How to leard to blow the bag

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Glenarley
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Sound from the Bag

I have had quite a few pipers dispute my comments in my previous post regarding sheep skin (sheepie) bags so I will delve into this some more.

I have been provided many testimonies from a sheep skin bag maker’s web page stating how much better the pipers, (solo & band) sound now they are using a sheepie. No specifics are ever given, just subjective opinions.

We tested 7 different bag types all tied, (or grommeted) into the same set of stocks, Jack Lee Hide (grommet and tie in), Sheepie, Gannaway Hide, Bannatyne Hybrid (Willie McCallum, Grommet), Bannatyne Synthetic, Ross Hide (Hybrid) and a very old unnamed plain hide.

This was not a small task and I undertook this task, convinced that because there are so many people stating they could hear a sound difference between a sheepie and standard hide, I must have missed something in my earlier testing and analysis.

Well, after doing all the testing, again, nothing has changed. I have to put this down to “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, pure “Snake oil”.

Originally the lab only tested the sheepie to see if the bag could emit a sound(s) that was audible to the piper over the sound of the pipes and the conclusion was that this could not happen. The main reason was that the bag was firmly captured between the arm and rib cage, negating the possibility of some sort of vibration being created and emitted by the bag. Like placing your finger on a drum when you strike it.

Even without the chanter noise, the drones would drown out any possible sound emitting from the bag so there will be nothing to hear. So why do so many state that they sound better playing a sheepie? I am of the view the reasons are psychological rather than actually physical and to support this view I have a typical example that one piper told me, “it is the sound you can’t actually hear, you have to feel it”. Well, there you are! This would explain why all the equipment the lab has did not pick up any audible sound, they needed to have equipment that felt sound, (tongue firmly jammed into cheek).

I also had one sheepie piper insist that the zipper on many of the bags also had a negative impact on the tone of the pipes. While I was polite in my response, I did not have the gaul to suggest the lab test for this. I have to exercise a certain amount of common sense when making requests to technical professionals.

Let’s put the ducks in a row. The bag is an air reservoir to allow a continuous flow of air to the reeds, and all the different bag types will do this. To maintain a good steady sound from the pipes, the piper needs to maintain a steady pressure on the bag. All the different bag types will also allow this to happen. The only thing that will not allow the continuous steady flow of air to the reeds is the operating skills of the piper therefore, a skilled piper should have no trouble keeping a steady supply of air to the reeds with any of the bag types, yes?

The only real issue we observed from pipers was the “feel” of the bag under their arm. The Gannaway was the most comfortable because of the shape and surprisingly, the ripstop, (synthetic) bag was the most liked for the responsive “feel”. This is all subjective as we did not have many pipers in the sample so this is just what we found. None of the pipers noted any sound difference from any of the bags. This is also subjective because we did not have all the bags tied in and available to be played in the same testing session so take this for what it’s worth.

Most pipers did not like having to continually condition the sheepie over the hybrids that required no maintenance other than the occasional check for leaks. The sheepie being almost double the cost of most the other bags was also a reason many would not use a sheepie, no perceived cost benefit.

To me, the sheepie is more about elitism and oneupsmanship rather than practical application. Lee Bagpipes make bags out of several different materials and they supply with and without zipper and grommets. Nowhere on their web page can I find figures/facts/data that support an audible advantage over one type and another. Subjective claims do not count as the mere assertion, in the absence of evidence, is merely an assertion. Marketing also plays a part.

I feel the suggestion that a sheepie produces a superior sound is another example of the bagpipe “Black Arts”. I have not been able find a single evidence-based example that could support the claim. If there is some objective evidence out there in bagpipe world that proves the claim, I would like to see it because we could not hear it.

If you want to play the bagpipe in a traditional setting then fine, use a sheepie, cane drone and chanter reeds and be prepared for all the issues that go with that decision, but just because you are comfortable with and have the skillset to deal with the problems, don’t use subjective codswollop to convince others to join you. Some pipers, especially learners, just want to learn to play the pipes with the minimum amount of expense and grief, so just let them. Stop creating sheeple.

Cheers

G
Glenarley
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

I have received several emails regarding the content of my last post and some of there is a common theme with most of the emails.

I would prefer to have the questions posted in this thread as there will be some very cleaver people reading this thread that may be able to provide more valuable answers than mine so I will post the points and do what I can.

The main thrust of the questions is: Why do all the best bands and solo pipers use sheepies if there is not sound benefit?

Short answer, I don’t really know. I personally believe it is more to do with elitism than sound because nowhere could I find any data that suggested otherwise. Our testing could not find an audible advantage over other materials. Personal opinions don’t count.

One person used the analogy of an opera singer singing from the lungs using an open throat technique. Interesting because it is true that this technique does provide a different sound to a more throaty singer however, I was informed that the sound is still coming out of the mouth and is still generated in the vocal chords. In bagpipe speak, the sound is still produced by the reed to be emitted out the end of the drone.

How can the reservoir material effect the sound? Because different pipers play with different sized reservoirs (bags) and still sound great, it beggars belief to think the size of the reservoir could also have any influence on sound.

I just think it is phycological, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Placebo.

On this point, if I was one of the world’s elite GHB pipers and I was told that the sheepie was one of the reason I sounded so good, I would take offense at the assertion. I would be happier to believe that I could be an elite piper regardless of the bag I was using, that it was my skill and technique that had me sounding so good, not the bag material.

There is also the “marketing” aspect that needs to be considered. Does Tiger Woods really believe that Nike balls are the best in the world? Does the sponsorship money he is paid by Nike have any influence on his decision to use and promote Nike balls? If the elite pipers in the world were offered free or commercial inducements to use these bags by a sheepie bag maker, what do you expect them to say about sheepies?

The fact of the matter is, with the audio and computing technology available today, testing for and possibly establishing an audio advantage with the different bag materials is not an overly expensive or time-consuming task. If there was an audible advantage from one material over another, one of the bag makers would have done the testing and used the results to corner the market. Currently, I can find no such data so again, in the absence of evidence, the mere assertion, in the absence of such evidence, is merely an assertion.

I would also like to point out that I am only posting information and my personal views, I try extremely hard to avoid mentioning brands or naming individuals. Not always possible but I do not have an agenda that is singling out specific people or brands.

Cheers

G
Glenarley
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Staple Expanders (Reed Pokers)

In the GHB world we are seeing these devices being used to set the lip gap in reeds and there seem to be two main reasons for wanting to do this. The lips of the reed have closed up and will not vibrate correctly or to adjust the blowing pressure, (crow) of the reed. Using a Staple Expander will work in some of these instances but it is not a silver bullet and there are trade-offs that can have negative consequences.

Based on what I have personally experienced seeing the damage this tool has caused, in my view, giving the average GHB piper a reed poker is tantamount to giving a Swiss Army Knife to a gorilla and expecting it to repair a watch.

Cane reeds have the concave shape scraped into them through the use of a gouge, (curved chisel) or sanding profilers. Different reed makers will use a different curved, (radiused) gouges depending on the reed/cane recipe. As cane is a living breathing organic, it is subject to operate according to the 2-stroke engine theory, starts for no apparent reason, runs for no apparent reason and stops for the same no apparent reason, and cane reed makers reluctantly live with this variable situation.

A reed that closes up will become too easy to blow and will also flatten in pitch. Reeds can close up for a number of reasons but most common is a new reed that looses its curve after settling from being tied to the staple, (usually a soft cane issue) as well as softening from being played, remembering that a GHB reed is a wet blown reed. A reed may loose its curve on both blades equally or it may only loose it’s curve on one blade.

The reed also needs to be considered as it is usually made to a specific recipe that can be upset through the use of a reed poker. The staple eye height (the short dimension across the eye end) is also used to set the volume (space) inside the reed to create the missing part of the cone. The best place to see this explained is in Bart Hopkin’s book, Air Columns and Tone Holes – Principles for Wind Instrument Design. While it is a lot about flutes and whistles, the diagrams and graphs do apply to the GHB reed instrument. Next time you are sitting on the throne, this is an easy read and explains in a more simplified manner than Bernard’s book.

The reed has a design volume and it has a setting height. Set the reed too low and you get autocran on the bottom notes, set it too high and the top hand gets flat and bendy, (see the graphs in the book).

The reed design will also be good on some chanters and not so good on others because the pitch of the reed has to suit the design of the chanter it is being used in, (in the book).

There is a you tube video where a piper claims to be able to make “all” reeds work using a reed poker. Interesting claim.

Firstly, the poker will not fix a reed with one flat blade. What he also does not make clear is what happens to the reed when you poke it. Open the lips and the reed becomes sharper and harder to blow. You can soften the reed back to its original strength but you cannot add length to the reed to fix the sharp problem. This will lead to gouging chanter holes and taping others to get the balance back. Yes, it is possible but why risk screwing up a $200 - $400 chanter for the correct $25 reed?

The expanding of the staple can also separately affect individual notes on a chanter to the point where the chanter balance is unacceptable to a reasonable ear. In the you tube video, the chanter balance on reeds the piper pokes is so far out of tune, it is unplayable to my very average ear.

Some of the other issues I have had laid before me by pipers that have attempted to “revitalise” a reed with a reed poker. On many rolled staples, only the side of the staple with the split opened up making the reed unbalanced and sound off tune and bendy. Many staples are too hard to easily spread and applying too much twisting pressure ended up with the reed blades spinning around on the staple. After poking the reed, some holes changed pitch differently to others, (high G in particular) rendering the reed useless.

My assessment of the poker is, know what you “can” do with it and understand what it is doing to the reed, (pitch and pressure). If your good playing GHB reed is closing up, the poker may be a stop-gap solution on the day but the reality is, your reed is dying, look for a new one. On the uilleann and small pipe reeds we often use a metal bridle to adjust the lip gap. While the gap does affect pitch, because we are not messing with the staple, we are not screwing up the reed volume (space) and the setting height, (in the book).

If I was a commercial cane reed maker, I would be making and selling a reed poker to every customer I could convince to buy one. I think this would guarantee me some steady return reed business. If I was a tutor, I would never mention to a student that this device exists. My two bobs worth.

In stating this, I really should send the inventor of the commercial reed poker a Christmas Card every year in appreciation for all the money I have made fixing what this device has screwed up. One of life’s little conflicts.

Cheers

G
Glenarley
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Staple spreader Ver 2.

Thanks for the emails, quite surprised how much the staple spreader (reed poker) stirred up some of the readers.

I did not state you were an idiot for using this device! But if the hat fits….., feel free to wear it.

I stated that I believe that the spreader can be useful as a stop-gap measure in the hands of someone that knows what can and cannot be achieved using the spreader, and has the skills and touch to use it without dicking up the reed.

Spreading the staple will sharpen the reed and make it stronger to play and these points need to be considered. They are not my subjective view, they are physics. High G in particular makes my point.

As it happens, there is a cane reed maker out there that makes, sells and promotes the staple spreader, who knew. Sending me this information as a way of repudiating my earlier post actually does the opposite. It supports my view and demonstrates that this reed maker is also an astute businessman, kudos to him.

Sending me threads from the other bagpipe forum does not serve as evidence! In my view, some of the references are from flat earthers and are not supported in any way that is credible. Just because this bloke you know has a friend that knew another bloke whose wife knew the tea lady in a company that has a person that went to a school where they used to teach the bagpipes and that person's tutor said….., is not evidence. Give me numbers or links or both. I am happy to have a dig around and just as happy to be proven wrong where I get it wrong. I still love to learn, even at my time of life.

The comments from the Canadian were very interesting and useful. He tells me the spreader is a recent device that was not really useful on the old style of GHB chanter reed because they left the cane bark on the reeds back then. The removal of all the bark is a modern concept that came into vogue as by removing the bark, the exposed cane is more absorbent so the reed normalised (absorbed moisture) faster with the larger surface area of softer cane so, the warmup time is reduced. Moisture is not able to penetrate the bark so it takes longer to get moisture evenly distributed through the reed.

This information had never been presented to me in the past and after some analysis, it does make sense. It also makes sense that the spreader would not be so effective on the old style of chanter reed because the cane bark would make the reed more resistant to opening up at the staple end.

I also strenuously reject the suggestion that an accomplished piper is, by default, an accomplished reed technician. Quoting a thread from the other forum that is just one accomplished piper’s ego posturing, is pointless. Get him to list data and figures or post demonstrations on you tube. Just because a person is a great mechanic, does not, by default, make them a great driver.

I stand by all my earlier assertions but thanks for the emails anyway.

Cheers

G
Glenarley
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Bagpipe Bags Ver 2

After testing several bags for sound, (tone) differences/advantages I found that one bag stood out as being preferred by those that took part in the blind test. The positive feel of the bag under the arm, (no spongy give) and the comfortable shape of the bag were the two standout features. Some bags press on the forearm closer to the wrist and some pipers complain that this pressure can lead to numbing in the fingers whereas this particular bag was seen as being very comfortable in this aspect because of the way the shape had been crafted.

Usually, I try to avoid naming brands or individuals but, in this case, I will make an exception.

The bag was a Gannaway, raw hide, medium extended, tied in bag. As this bag stood out during the blind testing and the maker is just over the ditch in NZ, I decided to give them a call and get some details on this bag and the options.

I spoke with the owner/manager who is an accomplished piper himself and was a production manager in a tannery for more than two decades. I therefore felt I could take the views of this man regarding playing and material as credible. His son who also works in the business is a current A Grade piper adding to the business’s piping credibility.

He was a very pleasant man to speak with and was happy to answer any question I put to him. There was no secret squirrel stuff that he was not prepared to discuss and he was very knowledgeable over a broad range of piping and bag making processes. Call him, you can judge for yourself.

The shape of these bags was specifically designed with the comfort of the piper in mind and the goal was to shape the bag so the correct part of the arm was in contact with the bag. This is what made the bag so comfortable to hold and play for many pipers. The positioning of the stock cuttings was also an option that should be considered based on individual sizing at the time of ordering.

The leather is specifically processed to remove as much stretch as possible during the tanning process and this is what gave the bag such a positive feel with pressure control. The thickness of the hide is also specifically selected to enhance this control aspect required by the piper. It’s slightly thicker than many split hides used for bagpipe bags. The flat seams also makes tie-in a breeze.

He also informed me that the tie-in bag will have a greater lifespan than the grommet bag, this was a bit of a surprise to me but when I looked back through the invoices, he seems to be correct.
Because the alleged “better tone” from sheepies is subjective, and many of his clients use them, he would not be drawn too much into the debate however, he refused to dispute my findings and assertions from my testing of sound and tone differences with different hide types.

The other process we discussed was the treatment of rawhide bags and this was quite revealing. They supply a primer and then a conditioner to be applied by the piper. The conditioner is not the type that turns into thick greasy balls inside the bag and it has an antibacterial compound along with a fungicide included. It resides as a film rather than a thick layer of clumpy grease.

Other bag makers could also use the same design criteria and have the leather hide treated in the same fashion to eliminate that spongy feel you get from many sheepies. Gannaway do make grommeted bags for those that prefer not to have to tie in as do many other bag makers. Gannaway will make a custom bag to suit any specific size, shape or material requirements and I would guess that other bag makers may do something similar. As I only spoke with Gannaway I can only comment on what they informed me. I did contact one other bag maker in the UK and got quite a hostile response to my initial inquiries so I politely ended the inquiry post haste.

At the end of the day, all the hype about sheepies or brands and such in my view is just hype, marketing and perhaps, some elitism. While only speaking for one maker, it is reasonable to believe that most other bag makers have also put thought and consideration into the design and construction of their bags. Don’t buy a new bag based on hype or brand, see if you can try some out first as a good fitting bag could make a lot of difference as to how well you play the pipes, especially if you are size challenged.

I do not have shares or any commercial/sponsorship interests in Gannaway, I was just so impressed with their product and service that I decided to share my experience. Prior to this I had never considered using a Gannaway bag, now my boy will use nothing else where he has an option, not because of sound/tone, but because of the comfort and feel.

Cheers

G
Glenarley
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Chanter Finger Spans

This is another of those issues that should be so simple yet it is not simple enough for the GHB mob to figure out it would seem. It is another one of those confusing and illogical aspects of the GHB. The story begins….

I recently reeded a Colin Kyo GHB chanter for a client. The Kyo chanter is a bit odd because it has a larger bore than most, (the bore taper is wider) and it has a longer throat than any chanter I have ever worked on, these two factors make the chanter very picky on reed pitch. The maker would have done this for a reason(s), I just don’t know why. I asked the (adult) client why he plays this chanter and he said because he has small hands and this chanter has a shorter finger span than most the current mainstream chanters.

He gave me the span measurement from the high G to the low A which was 151mm. Now, a G1 chanter is 152mm and a Shepherd is 153mm so stating a Kyo has a short finger span is somewhat a moot point considering we are talking about < 2mm so I looked a bit harder.

First point is the chanter is played with two (2) hands so if you were looking for a short finger span you would have two measurements, one for each hand and not the overall length of both hands. The only span that really matters is the bottom hand as this uses all the fingers on the one hand and it has the smallest finger covering the largest hole. This smallest finger also plays one of the most important stand out movements, the burl.

After searching about I found that most GHB pipers measured the finger span of a chanter this way, clearly these people are not the sharpest tools in the shed as any GHB piper would know about the stretch of the pinky to burl the low A hole as being quite tricky to get it really crisp.

After more measurements on different chanters, I found that the Kyo, at best only had 1mm advantage (bottom hand notes) over many current chanters so I am left to wonder how 1 or 2mm difference could make such a player difference so, I asked this piper to play a McCallum chanter to see what gives and I could hear chirps when he was attempting to do burls. What I discovered was he was feathering the low A with his pinky so that about 1/4 of the hole was not being properly covered. How could this be you might ask?

I asked him to get out his practice chanter and play the same tune to see if the bag was part of the problem. He could play the tune very well on the practice chanter however, the practice chanter was one of those kiddy sized models where the overall finger span is about 30mm shorter than the actual bag chanter, and the bottom hand span was about 15mm shorter than a bag chanter. Who would practice with a practice chanter that does not have a similar finger span as the bag chanter? As it turns out, lots of pipers. That tool shed is overflowing as I type.

While there are plenty of pipers that can auto adjust their fingers to the hole spacing, why would you deliberately make life more difficult than it needs to be by practicing on a short span practice chanter to then play on a long span chanter? As it happens, this is another of those GHB nutbag situations that has no real logic attached to the process yet plenty do it. Some successfully and others not so good.

Many of the older practice chanters were made to this kiddy length and the tradition has just continued on into many currently made practice chanters although, there are plenty of makers that produce full length finger span chanters. While I could understand the argument for very young learners with small hands starting on a short span chanter, why would an adolescent or adult do this? The potential for muscle memory problems is evident as with this subject piper.

Yes, uilleann pipers have to cope with different spans but it takes some getting used to going from a D to an A chanter and many uilleann and SP players will settle for one pitch to avoid the hassles.

After further poking about, the real reason why the Kyo seemingly behaving better was not the finger span but the hole size. The Kyo has much smaller holes than most mainstream pipe chanters so the low A is much easier to cover with the pinky therefore, the hole is not so easy to feather. The smaller holes gives the perception the span is shorter when it’s not really the case.

I spoke to some of the more experienced tutors we know and all but one said they would never use a short span chanter for tutoring, even for learners. The view was likened to teaching a kid to play a piano, you use a standard sized piano and only teach tunes the kid can physically play at first and progress the tunes as the hands will allow. Consistent muscle memory.

There are plenty of practice chanters out there with the full-length finger span so why would you start someone off practicing on something that is not the same as you want them to play in the bag, in my view is a musical instrument oddity? Why even have short finger span practice chanters at all is still a question I cannot provide an answer to. A special child chanter maybe, but other than this, it just makes no sense to me and many others I have asked. Just another of the idiosyncrasies of the GHB world designed to make learning a very difficult instrument almost impossible.

My 2 bobs worth.

Cheers

G
Glenarley
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Drilling chanter throats

This is one of those issues that really grinds my gears and it applies to both Uilleann and GHB chanters.

I am going to focus on the GHB chanter as this issue has just come across my desk so the hatred is still warm in my gut.

It is reasonable to believe that all chanters left their makers in tune with a specific reed at a specific pitch. Exceptions to this would be rare.

If you acquired a chanter without a reed then it is on you to find the correctly pitched reed for that chanter and you can be sure that there will be one because the maker would have used it to tune the chanter at the time of manufacture. This requires some of that reed skill stuff.

The subject chanter is a Colin Kyo made by Canadian pipe maker Murray Huggins. He produces a high-quality bagpipe and is a truly gifted silver engraver. This chanter has a wide bore compared to most current chanters and it has an unusually long throat which makes it very reed-pitch specific. It has also been designed with smaller bottom-hand holes so it is more comfortable to play if you have stiff or small fingers.

I was recently provided a Kyo chanter by a client to have a synthetic reed made to suit the chanter for an elderly piper with low stamina. She was unable to find a reed that was in balance for this chanter so she brought it to me to have a crack at it.

With all chanters not known to me, I look for undercut or gouged holes and check the throat size with my number drills. On this chanter a number 20 drill should drag in the throat and will not fall through under its own weight however, on the client’s chanter, a number 17 (larger) drill just dropped through the throat so clearly, this chanter has been altered.

I broached this with the client and she told me that her PM had drilled the throat to fix tuning balance issues based on advice that they read on the bagpipe forum. She did not remember the thread but did name the forum so I went and checked. It was as she said and a piper from America was promoting the drilling of the Kyo chanter to tune it. This man is not a reed maker or a pipe maker and after listening to him play, appears to be a barely average piper who did not produce any evidence to support the drilling of Kyo chanters and is clearly devoid of substantial reed and chanter skills, so why would anyone listen to him?

The chanter in its present state is ruined although if she is prepared to bear the cost it could be sleeved or plugged and re-drilled to the correct size so all is not lost but, just as you would not ask your dentist to service your car, why would you take chanter and reed advice from Bozo the Clown, you wouldn’t, and yet, some do.

Do not drill your chanter throats unless you know the exact reason and size because you risk completely ruining a perfectly good (and very expensive) instrument.

To take this further, what if my client decides it is easier and cheaper to get a new chanter? What is she going to do with the ruined one? That’s right, she is going to sell it to some poor sap who has no idea this chanter has been altered to the point of ruin. This new owner is going to have the same problems she was having only this person does not know the chanter has been modified and after countless different reeds and frustration, they are going to bin the chanter or on-sell this chanter to another poor unsuspecting sap. And who is going to be named as the bad guy? That’s right, the original chanter maker, not Bozo the Clown.

The chanter maker is going to have their good name muddied just because Bozo the Clown decided it might be a good idea to encourage Kyo chanter owners to drill out their throats. Because of the abject lack of reed and chanter skills of this Joe-Blow piper from USA, a renowned chanter maker is going to have his business name soiled through no fault of his own. How sad and unfair is that?

I have seen this happen quite a lot and a while back I actually spoke with Bob Shepherd (RIP) and explained that this issue had just happened to me with some of his chanters in a band over here. Because the band did not know the chanters had been drilled and could not get a reliable tune, they sold the chanters and replaced them with a different brand.

I suggested that if he printed the throat and hole size details on the box of every new chanter this issue would not occur and his brand would be protected, after all, the throat size is easily measured so it is not like it is secret squirrel stuff. He did send me an email stating he would give the idea some consideration but nothing seems to have come from it nonetheless, if all chanter makers did state the throat and hole dimensions of their chanters on the box or their web page, it would stop people like Bozo and those who don’t know any better from doing irreparable damage to both their chanter and the brand.

I reiterate, it is reasonable to believe that all chanters left their manufacturer in tune with a specifically pitched reed to play at a specific pitch. Find the correct reed before thinking about drilling.

Cheers,

-G
Glenarley
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Moisture control systems and sound

The first fact that needs to be made clear is that the human breath expelled through the mouth is saturated with moisture. It cannot absorb any more moisture. It is 100% humid.

I cannot believe the number of people that want to argue this point with regards to the GHB. The medical books and physiological data are not open to my personal interpretation, they just state the facts therefore, if you breath 100% humid air into the bag and the air exiting is also measured at 100% humid, the air contained in the bag must be 100% humid.

Apart from that Texan forum troll, I will answer all emails in a civil manner but please check with an authoritative source if you doubt what I am claiming first. Saves me email time, thanks.

Some of the questions put to me raised some valid points so I have tested those within my ability and have some interesting results.

There are canister moisture systems with multiple exit tubes with one tube for each reed. (3 drones 1 chanter). These canisters use absorbent compounds mainly silica gel, clay (kitty litter) or sponge foam which I ignored for the testing. Some silica gel is in even uniform granules and some is in uneven chip type. The absorbent rate/time was faster with the clay than the silica gel and the capacity varied with all compounds. Some silica was stated as absorbing up to 40% of it’s dry weight while some were less than 20%. The clay was around the 25 – 30% range.

The other moisture control systems used a separate small canister for each reed and the same compounds were present.

No supplier of these devices gave any technical performance data on the absorbent compounds or data regarding the absorbent rate or capacity of the compounds.

When the air exiting the drones with canisters was tested after a 2-minute warmup, the air exiting measured 99.9 RH on the meter so the canister did not prevent the reed from being exposed to the same moisture content as would be the case with no moisture control system. 100% saturated air.

Having the tube attached to the drone stock did have an affect on the sound of the drones. This has been debated by many for quite some time but the results are repeatable and consistent and the software just presents objective data.

Without the tubes or individual canisters attached to the drone stocks the sound was measured when the drones were locked at a pitch. The sound was measured on the same pipe set with no adjustments apart from the moisture canister tubes being connected and the sound was again tested when the drones were locked to the same pitch. A blower was used to supply the air so the pressure could be controlled at the exact same steady pressure.

When the drones were locked without the tubes connected to the stocks the sound was clearly louder. Some said “more tonal”, “fuller sound” among other descriptors but the computer just displayed louder with a different overtone signature. When the drones without tubes were not locked they were about the same volume as the drones with the tubes connected, locked or not.

An audio person will be able to explain what is happening but it is beyond my technical understanding however, the results prove that if you are steady enough to lock your drones, you will get a bigger sound without tubes or devices (one way valves) attached to the bottom of your drone stocks than you will with tubes, canisters or valves.

I had it explained to me that because the sound wave from one drone can “join” with the other drone, when they lock, a function of dB will increase the sound. Tubes and valves isolate the soundwaves coming from the drone stocks which will stop the sound waves from joining therefore inhibiting this dB function from taking place. The person I spoke with used the display of an oscilloscope to make her point. I only heard blah, blah, blah after the first couple of sentences but she seemed competent and did have a degree in acoustics.

Uilleann pipe makers have used stock designs with one large cavity with the view that a different sound was produced than those without a single cavity. Perhaps they were right.

If you had a band of really steady pipers and all these pipers had a good reed technician who set the reed balance of the drones and chanter, this piper would produce a bigger sound than an identical piper with a tube or valve system. Now if you had a band of good steady pipers with well balanced reeds and these pipers were as steady as each other, two or more pipers could produce a locked sound increase in the same way two balanced drones do when locked. This might possibly be the reason some bands just stand out from others. Just a thought.

The bottom line, tubes and valves on the drone stocks will kill sound. Some may like dead sound and some may not.

A blowpipe tube system will not affect the drone sound because it does not isolate the drone stock openings (sound waves) from one another. The blowpipe tube is directly connected to the blowpipe and mainly collects spit so it can be poured out rather than have it laying in the bag.

I would really appreciate any audio geek chiming in with a simpleton explanation of the locking thing if there is one.

My view, if you spend the hundred plus dollars on a moisture control system in the belief you are preventing your reeds from getting moist, I think you bought snake oil. Do the measurements.

There was one unexpected positive from the moisture control canister systems. The flow restriction from the air being blown through the absorbent compound was significant and had the effect of reducing the instances of roaring drones. Easier strike-ups. The one silver lining.

Cheers

-G
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Reed selection – Brands and Pitches

As a technician, one of the things that grinds my gears is when clients bring their pipes for service or custom configuring and they insist a brand of reed is “best”. In isolation to any other part of the bagpipe it is just a daft thing to say and is usually the result of some accomplished piper or a sales person somewhere promoting the brand.

When I hear this, it demonstrates to me an abject lack of understanding of reeds and how they work or, a vested (commercial) interest, or both.

It is reasonable to assume that every chanter maker sent their chanter out the door in tune at a desired pitch. They would have done this through the use of a reed (reeds) at a pitch that allowed the chanter to play in balanced relative tune. What you are probably never told is the pitch of the reed they used and the pressure they were playing during the design process.

I acquired a 5 pack of new, currently fashionable, aggressive Ridge-Cut cane reeds. The reeds were hand selected and tested by the maker to be “easy medium”. Upon receiving the reeds I mouth crowed the reeds to see that they all worked and to get a rough idea of the pressure range. They ranged from 39” to 61” on the pressure gauge. The 61” reed became firewood from the get-go so I was left with 4 reeds to test.

I see a lot of reed brand comparisons on Youtube and forums and I find many of these are confusing and misguiding, especially to new and struggling pipers.

Mouth crowing a reed out of the box will tell you if the reed will vibrate and a “rough” idea of the reed pressure but the scurly raspy sound will not accurately sound the reed pitch. You need to put the reed in a chanter to find out anything useful so when I see a reed reviewer mouth crowing a dry reed as the primary selection process, I know this person’s understanding is limited and of little value to me.

A sax player would never put in a dry reed, play up and down the scale a couple of times and then use this brief process to assess a reed, so why do GHB pipers do it? Ignorance is probably the best word to describe it.

Cane reeds need to be normalised with moisture before the will operate in a stable and consistent manner so getting the reed wet in a must. How wet? The moisture meter displays that depending on the hardness of the cane, about 25% - 35% moisture and the reed pitch becomes stable.

On an aggressive ridge-cut reed e.g., Chesney, it takes about 10 minutes of playing while on the more traditional molded cut reed type, about 5 mins. The assumption here is that the thicker mass of the ridge-cut is a factor because of the rate of absorbsion.

To put some numbers to it with the 4 reeds left in the box:

Dry blown pressure in a chanter with the pressure recorded at the point the reed would sound a steady high A. They all measured about 10% moisture. The represented note at the bottom is from a chromatic tuner at A 440 just for relative consistency.
39” 42” 44” 48” 61”
501Hz 492Hz 499Hz 495Hz Firewood
F# +20 F# -30 F +40 E +45

Same reeds wet blown after being normalised to around 25% moisture and the pressure is recorded at the point the reed would now play a steady high A.
28” 38” 40” 37”
481Hz 482Hz 491Hz 492Hz
F -30 F + 25 F + 2 F + 32

If I blow the first reed at 39” as was it’s dry pressure with a steady high A but do so after it has normalised, 39” now plays at 522Hz

These figures are only true to the reeds I tested but the point to be made is that the variations from reeds by the same maker are extensive. This is not unreasonable because the maker is at the mercy of an inconsistent material, natural cane.

If I wanted to play at a nominal pressure of 30” there are only 2 reeds in the box that will come close.

If I use a G1 chanter I am going to have a high G and F issue and if I want to play a Shepherd Classic III, I will have high G and D issues. Sure, I can use some tape and undercut some holes to get the balance pretty close but I need to have some reed skills to do this. Not marketing blerp.

I can soften the hard reed a bit and I can polish off the end of a low pitch reed to sharpen it a bit but the main issue is that I need to find the reed with the correct pitch to match the chanter and I need to have understanding and a defined, consistent process to do this. I need a skill set.

I need to know what pressure I want to play at because as can be seen, pressure affects pitch.

I need to know what pitch reed will be in relative tune with the chanter brand I choose to play.

A Shepherd reed is cut to have relative balance in a Shepherd chanter whereas, a Chesney reed in the same chanter may not work well at all yet the reed may be a fine, good quality reed. Reed pitch is the main control.

The current world number one band may use a G1 chanter with a Chesney reed even though G1 make good quality reeds for their chanter. We are not told what modifications were made to the chanter by the band to get the two to work as a unit. We are also not told what pitch the band is chasing and we will never know what pressures the individual pipers are playing.

Therefore, to say Chesney reeds are the best reeds just because the world number one band uses them, without covering all the variables is just bunkum. It also detracts from the reed skills of the band technician as no brand of reed will work without this person’s skill set.

There is no substitute for skill and experience and this is why the top bands have dedicated reed and tuning technicians. The reed brand they use is a very small part of the equation and choices can change very quickly with preferences.

Before you get sucker punched into using a particular brand, find the real reasons, separate from marketing, people might choose this brand. Does Tiger Woods really believe Nike make the best quality golf clothing or does the money he is being paid by Nike influence what he wears?

Cheers

-G
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Further to my Reed Branding post.

I received an email from a piper who sent me a post from a forum thread where the poster stated he had to “drill out the throat of a chanter to get it to tune in pitch”.

I posted my previous reed comment because of comments like this, because of the potential confusion and damage this sort of misinformation can cause so let’s break it down a bit.

While I usually avoid naming makes, I need to in this instance. The chanter is a Colin Kyo chanter and there are plenty of these chanters being used around the world. I have personally spoken with the maker and have watched videos of him playing his chanter to good effect. The chanter works fine but because it has a slightly wider bore taper and longer throat than many mainstream chanters, it does require a reed of a specific pitch, as do any other chanters.

The piper that posted the comment comes from a place called Lubbock in Texas USA and when I look for this place, I find a good sized city out in the middle of the Texas desert. When I look at the World Piping Honors list, I do not see too many accomplished pipers, tutors or pipe makers from Lubbock Texas so I would suggest this piper has limited first hand exposure to such and I feel his comments support this view.

When I hear his piping videos, he only seems to be a pretty average piper, certainly nothing special and the issues with his technique, as assessed by a renowned local tutor, would support this assessment. I do not see anywhere on his web page where he makes reeds or chanters so I would believe he does not. Now while he may well be a legend in his own lunchtime, I cannot see where he demonstrates the knowledge or skill sets to suggest he has the credentials to critique the skills of the maker of the kyo chanter. Should you be taking advice from this person with regards to technical chanter modifications and reed selection?

In my view, this piper has demonstrated an abject lack of knowledge of chanter reed design and function. The problem is that because he may be a prolific forum poster and an average piper, there are those that may take what he posts as verbatim. I see this misinformation as a blight on the piping community but, there is a more sinister fallout.

Many are going to read this person’s posts and may be deterred from buying a Colin Kyo chanter in the belief they are going to have to drill out the throat to get it to tune properly. This may not only cast a cloud over the skills of this chanter maker, there is also the potential commercial damage being done to the brand. All because a piper that I feel has poor reed skills, made an ill-informed decision based on something he may only have read on the back of his breakfast cereal box.

This is not an isolated instance as we see this situation often where the skill-less and clueless has an influence through the use of social media.

I personally contacted Bob Shepherd, RIP, some time ago and suggested that he advertise the bore, throat and hole size data of his chanters on his web page. I explained that his brand was getting some bad press because “Bozo the Clown” thought it would be a good idea to drill out the throat of his chanters to customise the pitch, only to succeed in ruining the integrity of the chanters. If pipers could quickly check to see if the chanter had been dicked with, by checking the manufacturer’s data on a web site, it would allow the piper to know the chanter was/was not “as manufactured” thereby shifting the potential blame from the brand. Bob did respond to me but I think time then became his enemy.

The bottom line, it is reasonable to believe that all chanters were in tune at a defined pitch when they left the maker. If you know the reed style and pitch used by the maker, you should be able to select the appropriate reed and get the chanter to play in tune. If you want the chanter to play at a pitch that is beyond the fundamental chanter design you are going to have to compromise with reeds, tape and undercutting. So be it but, you are going to have to have some reed skills so you know how to find the reed for the chanter whatever path you choose.

Dicking up a $400 chanter to suit a $25 reed is just plain stupid. You are making the tail wag the dog.

You could also make the outrageous decision of contacting the chanter manufacture before you start with the drilling to see if they could provide any useful product specific information, you just never know.

That being said, you may find that drilling the chanter did actually get the reed of choice to work in that chanter at the pitch you have selected, even a blind sparrow could eventually find a worm. Why not just get the correct chanter in the first place before going to all the trouble of risking destroying a perfectly good chanter and the good name of a chanter maker?

If you want to do something well, find someone that is, and copy them. It just makes sense.

Cheers

-G
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by pancelticpiper »

Driftwood wrote: Mon Apr 12, 2021 1:13 pm As an Uilleann piper I've followed this thread with interest in case any of the findings are relevant to Uilleann drones...

So is it the case that increasing the volume of the tone chamber relative to the total volume of drone e.g. by increasing the diameter of the chamber and/or reducing the diameter of adjacent sections of the air column gives a "buzzier" sound at the expense of some stability? And doing the opposite gives more stability but a "boomier" sound? Or the other way round?
GHB drones are tricky things and I'm not sure to what extent modern makers have as much understanding as the old makers did. In my experience old drones tend to work better than modern ones. I'm not talking "tone", which is subjective in any case. I'm talking functionality, as one might put it how eager the drones are to sound the correct note.

One issue is the strike-in. It's not a worry for uilleann and Bulgarian pipers- they shut their drone(s) off a pop them on suddenly (uilleann pipers by means of a valve, Bulgarian pipers by having a finger in the end of the drone when the chanter is brought up to full pressure, then flicking out the finger to start the drone).

Highland pipers have, as long as we know, "struck in" their drones first, then keep increasing bag-pressure until the pressure needed to sound the chanter is attained.

Seems to me that modern pipes tend to be more finicky about striking in properly. I have two vintage sets, and on both of them it's quite impossible to get a "bad strike-in" (squealing or motorbiking drones) no matter what you do. Those old drones simply want to play the correct note, and they can't be made to not do it.

Another issue is stability. There are two different sorts of stability, and Highland pipers often talk in circles because they're discussing two distinct topics without realising it.

1) The tendency of drones to wander off pitch, or remain at pitch, when continuously played for a period of time.

2) The drones' ability to stay on-pitch regardless of variation in the bag-pressure.

About #2, you can test a drone by mouth-blowing it, and make the pressure go up and down, and listen for the pitch going sharp and flat (or viewing it on an electronic tuner). On all the old pipes I've owned I can wildly blow a drone far stronger to far softer than I ever would in normal playing and the drone stays exactly locked on pitch, or in some cases has very small changes in pitch.

I did the same test on a modern set from a very popular modern maker and the drone sounded like a Theramin, the pitch going from a quartertone sharp to a quartertone flat.

For sure it's possible, by using extremely even blowing, to play such a set in tune. However such a set is extremely unforgiving, and if (for example) you have to cut your chanter in and out (as is required in some arrangements for pipes & brass or pipes & organ) the drones won't stay on pitch. Or, if a particular chanter note wanders off pitch slightly if you blow it into tune the drones will change.

With utterly stable drones to can do anything and the drones will keep playing exactly on pitch.

About the effect of tone chambers, it does vary a bit from maker to maker (due to different specs).

The main timbre-change that's possible to demonstrate is with bass drones. They have two tone chambers, the upper chamber (connecting the bass top section and bass midsection) and the lower chamber (connecting the bass midsection and bass bottom section).

With many, perhaps most, bass drones if you have both the midsection and upper section around halfway down their respective tuning pins the tone will be round/dark/tubby, then without doing anything more than changing the tuning positions, putting the upper section far up on its pin, at the hempline or slightly above the hempline, and putting the midsection far down on its pin so that there's only a finger's-breadth of pin showing, the tone will be bright/ringing/nasal.

Regardless of this impact on timbre, each bass drone has a particular set of tuning positions with which the drone performs best, that is, strikes in most reliably and/or avoids rumbling/motorbiking etc.

Tenor drones also have a magic spot it's nice to find where the drones sound best and are most stable and strike in most reliably. (Generally the same spot accomplishes all of these.)

About the specs and just what they do, I have no idea.

I've measured quite a few vintage and modern sets of drones and while there's a general agreement the specs vary from set to set, sometimes with the same maker.

Some things can be plotted over time giving a clear picture of change. For example bass drone bottom sections have steadily been getting narrower and narrower.

The widest-bore bass I've owned was from a very old Glen set. I could swap in that old Glen bass bottom section with ANY modern pipe's bass bottom section and the modern bass drone would be louder, richer, easier to strike in, and more stable. One wonders why on earth modern makers do what they do, sometimes.

About the width of tone chambers, the old makers seemed to usually stay within certain parameters which I'm sure that they found to work best. It's true that more modern pipes (starting in the post-WWII era) tended to narrow the drone bores in general, so you get rather narrower tone chambers (sockets) which usually gives a less-bold tone.
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Glenarley
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Setting Tone. Old drones? – New drones?

The first point I would make is that I have yet to see or hear an elite piper submit to a blind test to determine the age/era of a set of pipes played by another elite piper. I am also still yet to see a noted piper submit to a blind test to identify a poly set from a blackwood set when played by an appropriately skilled piper. I have heard all the posturing and pomp but no actual objective test data, ever, just subjective opinions and Black Arts stuff.

There are a lot of such results regarding orchestral instruments and when the tests are consistent and objective, so many of the posturers have left the room with their pants pulled down.

Yes, it may be desirable to own a vintage set of pipes and I believe to be proud and boastful because you do own such an instrument is not a bad thing as it gives reverence to the maker. It also shows respect and gives value to the skills and craftmanship of the maker but, it does not guarantee quality of sound as it’s not the wand but how you wave it. Sure, you need to have a well designed and made instrument to start with but, a poor piper playing a good old set of pipes by a revered maker is still going to sound like a poor piper. A very skilled piper playing an average set of pipes will still sound like a skilled piper.

I see and hear plenty of alleged piping experts (self-praise is no recommendation) doing Youtube reviews on drone sets as though the brand of drones is the secret to having a great sound. Lots of waffle and sales pitching without a shred of substance, just subjective opinion about the sound produced. Many completely ignore the quality of the craftsmanship which is probably the only aspect they do have the ability to comment on. It can be noted how well finished a set of drones is, the options for the embellishments and the type of material, but commenting on the sound mutually exclusive to the reeds being used, the fundamental pitch, the chanter being used and the operating pressure is just folly. And then we have the skill of the person playing to consider, after all, it is not the pipe but how well you can configure and play it.

Drones are played to compliment a conical bored chanter therefore; the drone must be made to sound an overtone series of a conical bore instrument if you are to get a harmonic match to the chanter notes. This is done by engineering the drone to be small at one end and larger at the other, conical through bore steps. Some pipe makers even used tapered reamers to better create a tapered bore. Some others included more smaller steps to get the same result. There are rules for this design and for those who must know them, they are covered in this publication with the calculations, Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics by Arthur H. Benade.

The length and bore size determined the fundamental pitch of the drone keeping in mind that the overtone series created is fixed and relative to the pitch. The pitch can vary according to the length of the different bore sizes, the length and diameter of the tenon relief bores, the reed being used and the pressure being played at. I believe, because this is all a bit too much for the piper that just wants to play the pipes without having to know all the tech stuff, the Black Arts was spawned. Hey, it worked for the churches in the 13th century so why not?

The other big issue over older pipes is the design pitch. Every drone will have a fundamental design pitch and this is a product of physical restraints in the design aspects previously stated. Because of the variables it is difficult to isolate the exact fundamental pitch of a drone, especially the bass, because of the variables, including the reeds to be used. We can use Benade’s publication as it does include the calculations for the pitch through length and bore but, the calculation requires the length to be known up to the opening in the reed and not just the bare drone so the reed must be fitted. I have never seen a maker state the fundamental pitch for their drones and only a few for their chanters.

We can also use the brute force method of trial and error which requires no math, just time, tenacity and a selection of various reeds.

Keeping in mind that the wonderful “very old” set of drones we own were designed to run at a very low pitch compared to the current fashion. One way to determine this drone pitch is to use the chanter made by the drone maker for this set of drones, from that era. Using the octave method as in my video, we can determine, with a degree of accuracy, the fundamental pitch of the chanter. As this chanter was made to harmonically balance to the overtone series of the drone set made to play with this chanter, we will have a good idea of the fundamental pitch. The variables will be the selected reed and playing pressure but we will be close.

Now, look at what we are now doing. We are wanting our “very old” drones that were designed to operate at a low pitch, to now operate at an ear piercing, currently fashionable, high pitch. We are going to try to force something to do something it was not designed to do. This can be achieved but it takes some setting up and reeds that will operate in these drones at the expected pitch.

Some indicators will tell the piper if a particular reed will be compatible with a particular drone. In my tone chamber video I use a mechanical pressure gauge to test the operation of reeds in drones. The advantage of using a mechanical gauge rather than digital is because it will display needle flutter, the gauge needle rapidly flicking back and forward over a small range at any given pitch. This is caused by pressure in the drone fluctuating as a result of the sound wave traveling up the drone clashing with the sound wave traveling back down the drone. They are not in sync. The blowing pressure can also affect this situation as a drone reed operating at 30” may have a lot of flutter but when the pressure is increased to 35”, the flutter is gone and the tone is smooth.

Pipers with a good ear will test the balance of all the chanter notes against the drones to see if the overtone of each chanter note is in balance with the drones. It is common to hear the low A to E being in tune with the drones but the back A and high G can be well off and vice versa, where the back A to E of the chanter is in balance with the drones but the bottom notes are not. Some pipers and judges are very sensitive to all the notes on the chanter being harmonically matched to the drones. The only way to fix this balance at the selected pitch is to try altering the tuned length of the drone to create an overtone series that is more matched to the chanter. The tone chamber sleeves I use can help, as can altering the length of the drone reed. It is more than can be explained in this post but there is usually an answer.

Here there is an old retired piper that will set up your pipes to achieve this chanter drone balance at/about the nominated pitch. He requires your pipes and the chanter you want to use with a reed at the pressure you are comfortable to play at. He hand makes the reed blades to suit and he has also created replacement blades for Ezeedrone reeds to get the drone to chanter match to achieve the desired balance with the chanter. If your reeds are not suitable, he also makes his own custom designed reed body with custom blades to get to the desired result. His ability to hear the balance between the drones and chanter is a skill that many pipers don’t have and this is what gives him the ability to produce the results he achieves. I believe the top bands and solo pipers also have this skill and this is why they can produce the high quality sound that many do.

At the end of the session, setting up drones well is a complex task that can only be done as a job-lot involving the drone reeds, the chanter, along with the pitch and playing pressure also being considered. The drone brand need not even get a mention. To see or hear a drone reviewer talking about the sound of a drone set by brand, in isolation to all the other factors, I believe is folly and demonstrates an abject lack of understanding. Some may occasionally produce a reasonable balance, but this only goes to prove that even a blind sparrow might eventually find a worm.

If a reviewer or piper talks about “how” they set up their drones and include the reed type used and the harmonic balance achieved with all the notes on their chanter of choice, this is the person you should be taking some notice of. Clearly there is a demonstrated level of understanding.

Cheers

-G
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Chanter reviews – the blind leading the blind

As a piping technician and a pipe and reed maker, both my colleagues and I are constantly asked to provide further information on GHB chanter reviews, usually by the inexperienced, with regards to information on chanter selection and brands as published by self-proclaimed authorities.

The level of misinformation is quite astounding and leads to considerable sums of money being spent unnecessarily on products not fit for purpose.

Chanter reviews, search Google and Youtube and you will be in the right place if you have aspirations to become a snake oil sales person or a politician as you will be overwhelmed with codswallop you could repurpose.

The GHB chanter. Conical bore with eight finger holes operating over one and a bit octaves. An instrument devoid of standards other than playing in mixolydian mode. A simple, rather crude instrument at best.

A point I continually make, albeit seemingly to the wilfully deaf, is that it is more than reasonable to believe that almost all chanters would have gone out the maker’s door in tune at a given fundamental pitch when played at the design blowing pressure using a reed of the correct pitch. It is unfortunate however, most chanter makers do not specify the reed pitch, the chanter fundamental pitch or the blowing pressure used when designing the chanter therefore, you are basically on your own.

Before going into selection details, lets review some of the codswallop you will encounter if you try to use social media reviews to select a GHB chanter.

I have selected statements and terms used in several reviews sent to me/us directly, just a few of the strange ones.

“I found this chanter to tune alright, but that it has an odd bottom hand spacing.”

Odd compared to what? Many chanter makers are picky about getting the same amount of sound projection proportionally up and down the chanter scale and they can change the size and location of holes so one note isn’t noticeably louder in proportion to the notes either side. You would not want your E to be noticeably louder than your B. Is a mm difference here and there really going to make that much difference to playing the chanter?

This chanter has “Normal finger spacing.”

There is no such a thing with GHB chanters. What is normal? Whatever the maker thought at the time, there are no standards so there is no normal.

“It has a very good and well-balanced scale. It also has one of the flatter high Gs I’ve come across making it a good chanter for those who live in dry climates.”

This type of commentary is not unusual and it is pure “Black Artsmanship”. Commentary like this often identifies a player who is not a good technical piper. If you accept this illogical commentary you will end up down that rabbit hole.

The “flatter high G” comment contradicts the “good and well-balanced scale” comment. Further reason to question the knowledge and skills of this reviewer.

The fact is, your breath is driving the reed and your breath is saturated, (100% RH) no matter where you live. As the GHB is a positive pressure instrument, the external atmospheric conditions will not affect the pressurised internal conditions. This reviewer really has no clue and is probably just parroting something he/she heard or read, either way, it is just nonsense and very misleading.

This other reviewer is smitten with a particular brand of chanter and makes these observations.

“The finger spread is small and evenly spaced.”

Compared to what other chanters? I measured this chanter and its shorter low A to D span is less than 3mm shorter than many current mainstream chanters. If this is a key buying point for this reviewer, he/she must be a 9-year-old kid or have size challenged hands for 3mm distance over 4 holes to be critical to playability. Furthermore, I have never found a GHB chanter that did have evenly spaced holes.

As a chanter maker, short low A to D finger span means the chanter has a wider bore taper than most mainstream chanters around the same pitch. I measured this chanter and the bore taper was almost identical to an early wide bore Sinclair. Wider bore allows the holes to be condensed but also means smaller hole size therefore a loss of projection. This usually means insipid burls compared to the narrower bored chanters as the burl needs good volume/projection to really pop when you brush them and this is pop is best on the larger low A hole size. Once again, player not piper, I think.

“… there isn’t a sweet spot to find when setting the reed and I always end up with tape everywhere.”

This is also a common thing to read from chanter reviewers and if you needed proof that this reviewer has poor reed skills, this comment proves it. I do not usually mention chanter makes and models because it would be unfair to the chanter brand. I do know this particular chanter brand quite well and with the correctly pitched reed, it functions very well over a reasonable pressure range given the correctly pitched chanter reed.

Smokey, woody, tonal, mellow, smooth overtones, classic timbre etc, are commonly used terms that really have no objective meaning, just subjective, colourful descriptions. Relative to what? At what pitch? Too many unanswered questions. I feel these comments are made by sheeple just parroting someone else. Sounds flash but has no real substance.

Bright, edgy, icey, shrill and brash are also commonly used terms and can be referenced to opposing terms such as dull, insipid, thin and lacking overtones. To use such terms about a chanter in absence to the chanter pitch, blowing pressure and a reference measurement, is lacking substance. Give a real life example when using such descriptors otherwise they are just fluff.

I/we largely rely on making recorded audio profiles of different devices/configurations as the different profiles can be looped together on the PC and the difference between the recordings is then very easy to hear on looped playback. No more fluffy stuff and, the audio files can be provided as examples before equipment selection.

The misinformation just goes on and on to the point where some nitwits advocate the drilling of chanter throats, gouging holes up to half a hole size larger in an attempt to force the chanter to play in tune. One reviewer, when selecting a reed, even suggested finding the flattest hole and taping all the other 8 holes down to match, even if it meant half a hole being taped. Think of the projection losses if you did that. Finding the correct reed is what should be done. The blind sparrow looking for a worm.

The biggest losers to my mind are the chanter makers. For example, if I was to believe the reviewer that identified certain chanters as working best in dry climates, and I lived in Singapore, many chanter brands were just excluded from my potential purchasing list because of some ill-informed, skill-less reviewer’s comments. What about the chanter maker and the brand? Bit hard on him/her.

I have had so many people contact me regarding my video on finding the fundamental chanter pitch I have been left gobsmacked. It only makes sense so why have pipers not been told this stuff? I understand the commercial arguments that makers have in not stating chanter pitch although, some do disclose the chanter pitch. I have never seen a chanter maker state the preferred GHB reed pitch for a chanter, uilleann yes but never GHB. Might be a lesson in that.

I cut my reed teeth on uilleann reed concepts so I have had to have the awareness that the reed and chanter need to play both octaves in tune, so knowing to overblow the GHB low G to jump the octave to prove the fundamental chanter pitch is second nature to me. The same principles apply to orchestral instruments but with them, we also have the luxury of direct reed control through embouchure. On the bagpipe we only have a wee bit of partial control through pressure variation so getting the correct pitched reed for the chanter is a very important skill for the reed maker.

To put some numbers to it, with my synthetic chanter reeds blowing a medium pressure from 30” to 32” on a current Shepherd, G1 or McCallum chanter, using a chromatic tuner at A440, I look for a reed pitch of around Eb +20 to 30 cents to play these chanters at their fundamental. For the current wider bore chanters with small holes and the same reed profile I am going for E -20 cents. If I use the Eb +20 to 30 cent reed in the wide bore chanters I will have a flat F and most likely E also. The reed pitch has to match the fundamental chanter pitch and bumping the low G to octave G will prove the fundamental pitch when the pitches match.

Why am I giving some chanter reviewers a rip? Because, through their misinformation they are adversely affecting the equipment choices and expenditures of the uninformed that have read their ill-informed opinions to seek guidance. They are also potentially affecting the livelihoods of equipment makers that do not deserve to have their brand adversely affected by the ill-informed and skill-less.

As previously stated, it is reasonable to believe that all chanters left the maker in tune at a given pitch and pressure. You need the skills, or find someone that does, to identify these values when selecting the correct reed.

After the actual material and aesthetics, the main difference between GHB chanters is fundamental pitch. Some chanters have better sound projection due to bore taper and hole size and this becomes a personal taste thing. Some chanters are found to have an oddly loud or quiet note proportional to other notes in the scale when played at different blowing pressures making playing pressure a selection criterion.

If you are unsure about which chanter is right for you, go to your local GHB band’s practice session and have a talk and listen to what that band’s pipers are using. Most pipers are only too happy to share what they have found and as you can look and see if their chanter is altered, and listen to them actually piping with it, you will get a pretty good idea. Keep in mind, some good sounding pipers have 1000’s of hours of practice under their belts to make their pipes sound the way they do, it’s not just the equipment but how you use it.

Before this Covid thing, many equipment providers would let you try things at the shop and while currently you might have to pay for a couple of reeds, you will get firsthand experience with equipment before parting with a large chunk of your money. Know what pitch you want to play at and, if the people you are listening to cannot give you the information you need, find someone that can.

Simply put, the Black Arts and misinformation disseminated through the public forums is a destructive influence on the craft. It makes a difficult instrument a troublesome, confusing unattractive instrument and is not helpful.

Cheers

-G
Glenarley
Posts: 59
Joined: Mon Jan 04, 2021 2:20 am
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Please enter the next number in sequence: 8
Tell us something.: My family has been making pipes and reeds for over 25 years both Uillean and GHB. I am being asked to share pass on information on to other pipers in this open environment.

Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Cleaver marketing or Gullible Highland Bagpiper

A Canadian reader (email name Maîtrecornemuse, sounds French but “No results found for Maîtrecornemuse”) in this forum sent me an email regarding a product line of which I did a couple of video reviews.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPRa5NDoLQs
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6ZvN8cMDVk

These humidicap reed covers are claimed to keep your reed at the exact playing moisture content when not in use. Maîtrecornemuse watched the videos but still went out and bought one of these humidicaps anyway. He/Her/They (HHT in compliance with Canadian Gender pronoun compliance laws) is now asking me why the humidicap does not seem to be working and if I can help as the supplier will not.

I asked if spoken English as used in the videos was a problem and Maîtrecornemuse said HHT was fine with English. Maîtrecornemuse states that HHT reed does not stay wet and still needs to be warmed up for several minutes after it has been sitting unused in the humidicap.

While many in the GHB world do get obsessed about controlling moisture in the bag, without moisture, the cane reeds will not function correctly and this is the marketing point of this product however, let’s look at some of the claims.

The humidicap relies on a paper sachet filled with pre-moistened salt to somehow detect the moisture content of the reed and adjust the moisture content through a passive, no contact process.

The humidicap has a LCD that displays RH and Temp and the seller claims digital control however, there is no control as the display is just a completely passive display apart from the button battery that powered the LCD.

RH is the incorrect and irrelevant unit of measure to determine moisture content of a solid material.

The LCD cost about US $2.00 so how much control do you think $2.00 will provide.

The sachet is also completely passive and because there is no energy source or forced air movement, there is nothing to regulate the release and absorption other than surface contact or convection, neither of which apply with the humidicap.

The makers of the sachet do not provide any data regarding the effective capacity of the container to be “RH controlled”.

The sachet provider did not agree with the sachet being jammed in a tight slot as in the humidicap application as this would reduce the effective surface area of the sachet.

One group that did believe the salt sachet worked was the dope smokers who use the sachet to stop their stash from being too dry in their storage jars. As there is surface contact it is reasonable to believe that in a sealed jar it would work, up to a point.

In the video I put a dry reed (about 10% moisture) in a 100g sealed glass jar with one of the sachets for a couple of days and after that time, the reed was still containing about 10% moisture. It absorbed no moisture from the sachet at all.

I asked Maîtrecornemuse if HHT saw this in the video and HHT said HHT did. So, I asked, why did you still go out and buy it then?

HHT pointed out that this product got “Product of the Decade” award and that the product web site had many well-known piper’s testimonies leading HHT to believe that I was wrong and the video was not an objective representation.

I don’t know the technical qualifications of the award givers or the pipers that allegedly gave testimonies. What I do know is that there is not a single scrap of objective data provided anywhere on the product web page, only salesmanship speak.

The product is sold with a link to the web page but none of the performance claims on the web page are included with the product documentation. This is why in Australia, the ACCC could not take any action against the sellers in this country for misrepresentation, off shore marketing.

The web site is in Washington State and WS does not have any enforceable consumer protection laws that apply in this instance, I include the section of the Attorney Generals legislation on the video.

The web server in in a High School which is a “not for profit” entity so you cannot take any action for misrepresentation against them.

There are no accidents when it comes to business marketing and I think this product marketing has been well thought through.

I state in my videos and stand by my assertions based on the testing and product data not provided.

Nothing but Snake Oil. Possibly the worlds most expensive reed protector.

Maîtrecornemuse has not contacted me back after I pointed out to HHT that I think HHT got sucker punched. If you are reading this, as your email now just bounces, I apologise for my brusque tone, but really, what were you thinking?

I do the videos as part of a request process and I try to use as simple a process as practicable in the hope that some viewers may give it a go and do their own testing. You never know what might be learned.

The bottom line, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Cheers

-G
Glenarley
Posts: 59
Joined: Mon Jan 04, 2021 2:20 am
antispam: No
Please enter the next number in sequence: 8
Tell us something.: My family has been making pipes and reeds for over 25 years both Uillean and GHB. I am being asked to share pass on information on to other pipers in this open environment.

Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Another Dubious Marketing ploy or Gullible Highland Bagpiper?

Solo and Band chanters and reeds, what is the difference and how can they be identified from one another?

Unlike most other bagpiping, the GHB has a competitive side with grades and formal judging whereas uilleann, as an example, may have a local fete competition but unlike the GHB, the judges are not formally qualified and endorsed, the tune structure is not as strictly defined and the dress code is not formally defined and judged.

This formal competitive GHB structure tends to make the pipers very precious over personal equipment choices and leads to a lot of oneupsmanship and equipment snobbery. This then seems to be the grounds for creating ambiguous groups and classes for the marketing predators to latch onto.
To be clear, profit is not a dirty word, there is nothing wrong with trying to make a dollar, it is how you go about it that begs the question which leads to my point, solo or band chanters and reeds?

Bands want to be heard so the fashion has been to play as high a pitch as possible within the confines of chanters and this has led makers to produce chanters with a fundamental pitch in the mid to high 480 Hz range. Solo pipers have tended to play with their old favorite chanter which has usually been an older chanter of lower pitch although, in many of the current competitions we see solo pipers playing at the higher band pitch also.

One piper I enjoy listening to is Fred Morrison, whatever type of pipe he is playing. He plays well and has very good phrasing and taste with his musicality, in my view. When I have listened to him in competitions, he has played at the high band pitch, probably to match the pitch of other competitors however, when I hear him playing in halls to a general audience, he tends to play his lower pitched, more harmonic sounding chanters. I believe this is where the band and solo chanter concept came from.

Makers and their marketing lot have got onto this concept and you can now find makers claiming to have a “new solo chanter” as though it is different to the same chanter they also promote to bands. I think a clear case of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Not to be outdone by the chanter makers, the reed makers are now sprooking the same concept, a band reed and a solo reed. I could write a page on all the marketing superlatives used to promote this concept which at the end of the day, I think amounts to nothing but creative subjective marketing claptrap.

It is not unreasonable for a manufacturer to promote and embellish their product in the best light possible and buyer beware however, where the promotion crosses into the realms of bulldust, I see an issue. It is not about people wasting their money that is such an issue to me, it is more about the makers of good equipment that are being cut out of the market just because they will not stoop to using the same subjective bulldust of some of their competitors.

A new piper looking to buy a chanter for solo competitions, because of dubious marketing, may only choose from a chanter maker that sells a “solo” chanter when the fact of the matter is, there is no difference between the chanter models other than possibly the fundamental pitch and aesthetics, and reeds are pretty much the same.

There are always certain subjectives in musical instruments that are preference and personal taste. Materials, brands, tuning, ergonomics, price etc, but some things are just right out there like the Black Arts stuff. Some things go even further, the things so weird they can have your face fall clean through your butthole.

Band and solo is up there somewhere close and there are some things that go even further. I have often thought this subject could be a thread on its own. The only thing that stops me is that the person making the claims could possibly be identified and this could go down a rabbit hole.

To give an idea of the type of claims that sit me up I do have a couple that scream of “trading the cow for a handful of magic beans”. My two favorites are, a Stirling silver staple will deliver the purest sound, and, my absolute favorite, some chanters (mouth blown) are only good in dry climates. I am sure there are lots more just as bizarre, but these two always get a chuckle when I mention them to other pipers.

Solo and band chanters and reeds, real or just marketing? Buyer beware.

Cheers

-G
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