of playing it. It’s also good for tuning to as it has lots of C’s, E’s, and F’s. Not really sure what key it’s in but it’s still good.

                It’s the usual story, 3/4s, 6/8s and an air and by now the pipes are really going. It’s day four and already the sound is happening. However, it’s all still backwards, the drone tops are going up, I am using the middle tenor as my anchor drone and the whole thing is unsettling. I think I will swap the reeds and see what happens. This is being written after my session, so of course it didn’t happen, but it will, soon. Although, I will admit that the move from using the outside to the inner tenor as the anchor has made a big difference. Not trying to hit moving targets and all that.

                Things are fairly stable now, so I can concentrate on my tunes. I am currently working on three 2/4 marches, Knightswood Ceilidh, Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band and the John MacColl classic, Clan MacColl. I have these in rotation, one each day and play it twice on the pipes. Been hammering them on the practice chanter also and have been working on Edinburgh City Police PB with my tutor. So there are few areas that need fixing and I am not finding it easy. Today it was Clan MacColl and twice through that then a strathspey x2 following by the obligatory reel also x2.

                The tuning was going ok actually and not sounding all that bad. I will have to do a recording and have a listen from a different point of view. It’s funny how your pipes always sound different when someone else plays them. Actually, I quite like the opportunity to have someone else play them, especially a good player as you get to hear what your pipes sound like. Having said that, do they actually sound the same to a third party, as when I play them compared to another good player? I can remember watching an open grade MSR at the MacLean Gathering in NSW one Easter, many, many years ago and remarking on how good so & so’s pipes were in the MSR. And later chatting to a friend, who had competed and mentioned that so & so played in the MSR with his pipes ( 1920’s silver and ivory Hendersons – known to be an absolutely magnificent instrument). I was shocked as both pipers had a different sound, but yet it was the same instrument.

                By the time I had done my MSR practice for the day, the outside tenor decided it had had enough and stopped. This was about after 40 minutes of playing and I needed to get a bite to eat before I went back to work (working from home of course in the lockdown). So I didn’t hassle the poor reed and simply drained out the blowpipe stock, ran a swab up the drones – although it’s spring here now and weather is warming up rather quickly. No real moisture to worry about.

                Tomorrow is another day.

                O Wad some the giftie gie us
                To see ourselves as others see us

                http://www.blacktownpipeband.com

                Comment


                • #9

                  Day Five

                  I missed a day playing due to work commitments but back again blowing my pipe the day after.
                  I felt really limited by just having three tenor reeds and one of them wasn’t much of a performer so basically, I have just got two that work, both of which are in my pipe. No room for any that fall by the wayside or I accidentally break. I have done that in the past, bent the tongue just a wee bit too much and felt/heard it snap. I get the Bill Begg (of Begg sheepskin bag fame) email newsletter every month, and this month they had a 10% discount on any drone reeds. So I ordered myself just one set. Cane reeds are really expensive these days. Bill had a set for 24 pounds, which is approximately $45 AUD or 15 bucks a reed. Back in the ‘80s they used to be about five bucks a reed. Taking inflation into account over the past 30 years or so (30 years !!!!!), $15 probably isn’t too bad but still a bit much for reeds that don’t pass muster. It used to be like that with chanter reeds. Out of a batch of ten, you would get 3 or 4 that you would actually be happy playing. Nowadays, out of 10 reeds you would probably throw out 2 or 3. That’s a much better hit rate. Not sure if cane drone reeds have improved in quality that much. So now I am waiting for the postie to drop by with my package, all the way from Scotland. It will take about a fortnight. The reeds that Bill Begg sells are made by Murray Henderson. I imagine that they would be ok. Fingers crossed. I have also noticed that G1 Reeds are also selling cane drone reeds. Might try a couple of them also. I guess we have all seen the postings on Facebook of various people playing G1 chanters with G1 chanter reeds, cane reeds and sheepskin bags and loved the sound they are getting. One of the things I have discovered over the years is that you have to try lots of different brands of reeds in your drones to see what works and what doesn’t work. What gives you the sound you are looking for and what doesn’t. I have never really understood those Pipe Majors that decree you must use brand X reeds in your tenors and bass. Yep, totally understand having the same chanters and reeds but drone reeds?

                  Picked up the pipes and pulled out each tenor and gave a blow expecting that they will stop. Yep, sure enough, a brief squeak and then a shut off. A wee tongue bend and then a tune up with a cork bunged up the chanter hole. It’s a familiar routine now, once the chanter is in, the drone tops initially coming down a bit. My bass always changes a lot after the cork tune up, probably because I am not blowing at same pressure as with the chanter in, but then they have always done that. Drone tops came up pretty much back to where they were to be in tune with the chanter. Used the middle tenor to tune to chanter as it seems to be the more stable of the two.

                  Things are a lot more stable now and they are settling down sooner with the drones and chanter blending quite nicely. A couple of weeks ago I would have been blowing rasberrys after 15 to 20 minutes of playing but I am getting my blowing fitness back. Not only that, with continual, regular playing, the moisture is swelling the joints, slides and reed hemp, making everything that little bit more air tight. Did I mention that the week prior to going cane, I re-primed my bag and put in new dressing. The Gannaway people make a primer for their bags which you put in, swish about and drain before adding the dressing. I think it makes the bag more airtight or something. Anyway, I gave the bag it’s annual treat. The bag is going on for four years old now but still really tight when you take the drones out and cork it up. Four years is a long time in pipe bag years and I would love to get a new sheepskin bag, but 500 bucks for a bag is a lot of money. This one is still tight and going strong, so I will keep it for another year and then see about a new bag.

                  Played for about 45 minutes but the sound and tuning disappeared after about 40 minutes. Is it me or is it the pipe? Probably a bit of both. Time for a bite to eat before getting back to my desk.

                  Tomorrow is another day.

                  Cane Tenor reed.jpg
                  O Wad some the giftie gie us
                  To see ourselves as others see us

                  http://www.blacktownpipeband.com

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Your font is really small and hard to read
                    "What we play is life." - Louis Armstrong

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      This may stir many up, but I do not apologize. To the posit "The Old Ways are Still the Best", I would ask, "For whom?" Yes, "back in the day", we all started with cane, a couple choices of hide bag, etc. I'm not disputing the "cane sound", sheepskin bag benefits. etc. But to put this in perspective: Some years back, I put on a workshop at the request of a group that was wanting to start their own band. They all had one instructor who, being totally frank, should never teach (I won't go into the ridiculous things he "instructed", such as "just wiggle your right hand to make a D throw"). All bought the pipes and setup he recommended. Thankfully, the pipes were from a reputable maker. But he had them all on the floppy Gortex bags and cane drone reeds. All with n o real help. What did "the old ways" accomplish, but to frustrate these rank beginners? I passed around my pipes--yes with synthetic drone reeds and Gannaway bag--and they were amazed.

                      I wish that I had such choices when I started out. Yes, I gained a lot of experience working with the only options we had back then. But I wonder what joy I would have had with more time on playing and less on struggling with my instrument. So to the question of "for whom?", I can enjoy anyone's journey of going back...once one has the experience. But for beginners?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by EquusRacer View Post
                        This may stir many up, but I do not apologize. To the posit "The Old Ways are Still the Best", I would ask, "For whom?" Yes, "back in the day", we all started with cane, a couple choices of hide bag, etc. I'm not disputing the "cane sound", sheepskin bag benefits. etc. But to put this in perspective: Some years back, I put on a workshop at the request of a group that was wanting to start their own band. They all had one instructor who, being totally frank, should never teach (I won't go into the ridiculous things he "instructed", such as "just wiggle your right hand to make a D throw"). All bought the pipes and setup he recommended. Thankfully, the pipes were from a reputable maker. But he had them all on the floppy Gortex bags and cane drone reeds. All with n o real help. What did "the old ways" accomplish, but to frustrate these rank beginners? I passed around my pipes--yes with synthetic drone reeds and Gannaway bag--and they were amazed.

                        I wish that I had such choices when I started out. Yes, I gained a lot of experience working with the only options we had back then. But I wonder what joy I would have had with more time on playing and less on struggling with my instrument. So to the question of "for whom?", I can enjoy anyone's journey of going back...once one has the experience. But for beginners?
                        As a beginner, I'm with EquusRacer on this one.

                        It's a struggle to ramp up initially. I'll bet most aspirants bailout in the early days due to seeming insurmountable challenges. The easier, less variable path towards basic bagpipe playing increases the odds that I will not simply quit.
                        “Where’s my beer?”

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Greetings to All,

                          EquusRacer and Billy Boy both bring to our attention--fundamental Realities'--about
                          the tools (from reeds to instructors) that we all need--and continue to need--and the
                          tuition--the learning--the education--to which we must all submit--and that we must all
                          undergo--and from which--we must then be able--to continually learn--and so then to
                          be able--to take a proper part--in the playing.

                          As to--which reeds--or bags--or bits 'n bobs--are individually preferred?? These many
                          and constantly ever-changing items--amount to nought--as long as--The Sound--and
                          The Music--hits the mark!! :-)

                          And but one of those--Old Ways--basic--and critical to first progress--is to have by one's
                          side--someone who knows--what is--properly afoot--in the fields of piping.

                          A gentle--and informative--hand of guidance--does more for The Music--than all the bits
                          'n bobs that may ever arise--or the different--and transitory "Fashions"--that shall ever
                          appear.

                          Indeed--some--Old Ways--are ever--and shall remain--The Best.

                          Regards to All,

                          Pip01




                          My friends all know,
                          With what a brave carouse...

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by EquusRacer View Post
                            This may stir many up, but I do not apologize. To the posit "The Old Ways are Still the Best", I would ask, "For whom?" Yes, "back in the day", we all started with cane, a couple choices of hide bag, etc. I'm not disputing the "cane sound", sheepskin bag benefits. etc. But to put this in perspective: Some years back, I put on a workshop at the request of a group that was wanting to start their own band. They all had one instructor who, being totally frank, should never teach (I won't go into the ridiculous things he "instructed", such as "just wiggle your right hand to make a D throw"). All bought the pipes and setup he recommended. Thankfully, the pipes were from a reputable maker. But he had them all on the floppy Gortex bags and cane drone reeds. All with n o real help. What did "the old ways" accomplish, but to frustrate these rank beginners? I passed around my pipes--yes with synthetic drone reeds and Gannaway bag--and they were amazed.

                            I wish that I had such choices when I started out. Yes, I gained a lot of experience working with the only options we had back then. But I wonder what joy I would have had with more time on playing and less on struggling with my instrument. So to the question of "for whom?", I can enjoy anyone's journey of going back...once one has the experience. But for beginners?
                            EquusRacer - Totally agree with you - yes, cane has a better sound but at a higher cost which is lots of effort and fiddling about. And there is also the aspect of reliability - I have lost count of the times that cane reeds have just stopped in the middle of a performance, something which synthetics rarely do. Look, synthetic bags and synthetic reeds are good, not doubt about that and you most certainly get a good sound with that setup. I have played with synthetics for many years. For beginners who should be concentrating on sound and technique I wouldn't recommend any else but synthetic bags and synthetic reeds.

                            I got the name of this thread "The Old Ways are the Best" from watching a James Bond movie recently, Skyfall and in one scene he is lathering up at the sink for a shave and, although he doesn't actually shave himself, Miss Moneypenny comes in and shaves him with his straight razor. I think the actual quote "The old ways are still the best" came later in the movie. But cutthroat razors are a good example also. I am into the old fashioned wet shaving, with a straight and also with the safety razors, or double edge razors as they are known. Wet shaving is basically good quality soaps or creams, old style razors (not modern cartridges) plus balms, witch hazel, splashes and aftershaves. It's self pampering for men. The old straight razors are extremely high maintenance, take lots of skill and practice and are not for those in hurry to get to work in the morning. Yet, you get a better shave than with a modern cartridge razor. Modern cartridges do the job quite well, but there is something about the old ways of doing thing.

                            I love the sound of cane and have a lot of time on my hands at the moment so am having fun playing my pipes the old way.

                            cheers
                            Andrew
                            O Wad some the giftie gie us
                            To see ourselves as others see us

                            http://www.blacktownpipeband.com

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                            • #15
                              Days 6, 7 and onwards

                              Haven’t posted for a while but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been playing. I have been into the office for a couple of days since the last posting and missed a day here and there, mainly due to work committments. The few sessions after Day 5 have been basically the same and following the same pattern. The outer tenor has settled in nicely, although it still needs a wee bit of coaxing to get it going but once it’s going, it’s really steady. The middle tenor however, is a different kettle of fish. It’s taken 7 days of playing to realise that the reed is never going to be any good. At the start of the session it needs a tongue bend and then goes ok but after about 20 minutes the tuning changes and I just can’t seem to get the instrument in tune to Low A. I shut of the middle and the outer tenor and bass are spot on and really steady, but soon as I bring in the middle it all changes. A bit further down the track it will stop and thus endeth the session.

                              I persevered with this for a couple of days and then I retied the bridle but that just seemed to make things worse. Maybe the bridle was too tight. I had some of those small stiff rubber bands that can be used as a bridle on chanter reeds to help blow them in, so I cut the bridle off the reed and stuck one of those on. It wasn’t as tight as I would have like, but I found that I could loop it around twice. Blow and start playing and I find that it just won’t settle. Ok I think, this is pretty radical stuff I am doing to the reed so I just keep playing for another 20 minutes, but it still won’t settle. One of my Father’s theories was that if you are having trouble with your pipes, you can more often than not fix them by just playing them. It’s actually a pretty good theory and have played my way out of issues on quite a few occasions. However, it doesn’t seem to work in this case.

                              What to do? I think this reed isn’t going to be a performer. Against all better judgement, I go looking for that other reed. Remember I started out with three tenors? That reed was rejected for a reason but I foolishly try to resurrect it and it just starts and stops all over the place. I take it out and inspect it. Holding the reed with my thumb and forefinger around the hemp and if I push the tongue up and down I can feel it catching. There doesn’t seem to be any dags or bits of cane to make it catch, but sometimes they just catch. You can feel it clicking. Whether it’s the way the tongue is cut, or moisture has made it swell, I don’t know. In my experience, you can’t really fix them. If you sand the tip of the tongue or underneath, you risk not making the reed airtight and then it won’t go properly at all. Did I mention in the beginning than when selecting reeds, and this goes for synthetic reeds too, they must be airtight. If the tongue is shut off, there shouldn’t be any air going through. This reed is a reject along with the other one. That leaves me with just one cane tenor that is working. It was ever thus. You really need to start out with a bucket of reeds and keep going until you get three that work.

                              I have a theory that synthetic reeds are a bit the same, although they are basically manufactured with exact tolerances and standardised components, there shouldn’t be all that much variation. Unlike cane which varies a lot due to all sorts of factors. However, there are still differences between reeds of the same type and you probably need more than just two to get the sound you want. Only trouble is, that they are expensive and most of us don’t have the luxury of buying 4 or 5 synthetic drones reeds just to find two that work. I am probably being a bit over dramatic here. You buy a set of synthetic reeds, and you bung them in and blow up the pipe and with a bit of fiddling here and there, you are going! And, yes, they still take a few days to settle in and start getting sound. But sometimes, just sometimes, they don’t work. I guess we have all bought reeds that don’t perform like the advertisements. Is this because they just don’t suit the particular manufacture of pipe they are going in, or is the reed itself. I bought a set of the Extremes just after they first came out and could not get the bass to work. The agent I bought them from said that they were a bit finicky in Naills, but anyway, send it back and he will replace it. Which I did and the replacement wasn’t any better. Didn’t like my drone, or two duds out of two? Who knows? A lot of people will probably argue with me about synthetic reeds being like this. All I can do now is put the Cannings back in the tenors and wait for the postie to deliver those reeds I ordered from Scotland.

                              Next day, it’s back to full synthetics. Blow up with a cork in the chanter, check that they cut off at the same pressure after tuning them, stick in the chanter and start playing. I wasn’t really expecting them to be all that steady as they have been sitting on my desk for a week but they went really well. Maybe the playing that the bass and chanter have been getting, not to mention myself, have my pipe going really well. The next few days, my Naills have been an absolute joy to tune and play. The contrast with the sound is really noticeable as well. I really liked the sound I was getting with the cane tenors, but the Cannings and Kinniard bass are still pretty good.

                              When my reeds arrive, I will try and get the middle tenor going and then the bass.

                              Here is a link to a sound file with the set up going with the two cane tenors.

                              https://soundcloud.com/user-71596344...e-22-sept-2021

                              I hope people have enjoyed my ramblings. The experiment isn’t over yet and I am still planning to go full cane and looking forward to the journey.

                              Cheers
                              Andrew

                              O Wad some the giftie gie us
                              To see ourselves as others see us

                              http://www.blacktownpipeband.com

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