Thanks John S. and Billh!
This post is worth a "stickie" IMHO, and I will make it so.
I would like to point out that not all Pakistani made UPs are unplayable, but the experience of most makers and pipers would concur that it is better to spend your money on a set who's maker is available for comment, reeds, advice and repair.
I would like to solicit observations from experienced makers and pipers about Pakistani made UPs.
I am also going to ask permission from Wally Charm, editor of The Piper's Review to reprint the above mentioned article within this topic.
Please, stick to well thought out, substantiated and verifiable responses about these instruments only.
Here is the article on reworking Pakistani UPs from The Piper's Review, by Doug Dexter and edited by Wally Charm. Reprinted here by their kind permission. To all you people who are new to Uilleann Piping, read this and I hope you learn something.
Reworking Pakistani Pipes
By Doug Dexter
Doug Dexter specializes in restoring 5 string banjos of the pre-1900 period (1840s to 1900) for museums and collectors. They do fretboard replacements, inlays, broken necks and will reproduce missing metal parts from scratch if necessary. When you consider that a vintage 5 string banjo can easily have over 150 parts, a set of uilleann pipes doesn’t seem like a big job.
You have seen these sets on the Internet and in some music stores. They don’t look half bad and they are certainly priced affordably. But are they really a good deal or might you be about to buy a lap full of disappointment. We are talking about the sets of uilleann pipes made in Pakistan. They can be purchased as practice sets, half sets and full sets. The practice sets usually come with the drone stock cup already installed in the bag, so it is easy to add the drones and regulators later.
The prices vary a little on where you buy your set and how many pieces you buy at one time. The practice sets are under $500.00 The Drones are about $400.00. The regulators are $800.00. You can purchase a full set for about $1500.00.
The question I hear you asking is: do they work and if not, what does it take to get them working and can those improvements be made by the average beginning player?
The answer comes in 3 sections: The Practice Set, The Drones and finally The Regulators.
The Practice Set–Bag:
If you get a grey plastic bag with your set, save the stocks and burn the bag. Even for an experienced player this stiff material is annoying. Some of the later sets come with a softer, more pliable Naugahide, and are at least worth trying. We changed to leather McHarg bag (about $100.00). The chanter stock on the original bag was too small for the new bag and we had to machine up a larger stock to fit. Once all the stocks were tied in, that part of the experiment was over.
The Practice Set–Bellows:
The previous comments on the bag material also apply to the bellows that came with this set. The paddles were very small and required a lot of pumping. This is not a great way for a beginner, or anyone, to start. We acquired a very nice set of bellows from Seth Hamon (Hamonbagpipes) in Joshua, TX for $100.00 that does the job. We only needed to add a simple valve protector made from a piece of conduit with a washer soldered to the top to keep shirtsleeves from plugging the inlet.
Reasonably priced bellows and bellows kits are also available from C. J. Dixon at www.CJDixon.com
starting at around $125.00 for the kit.
I also like brass hose connectors for attaching the blowpipe to the bellows. These are hardware store items. We machine the hose ends to fit the bellows outlet and the blowpipe tube. It makes a nice setup and allows us to use any of our bellows with any of our sets of pipes. You also don’t have to worry about it blowing out on you in the middle of a tune. One other little modification we add is a pearl dot inlay on the top of the blowpipe. One quick look tells you if the valve is upright.
The Practice Set–Chanter:
It took more work to get the chanter working properly than any other part of the set.
You will need some accurate drawings of a properly made chanter to proceed. I recommend the full sized drawings done by Alan Ginsberg or the ½ scale drawings in the Wilbert Garvin book.
First you will need to discard the plastic reed that comes with the set and either purchase or make a good cane reed. I started with a reed from Brian Howard that gave a good base line for the necessary changes that had to be made to the chanter.
You will notice immediately that most of the sound holes in the chanter are much too small to work properly. Most of them were around 3/16” when they needed to be ¼” to 5/16” in size. The length of the throat was also about 3/16” longer than shown on the plans. Cutting about 3/16” off the reed staple brought the end of the reed to the correct distance from the back D hole. Once I got bottom D and back D working, I started enlarging the holes from the bottom up by 1/64” at a time until the notes came close to true. This also gave me a chance to get the holes somewhat back in line as they originally snaked down the chanter in a somewhat random pattern.
I left the back D hole unfinished for the photo to show how much we had to move it over (about 3/16”) to get it in proper alignment with the front holes. This was done by filling with an ebony plug and redrilling. The bore seemed to be fairly accurate because the notes actually came in very close to true. But, the bore was a bit rough inside so a tapered stick with # 400 sandpaper was used to clean it up a bit. The reed has not been touched except for the aforementioned shortening. The set plays nicely but a bit quiet for some tastes. Opening the reed could increase the volume some, but it is quite nice to play as is. The chanter has 3 keys that are nicely made and fitted, and work well.
As we thought more about the size of the holes in the chanter and added our experience with the drones it seemed reasonable to assume that the plans for a D and B set had gotten crossed. Yes, the drones that we got with the set were made to B specs. So, the smaller chanter holes made more sense even though the chanter was made to the correct length for a D set. It does make you wonder what they smoke over there in Pakistan.
You will also find that these sets leak air at every joint. Besides extra thread wrapping, try some special joint sauce made as follows: Melt some beeswax and add an equal amount of neat’s-foot oil for a 50/50 mix. When it cools you have a great joint seal that won’t stick.
If you haven’t already decided to throw up your hands in surrender, then continue to the next sections on the drones and regulators.
Our Pakistani Pipes Project continues with the addition of the drones. They are currently available as a complete set from $300.00 to $400.00. This includes the stock and shut off valve, tenor, baritone and bass drones, and the fitted extension for the base regulator. The stock is drilled for the tenor and baritone regs with removable wood plugs to stop the holes. They come with cane reeds that had all sorts of problems. When we first set up and tried the drones, we had difficulty trying to get them to tune up. The tenor and baritone would not go higher than a C# with the slides fully closed and the reed tongues shortened as much as possible before they quit playing. The mystery was soon solved when I compared them with the drones on my Gallagher B set. Yes, these drones were made to B drone specs. With a bit of work the bass drone could be brought up to a D. The tenor and baritone needed a major rework. First they had to be shortened by trimming back the ends of the slide tubes and shortening the inner tube by the same amount. You can see about how much was trimmed by looking at the tube above. All of the ungrooved part was trimmed off both ends. Then the bores were gradually increased until they would tune in to a proper D with the slides at a near midpoint. To eliminate other possible variables a set of Childress brass reeds was used. At $80.00 for the set plus shipping, this was the only added expense on the drones. These reeds are well worth the money. Once played in, they start up and tune up every time regardless of temperature, humidity or time since last played. Trying to tune up these drones as they came out of the box would have greatly added to the frustration of a beginning player.
These come made to fit the stock holes and extension tube of the drone set. The regulators run about $800.00, and just about doubles the price of the complete set. The regs come with double plastic reeds that, so far in our experience, are a waste of time. Bruce Childress has developed a set of regulator reeds that we wanted to try. They are made like a traditional cane double reed but plastic is substituted for the cane then bound and bridled with wire. Like Bruce’s drone reeds, so far they are trouble free.
The main problem with the regulators is trying to get them tuned as they come out of the box. The holes are properly placed but no amount of moving the reed could get them out of a state of critical flatness. The problem is shown in the photos. The tuning rushes, which should be made of fine wire, were actually made of pieces of large, square, wood sticks. The .096 tuning pins, which should end before the bottom hole, were extended up to the third hole from the bottom. A pin of that thickness under a sound hole is enough to flatten it all by itself. The wood sticks were bound to the tuning pins. The photo showing one of the tuning rushes from my Gallagher D set with 2 taken from the Pakistani regs. The tuning pins were cut off just before they reached the bottom hole and were center drilled so a piece of .032 brass wire could be inserted and soldered in place. This allows us to pull the entire pin and rush out for work or seal replacement. The wire extends to just above the top hole so when the tuning pin is pulled out a short distance the top hole can have unrestricted air flow if it needs to be sharpened any. Wrapping Teflon tape around the fine wire to effectively narrow the bore near a hole that needs to be flattened does the actual tuning. The entire, lengthy, tuning process could be covered in another article. The only other problem with the regs is the attachment of the sound hole pads to the key shafts. A couple of them were loose and needed to be resoldered. The solder is the problem. They should have been silver soldered or brazed.
That completes the major work on our Pakistani Pipe Project and we now have a nice playing set of uilleann pipes. Visually they have a very nice basic, antique look. I found the large regulator keys easy to use even for someone of very marginal talent. The chanter requires alternative fingering for C natural (both the G and F# fingers raised). The notes otherwise are normal in both octaves.
Some Pakistani pipes may not require all of the work needed to make them playable, but hopefully, you will have some insight into what to look for if you are considering the purchase of a practice, half or full set of these pipes.
The question still remains: Are they a good deal? Certainly not if you have to pay a professional pipemaker (assuming you could find one with the time) to do the work described here. That might double the price of the set. Unfortunately, most of these sets are being sold to beginning pipers. All they will get for their money is frustration and discouragement and an eventual resolve never to pick up a set of uilleann pipes again. However, as a do–it–yourself uilleann pipe kit, they might be just the answer. By the time you get them playing, you will certainly have a much better understanding of maintenance, tuning, reed making and uilleann pipes in general.
I would be happy to answer any questions and give more details on the work involved in this project. firstname.lastname@example.org
As an after thought here, I'd like to point out that The Piper's Review is published quarterly by the Seattle Piper's Club, and IMHO is quite a valuable resource for all Uilleann Pipers. I highly recommend it.
For questions about this publication, back issues, subscriptions and what-have-you, you can contact Wally Charm at: email@example.com