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PostPosted: Fri Oct 14, 2016 7:37 pm 
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Mathieu Paquier, Vincent Koehl, Cédric Moign. "Effect of drone reed material on great highland bagpipe sound." Acta Acustica united with Acustica, Hirzel Verlag, 2016, 102 (4), pp.752-762. <http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/dav/aaua/2016/00000102/00000004/art00015>. <10.3813/AAA.918991>. <hal-01341956>

I've seen only the abstract, but it looks intriguing. The researchers recorded bagpipe tenor and bass drones both individually and in a full set, with cane reeds and with synthetic reeds, then had expert listeners assess the quality of the sound. They found no significant correlation between quality of sound and drone reed material.

For tenor drones, they also found that the listeners tended to prefer drones with more power in the fundamental and less in the higher harmonics. Synthetic drone reeds were more likely to have this quality, although not so much that it showed up as a correlation between sound quality and reed material.

A pity they relied on recordings, rather than live performance. The abstract doesn't mention what they used for the chanter reed.


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 15, 2016 5:51 am 
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I wonder what makes of synthetic reeds they used.

The comment about cane tenor reeds giving more higher harmonics may well be true in general, but there's tremendous variety among various makes of synthetic tenor reeds.

For example a friend has a set of Dunbars set up with Rockets, my Dunbars are set up with Kinnairds.

His tenors have loads of higher harmonics, are exceedingly bright/buzzy/nasal/ringing. I don't want to play pipes like that, my tenors are much warmer/darker/rounder/tubbier.

As any Highland piper knows even with the same reed you can get a fairly wide range along that bright-to-dark continuum with various bridle placements and tuning-pin placements.

With the bass especially with the same reed you can make the bass play very bright/buzzy/nasal/ringing or very dark/warm/round doing nothing more than changing the relative positions of the two tuning pins.

Seems that many good players like the more fundamental tone of EzeeDrones in the tenors combined with a bolder bass reed such as cane or a synthetic reed with a carbon-fibre tongue.

I often evaluate drones and drone reeds individually. When evaluating drones I'll switch several different makes of reed between the two drones I'm comparing and note the volume and pitch tendencies of each drone, as well as the timbre in that bright-to-dark continuum.

When I'm evaluating reeds I'll switch the same reed between drones of various makes.

One learns much about drones and reeds that way.

What's odd is how some makes of pipes will combine bright loud tenors with a mellow bass, some makes mellow tenors with a booming bass. There doesn't seem to be any maker-to-maker agreement upon what balance is desirable.

Which makes me laugh when I play a set with tenors of one make and bass of another and pipers say "can you do that?" "does it work?" as if there's some magic correlation that makers build into their bass sound and tenor sound. It's all over the map.

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 25, 2016 9:37 am 
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I am a uilleann piper but I found this thread interesting.

You really cannot make any blanket statement about the sound of synthetic reeds because so many different materials and designs of the body can be used. You gotta experiment and spend countless hours experimenting till you go insane. What I have learned from all this is that after much experimenting is that I have made some fantastic synthetic reeds. I have also made a countless cane reeds. I think cane reeds are an unreliable pain in the @#$. I have made some synthetic reeds that I feel have more harmonics and sound GASP! better than cane. This really depends on the pipes, how they are set up and the reed design. This is more art than science. You have to be one of those pipers that is willing to roll up your sleeves and makes some reeds, while taking the time to voice them to the drones instead of buying a nice happy prepackaged solution.

Cane reeds are over-hyped for tone IMHO.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 28, 2016 2:21 pm 
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In uilleann pipes, I prefer the sound of cane reeds. The manufactured reeds run the gamut from bad to quite good sounding. Most pro pipers in Ireland use cane reeds. They are only a pain if you don't know how to adjust and work with them. Paddy Keenan, for one, travels the world and plays cane reeds. He finds them reliable wherever and in whatever conditions he plays. I have made hundreds of sets of cane reeds. Many of them were gotten to replace particularly EzeeDrone synthetics, which to my ear are on the bad end of the continuum of reed sounds. Properly broken in cane reeds can and often do last for years, becoming more reliable with age. The wood bodied and wood tongue manufactured reeds can sound pretty good and can be very stable. The worst seem to be reeds with plastic tongues and metal or plastic bodies.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 10, 2016 6:44 am 
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One of the biggest advantages to cane, seems to me, is its infinite variability.

Back in "the old days" when all Highland pipers played cane drone reeds, you would go through a big pile of reeds and find the reed that was optimal in a particular drone, each reed having a unique combination of bore size, length, wall thickness, and tongue width.

With synthetic reeds it's a one-size-fits-all thing. Yes they put a screw-thing on the end but you're using reeds of the same bore size in drones of various bore sizes, which isn't ideal.

So you try various makes of synthetic reeds, and usually you can find a make that plays great in your drones.

BTW one thing I didn't see addressed above is pitch.

The vast majority of Highland pipers are playing drones designed to play around 450 cycles, but playing them at 480-485 cycles. It's a testament to the quality of the design of the "classic period" drones (c1880-1930) that they play so very well with reeds much sharper than the reeds they were designed to work with. (Nearly all modern Highland pipe makers are copying "classic" drone specs.)

It would be as if all modern uilleann pipers were playing chanters in Eb, but all the drones were made in D, forced up to Eb with sharp reeds.

There's a current fad in the Highland piping world of returning to a lower pitch, around 466, and many makers offer chanters pitched in the current pitch (480-485) and in the pitch in vogue c1940s through 1970s (466).

I have a couple sets of pipes going great at the lower pitch. The pipes have a warmth there that they perhaps lack at the sharp modern pitch.

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1978 Quinn uilleann pipes
1945 Starck Highland pipes
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 10, 2016 7:14 am 
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pancelticpiper wrote:
I have a couple sets of pipes going great at the lower pitch. The pipes have a warmth there that they perhaps lack at the sharp modern pitch.


Yes; this is the appeal of uilleann flat sets also.

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