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Effect of Low Humidity
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Author:  CorneliusG [ Tue Dec 19, 2017 8:37 am ]
Post subject:  Effect of Low Humidity

All - I've only been playing the Uillean pipes about a year now. For most of the past year the room where I practice has been at 40% humidity (or thereabouts). With the winter now here (I live in Virginia), the humidity has dropped to about 20-27% in the room.

The performance of the chanter has changed remarkably - I overblow the low notes (G down to D) routinely now - they come out as screeches. There are times when I have to take my left arm entirely off the bag, exerting no arm pressure at all, to get the low note to sound properly. Even when I get the (say) low D to sound properly, it sounds muted and dull.

I don't have much problem sounding the notes in the second register, though.

I assume this is the low humidity having its effect. But is it? Is this how low humidity affects other players' chanters (I'm playing a Kirk Lynch chanter/reed)?

Author:  An Draighean [ Tue Dec 19, 2017 8:48 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Effect of Low Humidity

CorneliusG wrote:
I assume this is the low humidity having its effect. But is it? Is this how low humidity affects other players' chanters (I'm playing a Kirk Lynch chanter/reed)?

Chanter and regulator reeds like the humidity they were made in. The reeds in all my current sets and chanters were all made in Ireland, except for one. They play well down to about 40% humidity; much below that and they have problems similar to what you describe.

You can open up the reed(s) a bit by adjusting the bridle, but you'll be re-adjusting them when the humidity comes back. In my experience, it is much better to humidify the room in which I practice (and where the pipes stay) than to diddle the reeds two or three times per year. The long-term solution is to learn to make your own reeds, in your native climate.

Author:  PJ [ Tue Dec 19, 2017 9:30 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Effect of Low Humidity

I find that when the humidity falls below 25%, my reeds lose tone and become too weak. A humidifier ($50) is a good investment. I usually switch mine on a few minutes before I start to play.

Author:  dyersituations [ Tue Dec 19, 2017 1:48 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Effect of Low Humidity

I echo the comment on adjusting your bridle as needed. If you are careful, such as when removing/replacing the chanter top and not forcing the reed too much with the bridle, then it doesn't negatively affect the chanter or reed. I play around town regularly and encounter variations in temperature, some pubs are drafty, some venues are just plain cold, etc., so I have to mess with the bridle, rush, and hole taping relatively frequently. Luckily I live in a relatively damp part of the USA, so my reeds are mostly well behaved. And I also echo the comment on reed making, as I'm now getting into chanter reed making. It's nice to have back-ups and reeds that behave well in different climates and times of the year.

Author:  paintedgreen [ Thu Dec 21, 2017 11:03 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Effect of Low Humidity

Greetings from Colorado.
Humidity at my house is about 10% right now, and winter has always been a struggle. I would concur with PJ's advice about the humidifier. I bought a tiny one for $10 online and angle it at the bellows intake. You can adjust it closer for growling bottom D's and screeching F's, or further away if it's getting too moist.

Author:  pancelticpiper [ Wed Dec 27, 2017 7:18 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Effect of Low Humidity

If you've seen the news about our California wildfires you may of heard of what drives them- our super-dry strong winds we call the Santa Anas.

For around two weeks here recently our humidity was under 10%, in certain times and places around 5%.

Our usual humidity is around 60%, and in the late afternoon and early evening close to the shore when the sea-winds blow in the humidity rises to what around 80%.

I've been playing the same chanter reed here in these conditions since 1982. It's more resistant to dryness that most people's reeds. Reedmakers have looked at it and told me it's made from California cane, which they tell me is more resistant to dryness than French or Spanish cane, something to do with its structure or how it grows.

Nevertheless my chanter's performance changes significantly with only a fairly minor change in humidity, say from 50% to 40%.

The main thing is Back D, which becomes more sensitive to pressure the drier it gets, and goes flat at normal pressure. When it's really dry I can't underblow Back D enough to have it play at pitch. (The more pressure, the flatter it gets, contrary to what one might think.)

The good news is that High B, which is rather stiff and hard to maintain on my chanter when it's more humid, becomes sweet and easy when it's dry.

Actually my drone reeds (cane) suffer more than my chanter reed. At a level of dryness when my chanter isn't performing too badly, my drones become wildly unstable, and change pitch dramatically when I do the subtle pressure-changes needed to play the chanter. So the first thing I have to do is shut off the drones and play chanter alone.

My other chanter has a Cedar reed made by Kynch O Kane which is wonderfully resistant to these humidity changes.

Author:  Ken_C [ Wed Dec 27, 2017 9:36 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Effect of Low Humidity

As a beginner on a visit to California (here to assist a convalescing relative), I find these comments useful and interesting. I brought a Daye chanter with me; it works great at 40% humidity and in Pasadena we're no where near that. After buying a small room humidifier and running it for several hours I got the chanter to play, with the behavior panceltic describes, for ten minutes before it stopped working. For me it is progress just to understand and diagnose what the reed is doing - there have been months of mystery (not to mention the saga of multiple leaks I've noted in other threads). No doubt about it - this instrument is one for the truly devoted (or obsessed).

May your reed always be happy,

Author:  an seanduine [ Wed Dec 27, 2017 4:39 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Effect of Low Humidity

Tangential funny story regarding the Santa Annas.
Sean Folsom related a time he was playing at a Ren Faire during the height of the Santa Annas. His reeds kept shutting down, but as it was a paying gig, he resorted to occasionally pouring a shot of whiskey in the bellows. I believe the piper was sharing with the bellows. He was able to finish the gig but ultimately the reeds were totally destroyed.


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