How to leard to blow the bag

The Wonderful World of ... Other Bagpipes. All the surly with none of the regs!
Glenarley
Posts: 97
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 »

Reed Pressure Selection – More ambiguities from the Black Arts Peddlers

Keeping in mind, the GHB design playing pressure is about 28” H2O or 1 psi. This is a fact of physics based on the length and strength of the traditional cane drone reeds and the bore diameters and lengths of the older benchmark pipe sets. The Mech Engineer that did the sums for me is a very serious German University educated engineer so I take his figures as verbatim.

With both Uilleann and GHB reeds that we make, we call the softer reeds “players reeds” because you need to be a fairly steady player to play well with them. This is also true with, for example, clarinet reeds as only a player with good embouchure control can play well up and down the octaves with a softer reed so the also rans will resort to firmer reeds and will most often never achieve a great result. With the bagpipe, there is no substitute for good bag control.

Also keep in mind, the GHB is not manufactured to any known standard apart from the Mixolydian mode scale and that the drones and chanter tune an octave apart, everything else is up for interpretation and subjective preference.

This can make chanter reed selection very problematic and this is the area where the Black Arts have a strong foothold so, to break it down to the processes. Cane is a living breathing organism and no two pieces are identical so there will always be some natural variations the piper will be faced with.

I will by-pass reed cane selection as you might as well believe in unicorns as believe in some of the fluffy fairy tales told about the cane selection process so, the cane blades are cut to a recipe and tied to a staple. The staples are a whole unicorn farm on their own so once again, I will by-pass the staple recipes and just focus on the processes.

Once the cane has been tied to the staple it is under stress so the newly tied reeds are usually tossed in a box to settle for a week or two before being tested and, (allegedly) graded. Some reed makers heat the reeds to speed up the stress normalisation process whilst some soak the reeds briefly before setting them aside to rest, whatever the process used, the expected result is stress normalised reeds that will be more stable sooner than they otherwise would have been.

The reed maker will now, (allegedly) grade the reeds by strength and make them available to pipers however, the grading process would seem to be a bag of chooks. There are no discernible standards in the grading process and there is a plethora of terms used by different reed makers to describe the different strengths with no clear standard or measurement used. I see this lack of any measurable standard a product of incompetence and commercial greed.

The last two packs of cane reeds I bought for clients were rated as medium however, the ridge-cut set ranged in pressure from 36” H2O to 62” H2O and the molded set 31” to 52”. This was the pressure straight out of the pack dry. Keeping in mind that reeds drop about 15% in playing pressure from dry to moisture normalised, a reed at 50” dry will end up at about 42” once normalised. Most reeds will take from 5 – 10 minutes of playing to reach maximum moisture content of approx 24%.

With the wildly ranging pressures it is obvious that none of the reeds in the two packs I was sent had been graded to any quantifiable standard and unless you are FMM or the like, this result would seem to be the norm. In stating this, I am led to believe there is at least one cane reed maker that does grade to a measurable standard however, this could also just be an urban myth.

When I contacted the ridge-cut maker I was told the reeds may have altered in shipping or the wild variations were possibly climatic due to the different climate in Australia. If either statement were true there would be some level of consistency, but there is not. The end result from the maker was, I would need to blow them in, squeeze the very hard reeds and scrape them if they did not settle down after a couple of weeks of blowing them. What a load of crap. I ordered medium and got mainly hard. I ordered a box of apples and received some potatoes as well.

To wit, clarinet reed makers grade reeds with a strength number and while different makers do vary with their stated strengths, there are comparison tables to level the playing field and each maker is consistent with their own products. Are cane GHB reed makers just too incompetent to do something similar?

The molded reed maker was a bit more helpful and suggested I buy the Shepherd reed setting tool and use it to squeeze the reeds after attempting to blow them in. Apart from that advice and the obligatory scraping the reeds advice, there was no other explanation given for the wild strength variations in the tray of “medium” reeds I was sent.

If the reed makers actually knew jack squat about reed making and were not just monkey see, monkey do exponents, they would have been able to offer reeds that met the stated requirements. Furthermore, if they knew their stuff they would be producing and offering reeds that were made to an objective standard rather than the current random lucky dip system of alleged reed grading.

The last point that seems to prove the monkey see, monkey do process is that none of the cane reed makers in the GHB mob that I can see, offer reeds with the pressure and pitch readings in objective measurements, such as numbers! The pitch is the critical value to match the chanter and yet, it is never stated. Oversight or incompetence?

I make synthetic GHB chanter reeds and up to a couple of months ago, like cane reeds, my plastic blades were also put under stress when tied to the staple and like cane reeds, I had to allow the reeds to stress normalise for a few days before setting the pitch and pressure to the piper’s requirements, so I was also faced with an unwanted material variable however, that has now changed.

One of the plastic engineers provided me with a new material that does not have any obvious memory problems so the reeds can be finished at the same time they are tied. Because I can now provide very accurately set reeds with practically no normalisation variables, pipers are able to be specific to within two inches H2O of their preferred pressure and this has revealed an interesting pattern.

From the last 100 reeds I sent out, I only had one request for a reed stronger than 30” and when the piper was sent the 32” reed with four softer reeds to compare, she rejected the 32” reed for a 26-28” reed instead. Almost all the reeds I sent out were under the nominated pressure originally matched to the cane reeds the pipers were playing. Probably 70% of the reed requests I get are in the 26-28” range, right in the design pressure range of the GHB as identified by the mech engineer.

Some of the mature aged pipers were wanting to play softer reeds for their comfort and chanter balance and because they still had reasonable bag control when the reed was not too hard, they were producing a much steadier tone. This was not possible with most the cane chanter reeds because cane tends to get very bendy when it is very soft and this requires a high level of bag control to maintain a decent tone. Because they can no longer play the available firmer cane reeds, many were resigned to sliding their beloved pipes under the bed to retirement.

Because of the outstanding stability of the new plastic, I have some older pipers in their 80’s that are still able to play their pipes, drones and chanter, something that was beyond them with trad cane reeds. Some are playing reeds in the high teens, something almost impossible with cane.

I am sure there are a couple of reed makers out there that would be prepared to risk the commercial suicide and manufacture reeds graded to an objective standard. Based on my personal experience, any reed makers that did this would make a killing $$$.

Drone to chanter setting was the second most common reason given to me for wanting softer chanter reeds so I will cover this in a different post.

Cheers

-G
Glenarley
Posts: 97
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 »

Reed Pressure Selection – Reed Maker Follow Up

I received an email from a Reed Maker and he felt some of my assertions in the previous post were unreasonable.

I phoned the emailer and had a chat with him and while he was rather unhappy with my assertions in the post, he was polite and pleasant to speak with.

The main points he raised were mostly very reasonable so I will address them. I will use the nominal cost of a reed as being US $25 to make the points relevant and give them context. The other factor is that we are using the aggressive, (currently fashionable) ridge cut reeds as the reed being referenced.

He did agree that reeds in excess of 45” H2O dry would exceed what would normally be considered “MED” by most pipers.

If the reeds were to be graded to a standard such as a numeric standard as used in orchestral reeds, the cost of each reed would have to increase by not less than $10.00 and more likely $15 because of the extra time it would take to grade the reeds to a specific standard.

I do not see this as being unreasonable considering that making the reeds is time intensive through manual labour. We all deserve to be paid for our time and if we used the minimum wage as a guide, the numbers seem ok.

The second point he makes is that a large percentage of the reeds he ties will be over 45” all the way up to 60”H2O and as it is rare for anyone to ever knowingly order reeds over 45”, he would end up with many reeds that are unsalable under a reed standards system. If he spent time to blow and manipulate the reeds, where possible, to make them compliant with a numbered grading system, his time would once again, have to be added to the reed cost. Notwithstanding this time spent to make reeds compliant, he believes there will still be many reeds made that will never be sold under a standards system.

This is where I disagree.

On the cost matter, from the last two trays of ten med reeds I purchased, the ridge cut tray had four reeds over 48” and one at 45. Based on the current costing and having four unusable reeds, I have spent $100 for goods “not fit for purpose”. If I was provided six reeds at 45 or under at an extra cost of $15 per reed, ($40 per reed) I would have spent $240 to get six usable reeds compared with spending $250 for ten reeds with only six actually being usable (med reeds).

Am I being asked to pay for a product that the manufacture knows is “not fit for purpose”? Am I also being asked to pay for the reeds that are not up to standard as a result of the makers manufacturing process and quality control. I believe the customer is entitled to receive the goods they paid for in good faith. If the maker is sending reeds known to be “not fit for purpose”, where is the good faith on the part of the seller?

Standards in manufacturing are created and enforced for a reason and I don’t see why GHB reeds also cannot be captured by a standard. The cost is not an issue based on the current numbers and pipers and piping would be the big winners. To pay a bit more to get what you ordered seems reasonable to me.

I deal with many pipers and I am always surprised to find how many have next to no reed skills. In the case of these ridge cut reeds, scraping is not an option unless you scrape off the ridge to soften them which defeats the purpose of buying ridge cut reeds. Squeezing the hard reeds may (or may not) soften the reed a little but this still means you were provided a “not fit for purpose” product which still may end up as firewood despite your best efforts.

If reeds are to be sold with grading, specify the grading in quantifiable values or, just sell the reeds as many do only clearly state it is a “lucky dip”. The buyer can then make an informed choice, $25 for the “lucky dip” or $40 graded to a specified standard, how hard can it be?

At the end of the day, while not going as far as to say they are charlatans, I do believe there is the monkey see monkey do component in the reed making industry and that the vagaries currently used by many to rate the reeds they on sell is no accident. I also believe that if standards were introduced, the number of reed makers would shrink and the quality of reeds would improve, as would the number of happy pipers, and listeners.

Cheers

-G
Post Reply