How to leard to blow the bag

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Nanohedron
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Nanohedron »

Glenarley, I've noticed that the usual GHB chanter has two holes positioned crosswise near the bottom opening. Obviously this marks the lowest note, but why not simply shorten the chanter, then?
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by BigDavy »

Hi Nanohedron
I would think that it is due to boundary conditions at the end of the chanter, probably the same reason wooden flute makers leave the C# and C holes in keyless flutes.

David
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Good morning Nano

I get quite a few questions on this exact point

On a GHB practice chanter, (straight bore) many do not have the low G hole(s) and the chanter is cut off at the low G hole length. This allows keeping the hole finger spacing true to a normal pipe chanter and allows the overall length of the practice chanter to be shorter, some like the convenience of the shorter chanter.

On the standard GHB chanter, the conical bore is not to a common standard amongst the different makers, something I have never really understood as this has different chanters at different pitches, finger hole sizes and finger spacings. You can cut the chanter off round about the low G hole and the chanter will be in balanced tune with the other holes. We have done this and the tuning is true at a given pitch and playing pressure.

On the GHB chanter, the arguably most stand-out movement is the low A burl which is tuned through the two low G holes and because of the different bore tapers and lengths, many makers use the bore after the low G holes to tune the burl for tone (timbre). Some makers even have a different taper in the last section to get the tuning to their preference, a wee bit like a clarinet bell. Some makers just have the one taper from the throat all the way to the end of the chanter. These makers seem to have worked out the bore taper and throat dimensions in greater detail as the chanters without the extra taper at the end seem to have better tone hole balance up and down the scale. It seems to me that the extra taper is like a fixer-upper for an error with the chanter design.

On the poorly designed GHB chanters, (one of the Naill chanters is a good example) you can get a note that is just out of balance even if it is in tune. On one of the Naills, the F is louder than the E and D and to my ear, it is woeful. Some pipers with these chanters comment on the "strident F" as though it is something good to have. Each to their own but it still just sounds odd to my ear. This is the same sort of odd sound you get with the shortened GHB chanter. While in tune, the thin sound kind of catches your ear as not being right. The timbre is just not quite right.

BigDavy is on it with his comment and while I do not fully understand the theory, I'm told it has something to do with something called end correction.

Bottom line, your thought logic is sound but alot of things have to be right for it to work perfectly. The burl does sound a bit thin on the chanters that are shortened to the low G but they are in balance tune to the other notes as long as you like the tone.


Cheers

-G
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Nanohedron »

Thanks, guys.

Davy, I would point out that the trad flute world is a bit divided on the veracity of benefits, if any, of the unused C# and Cnat holes of the so-called long foot as opposed to the so-called short foot which ends the flute body right at D. I hesitate to belabor the topic because I don't want to hijack this thread, but nevertheless I feel I must press on: For flutes the whole matter appears inconclusive as far as I can see; it's been discussed into exhaustion with no clear winner, just proponents hedging their bets. Yet there are true believers among makers and players either way. Perhaps it's the flute's reverse conical bore in contrast to the GHB chanter's bore that has something to do with it; or perhaps it's the difference between embouchure and reed physics; or perhaps it's due to the eventual loss of keys (which proved not much of an impediment when it comes to the Irish repertory, and besides: half-holing), so could it be that the long foot configuration was maybe kept due to nothing more than inertia? But for the life of me I've never been able to hear a critical difference between long and short-footed flutes. Maybe it's because I don't know what to listen for, but I like to think my ear is good. I've played and listened to both, and I can tell you that we can rule out volume and bell note strength, at least. If I were to get another flute it would have a long foot, but that's because being partial to keyed flutes, I also like having the keyed C# and Cnat below the bottom D - so for me the argument is moot in any case.

Anyway, back to the GHB with apologies after this rude interruption, and thanks for your thoughts and indulgence, Glenarley. :)
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

I think I have found more Snake Oil

A client sent me a humidi-reed storage case after my post on the Humidi-cap reed protector. She bought this case because she was told it would do the following.

“The **** *********™ Reed Case: Digital Reed Storage with Two-Way Humidity Control.

The **** *********™ Reed Case is the world’s first digital bagpipe reed storage case with two-way humidity control.
The new **** *********™ Reed Case is the world’s best bagpipe reed storage case, offering unparalleled protection for your most important and valuable pipe chanter reeds. Storing your reeds at a constant and precisely-chosen humidity level is the single easiest and powerful thing you can do to instantly improve your bagpipe sound. That’s exactly what the **** ********* does.

• Speed up the break-in process with new reeds by placing them into the **** *********™ Reed Case prior to playing.
• Extend the life of your reeds by storing them in at a constant and precisely-chosen humidity level.
• Ensure that all of your reeds are ready to be played.
• Achieve a more consistent sound from day to day, more stable pitch, greater precision of tuning, clearer sound, more efficient pipes that are easier to play.

The **** ********* is a complete reed storage and maintenance system that keeps your reeds at constant humidity level to ensure consistent, optimal reed performance. For best results, store all of your reeds in the **** *********™ Reed Case and use the **** ********* Reed Protector on your chanter at all time.”

Well… makes you just want to go out and order one straight away, doesn’t it? My client did and when she found that none of the above claims happened for her, she sent it to me to find out why not.

This is the same company that makes a humidi-cap reed protector I discuss in a previous post but after reading the marketing claims with this product, I thought I had found the motherload of Snake Oil and felt obligated to analyse the claims and product.

This case is a multi reed storage case that is fitted with a digital led display indicating temperature and Relative Humidity (RH). The case is fitted with a Boveda pre-soaked salt sachet that is rated by different pre selected RH levels. The claims are that the moisture in the salt sachet will migrate to any absorbent material (reed) that is of a lower RH than that stated on the sachet, and the reverse where the reed RH is higher than that stated on the sachet.

Firstly, RH is the measurement of moisture content in the air and is the wrong unit of measurement for moisture in a solid material (reed). Boveda, the sachet maker, do not provide any technical data as to what capacity each sachet is designed for and at what temperature. These are very important omissions.

The sachet is completely passive so in the absence of physical contact, a heat source or mechanical circulation, I believe the claims are dubious at the least going all the way to absolutely deceptive.

The case maker stated “digital storage” but does not even explain what digital storage is or how “digital storage” is a benefit. The digital LCD display is passive as it controls nothing, only displays measured values, and at about $2.00 a pop, you could not expect much more. To me, this phrase is just a sucker punch for those that will be suckered. A year three student science lesson would expose the term “digital storage” as marketing bunkum. What does this say for the pipers that bought and promoted this case?

“…offering unparalleled protection for your most important and valuable pipe chanter reeds”.

Yes, the case will protect the reeds from a moderate level of physical force.

“Storing your reeds at a constant and precisely-chosen humidity level is the single easiest and powerful thing you can do to instantly improve your bagpipe sound.”

The sachet is passive and is subject to loss of moisture through air movement every time the case is opened to atmosphere where the humidity is less than 100% RH therefore, it is just not possible to have a “constant and precisely-chosen humidity level…”. Just pure bunkum.

And then, using your reed from this case will “instantly improve your bagpipe sound”, no explanation given so it must have something to do with the coating of ground unicorn teeth that is sprinkled in the case, sort of like magic.

But then there’s more:

“Speed up the break-in process with new reeds by placing them into the **** *********™ Reed Case prior to playing.”

This claim is also made with no real explanation as to how a reed from this case could speed up a process that requires physical force and manipulation. I think this is yet another claim from Johny down at marketing working hard to earn his commission.

“Extend the life of your reeds by storing them in at a constant and precisely-chosen humidity level.”

The fact that this case cannot constantly and precisely-choose humidity through its passive construction, just more marketing bunkum. It should be noted that as per the information in this blog,

https://peterspitzer.blogspot.com/2013/ ... o-bad.html

Keeping a reed wet when in storage actually decreases the life of a cane reed so the claim is false and deceptive marketing as best as I can tell.

“Ensure that all of your reeds are ready to be played.”

The claim seems to be that the case keeps the reed at the exact moisture content of a normalised reed so the reed does not need to be played in or warmed up, it is at it’s optimum right out of the case. This is one of the issues my client had as she needed to play her reeds for the usual 5–10 minutes before they settled even if the reeds came out of the case. With cane reeds, this claim could never be demonstrated therefore, just more bunkum.

“Achieve a more consistent sound from day to day, more stable pitch, greater precision of tuning, clearer sound, more efficient pipes that are easier to play.”

“Consistent sound” and “precision of tuning” and “clearer sound” comes from player skill primarily all things being equal so, the mere suggestion that having your reed stored in this case will improve player consistency, tuning precision and sound clarity, in the absence of any explanation or data, is what I feel is deceptive marketing bunkum.

“…more stable pitch,” is more bunkum as the pitch is not mutually exclusive to the reed and its moisture content. This claim is just another sucker punch for the inexperienced, marketing deception at another level.

And then the final piece of marketing bunkum, just before the steak knives offer:

“…more efficient pipes that are easier to play.”.

Just how gullible are the GHB pipers that product marketing could reasonably believe that this claim could be believed? Well, based on the number sold, real gullible.

This product was also given an award by a National Piping Organisation in support of the marketing claims made by the inventor and marketing yet nowhere will the inventor or the promoters provide any evidence that any of the claims can be proven or quantified. I believe I can prove they are purely subjective marketing that preys on the ignorance of the inexperienced and/or gullible.

The moisture content of a reed can be measured in 2 ways, moisture content electronically, represented in moisture percentage, and weight. The average reed moisture content of a new reed is aprox 10% moisture content. After the reed is played in and normalised, depending on the hardness of the cane, the moisture content is about 24% up to as high as 35% as measured by me. The weight is a bit trickier but an average weight gain measured on 5 different makes of cane reed, from dry to wet, averaged weight gain of about 0.0316 grams.

If the Boveda sachets did work as claimed, the results can be measured and therefore proven. No such data figures are stated by the sachet supplier or the case inventor so I suggest they do not exist.

While I have a strong dislike for con-men and charlatans that willingly prey on the ignorant, inexperienced and emotional, I face a bigger problem when a client comes to me, with one of these devices and asks me to make it work. I am troubled when I have to explain why the device cannot do what is claimed only to have a client placed in the awkward and embarrassing situation of having their gullibility exposed. No one likes to have their pants pulled down and when it comes to my clients, I don’t enjoy having to do it.

With computers, electronics and information being so readily available, there is no need to become another victim of one of these charlatans, just ask questions, there are plenty of helpful and knowledgeable people that are happy to help without trying to get their hand in your pocket.

There has never been a replacement for good technique and woodshedding.

Cheers

-G
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Synthetic Chanter Reeds – Properties, Advantages & Disadvantages

Because I make and distribute synthetic GHB chanter reeds I am constantly getting emails and phone calls about them so I will go over the types of questions I receive and the answers I provide, mostly anyway.

The people that contact me fall into 3 main groups, low skilled pipers looking for a quick fix. These are usually pipers that have learned to play the GHB but have never really been taught to play with good technique. They are stuck at their level of competence and hope that a synthetic chanter reed will help them get better. A bit like a golfer that plays with a poor grip technique. They will never get better until they unlearn their bad technique but because they have had the bad habit for so long, many struggle to undo it.

Another group are those that have reasonable technique but struggle to play a conventional cane reeds. These are the elderly pipers and the young beginners that do not have the strength to play the standard band cane reed and they do not have the reed skills to find and manipulate cane reeds to suit their playing comfort level. Because the synthetic reeds are very consistent and are better suited to being set to play at lower pressures, they look to the synthetic to help.

Lastly, we have the knockers. Mostly the general theme is “traditional only for me”. In my view, this group deserve to play with cane chanter reeds, I feel they will learn real reed skills through using cane reeds and will end up getting a true appreciation of the reed maker’s skills. Trouble is, most don’t have the patience or inclination to learn reed skills so they stay mediocre pipers with a bad attitude to anything that makes other pipers learning easier.

The best starting point for reed information is the classical instrument people. These instruments are very well developed and are usually compliant with standards making comparisons easier. There are numerous videos on social media where really good players do objective comparisons between synthetic, carbon and natural cane reeds. You will find that when objectively blind tested with very good players on very well-designed instruments, most cannot reliably pick the cane from synthetic products.

I do not make synthetic reeds with the view they will/should replace natural cane. I believe the skills a piper will develop through using cane reeds is an asset to their development however, there is a need to have access to a good reed setter/tutor to learn these skills from. Not so easy in the current time poor, disposable environment we live in so there needs to be an alternative to fill the void.

Synthetic chanter reeds do not need to be warmed up and as they are impervious to moisture, they do not need to be normalise with moisture to be optimal. Synthetic chanter reeds last a long time (my son has some that are over 4 years and still working fine) so while the initial cost is about double a cane reed, the longevity makes them a cost-effective option. Synthetic reeds do not alter in pitch because of moisture so you can take your pipes out of the trunk and know that they will be the same pitch all the time, relative to ambient temperature.

I supply reeds to several bands and solo pipers although I do not advertise them and as I am retired and I do not want to be making synthetic chanter reeds for a full time job. My family has been making uilleann pipes and reeds for over 25 years so I am very well versed in the thankless frustration faced by reed makers.

The youth band I supply to uses the synthetic reeds made to a low pressure for the learner pipers and standard pressures for the main band when they practice. They save their good cane reeds for competitions where the use of synthetic chanter reeds would count against them with the anti-synthetic judges. Most the bands use the synthetic reeds to practice as the reeds work out of the box so the maximum amount of time is spent playing and learning new tunes. With the cane reeds there is a lot of down time with warming up and tuning the cane reeds so practice time is significantly reduced with the cane reeds.

So why the opposition to synthetic reeds? I have a couple of views on this point. Because those that learned with cane had to struggle and strain so much, I don’t think they can tolerate the idea that new pipers get an easier path to learning the GHB. It’s that hairy knuckled view, “why should the new pipers miss out on the hemorrhoids, swollen necks and bloodshot eyes”. I guess these trad pipers want the new pipers to have the full GHB experience and not miss any of the joys they experienced.

The other common viewpoint is the quality of sound. The synthetic knockers will assert that the synthetic sound is of poor quality but the results don’t support this view. Because of the Covid stuff, many piping competitions were sent online so there was no real chance for the knockers to know what the competing pipers were playing. I supplied synthetic reeds to pipers from at least 4 countries that competed in the World Online Solo Piping Competition run through an American online piping school. Pipers playing my synthetic reeds were placed from 2nd to 6th across 3 grades and none of the judges commented on the poor sound from their synthetic chanter reeds.

One of the judges, a well credentialed player and judge, regularly makes disparaging comments about synthetic chanter reeds on one of the most popular bagpipe forums (not this forum) and states how a synthetic chanter reed sound sticks out like a dog’s nuts, well, why did he make such complimentary comments to one of the pipers on the “fine sound” of their chanter. Because he is a trad hypocrite, a bullduster in a big hat, that’s why. Truth be known, he could/cannot tell the difference and while it would be easy for me to pull his pants down, it would only backfire on the poor pipers so better I leave be.

While me and my developers can sometimes tell the difference between cane and synthetic chanter reeds it is usually because of the imperfections of the cane reed. Thin raspy high A’s, insipid high G’s through over taping and F’s that are out of balance with the E’s and D’s. Also, the cane reeds can get really bendy as the piper tires and the reed softens up a bit.

I get requests for sample reeds and I have sent out dozens of free samples for pipers to try. I don’t do this for everyone but when I hear from a senior piper that just wants to keep piping but can’t because of physical limitations required by their cane reed, I see it as an opportunity to help keep the craft alive. All I ask for is objective feedback, warts and all. Interestingly, only about 4 out of 10 pipers I send samples to ever respond back. Some do give feedback and some even send me the cost of postage but most do not. I haven’t tried to analyse why but I am sure there will be a good reason.

Some are just a-holes but you don’t get to find out till after the fact. I had this one piper from Lubbock Texas that all but begged to be involved in the early development of the reeds so I sent him some samples. All I asked for was “not” to see the reeds on youtube and that he provides feedback. Well, first chance this bloke got he tried to throw me and the reeds under the bus on youtube, lesson learned. Sometimes it’s rocks and sometimes it’s diamonds, take the bump and move on. Not this bloke, when I would not send him any more reeds to try, he started to troll pipers known to me on forums, a kind heart never wins good favour it would seem.

One of the big advantages of cane over synthetic chanter reeds is that cane reeds, because of their construction and mass, can be more easily manipulated to alter a single note. It is easy to scrape a bit of the cane to get a note to alter where the synthetic reed is usually formed out of sheet to create its shape and mass so there is no mass to easily reduce. With my reeds, because one of my formal trades is a Toolmaker, I have made a press tool to form my blades and as part of the press tool, I have incorporated a moving insert that allows for fine adjustments. This has allowed me to create a more structured development process. I use 2 different plastic materials based on brightness and strength requirements.

You also see this problem with synthetic uilleann chanter reeds. In this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RQ0hV3f-aI

you can see that the reed maker has had to flatten at least one note through raising the chimney height. This is a direct result of not being able to alter the scrape on the plastic reed to correct this problem as you would on a cane reed. I would recommend this piper find a good pipe maker and get a bellows that works better than the mushy thing he is playing in the video. None the less, the reed sounds like an uilleann reed and is in pretty good tune to my ear.

Judge the reeds on sound, not maker and material and your piping experience will be a lot more enjoyable. Synthetic chanter reeds are not for everyone but if the advantages of the synthetic reed fit your situation, as long as you tell no one, no one will really know.

Cheers

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

Post by Glenarley »

Why do the GHB mob just not get it?

In the sixties (or about) some uilleann pipers/pipemakers woke up to the fact that their craft was dying, so concerned were they, the NPU was formed as a way of keeping the craft alive. The NPU became a source of information which aided the craft with mostly well thought out, structured information and education to the point where the uilleann pipes are now thriving.

Evidence of this can be heard in the Scottish themed Braveheart movie where the theme for this Scottish movie is played on Irish Uilleann pipes. The piper is also a very skilled GHB pipers yet they used the Irish pipes.

Why then, are the GHB mob still obsessed with the Nose Tapping Black Arts and sending the needy down rabbit holes. Why don’t the GHB mob create their version of the NPU? This could only help promote the craft and greatly assist those that want to take up the GHB without all the Nose Tapping codswollop.

The following is a real-life example of a struggling piper seeking help from one of the current, self-proclaimed web-based sources of authoritative GHB information and help. I was sent the entire posting and asked if I would help. This is my helping.

This struggling piper (SP) bought a new chanter because he/she felt it would improve their burls. I have used the relevant excerpts as the entire posting was quite long.

SP “…I recently acquired a Colin Kyo chanter that I hoped would help with my birls. (So far it hasn't, but I'll give it some more time before concluding that it never will).”


Why would a piper think that a different chanter would help with burls? I have never read on an uilleann help page where the chanter type was going to help with a technique and skill progress of perfecting movements but, this is a common trend amongst the GHB mob, blame the equipment for poor technique and skills.

Yes, the low A on a Kyo chanter is slightly smaller than many other chanters and the span from D to low A is slightly shorter than many also, (on average less than 3.5mm) and, as the burl is the largest finger hole played with the smallest finger, I can understand the argument but, the burl is a skill and practice movement that requires hours of woodshedding to perfect. It’s not the wand, but how you wave it.

I believe that SP was encouraged to buy a different chanter only to now find he/she is poorer, financially and spiritually as a result however, this is not an uncommon belief I find from my clients.

SP. “The bad news is that I am finding this chanter impossible to tune, which surprises me because I had read that it was easier to reed than most chanters. I've tried multiple different reeds and no matter what I do, I have one of two problems--either the high A is extremely flat (even with no tape on it) or the low notes screech if the pressure goes up even slightly. I know the screeching is probably a matter of the reeds themselves, but the high A being flat would be a chanter issue, correct? The reeds I have tried have been G1 and Shepherd, both easy and easy/medium. The easy ones sound pretty good at about 20 on the pressure gauge, but screech if I go even slightly above that. My previous G1 easy reed sounded good at 25, and this is the pressure I naturally tend to play at, so it's frustrating to have to keep it to 20. I tried to go back to my old G1, but I, apparently incorrectly, used a reed poker on it so that now it doesn't sound below 30.”

It is now very obvious that the reed is the issue, pressure and pitch. Clearly the pitch of the reed is incorrect and the strength of the reed is too soft for the pressure SP wants to play at. Because of poor information, SP is blaming the reeds for the screeching (scurling), it can be deduced that SP’s reed setting skills are non-existent and his/her bag control is poor also.

The chanter would have left the maker in tune with the correctly pitched reed at the design pressure so it is not reasonable to blame the chanter, unfortunately, SP does not have the skills or guidance to know this.

On the GHB chanter, you balance both A’s to the same pitch (whatever it happens to be for the sake of the exercise) and check this against the other tonic note, the E, does the pitch match/balance? Sinking the reed in the seat will sharpen the high A at about 3 times the rate of the low A and lifting will achieve the opposite effect. It’s not rocket science. Once done, you check the F (pitch note) to see if it is flat or sharp to the A’s and E (if the E was also in with the A’s).

If the F is flat, the reed needs to be sharper. Crow it into a tuner and then trim the reed or find a sharper reed in the box. Before you progress, test the chanter to find its fundamental pitch so you know what the chanter pitch is before trying to reed the chanter to a pitch that the chanter has not been designed to play at. Over blowing the low G to the next octave will prove this design pitch, (see previous post).

The next thing we know is the reed is too soft because of the scurling on the low notes when playing at the chosen pressure. A stronger reed or better bag control is required.

This is where all the Helpful Harrys (HH’s) chime in to “help” SP. This is where SP ends up like a rat chasing his tail and sent down the rabbit holes.

HH1. “Do you have another chanter to check the reeds in?”

The issues described by SP clearly isolate the reed mismatch to the chanter as the issue so HH1’s suggestion demonstrates that HH1 does not have decent reed setting skills.

HH1. “Whereabouts are you, and what is the humidity like at the moment?”

HH1 is further demonstrating ignorance with this statement as a mouth blown reed is powered by saturated air (100% RH) so the ambient humidity is a moot point, down the rabbit hole for SP.

SP. “The chanter that came with my pipes (Wallace) doesn't seem to have the high A problem, but the new reeds still screech. So I guess this really is two completely separate issues I'm dealing with. On the Colin Kyo chanter--the high A is way flat, but the other top hand notes are notably sharp. Normally, I would address that by seating the reed higher, but won't that exacerbate both the flat high A and the screeching problem?”

This issue is commonplace and is documented for those that know where to look although it does become a little more complex and, while it is a reed issue, chanters like the Kyo with long throats, can be a bit picky on reed pitch and profile. Too involved for this post but none the less, the right reed will sort out the problem. This is where I feel the chanter maker has a duty of care to the buyer but, in stating this, there is the risk the chanter could be pigeon holed, so it could be a poor commercial decision by the chanter maker to list specifics.

SP. “On the screeching, is it normal that the low notes should screech with just a mild increase in pressure? Is there any way I can manipulate them so that they don't do that? Previous easy-level reeds I've had from G1 and Shepherd haven't been that way.”


Now a new helper, HH2 chimes in.

HH2.” It’s not the arrow...it’s the Indian. There is nothing wrong with the chanter.
reeds (any) will screech when overblown by the Piper...they don't overblow themselves.
You’ve mentioned you usually play a 25” strength reed. Naturally if you drop down to a 20” reed...you’ll tend to overblow it. 20 “ is ~ a ‘seniors’ strength reed...or for young kids starting out.”


SP might be in luck with HH2 as the chanter is being removed from the problem and the reed strength has also been identified as part of the problem. All good for SP?

HH2.”Besides asking the maker what brand reed he suggests for his chanter.... try this.”

HH2’s suggestion to contact the maker is also sound advice however, I have never found a maker that would identify the reed requirement through pitch and pressure. I believe commercial reality is the reason so many makers will just suggest reed brand(s) as being suitable. Not helpful but commercial reality. Remember, “profit is not a dirty word”.

HH2. “1) add wax to the reed hemp to help ensure a snug airtight fit; obviously start out with it seated to a near right depth to produce a good High A. Add a 3” small snip of waxed hemp if needed to raise the reed if too sharp.

2) using a tuner set at desired pitch....set the high A first...but just a tiny bit flat...less than ‘12 O’clock ‘

3) then set the lowA ...taping the note hole if/as needed so the low A reads the same pitch as High A.

Now you’ve got the chanter octave balanced ....check all the in-between notes...tape sharp notes if needed."


Re # 2 above ...suggest to not go chasing a too high pitch the chanter bench spec is not designed for...you’ll never get there and have a well balanced chanter.
The reed must be played for 15-20 min beforehand to be adequately hydrated and stable to be set up properly.”


The last set of advice is where I feel HH2 drops the ball as both A’s need to be in tune without any tape at this point of the exercise and pitch should not yet even be a consideration. We are wanting to see if the chanter can balance to a scale, not a pitch, yet.

HH2’s methodology is to get the high A at the pitch that’s wanted and then tape the low A to match the high A. This is just plain “dumb” but, this methodology is very commonplace amongst GHB pipers. Many of my clients show me this methodology when I ask them to demonstrate how they set their reed.

What if the low A is flat? This broken methodology will not balance the chanter scale if the pitch of the reed is not correct for the chanter.

HH2 is correct about hydrating the reed fully so it will be stable when tuning the chanter so HH2 seems to have some clues.

HH2 does not explain what to do if in-between notes are flat so if SP does what HH2 suggests, he will disappear down the rabbit hole.

HH1. “Mmm, well, sometimes it is the arrow, especially when extensive descriptions of the problems with the arrows have been given.

Reeds do change between the maker and the player, which is just an unfortunate act of life. Reeds on the easier side - anything under about say 26 - are more prone to changing.

My first instinct would be to try opening the mouth of the reed a little. You should be able to do this with a side squeeze, but if necessary as gentle an application of the poker as you can.”


The reed poker. Like a gorilla fixing a watch with a Swiss Army Knife.

How much is “…as gentle an application of the poker as you can”. And this is being told to a person that clearly has no idea about reeds. Further down the rabbit hole I fear.

Poking the reed will open the reed lips (through opening the staple eye) which will usually raise the pitch of the reed and make it stronger to play. On many reeds this will also raise the pitch of the high G disproportionably to the F and E, an undesirable effect. While I am not a great supporter of using the reed poker, good quality reed pokers are sold with calibration lines grooved into the poker so the distance the poker is pushed into the staple can be measured, very important. The same reed poker can then be used to reset the staple back to original by using the same calibration lines. I only know of one reed maker that also makes calibrated pokers, all the rest are just junk in my view although, you could use a texter to mark lines on the low-quality pokers.

HH2. “I get reeds from Pipers Hut in OH. I ask the owner Jon Maffett for the desired brand and dry h2o” strength ..checked by manometer..depending on who they are intended for ( young kids or adults, capabilities etc)

Jon provides reeds very close to the requested strength; ..... as they are played-in and hydrated I mark the h2o” with a pencil.”


This type of commentary goes to prove the GHB piper really is the poor ignorant cousin of the Uilleann piper!

Uilleann pipers will seldom talk about selecting a chanter reed mutually exclusive to the chanter. This is because, the uilleann piper seems to understand the uilleann reed is matched to the chanter and is not expected to work across many different chanters. The two items are set as a single unit.

HH2 is suggesting to SP that the brand and playing pressure are the primary selection criteria for a chanter reed when ordering from the reed maker. This is why I believe HH2 is just another blind sparrow hoping to eventually find a worm. No reed selection skills, no reed setting skills and no hope, …maybe luck.

SP. “I've tried everything I can think to try with this chanter, and no matter what I do, the top hand (especially the A and F, which often is almost an E) is flat. Pushing the reed farther in helps somewhat, but that often leaves the A sharp while the F is still flat with no tape on it. Has anyone used this chanter often and has a recommendation for a good make of reed?
I have tried it with shepherd and G1 platinum, each of which sounds fine in my other chanter (a Wallace).”


This is the situation that proves the reed pitch point. So many of my clients have the same situation. Both A’s and E are in but the F is very flat. The reed pitch is too flat for the chanter!

I have repaired many good ABW with the F hole gouged to as much as half a hole larger than original in an effort to raise the pitch of the F. Sharpen the bloody reed instead if dicking a $400 chanter.
I seem to remember a video from Abbott Reeds where he gave a demonstration on how to do this on cane reeds and I think it was quite a clear explanation by him.

Now a new HH chimes in to help send SP further down the rabbit hole.

HH3. “Gilmour and Sound Supreme are my go to.”

Another poor ignorant cousin doing the blind sparrow thing. Another example of brand before brains. The blind leading the blind.

HH1. “If someone had drilled the throat out, that would sharpen the top hand, not flatten it.”

This can happen and is not as uncommon as you might think. There is always some Bozo the Clown that thinks they know better than the chanter maker. As makers seldom, if ever, give the diameter of their chanter throat, this can be a very problematic situation that is difficult to diagnose. Many reed makers will have a database of chanter specs and may be able to help establish if the throat has been molested. Short of this, you just have to measure a known good chanter and compare the dimensions.

HH3. “This is not my experience, having actually done it to correct sharp high Gs.”

HH3 would drill a throat to fix a sharp high G. Clearly HH3 has poor or no reed setting skills as the sharp high G is quite an easy problem to fix through reed selection/manipulation. SP would be advised to put HH3 on ignore as this option is just nuts. The chanter left the maker in good working order, find out what reed pitch the maker used to set the chanter, don’t dick with the throat because you will be seriously taping other top hand holes to get balance and the tone and note volume/balance will suffer.

SP. “--Is there any reason not to tape up the bottom of a hole to sharpen it?
--Is there any reason why a high A should never be taped?”


In my view, SP should not even have to ask this type of question. Taping and undercutting (phrasing) holes should be one of those fundamental “cause and effect” components that are taught and fully explained at the start of the chanter/reed learning process. What I see as a fundamental skill.

HH3. “1) It doesn’t work that way.
2) With my CK chanters, it’s the top hand taped except for no tape on high A. But, there’s no reason not to tape high A. I would argue taping low A is a general no-no cause significant amounts causes the note to become more pressure sensitive which is bad considering that note sets the pitch of the whole chanter.”


Now HH3 sends SP further down the rabbit hole. The low A does not set the pitch of the whole chanter. This is the comment of a person with little or no reed setting knowledge or experience, proven by the reference to taping the top hand notes. Taping the top hand is the thing that needs to be avoided. Tuning the untaped low A to balance with the untaped high A sets the chanter ready to balance the other holes (given that the reed is of the correct pitch). The smallest holes (top hand) will suffer the most detrimental tone loss through taping whereas the largest finger hole (low A) will suffer the least amount of loss therefore, having the low A a little sharper than the back A will allow the chanter to be tuned by taping the hole that suffers the least amount (proportionally) of tone loss, the low A.

Enough already, SP is now forever lost in the rabbit hole and all the HH’s are riding off into the sunset, high fiving and happy slapping in admiration of their efforts and the GHB fraternity are all the poorer for their (perhaps well intentioned) contributions.

While I might seem immoderate, I encounter the poor SP’s on a regular basis and in every example, they were sent down the rabbit hole because of some well-intentioned HH. If I had to rely on the money I make from fixing these SP issues, I am not sure I would be complaining so loudly, hard to tell.

I am a technician with several formal engineering qualifications and I have found that almost every aspect, excluding personal taste, can be measured. This is how I can prove what is happening however, while I have the skillset to make just about anything that goes on/in the GHB, I need to have the skills of a good piper, which I am not, to tell me if what I am making is of an appropriate quality for both the player and the listener. My skills are not mutually exclusive to the input of a good piper, something that took me a while to recognise and accept.

My family has been involved in the manufacture of uilleann pipes, chanters and reeds for more than 25 years and my brother is regularly asked to attend an annual tionol as the uilleann reed maker to help pipers set and tune their uilleann chanters. I tend to focus on the dark side making and setting GHB pipes, chanters and reeds.

We both see how poorly informed and skilled many pipers are regarding their pipes and it is clear that the NPU is of great assistance to the uilleann mob. So why do the GHB mob not take a lesson from the uilleann mob? I think money is the answer.

The GHB mob are competitive with piper/band grades and competitions. There are no real equipment standards amongst the GHB pipe and accessory makers so they are marketing their own specific brands competitively against other brands as the better brand. Uilleann pipers seem to be more focused on the musicality where the GHB mob seem to be focussed on who has the best sound with the best equipment. A bit like golfers.

If the GHB mod created their GHB version of the NPU, I am sure things would get a lot better for the craft participation levels and the standard of piping. The humidi-cap product, in my view, is a stand out example, in my view, of how broken the current GHB authoritative bodies are. A product that can be demonstrated as to not do what the inventor and marketing claim, is given a Product of the Decade award by one such GHB body. I believe it is clear they did not test the item yet they promote a very expensive reed protector cap as though it is going to make a piper a better piper. Pure snake oil.

I feel this same type of, what I see as deceptive misinformation, is used to promote a whole plethora of products that I feel will never produce the claimed results. I further feel that it is this Nose Tapping, Black Arts, unsubstantiated misinformation that is destroying the GHB craft for those that would like to become involved.

There are plenty of great pipers playing the GHB and they cannot all be blind sparrows so somewhere, the information on how to properly set up the GHB chanter/reed is known. Most of the worlds most successful bands have a dedicated reed setter so the skills do exist.

One of the GHB organisations needs to forget about the marketing and competitions and create a GHB version of the NPU. The need is there, someone just needs the motivation to kick it off.

In the end, I just feel sad for the SP’s.

Cheers

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

Post by Glenarley »

The reed pitch is not mutually exclusive to the chanter.

I have posted many times in this thread about the importance of the reed pitch being matched to the chanter. I made a short you tube video so the sound could be heard so the concept might be better understood yet, every week I get emails asking about, arguing over and rejecting the assertions I have made. The videos I make are not very comprehensive (or good quality) because I am usually trying to use you tube to answer specific questions sent to me however, the latest tirade from a GHB “expert” has prompted me to expand as best I can on this process.

While this chap/lady thinks, my referencing GHB pipers as the poor ignorant cousins to the uilleann pipers in a GHB forum is immoderate and inappropriate, sometimes the truth does sting a bit, sometime you just have to suck it up.

Uilleann pipers just seem to understand that the reed (pitch) just has to be matched to the chanter, to the point where uilleann pipers often send their chanter to the reed maker when they need a new reed. My brother has had many uilleann chanters sent to him for reeding and it is common place in the uilleann section of forums to hear of pipers doing this. The poor cousins just don’t get this and while the uilleann pipes do need to match an overblown second octave, the principle for the GHB chanter is no different except that the second octave notes are not reached through being overblown.

I own more than 50 GHB chanters from old to current and when I make my synthetic chanter reeds for clients, I always ask what chanter they are using, at what pitch they are wanting to play at and at about what pressure. Cane or synthetic, if you over blow you will chirp the high notes and autocran the low notes. It is just simple physics. If you try to play a chanter at a pitch that is out of the fundamental design pitch range you will have notes out of balance again, simple physics.

Chanters with long throats operate at a different pressure than chanters with standard length throats, more simple physics. If you expect a chanter to play in tune with good balance at the design pitch speak to the chanter maker before buying a reed.

The biggest GHB reed misconception I deal with is the balancing the A’s mutually exclusive to the E (tonic note) and the F (pitch note) prior to setting the chanter to play. I call the F the pitch note because I do not know if there is a technical name/term for this note, if there is and you know it, drop me a message and I will use the correct term.

The reed overall length is what sets the low A pitch although there are some variables because of the different reed maker’s designs. Most GHB reed makers use staples between 23-24mm and the amount of reed that extends past the end of the staple eye is similar. Some reed makers use longer staples with less cane extending to make pitchier reeds and some use shorter staples with more cane extending to make lower pitched reeds, and then alter the width of the reed at the tip to balance the high A with the low A. Narrow to sharpen and wider to flatten. This is called the aspect ratio.

For the sake of this thread, I will use a solid average cane reed (Shepherd moulded) because this reed is in my view, (because of the automatic CNC type machine cutting them) the most consistent GHB reed in the market. I will also use a Glenarley Synthetic because being synthetic the reed does not need to be moisture normalised so I can give real-time pitch values with the synthetic reeds.

Put a new reed in our chanter and raise or lower the reed in the reed seat until the high A and the low A are in balance, (the same Hz value on a tuner). Now check the next tonic note, the E to see if it is at the same Hz as the A,s, if it is or very close, we have balance. If the E is not in balance, we need to find out why and which way the reed needs to be altered.

When the E does not balance, before going any further, we need to establish the fundamental pitch of the chanter. This is where the GHB cousins have a mental spin-out because they majority I have dealt with seem to believe that because the A’s are in balance, the chanter is in balance, and all that needs to be done is taping and/or gouging. It’s like talking to the willfully deaf trying to explain that the chanter is not in tune/balance just because the A’s are.

Holding a low G and tapping the high G with a slight bump with your breath will produce an octave G. The Hz of the overblown octave G should be a close match to the low G. If the overblown (octave G) is more than a couple of Hz lower than the low G, the chanter reed is pitched higher than the fundamental design pitch of the chanter. Reed is too high pitched.

The fact is, almost any GHB reed can be put in almost any GHB chanter with the A’s in balance depending on how high or low you set the reed. Set the reed too low and while the A’s may be in balance you will get severe autocranning on the low G. The pitch where the A’s balanced is clearly not the design pitch of the chanter if the E, and other notes are out. Just plain and simple physics.

Most of my GHB clients have never understood, or been taught, how to tune a chanter reed to a chanter. The A’s and the E can be in but the pitch note, the F, can be so far out, the chanter is unplayable. The answer is the reed pitch and the correctly pitched reed will fix the problem but through pure ignorance, I find pipers gouging the F hole to raise the F pitch to balance the A’s and E, to the point where the F hole is 1.5 times it’s original size and still the F is too flat to play well.

To put some numbers to it using my synthetic reed and a McCallum Ceol (current) chanter model. I trim my reeds out of the tool with a total length of 41.25mm which will pitch the reed, on a chromatic tuner set at A 440, at D + 30 cents. On the chanter the A’s are at 480 Hz, E 478 and F at 472. The F is too flat to play as it will not be in balance with the other notes and the drones. I trim 0.25mm off the reed to 41.0mm and now the reed pitches to Eb + 10 cents and both the F and E are now at 480 Hz, matching the A’s.

This pitching of the reed is critical and depending on the fundamental pitch of the chanter, is repeatable. If I was using a 1970’s Naill chanter with a pitch of 472 Hz, my synthetic reed pitch would need to be about D + 10 cents, about 41.35 mm in length. If it was a War-Mac Bb 466 chanter, the reed pitch would be about D – 20 cents. The exact same reed with only a change of length is all that is required because all these chanters are configured with a pretty conventional throat length and height. If it was a Kyo chanter, because of the long throat design on these chanters, the pitch on my reeds needs to be up at about E + 0 cents.

The uilleann pipers know how important the pitch is and will use very small adjustments to the reed bridle in order to get the correct pitch so the octaves balance but alas, the poor cousins are mostly clueless to this reed functionality. I am not saying they are as dumb as dirt because it is more about ignorance, that I see as promoted by blind sparrows and the Black Arts. They don’t know what they don’t know.

The Shepherd moulded reeds, because of the cane, require more to be removed from the reed length to achieve the same results as on my Synthetic reeds however, the exact same principles apply to both materials. Ridge-cut cane also follow the same principle but the ridge-cut only uses the top section of the reed to scrape for balance. The lower part of the reed is so thick it is very stable on the low hand notes once the correct reed length is selected for the chanter pitch. Ridge-cuts generally seem to be the opposite of the moulded reeds as they require very small amounts to be trimmed off the length to alter the pitch, none the less, they still need to be the correct pitch for the chanter to have true balance.

The bottom line, GHB pipers seem to be poorly informed and trained on the whole when it comes to pitching reeds to chanters. I would advise GHB pipers that know how out of touch they really are, to sit down with an uilleann piper when he/she is setting up the pipes and regulator so a good understanding of tuning can be appreciated and perhaps, learned.

I will do another video and fully demonstrate the points I have raised; you just never know; I might be able to give the gift of sight to some blind sparrows.

Probably 80% of my reed knowledge and skills have come as a direct result of my contact with the uilleann pipes and uilleann reed makers.

Cheers

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

Post by Glenarley »

Using High G to Tune the GHB Chanter is 24ct Codswallop.

After my last post I received an email from fmwpyper@(undisclosed).com which, with the profanities and expletives, would be read as abusive by someone with thin skin. This piper feels my reed tuning methodology is incorrect and that the high G should be the next note to balance to after the high A.

I would post the message with redactions but I refuse to give such abusive communicators direct acknowledgement.

I have had this view expressed to me on the odd occasion so I am thinking this is being taught to pipers in a piping class or school somewhere or is published. My Google search did not return any hits so I cannot go to the source to try and understand the methodology, either way, I believe this methodology is as dumb as dirt and will only serve to make pipers dumber as it will not help pipers learn to balance tune their reeds to their chanters.

Firstly, the high G is a problematic note for plenty of pipers and mostly because it plays too sharp. There are plenty of examples of pipers drilling the throat of their chanter in the belief this will cure the sharp high G. While drilling the throat may, in the odd instance, flatten the high G, it does not do this without affecting the tuning of other notes.

I see this as the blind sparrow that did eventually find a worm as it is done with no methodology or chanter understanding. It destroys the integrity of both the chanter and the chanter brand where the issue could have been resolved without molesting the chanter through some reed skills. I see this modification as the dumb as dirt stuff and those that do molester chanters with throat drilling are a bit like gamblers, they will only tell about their winning bets, never the bets that lost.

I have been sent many throated chanters where the piper was not able to get a reed to tune well in a second-hand chanter they purchased, only to discover, through measurement comparison, the throat had been dicked with.

There are two holes on the chanter where the note is played with three holes open in a row, the high G and the D.

In the case of the D hole, it can be seen on nearly all GHB chanters to be disproportionally smaller than the hole progression on the chanter. The D is much smaller than the C and is most often the same size as the hole above it, the E, (a tonic note). On some chanters, the D is actually smaller than the E. If you play the D note and while playing it, open and close the C hole and then the B hole and then both the C and B together, you can hear that the D sound changes quite a bit when covering the lower holes and this is because the sound projection from the D is reliant on the C and B.

Because so much of the D projection also comes from the C and B holes, the D has to be sized to allow for this when tuning the D.

The high G is also one of the holes with three open holes in a row so the high G also projects much of it’s sound through the use of the F and E holes. Do the same test as with the D hole and you can hear the differences. This is what many pipers use to play false fingered sharps and flats but in the case of the high G, because it is up at the thin end of a conical bore, it becomes very pressure (flow) sensitive. This is why the blind sparrow might, on occasion find that worm when drilling the throat because the flow character of the throat is altered and this may, or may not, have the desired effect on the high G.

Just as the lower holes affect the tone of the high G, drilling the throat often has an adverse effect on the notes below the high G also.

To teach or promote the use of the high G to determine the correct pitch of the reed for the chanter is quite frankly, “dumb as dirt”. To use one of the most pressure sensitive holes that has the greatest reliance on lower holes for projection, as the tuning/balance hole for reed pitch selection is right out of Bozo the Clown’s chanter tuning manual. All it is going to do is deskill the very pipers that can ill afford to be deskilled. I have been about the GHB since the 60’s and I have never heard a half decent piper, PM or tutor use the high G for reed pitch selection.

Now, to further the issues with the high G, the reason Bozo decides to drill the throat is because, the high G responds poorly to being taped when compared to other notes on the GHB chanter. As much as half a hole of tape may only make a few cents pitch difference on the high G whereas, the same amount of tape on the back A or F could change the pitch by half a semitone.

To expand on the high G, what does have a significant effect on the high G is the reed staple eye dimension. I have often read where people have poked their reed with one of those reed pokers and ended up with a high G that is too sharp and this does make some sense.

Pipers poke reeds to open up a reed that has closed up and/or has gone soft and/or flat on the top hand. If you open the reed with a poker you are expanding the staple eye width which in turn opens up the cane so the lips are wider making the reed stronger to blow and (nearly always) sharper. I see the pokers as a hairy knuckled approach as very few have calibration lines grooved into the poker so it is problematic to know how far the staple has been expanded and without the calibration lines, almost impossible to squeeze the staple back to it’s original size. Because of the proven pitch effect a reed poker has on the high G, this supports the view that the high G is very flow sensitive.

To put some numbers to this process, on my generic synthetic reeds, .25mm across the staple eye can change the pitch of the high G by as much as 7Hz, depending on the chanter, and without having an adverse effect on the back A or the F. Different reed aspect ratios will give different results as far as the number is concerned but the result is consistently in the same direction. This is the same process with uilleann reeds and explains why uilleann reed makers are very picky about staple eye dimensions, and usually have very accurate staple mandrels so the folded staples are very consistent.

Because of the tone and language of fmwpyper, I am of the strong belief this methodology of tuning reeds with the high G is being taught or is published. Fmwpyper did not disclose a source and I cannot cannot find any such source but would be very happy to have someone identify this misinformation and send me a link or reference so I can try to better understand the methodology. Thanks.

As far as the high G is concerned, reed skills, not hairy knuckled drilling and/or poking.

Cheers

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

Post by Glenarley »

The Chanter Selection Rabbit Hole

Because I make so many custom chanter reeds, I get many questions over which chanter is best? The pragmatist in me instantly starts to create a mental list of all the subjective and objective parameters that need to be considered.

GHB chanters are not made to any known or imagined standards so the variables are almost infinite. We have pitch, pressure, material, finger spacing, bore tapers, throat size and height and tone and balance, and this list excludes the aesthetics.

Let’s start with pitch. Why do so many GHB chanters have different fundamental design pitches? This started, back in the day, at about Bb (466 Hz) up to the current eye bursting 490 Hz, and that is at a mild 22 deg C. The behaviour starts with the competitive bands wanting to stand out so in order to do this, bands started to get the chanter makers (Hardie was a standout) to raise the design pitch. This had the effect of making a band sound a bit brighter than the lower pitched bands and because the GHB band judges were not the sharpest tools in the shed, they bought the farm.

This led to the GHB chanter pitch peeing contest that we have today. This concept is not uncommon as many classical musicians, particularly some jazz musicians, are well known for raising their instruments pitch slightly so they sound a bit brighter, but only the GHB mob have taken it to such an extreme.

The pitch of the chanter can be high but the issue is that the balance must also be correct. When making reeds for chanters, I must find the fundamental chanter pitch and then make certain, as best as possible, all notes are in relative balance at the chanter pitch. If the piper wants to play a chanter at a higher pitch than the chanters fundamental pitch, there are consequences.

To put some numbers to it, a Shepherd Classic 3 chanter has a fundamental pitch of not more than 478Hz (Shepherd documentation recommends to start at 476 Hz). If the piper wishes to play that chanter at current band pitch of 482, on that Shepherd chanter, it will require a sharper pitched reed and the D is the first hole going to have to be taped, to about a third of a hole to achieve relative balance. Because when playing up in pitch the reed has to be sunk in the seat to get the low A to pitch up, this in turn will raise the pitch of the top hand notes requiring, in many cases, aggressive taping of holes. While this may correct the pitch imbalance, some holes can then suffer serious tone loss because the relative balance is lost through the different amount of tape on different holes.

The obvious answer is to use a chanter with a fundamental pitch at 482 so that when the correctly pitched reed is used, the taping of holes will be minimal which will maintain the integrity of the relative balance, the problem is then to find which chanters do have the fundamental pitch that you want to play at. Chanter makers seldom list the fundamental pitch of their chanters because it would be commercial suicide to pigeon hole a chanter to a specific pitch. The only answer is to get some reed skills or find a reed setter that does otherwise, you are never going to have good tone with relative balance.

The next big issue is the playing pressure. When the chanter maker designed their chanter, they would likely have had reeds of the same pitch and pressure when doing the development. If the developer was happy to play/test at 30” H2O, this would then be the nominal tuning pressure for this chanter at the fundamental design pitch.

To put some numbers to it:

If I balance the chanter so both A’s, E and F are in tune at 30” H2O and then play at 35” H2O and record the pitch deflection at the different pressures, this will demonstrate that the chanter has a nominal playing/setting pressure. This chanter is just a random chanter with a reed that is at the correct pitch based on overblowing the low G to an octave G and noting the pitches are (about) the same.

30” Low A = 472Hz at 35” Low A = 472Hz
30” high A = 472Hz at 35” High A = 480Hz + 8 Hz
30” E = 472Hz at 35” E = 474Hz + 2 Hz
30” F = 472Hz at 35” E = 476Hz + 4 Hz

Because I have a flow bench, I am able to get these values reasonably clean but it is still +- a bit.

What we can see is that when this chanter is played at the same pressure/pitch as indicated by overblowing the low G to octave G with the pitch balanced, the other notes of the chanter are in reasonable relative balance/tune at 30”. If you increase the pressure to 35”, the pitch of some notes changes disproportionally and the chanter is no longer in tune/balance.

My assumption is, based on the actual figures, the chanter maker/developer did so with a particular reed type and pitch and, played at a specific playing pressure. As it can be worked out through physics and measurement, a piper should be able to find the exact chanter to match the way they play. Once again, if the chanter maker was to divulge the exact chanter parameters, only those that also matched these parameters would buy that chanter, pigeon holing the chanter to a specific group of pipers, a bad commercial decision for the chanter maker, a poor operational decision for the pipers buying that chanter.

Again, the only answer is to get some reed skills or find a reed setter that does otherwise, you are never going to have good tone with relative balance.

The other chanter parameters are basically moot as the hole spacing is a subjective preference and the material cannot be shown to influence the pitch and balance.

Considering the points I have raised and the fact that these points are reasonably easy to prove, how unscrupulous are the actions of those “piping experts” that give reviews for chanters online and in publications? Bloody snake oil merchants in my view, trying to impose subjective codswallop as established factual reality. If they are/were reasonable pipers as they mostly claim, they would have to know they are talking out of their hats. Once upon a time, such were burned at the stake.

It grinds my gears to hear them boast of how the new model chanter has the tone of angels humming, the crispness and vibrancy of the notes under the fingers, the fine clean tones only this chanter can produce etc. Codswallop, all blood codswallop.

Every month there is a “new u-beaut” chanter being reviewed by someone that never mentions fundamental design pitch, fundamental playing pressure, reed selection pitch, relative balance and such. If you are watching chanter reviews or comparisons and all the technical points are passed over for fluffy, subjective, unsupported opinions, I think you would better listening to the “tea lady” or “Bozo the Clown” for all you will get for your time.

These reviewers are just marketing parrots in my view and have no business misleading the inquiring pipers the way that they do. As some of these marketing parrots are or have been reasonable pipers at some time, I must conclude that some money is being exchanged for dubious favour as they would have to know they are full of it.

There is a very good reason some pipers just sound like a million dollars when they play. It is because they have an instrument that has been configured and designed to play at the exact set of parameters where they are most comfortable and able, and they have exceptional skills. The same does not apply to all pipers. Some very skilled pipers may be able to alter the way they play to suit different instruments however, not many have the skill set required to pull this off.

Match your pipes to your ability and preferences and you will play better and maybe even enjoy your piping. Know what makes the different chanters different so you can make better informed decisions when selecting a chanter. Do not take notice of reviews and reviewers when all you are hearing is subjective opinion.

Cheers

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

Post by Glenarley »

Chanter Pitch and Pressure Processes.

My last post has resulted in an unexpected interest in the chanter design fundamentals I raised, especially the pressure.

While it might make me feel warm and fuzzy having all that sunshine blown up my clacker, I am not the smart one, I am really only regurgitating what has been taught to me and what I have read and then applied in practice.

My main technical source is “Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics by Arthur H. Benade” and my brother, an accomplished uilleann pipe and reed maker, and player.

The bulk of the questions were related to how to discover a chanter’s fundamentals. I thought I had done this in my last post but I was clearly not very thorough.

I will explain how I do this and exactly what I use in this process, it is complex but the concepts are easy to understand and apply.

As always, it is reasonable to believe that every chanter left its maker in tune and in balance. To support this assertion, I have never bought a chanter or heard of a maker that sold his chanter reed-less with holes taped. The rushes used in some uilleann chanters would also, in principle, work in a GHB chanter but are irrelevant here because we do not play an overblown octave, only a progressive scale octave.

Because I make synthetic chanter reeds, I can do my testing with a degree of certainty because I do not have to deal with the variables of a living, breathing organism, natural cane.

I have created what I call a matrix of reeds where the reeds progressively vary in both pitch and pressure over the range I have found in different chanters. These are my reference reeds.

The pressure ranges from about 25” H2O to 35” and while I do make softer reeds for clients, these are special purpose and not in the normal range for GHB chanters.

The reed pitches range from a flat D to a flat F, measured on a chromatic tuner set at A 440. I do this because almost everyone has a standard Korg type chromatic tuner and as I am only measuring a single pitch note, if I am doing this with a client, I do not have to worry about the natural scale off-sets.

As the GHB fundamental design is 1 psi, I start with a 28” H2O reed and because the middle of my range is about 0 cents Eb, I use this pitched reed.

Balance the A’s and then overblow the low G to octave G and look at the tuner to see the pitch. You want the overblown G to be no more than 3 Hz lower than the low G. Overblown octave notes seem to always be just a little flatter than the base note so the 3 Hz is close enough at this point.

To use numbers, if at 28” the base A’s are at 474 Hz and the low G is about the same, check the E and F. If the E is in or a little sharp and the F is flat, the pitch of the reed is a bit flat. Go to the matrix and select a 28” reed at Eb + (around)30 cents and go through the same process with the A’s, G’s and the E and F.

Because the reed is sharper, the chanter base pitch will have raised up a couple of Hz so I will use the number 476 Hz as the raised pitch with the A’s in balance. If the F is now in balance with the A’s but the E is not in balance, I then check the pressure to see if the E will balance at different pressures.

Go to the matrix and get an Eb + 30 reed at 26” H2O and check the balance. If the entire chanter scale is in balance, we have established the fundamental chanter pitch is 476 Hz with an Eb +30 reed played at 26” H2O. If the E and/or the F flatten out of balance with the A’s, go to the matrix and select a reed at Eb +30 at 32” H2O and do the same test process.

By working through the matrix of reeds, almost always I will find a reed that is very close to balance and because we are not machines, there is going to be a case for trim tuning the/any sharps notes with a bit of tape.

Where this process can get tricky is when I am given a chanter that has been throated and/or hole gouged, or one of the really odd chanters with a longer than usual throat or a wider bore taper. Remember, there are no manufacturing and design standards with a GHB chanter so it can be a pig in a poke.

The pitch and pressure characteristics are not subjective to taste but basic physics, and even a mediocre reed maker would be able to give you these figures for your chanter if asked as they are fixed design parameters of that chanter. They are absolutely measurable.

Because I believe a number of reed makers are basically monkey see, monkey do, they follow a rigid recipe and do not really seem to understand the dynamics of the reeds and chanters they are fiddling with. I have personally spoken with Bob Shepherd (RIP) about this reed/chanter design issue and from speaking with him, it was clear to me, he did understand the relationship between chanter pitch, chanter pressure, and reed pitch. The Shepherd products stand as testimony to this assertion.

A chanter maker is not going to advertise their chanter as a 26”, 476Hz chanter as only pipers looking for a 26”, 476Hz chanter would buy it. This would be commercial suicide but, every piper would know through reason, that every chanter was designed, tuned and balanced at a pitch using a specific pitch and pressure range by the maker, we just don’t get given these values and are not usually taught how to find them.

Some chanter manufactures will give a chanter design pitch figure but will not go any further with a reed pitch or design playing pressure so you need to do the work to find these figures. I believe many of the makers would know these values but need to balance the release of this data with the need to make a living also.

Uilleann pipers know that if they overblow a reed or the reed is too strong, the octave A and B become problematic and, many pipers have to run at these notes as it is. Uilleann pipers also know that reeds too soft or low pressure are troublesome as they can jump into the octave or refuse to come down when required, F# e.g.

It would seem that uilleann pipers knew of the pitch/pressure sensitivities of reeds and chanters while the GHB pipers were still swinging in the trees. Yes, the overblown second octave makes these issues important and requires more attention to reed detail than with the GHB reeds, but does not explain why the poor GHB cousins just don’t seem to get it.

I am continually being faced with GHB pipers wanting to have their chanter of choice play at a pitch beyond its fundamental design and at a pressure that will not allow the chanter to play in good balance. Yes, the reed can be seated down and the top hand can be taped and this will be a Heath Robinson fix as long as the low A and G don’t autocran, but it’s not ideal and it impacts upon tonal balance.

If your band wants to play at a high pitch, buy high pitched chanters. But what if the selected chanters play at a pressure that is not preferred or achievable by some pipers in the band? This is why, in the day, it was commonplace for the pipers in the same band to be playing different makes of chanter. The chanter they played was in balance at the pressure they were comfortable to play at so the band reed setter did what could be done with the reeds to get the best sound from the band. A skill that few have today.

It should also be noted that the pipers in world champion bands, while all may be playing the same brand of chanter, have had the holes relocated by the chanter maker to suit the band pitch and reed of choice. Just because a band may state they are playing a Model 3 Whoflung, does not mean this is the same Model 3 Whoflung you are buying off the retailer, far from it.

Now it should become clear why I think pipers doing chanter reviews are not the full quid or are being offered gratitudes by the chanter maker or their agents. These reviewers never seem to give the chanter technical playing values and I believe many pipers have been encouraged to buy chanters that are not, do not, meet the pipers needs or abilities, through misinformation, incompetence and or remunerations. Not to say some these reviewers are not competent pipers, it's just that their very reviews, in my view, demonstrate an abject lack of technical chanter/reed knowledge leading to poor misleading advice, subjective views excluded.

While it is true that most of the pipers I deal with are not skilled and steady enough to take advantage of the high level of fine tuning I am referencing, most however, can easily hear when the balance of a chanter is out by more than 3 or 4 Hz and most can hear when the chanter balance is out with the drones. The point is, why make a difficult instrument near impossible through poor advice, ignorance and biased equipment recommendations. Afterall, it’s just a bagpipe.

While possibly not ideal for all the chanter manufacturers and their commercial interests, I believe, because of the damage being done to this craft through misinformation and incompetence exhibited by reviewers and the used car salesmen types, a formally endorsed and verified database of chanters and all their technical details and values needs to be established so the unsuspecting piper stands a better than average chance of being matched to the most appropriate instruments and accessories. Can’t be too hard to set up. Something along the lines of what the NPU have done with uilleann pipes.

I hope I have been clearer with the chanter selection process details but if not, just ask.

Cheers

-G
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Mr.Gumby »

a formally endorsed and verified database of chanters and all their technical details and values needs to be established so the unsuspecting piper stands a better than average chance of being matched to the most appropriate instruments and accessories. Can’t be too hard to set up. Something along the lines of what the NPU have done with uilleann pipes.
NPU does not endorse makers or formally recommend specific types of pipes. Please explain what you are referring to.
My brain hurts

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Glenarley
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Mr Gumby

I understand your point and it is just my poor wording.

While the NPU may not endorse makers and specific pipes, they are recognized as a credible source of information that uilleann pipers can rely on for information and help. In the GHB world there are few, if any, reliable sources of comprehensive information for GHB that are information based and do not push subjective opinions mutually exclusive to measured facts and sound piping techniques.
Just the reed making section in NPU, while showing different styles and techniques, the explanations for the differences are quite clear and at the end of the day, all roads lead to Rome. Based on the questions I get from my posts and my clients, there is a need for the GHB pipers to have something like what the NPU have done.
Cheers
-G
Glenarley
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Fundamental Chanter Pressure

Had plenty of messages about this and many, it would seem, are none too pleased about my conclusions so I will cover it in a bit more depth.

As previously stated by me, the GHB, and other bagpipes have a fundamental playing pressure range. The engineers that assessed the GHB for me did so based on the drone bore diameters and the mechanical strength range of the traditional cane drone reeds, and the calculations led them to assert that 1 psi (aprox 28” H2O) was the design nominal GHB design pressure. The middle of the range for drone cane reeds.

This then puts the GHB chanter design in that pressure range as the chanter is harmonically tied to the drones when the instrument is played in balance. The chanter can be played at a much higher pressure but then the issues with the drones become more problematic. The average strength of traditional cane drone reeds will not operate well beyond a given pressure range so the GHB pipers have come up with creative methods to force the cane to operate outside this range.

Putting a hair under the tongue or poking a bent paper clip up the reed to stop it closing from over blowing are a couple of methods and while they do work, they do so at a cost to the sound of the drone and most undesirably, to the operation of the chanter as it now has to operate at the higher-pressure range to match the drones. The tail wagging the dog.

I explained in a previous post how the fundamental chanter playing pressure can be measured and established, it is not difficult and is absolute due to actual measurements. While we have always known this, because of the obvious issue this causes by categorising a chanter to be at a defined pressure range, we try not to dwell on this design parameter as it is also skill dependent to fully achieve. Tends to upset makers and pipers equally and because GHB chanters are not made to a standard, the perception seems to be that the chanter can be played at any chosen pressure. To assert and demonstrate that this long held belief is in error clashes with the established belief structures, so I get grumpy emails.

As the guts of the negative comments are that any chanter can be played at any desired pressure, this is just another example of why the GHB pipers are the poor ignorant cousins of the uilleann pipers. Uilleann pipers play a reed instrument that plays a second octave through pressure differential and while the hardness of the cane can alter the playing pressure, it gets to a point where jumping up and down to the octaves becomes unreliable and problematic. The pressure range is determined by the material (cane) used. The poor cousins don’t have to worry about the pressure driven octave but they still have to consider the relative tuning of the chanter and, that it must be balanced (harmonised) against the drones, and every chanter note, not just the tonic notes.

When we have a GHB chanter close to tuned and in balance, both A’s and the E (tonic notes) close to matching, we play up and down the scale to see if the other notes are in relative tune with the scale, and then against the drones. Very few people have natural absolute pitch tuning so they rely on relative tuning. When playing up and down the scale it is easy for most to hear when a note(s) is not in relative tune however, most have trouble telling if the note(s) that are out are actually flat or sharp, especially when they are close. I was always taught to play the off note steady and either feather the hole or overblow the note to see which way the pitch changes, keeping in mind, all this tuning is done against the harmony of the drones.

When we overblow a chanter note it will almost always sharpen so if the note goes further out of tune with the drones, we know the note was sharp and a trim with tape will address this however, if the note then comes in to tune with the drones the note was flat, tape can only fix this if we tape all the sharp holes down to the flat hole pitch, and now the pitch of our drones will need to be re-set. I am referencing cane drone reeds here and it needs to be noted that, with all the synthetic and carbon reeds currently available, it is easy to find drone reeds that will operate at high pressures but, as the engineers point out, this increased pressure would then require the drone bores to be altered to perform in pitch and balance at the higher pressure (flow), and still having to suit the chanter pressure.

The fact that the notes sharpen when overblown is proof that pressure has an effect on the tuning and therefore, relative pitch. As the top hand notes increase in pitch at a faster rate proportionally to the bottom hand notes, and that this raise in pitch is not necessarily linear, it stands as evident, there is a point where, at the correct pressure, all the notes will be in relative tune. This point is the fundamental design pressure for that chanter (given that the correctly pitched chanter reed is being used).

To apply this in practice, we can tune and balance the drones to be at the best harmonic phase lock which is easy to hear if we are a bit steady. We can measure the pressure where the drones sound is to our preference. At this point, we now know around what playing pressure the chanter needs to operate at. Experience shows me that over 80% of reeds I make are requested to play in the 27 to 30” H2O range therefore, it is no coincidence that the GHB design playing pressure is about 28” H2O, and most of the mainstream chanters achieve the best balance within this range although, there are still plenty that do not.

Where I feel the knockers are coming from is a failure to be measuring the chanter performance against the harmony and pitch of the drones. Just listen to the chanter/drone balance of the pipers in the plethora of you tube videos, the vast majority sound like they have painted on ears. I don’t see this as a problem as many of these pipers are just out to enjoy playing their pipes at social and community functions and the audiences are not competition judges, so to the audiences, it all just sounds like the GHB and they are being happily entertained, so all good.

If you are a competition piper and are wanting to perfect your piping for judges, the points I raise on equipment parameters is relevant and, because it is measurable, should be considered. If you are just a piper in a community band or an entertainer at social events, much of what I reference is not going to matter much because of the level of ability however, the points I make should allow you to know why certain equipment is suitable for you and how to measure output and performance to determine at what pressure you are most comfortable playing. The more comfortable, the easier playing becomes and inevitably, the better the sound so just find a chanter that operates well at that pressure.

A weekend golf hack does not go out and buy a set of custom made clubs identical to what Tiger Woods uses, with the view they will then play as well as Tiger. To have such a set of clubs would be more for posing and one-upsmanship. Same applies with pipes however, the reality is, enough is as good as a feast so you just choose equipment to match your ability.

If you play to the edge, every chanter has a provable design pitch and playing pressure and if you play the chanter within these design parameters, and you are steady enough, you should achieve the optimum sound possible from the instrument, within human limitations. For the rest of us, whatever feels good is going to be the right choice if made through an informed process and our personal subjective taste is addressed.

While I don’t usually promote specific brands, I do get asked about the chanters I prefer to work with so, from my personal reeding and playing experience, I find the later era McCallum chanters are very easy to reed and will play in good balance at a wider pressure range than many chanters I make reeds to suit. I believe the designer(s) at McCallum do a lot more R&D with their chanters over a wider range of pipers than many makers and, their chanters play in good balance as close to design GHB pressure as any I have been given to reed. While they may not have world champion bands using their chanters, most, if not all the world champion bands, use tailored chanters specifically altered in hole size and location to suit the band requirements. Tailor made chanters is something that is beyond the reach of most pipers.

I get a lot of questions about Bb chanters relative to current band chanters so I will address these questions in another post as there is no short answer.

Cheers

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

Post by Glenarley »

I am putting together a post on the Bb chanters to answer some of the questions I have been sent.

I was sent the following section of a post from an unnamed GHB tutorial site for comment:

"I am always in awe... and in great gratitude... of those craftspeople among
us... who are ever striving to improve upon... and to make new... those bits
of Musical Kit & Gear... upon which The Wheels of Progress... must always...
and assuredly... turn... :-) (Remember... only cane... drone reeds?! :-)"

While I am happy to try an answer questions, sending me something like this is not helpful. Clearly there is alot missing so I cannot understand the context or the point being made. Not to be unkind but the author is clearly somewhat illiterate or from a non-English speaking background and judging by the periods after each few words, has just copied the phrases from a text somewhere.

Even reading the text without all those crazy periods I cannot understand the point.

Even if you are from the GHB mob, if you are looking for comprehensive cane reed instructions and advice, go to the NPU website and look at the cane reedmaking guides. The points made by the various makers will fill almost any knowledge gaps on the issues with making cane reeds.

Cheers

-G
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