How to leard to blow the bag

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Glenarley
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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 »

Pancelticpiper
Thanks for the picture and I acknowledge the gentle backhander for my brusk turn of phrase.
I stand by my view that the tone extenders look like crap, they do. The PM in the picture is made to look a little low rent by his PS and the trailing piper because they managed to tune their drones through reed skills, no gimmicks needed.
The PM is probably a fine piper as he looks relaxed, his blowpipe in in the center of his mouth and his head is nice and straight. His shoulders are back and his drones are well placed on his shoulder and his chanter is well out in front and fairly vertical, he has been instructed in good technique and appearance, no question. I feel he ruins his strengths with those cheap gimmicks on the end of his drones and being a military type band, not a serious competition band, he would be playing Bb pitch more often than not, so why not learn how to set the pipes to be fit for purpose? I think he sends the wrong message by using gimmicks.
While the PM in this picture may be an exceptionally fine piper, it does not automatically follow that he is also a fine technician. The best race car drivers usually have the best mechanics working for them in the same way Eric Clapton would send his guitars to his most trusted repairer when they needed to be altered or repaired, as fine a player as he is, I doubt he would do his own technical modification and repairs.

On your second point about reeds, thank you for supporting my views. You are lucky to have access to a reed maker who can also do your bands reed supply and setting. This is a dying skill and I can only hope for the sake of the craft that this reed maker is open and helpful with his/her skills and knowledge.
There is a TV interview with Richard Park from FMM where he discusses the importance and value of a good reed setter. At the time of the interview, the reed setter he was referencing had since passed away but it is interesting to hear a piper of Park's skill and knowledge speak so highly of his departed reed setter and just how important such a person was to the success of FMM.
I freely acknowledge your experience with multiple instruments and your extensive understanding of music theory, your grey hair and wrinkles give you plenty of high ground on me so I am not wanting to get into a spitting contest with you. I have pipers from beginner to grade 1 visit me to resolve technical issues and the single biggest stumbling block is a lack of technical information about their instruments, reed skills, something that was drummed into us when we were learning but seldom the focus with today tutors.
Are you able to name your reed maker/setter for others that may be in your part of the woods?

Cheers

_G
Glenarley
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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 »

Tone and sheep skin bags, (again)!

I have previously posted my experiences with bag and tone and still, I get many questions sent to me based on allegedly authoritative statements from alleged “experts”.

The following posts are from a bagpipe forum and are examples of what I feel is the total misinformed hogwash some feel compelled to post in an effort, I feel, to allow some in the GHB mob to beat their chests and claim some level of elitism and expertise.

In my previous post I explained the extensive testing we did and the consultant I use for technical concepts and data has a degree in mechanical engineering and a PhD in Acoustics with some 45 years’ experience in his chosen fields. He does not have a dog in this fight so I believe his views are objective and well informed.

To address the posts sent to me I have not listed all those sent as I feel there is no point in making the readers dumber for the experience of reading all of them.

The following are the main focus of the thread and my final comments addressing this issue follow.

Piper1 states:
“I have been hearing lately that the use of sheep skin bag is coming back. It is often associated with the "tone" quality. One piper said " it makes the pipes come alive" compared to synthetic or even cow hide. This seems strange to me as I assumed it was the wood that made the tone. Any experience with a tonal improvement from a sheep skin bag? Any idea why?”

Piper2 adds:
For years, I did not believe that the bag had a relationship to tone and other sound-related qualities. I figured that's a function of the reeds, the drone material/characteristics, etc. BUT...I am now a believer. I finally decided to put on a sheepskin bag (Lee & Sons), based in part on the P/M's talk about his bag (Begg, I think). Anyway, installed, using the very same drone reeds, there was an immediate and obvious difference in sound. Bold, balanced, and just impressive. I played my pipes for band members who have heard my drones before; and all agreed that there was a very obvious difference. Now several are thinking of changing to sheepskin.
The only experience I can add is that I had immediate problems with my drone reeds (Kinnaird Edge) on strike-in and cuts. It was many days of adjusting them to accommodate the difference in bag and strike-in. But the trouble was worth it for the sound. As for the feel of the bags (e.g., feeling alive), I feel a difference; but I need more time to determine that, as the bag will change over time (e.g., stretches). If you're after the best sound you can get, I'm now a fan.

Piper3 chimes in with”
“Having played on every main style of bag - synthetic, hybrid, cowhide, goatskin, and sheepskin, I can definitely say that my pipes have been their best in sheep.”
“Maybe it’s because I’m a better piper now than I was when I used synth/hybrid, but my pipes are easier in sheep and they sound fuller.”

Piper4 then states:
“I'm generally pretty sceptical about "tone" and the claims made for various things in relation to it, but whatever the explanation, a sheepskin bag makes a real and positive difference.”

“I do think part of that is the stability it brings in terms of moisture, but there is without doubt a tonal change.”

Piper5, a real pearl:
“I cannot claim to understand why, but I definitely hear better and richer tone when playing a sheepskin bag. Harmonics? No bag is better for that; I both hear and feel harmonic frequencies from sheepskin that I don't experience from other bag types.”

“Sheepskin can also resonate other secondary sounds. A recent curious event seems to add credence to this. Two nights ago the outside tenor top on an old Henderson pipe - recently rehemped - was slightly loose from usage compression of the new hemp. I could detect a leak, so I corked everything, and at full bag pressure I heard a clear, bell-like ringing inside the bag. I thought I had a bag leak until I tracked down the problem. There was no doubt that the bag was somehow capturing and resonating the tone that was originating at the tuning slide of the outside tenor drone.”

“There are other benefits to using sheepskin bags. The moisture control is superior to anything else I've played, and I've tried about all types of bags. It's not just moisture capture, but more like evenly controlled distribution of moisture through the instrument.”

My response to the points raised above.

Looking at the history of the GHb we find that sheep skin was used because there were a lot of sheep in Scotland so sheep hides were cheap and plentiful. In this same period, cow hide was a premium material for everything from shoes to saddles and out of the cost range for Scottish piper’s bags. Cow hide bags were the premium GHB bag material if you could afford it but being Scottish, deep pockets full of gorse, the cheap sheep skin option was the most common choice, inferior to cow hide but more affordable.

The GHB bag is an air reservoir that allows continuous airflow to the pipe reeds and does not/cannot add to the tone exiting from the drones and chanter. Because the bag is firmly captured between the piper’s arm and ribs, it is “impossible” for the bag to provide any vibrance.

Piper1 is correct in believing the tone is a result of the reeds and drones/chanter design and material and nothing to do with the bag and therefore askes a fair question.

Where Piper2 states “there was an immediate and obvious difference in sound. Bold, balanced, and just impressive.”, I feel he is just proving the children’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen is not just a tale. This bloke spent $400 on a bag and I feel he does not want the world to know a fool was just separated from his money. And all the other suck-holes in his band do not want to be the kid that said “look, the emperor has no clothes on”.

Further to being duped out of his money, I feel Piper2 has further demonstrated that he has no real understanding of how the drones work and that he has very limited reed skills, if any. How dumb does a piper have to be to believe the bag material is going to have a direct effect on how the reeds strike-in and shut off? This just proves that the GHB mob are the Uilleann pipers’ poor cousins, or worse.

Piper3 thinks a sheep skin bag sounds “fuller”. Such an unsupported subjective comment says plenty about Piper3, I feel clueless and skill less are applicable.
Piper4 is just another one of the sheeple playing follow the leader. “a sheepskin bag makes a real and positive difference” and “there is without doubt a tonal change”. No supporting audio data or evidence-based support, just subjective cods wollop that makes no real sense.

And then we have Piper5. I only included a couple of the sentences as to read as I feel to read the entire post would just make the reader dumber. “I both hear and feel harmonic frequencies from sheepskin that I don't experience from other bag types”. My consultant has equipment that could hear a mouse burp at 10 paces and display the results in a graphic and Piper5’s comments had him shaking his head. And if that statement was not cods wollop, when Piper5 states “Sheepskin can also resonate other secondary sounds. A recent curious event seems to add credence to this”, I am left to wonder if some sort of calming substance was not consumed just before this “curious event” added the credence.

As in my previous post on bag materials, the blind testing and the software proved the bag material does not offer a “tone” enhancement to the GHB.
In our testing, the Gannaway cow hide bag was the most preferred and not because of tone but because of the feel and shape.

Because some legends in their own lunchtime want to see their baseless comments in public forums, I feel there are going to be pipers parting with a significant amount of money only to be sadly disappointed for following such poor advice.

The most complex bagpipe in the world is the Uilleann pipe and, because of the complexity of this instrument and the bag control required to play in tune across 2 octaves, if bag material in a bagpipe was ever going to be critical to getting a good tone, the Uilleann pipers would know about it. Uilleann pipe bags are varied in construction and design yet, in the hands of a competent skilled piper, a more harmonic tone from a bagpipe cannot be produced, in my view.
Now, compare the Uilleann pipe to the crude construction and music scale of the GHB. There is no comparison.

If those that state there is an amazingly obvious tonal quality from a sheep skin bag that no other bag can provide, it should be very easy to prove such and provide objective evidence, and yet, no one has.

Do these sheep skin bag proponents actually realise that historically, sheep skin bags were the poor mans alternative to cow hide, and not for any subjective magical tone benefit. Cow hide is a far more durable hide, able to be split thinner making it more supple while still being fit for purpose. Because sheep skin is split much thicker than cow hide, it can stiffen up a lot sooner than cow hide if not regularly manipulated and conditioned.

Look at two leather coats, one sheep skin and one cow hide. Now choose one to protect you against cold and abrasion while riding your motor cycle. Every way you look at the bag material issue there is no evidence to support these elitest views.

Has every Gold Medal Piping winner only played with a sheep skin bag? Has there ever been a Gold Medal Piping champion that won the gong and did not play with a sheep skin bag?

I place these comments in the same bucket as those that would like you all to believe that a Red Ferrari goes faster than the exact same model in Blue. It’s right up there with unicorn teeth.

My closing advice is, don’t listen to bulldusters in big hats. Don’t waste your money on subjective cods wollop. If you want to play and sound better than you currently do, spend your money on tuition, preferably a tutor that does not share the view that your bag material is the ultimate solution to good tone. Tuition also lasts a lifetime.

Cheers

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

Post by Glenarley »

Reeds and Cold Weather

The inquiring piper (IP) asking me about this issue is in Canada somewhere near Niagara Falls where the daytime temperature is often below Zero all day in the winter.

When he plays in below freezing temperatures, he informs me that both his chanter reed and drone reeds shut of after a few minutes of piping.

This is not a mystery as it is just 101 physics, something that is very easily explained and expected in the conditions. What is a mystery is the codswallop being fed to him to stop this situation happening. It’s like someone telling you they can hold back the tide but refusing to explain how they can do it.

IP has been told to use a special blow pipe moisture trap, an in bag moisture control system (silica gel or kitty litter), harder chanter reed, forcefully open the chanter reed and then use a bridle to close it back down, special drone reeds that are moisture proof and so on. The only thing not suggested was a handful of magic beans. None of these offered solutions actually address the problem so they will not work satisfactorily. Magic beans will not out trump physics, such is life.

Almost all the offered solution requires IP to be separated from some of his money.

There was this humidi-cap reed cover that was, for a while, being pushed as the panacea for controlling chanter reed moisture using one of those Boveda saturated salt sachets and a $2.00 digital display. We tested and had an independent engineer test the device and even though the physics did not support the maker’s claims, and the actual test numbers would not support the maker’s claims, the maker used testimonies from pipers as his evidence that the devices worked as claimed. When the maker of the humidi-crib reed cap was asked to provide actual test numbers, he refused and insisted that the testimonies from pipers out trumped physics and facts, similar to what’s happening in this cold piping issue, same tune, different violin.

What IP is encountering is called condensation. Breathe a full breath onto a glass window on a 30 deg Celsius day and see how much condensation is visible on the glass, next to nothing now, do the same on a 5 deg C window and there will be so much condensation on the glass, a drip could form and dribble down the glass. This is what IP is experiencing and it is called physics and no amount of magic beans will be able to change this.

The piper’s warm breath is being blown up a very cold drone pipe so the warm breath condensates on the cold wall of the drone bore. The condensation builds up to the point that it turns into a dribble that runs down the drone to the reed. Once at the reed, the droplets of moisture interfere with the operation of the reed. With the chanter reed the same situation is happening only the moisture gathers around the reed in the reed stock cavity with the same effect as in the drone reed once the condensation build-up reaches the chanter reed.

The blowpipe moisture trap is not going to fix this issue however, taking the chanter out of the stock between tunes to flick out any moisture will help the chanter reed operation but this does not help the drone reeds. A moisture control system may give a couple of minutes relief as in the initial startup, the bag and moisture control system may have a very short heat exchanger effect which may strip out most of the heat in the breath for a minute or two, depending on the temperature. After this initial delay, the warmer breath will contact the cold drone bore and start producing copious amounts of condensation.

A harder reed is the dumbest thing you should do because this would also require the drone reeds to be harder which in turn, will require higher pressure, therefore more, warm air to drive them, more air – more condensation. The person that suggested this has probably never played in cold climates or bunked science class at school either way, a softer setup will use less air and may prolong the playable period providing the piper has the skills to play a soft setup.
While nothing will circumvent physics, there are some things that I am told will help. Here in Australia my opportunities to test cold environments is limited and even in the Uni cool room or the bottle shop cool room, I am not going to get below zero.

Cane drone reeds do not have the same flat surface where the tongue contacts the reed like synthetic drone reeds so the ability for moisture to get between the tongue and the reed body are greatly reduced with the cane reed. The cane reed tongue is cut very close to the end of the reed so the moisture does not have a large head space for moisture to accumulate as is the case with most synthetic reeds. A Kiwi piper I know uses cane drone reeds in the frosty conditions and he treats the cane with a waterproofing chemical used by wood turners. He told me he gets a prolonged trouble-free playing time using this methodology because the moisture runs off the reed more freely.

We make our own drone reeds without headroom below the slot and while we have not rigorously tested them in the very cold weather, the results are encouraging. We came to this conclusion by winding the tuning screws all the way in on Ezee drone reeds till the screw was level with the tongue slot thereby removing the head space and as this seemed to work, we then developed the drone reeds we provide. We used the older model Ezee reeds that used the tuning screw without the hole drilled into it.

Another piper I have heard from in NZ used to put a couple of hotties in his pipe bag to keep his pipes warm when playing in frosty conditions. After he played the coffin in he would put his pipes back into the warm bag and take them out again just before piping the coffin out. He said by doing this he avoided having pipes stop in cold conditions. I am only parroting as I have not tried this at all.

At the end of the day, you are dealing with a bagpipe. A rather simple instrument by design with many variables able to affect the way it operates.

If you are going to play the GHb in freezing conditions you need to improve your odd against physics. Play a soft setup if you have the ability and play with drone reeds that have no head space and will allow moisture to more freely run into the bag space. Remove the chanter between tunes where possible so you can let the accumulated moisture in the stock run out and flick the moisture from the reed at the same time.

Most importantly, avoid buying unproven gimmicks, it will only end in financial loss and tears.

Cheers

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

Post by Glenarley »

Tone and Sheep Skin Bags (yet again).

I was done with this subject because all that needed to be stated had been, or so I thought!

I have been sent many emails with testimonials supporting sheep skin bags but not a single piece of tangible, objective data so I only replied to the emails directly, until this gem came along.

“There's a lot in this thread about sheepskin bags giving better tone, but don't forget too that sheepskin bags tend to result in a volume boost as well.”

I found the forum thread to be sure this paragraph was not sent to me out of context, and it wasn’t.

This comment will now be on my “nose tapping – Black arts” list of the dumbest things I have ever read about the GHB. Right up there with sterling silver staples and dry climate chanters.

Do none of these Sheeple know about Jack Lee? A piper and business man that I have great respect for. Jack Lee makes very high-quality pipe bags from different dead animal skins. I wonder what the unicorn farmers in the above mentioned thread will say when they are informed that the “Premium Sheep Skin” bag made by Jack Lee is a natural skin hybrid? Their bums will snap shut so tight they will squeak.

For all the hoopla, I have never read or heard of anyone providing evidence of a superior tone quality from a sheep skin bag over other hide bags. The unicorn farmers may disagree but there is no better or worse when arguing a subjective preference. Just dumb, dumber and dumbest!

This is also why you have never seen the unicorn farmers having pipers submit to objective blind testing. They don’t want to have their britches pulled down, that’s why.

As I have said so many time before, these unicorn farmers with their Black Arts are ruining the GHB craft because the poor uninformed, through ignorance and a will to succeed, go out in the forest looking for unicorns, only to fail and give up the craft as a result.

It is just a crying shame.

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

Post by Glenarley »

Drilling chanter throats

I was sent this little gem along with questions about the drill sizes to use when doing this to other chanters to get the same effect. I avoid, where possible, to post material that identifies brands or post however, this is serious enough to make an acception.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRzyXmB ... ckMcLaurin

All that’s happing in this video is the vandalization of a perfectly good Sinclair chanter! This is an example of all the things I am wanting to help eradicate from the GHB craft.

Yes, drilling out the chanter throat may change the pitch of the high G but at a cost to other notes on the chanter. This video could be an example of the blind sparrow eventually finding a worm.

Before you do this to any chanter, think! In this instance with a Sinclair chanter, in the 80’s and 90’s, the Sinclair was the go-to chanter for many bands because the Sinclair was stable and accepted a variety of reed makes and strengths, at the design pitch. Here we have what I see as a mediocre piper with a demonstrated lack of reed skills suggesting that a highly skilled and respected chanter maker like Sinclair, got the chanter design wrong. What arrogance and ignorance.

The high G on a GHB chanter is what we call a “flow” note just as the F is the chanter “pitch” note. This can be demonstrated by how little effect taping the high G has when compared to other notes on the chanter. The high G is played with the E and F open and if you play a high G and open and close the F and E holes separately while playing the high G, you will hear that closing both the F and E effect the pitch of the high G. A pibroch high G is played with the F hole covered flattening the high G to give it a more plaintive sound. This demonstrates just how much flow goes past the high G hole when played. This applies to all but the E which is played with all holes below it closed.

If you get the correctly pitched reed for the chanter there will be no need to drill throats and the such. Undercutting a hole and taping holes is acceptable practice as this will allow the minor variables to be addressed but throat drilling, in my view, is “Bozo the Clown” stuff.

I believe the piper in the video would have been better of paying for some reed setting lessons off a decent tutor or reed maker, skills that would last for a lifetime. What really grinds my gears about the “Bozo the Clown” types is the damage they end up doing to the craft and pipers.

Many times I have seen examples where Bozo screws up a chanter to the point that the chanter is problematic but, rather than accept they are stupid and have screwed up an expensive name brand chanter, and own the experience, they tend to on-sell the chanter to some unsuspecting piper that does not realise the chanter has been Bozoed. Because the chanter is problematic, the piper blames the chanter and the chanter maker has to deal with unjustified bad press, all because Bozo didn’t know his/her limitations and was too sleezy to own up.

Don’t do what Bozo the Clown does!

It is reasonable to believe that almost all chanters left the maker in tune if the chanter is fitted with the correctly pitched reed and played within the design pressure parameters. Just learn some reed skills and learn to ask questions before doing something stupid.

Cheers

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

Post by Glenarley »

Dry Reeds and High Pitch

I have covered this subject in various posts in this thread in different aspects and despite my efforts to clarify this dry reed / high pitch relationship, I still regularly get asked to explain the issue.
To reiterate, everybody has the same amount of moisture in their breath! This is just the way humans’ function.

When you read someone stating that the humidity of the location you are playing in will have an effect on the pitch of your chanter (or selected notes on your chanter), you are reading the words of a person I believe has no reed skills and/or, human physiology/functionality knowledge. Finish reading out of politeness and then file this person’s comments in the nutbag folder, never to be revisited!

On my list of the dumbest things, I have ever seen stated about the GHB, one of the items is the statement that some chanters are designed to play in dry climates.

It matters not where you play as your breath, unless you are very unwell, is saturated, 100% humid so after a short warmup period, the reed will normalize to a stable moisture content! Lubbock Texas or Singapore, no difference.

This is the latest reference sent to me:
Q1

“Any advice how to bring these notes in line? Seems that all the ways to flatter high G will also flatten high A. I am needing to flatten high G (a lot - super high pitch when all notes below are in tune naturally and with tape) and sharpen high A. I already have almost half the high G hole taped and the pitch remains very high. G1 platinum reed. Thanks!”

This answer:
A1

“The reed is too weak for you. ??.... Does it gurgle on LG or LA with a tich overpressure?”
Is from well meaning person I feel has no reed skills as an overblown firm reed can auto-cran on low G – Low A just the same as an overblown soft reed if it is the wrong reed for that chanter.

This answer:
A2

“Dry reeds tend to have sharp high Gs....in my experience.
I'm in Canada where winter is like being in the desert....very little humidity.
For fun, just remove your moisture control system, or dip the reed in water to see what effect that has.
if it improves at all....at least you know where the issue lies.
If it does not improve, no harm done...”
Is getting into the nutbag territory because it seems to imply that the moisture control system will prevent the reed from receiving the saturated air from breath and that location is also a factor effecting moisture and pitch.

This answer:
A3

“That’s just a very easy reed for you if it gurgles at all. Part of the reason high G is so sharp. I don’t really think that’ll be fixable. You might be able to open the staple to make it harder but only if it’s a folded staple (tubes are near impossible to bend from the inside). And then, may not correct sharp high G.”
I feel this is 24ct nutbag.

The final answer provided:
A4

“In dealing with many older and some very young learners, I have found this to be particularly true of weak G1 reeds. A dry, very easy G1 reed tends to be unstable and very sharp on the high G, even when played in a G1 chanter. Usually, this can be remedied temporarily by soaking the reed. The problem will reappear, however, as the reed dries out again.”

I feel this is yet another unhelpful answer to the original question and this also goes straight into the nutbag bin, especially the part about G1 chanters.

I have provided actual numbers and quantifiable tables that explain the importance of getting the correctly pitched reed for a given chanter at the pressure being played. I have provided the same clarity showing the pitch difference with a dry and normalized reed in given chanters. The variables I have listed are all something that can be checked and tested to determine what is correct for any given situation and equipment type.

This is the reason most decent reed makers will have a reed matrix so the correct pitch for a chanter is easily proven. They would not spend the time to make a matrix set if it was not helpful/necessary.

101 of reed selection, if using cane chanter reeds.

Normalize the reeds you are going to try before you put them into the chanter. I have a piece of high-density foam with a razor cut down the centre for half its thickness and I soak the foam in non-alcoholic mouthwash. I jam the reeds into the slot all the way up to the binding and let them sit in the damp foam for not less than 20 minutes before I start to test them. I use a moisture meter to prove the reeds have at least 22% moisture.
Put the reed into the chanter and balance the A’s at the pressure you are going to play the reed at.

With the A’s balanced check the F. The F is the pitch note on the chanter and it will show straight away if the reed is the correct pitch for the chanter.

If the F is about in balance with the A’s, the E, being an integer of the fundamental will also be in balance.

If the F is NOT in balance with the A’s, you need a big bucket of other reeds to try (the blind sparrow may eventually find a worm principle) or you can use reed skills. Some of the variable that require reed skills include such variable as Wide bore chanters will have a lower setting height than narrow bore chanters and narrow blade reeds will have a different pitch profile than wide blade reeds and ridge-cut reeds will have a higher tolerance to auto-cranning on the low G than many moulded reeds, just to name a few.

The final option is to follow the nutbags, as with the blind sparrow principle, you might get the worm.

Cheers

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

Post by Glenarley »

Oval Hole Chanters

Chanters with oval holes are not a new development but the practice does seem to come and go.

I have just had a client come to me for a custom configuration of his reeds and pipes as a result of him experiencing previously non-existing problems with his playing.
The issues involved crossing chirps, poor burls, auto-craning on low G and C and the inability to get good balance with his scales. These issues started when he changed to the new G1 Elite chanter with the oval holes, a chanter that won a world band championship.

The oval hole chanters were designed to give greater flexibility when tuning chanters across pipers in bands with different playing strengths and bag techniques. It also was a design that would give greater flexibility across different reed makes and styles. There are however, some significant consequences when selecting to play an oval hole chanter and the issues my client was experiencing are some of those consequences.

The accepted conical bore wind instrument theory asserts that the hole size offers no sound advantage if it is increased greater than the bore diameter at the centre of the hole. If this is true, there is no truth to any suggestion that the larger size of the oval hole to bore aspect with give improved sound projection. Testing I have done with several chanters would support the theory.

To the problems experienced by my client. He has piano fingers and this is the reason he was having the crossing chirps as he was feathering some holes. This was most pronounced with the burls as his small finger was just not able to reliably cover the entire low A hole due to the size of the oval hole v the size of his finger.

The auto-craning was as a result of the oversized C hole as this hole is the next hole up from the low G to be vulnerable to auto-cran, especially if the piper is not steady and over blows. This can also explain why the C hole, on many chanters, can be quite noticeably larger than the B and even A holes.

The problem is not always obvious but there is a way to remedy the issue. Where the oval holes give flexibility and will allow for aggressive taping that would not be practical on standard round holes, the bottom of the holes can be taped, at little or no cost to sound projection to make covering the oval holes easier, removing the tendency for some oversize holes to auto-cran.

If the hole does not require taping on the top edge to flatten the note, tape the bottom of the hole to bring the size of the hole back to about the same area as a round hole and this will help prevent the issues mentioned above. This has been the usual practice going back to the early McCallum chanters with oval holes that were fairly common place a few years ago.

As a matter of interest, the G1 Elite chanter my client was using was pitching at an eye splitting 488 Hz and the McCallum Ceol, with the same reed at the same session temperature was pitching at 482 Hz (@22°C). I am aware of but never had the use of a G1 Elite model that is listed as a higher pitched version of the standard Elite. Goodness knows what pitch that thing operates at? I would be curious to hear from anyone that uses one of the high-pitched versions of the G1 Elite, the reed they are using and the pitch at around 22°C.

Cheers

-G
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Another piece of the drone puzzle

I have posted a lot of information on drones’ specs and configurations and it seems the more information I post, I still don’t reduce the number of questions I receive.

Most pipers seem happy to accept that almost all drone sets are based on historic designs and accept that the fundamental design pitch is around Bb, 466Hz. It is also commonly accepted that the design specs of drone sets are arbitrary to the specific makers. The main confusion that seems to exist is why can they still play at the currently fashionable pitch of 480+ Hz?

The first option is to slide the lower tenon adjustment down until the pitch rises the desired amount after all, this is why the tuning tenon is created unfortunately, the trad GHB frat do not see this as a compliant option. The trad mob judge the drone sound on how the drones look and if, for example, the bass drone does not have 3 fingers of top tenon showing, and 2 fingers of the lower tenon showing, the drone will sound poorly. I personally do not prescribe to this trad notion but as judges often do use the optics to judge sound and skill, many pipers make this a consideration and comply with all the other trad sheeple.

The other option is to shorten the reed so the pitch is increased and while shortening the reed will raise the pitch of the drone, it can have a devastating effect on the timbre. The tone can sound very thin, no body or fullness if the reed is too short and with some reeds makes, the amount can vary quite a lot however, if you are wanting to be compliant with the trad 3/2 finger rule, the shorter reed may allow you to achieve the 3/2 optics at the expense of the timbre.

Another option that is a little less common is to shorten the mid-section of the bass drone. Usually, one bead and one comb section are removed through removing the ferrule and then extending the ferrule diameter consuming the space of a comb and bead, about 12mm. The ferrule is then relocated on the section and the excess drone protruding out of the ferrule is trimmed off. Most pipers will not notice this has been done as there is no design standard with the comb and bead. Some makes may have 5 combs and others may have 4. Some have a plain section at each end of the combing and some do not. It will usually sharpen the drone so it will achieve the desire result.

Another option is to do the maths on the bore design. Uilleann pipers know all about using a rush to tune and calibrate drones and chanters but surprisingly, the GHB mob don’t so much. Using a piece of electrical insulated wire with a solid core of about 1.2mm, cut a length so it is about the length of the bottom section of the bass drone. Because it is solid core, you can bend a gentle bow shape into the wire and insert it into the section of the bass drone. The bow shape will hold it in position. Use a block of wood or accurately measure the length of bottom tenon that is showing and with the reed in the same position throughout, mouth blow the bass drone and check the pitch. Now remove the rush, do not move the reed position, set the tenon length back with the setting block or the same measurement and re-check the pitch.

If the pitch is noticeably sharper without the rush, 5-6 Hz it noticeable enough, this lets you know you can bore out the lower section of the bass drone to increase the pitch to where you want it to be, within reason. To bore out .5mm is significant so only take small increments at a time or you could go too far. This can lead to stability issues so don’t be too greedy. We have D bits made to .25mm increments when we do this.

An option I often use to avoid machining the drones is to use a space filler bush. This bush simply fills the void in the middle section above the tenon. Some trads call this space the “tone chamber”, should be called “the Emperor’s New Cloths Chamber”. A typical lower tenon is 90mm so on a well-made set of drones, the tenon void will be 90mm in depth. If you use the 3/2 finger principle, the 2-finger length is about 30mm therefore, there will be a void of about 60mm. I make a bush about 55mm long that will fill the void and as the hole in this bush matches the bore diameter of the middle section and still allow a little tuning adjustment, (5mm). Effectively I have extended the length of the middle section bore which will sharpen the pitch of the drone.

I have probably sold more than 50 of these bushes but in most cases, it has been to stabilize the drone and make startups more reliable. There are so many different sized drone bores, I have to make them on a case by case so unless specifically asked, I tend not to offer them as a sharpening device except where the piper with the issue has no option to someone that can do the bores or reeds.

Most pipers would not even know if the pipes they are playing have been modified to allow for the 3/2 rule compliance at the desired pitch. I have mentioned the bass drone because in most cases, tenors, being so short, can generally be resolved through reed manipulation so the bass is the drone that requires some extra attention.

I have never had to alter Henderson drones as their large bore design seems to have been very well thought out so each individual drone set brand needs to be assessed on an individual merit basis.

Cheers

-G
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Dumb and Dumber Going Down That Rabbit Hole

Because I have had this exact thread sent to me for comment more than a couple of times in a day, it is clear the confusion is commonplace.
Piper1 gets a new bag tied in by a dealer so it is reasonable to believe the job was completed correctly and checked before the client got the bag returned to him/her. Piper1 felt the new hybrid bag was using too much air when compared to his/her previous synthetic bag. Piper1 plugged up the stocks and tested the bag which seemed to pass the standard pressure integrity test. At this point, Piper1 is looking for help with the focus being on the bag.

“Piper1” wrote.
“I got a Canmore medium hybrid bag fitted (by a shop) after reading about all the benefits on here and speaking to a couple of pipers who had them. My pipes previously had a Canmore Synthetic of same size and I’ve played that for about two years and my only experience of playing other bags is a sheepskin two or three times.”

“I got my pipes with the new bag back yesterday and when I play, it feels like the bag doesn’t seem to hold the air as well as the synthetic bag, I feel I’m having to blow more to keep air in the bag. I corked all stocks bar the blowpipe, and blew air in, applied pressure for 30 seconds and at that point I could only blow a tiny amount of air back into the bag so the bag seems airtight enough? I’ve also applied hemp to the joints and tightened these up but I’m still having the same issue.”


After reading the cry for help, “Bozo the Clown” decides to chime in with his rabbit hole excursion.

“Bozo The Clown” writes:
“I would like to say that my experience with the hybrid Canmore is similar. Airtight but seemingly inefficient. I noticed my chanter choking more often. Thinking about it, I’m going to hypothesize that the leather casing makes the synthetic bag rigid enough that if you don’t hold your pressure perfectly with arm pressure the pressure will drop too much. Regular hide bags have a bit of elasticity to them, synthetic bags at least enough give to contract as the air pressure is decreased, but my thinking is the leather outer is rigid enough to keep the volume from changing so if you aren’t pressing hard enough the pressure drop is faster. Okay, I’ve said the same thing twice…hope it makes sense.”


The first point that needs to be made is that with all the bag types in the market place, if a hybrid bag was inefficient, no one would be buying and using them. It is pure lunacy to assert the material can affect air efficiency, in my view, just plain cods-wollop to even suggest it.

In my view, the most player demanding bagpipe in the world is the Uilleann pipe. Not because of physical demand but because of the skill level required to play this pipe well. Control is the factor that determines this. The Uilleann bagpipe bag is made from many different material types and hybrid combinations and I have never heard a Uilleann piper claim that different bag materials can affect the amount of supply air required.

I have read plenty of piper’s comment on a material preference based on how the bag feels under the player’s arm, never the amount of air used. Some pipers like to have a soft flexible feeling bag like sheepskin or kangaroo while others like the hybrid bags because the stiffer feel gives a more instant feedback. These are issues of preference and should not be confused with matters of air usage and efficiency.

I deal with pipers every week that come to me for softer reeds because they feel their chanter reed they are playing is too hard therefore too demanding. In most cases what I find is the drones are the problem and the pipers are having to play hard chanter reeds to compensate for the poorly configured drone reeds.

Some drone reeds will not work well in certain drone sets, this is just a fact of physics. Larger bore pipes like Lawrie, Henderson, Center and Robertson, to name a few, will accept quite a wide range of currently available synthetic reeds. There are also just as many smaller bore drone sets that are very picky on which reeds will work well in them. After selecting a well-suited reed, a reed set that will operate at the required pitch, the operating pressure must be configured to suit the playing preference of the piper.

To put some numbers to it, if you are comfortable playing your drones without the chanter fitted at 28” H2O, the drones should all shut off when you over blow or over squeeze the bag at no more than 40”. Once the drones have been configured, the chanter can be fitted with a 28” reed and fitted to the bag. It is just physics.

In the case of piper1, I believe the drone bridles were bumped or altered when the new bag was being fitted and as a result, the drones were opened up which increased the supply air demand. It is very easy to check. Plug the drones and play the chanter only in the new bag. Does it seem to be playing at the preferred pressure? As the chanter was not part of the new bag fitting process, it should be as it was.

Now unplug the drones and plug the chanter stock. Can you close off all the drones at about the same amount of over blowing. If no, adjust the drone reed bridles till they do. Now play with drones only. Is it as comfortable as it was with the old bag? If not, check the playing pressure of the chanter reed with a gauge and then check the closing pressure of the drone reeds. A great piper could have the drone reeds shutting off about 6-8” above the chanter. A not so great piper will need about a 10-12” tolerance.

Most the elderly pipers that come to me for help have drone reeds with closing pressures above 60”, (the max on my gauge) and are struggling. Once the drone pressures are set down to suit their preferred pressure chanter reed, all is well again.

Because of Bozo the Clown replying to Piper1’s inquiry, Piper1 is going to have a lack of confidence in the new bag which will drive him/her to be forever lost in the maze of rabbit holes created by Bozo and his ilk.
The answer is reed skills. Learn how and why your reeds work, learn how to set and tune your reeds and once you have, you will avoid the maze of rabbit holes.

Cheers

-G
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by pancelticpiper »

About your comments about dry weather and piping, may I ask where you live?
Richard Cook
c1980 Quinn uilleann pipes
1945 Starck Highland pipes
Goldie Low D whistle
Glenarley
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Richard
I live in Sydney Australia and our uilleann workshop is near Christchurch NZ.
I provide reeds to pipers all over the globe so my comments are not based solely on the local environment.
I have a good professional relationship with Don Gannaway, and while he sold his bag making business many years ago, he has a wealth of knowledge in piping that he is happy to share.
I get some very useful support and data from a university academic in Lubbock Texas that has measuring equipment I could never afford so I do try to be subjective and broad based.

Cheers

-G
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Richard
I see you are very experienced with many instruments so you will have a good understanding of how moisture and temperature affect musical instruments. The single biggest misconception with the GHB is moisture control. As you know, uilleann pipes are affected by climatic conditions because they use the atmospheric air to drive the reeds. The uilleann reeds we use in NZ are completely different in profile to the reeds we supply to uilleann pipers in Singapore or Hong Kong because of the humidity.
The GHB uses saturated air from the lungs so the supply air is always consistently humidified. The majority of the GHB mob just don't get this and start making all sorts of weird claims regarding moisture and it's effect. If they just measured the supply and exhaust air when playing the GHB, these popular misconceptions would be no more.
To get as skilled as you have it has taken thousands of hours, with three zeros! There is no quick fix to this simple fact but because so many are looking for the magical quick fix, all the charlatans see opportunities, as is human nature.
My pet hate in piping is when someone hears you play your pipes (I looked you up and viewed some videos) and attributes the quality of your sound to the make/model of instrument you are playing. What they should be acknowledging is the quality of sound coming from a piper that just happens to be play an instrument of a particular make/model. To place the instrument make/model ahead of the skills of the piper is insulting and offensive and only serves to progress the opportunities of the would be charlatan opportunists and the black arts proponents.
This is where my motivation comes from and why I try to objectively base my comments on objective measurements and try to debunk the subjective.

Cheers

-G
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by pancelticpiper »

Just to find out, I looked up the humidity in various places, including where you and I live.

Image

The Los Angeles chart is a bit deceiving, for example a couple days ago our humidity was 9%.

Though LA is on the coast and enjoys somewhat cool moist ocean breezes, a few times a year the dreaded Santa Ana (or Santana, both are pronounced the same in Spanish) winds blow hot dry desert air over the coastal plain, and humidity can drop from 80% to 8% in a few minutes.

This sudden dry has been the death of many an uilleann reed!

But as you say Highland pipes are relatively immune, carrying their own atmosphere.

However our local pipers and bands travel to contests in Phoenix and Las Vegas and the dry air does change how the pipes perform.

It's not huge, but we have to compensate. Mainly the notes D and High G go sharp (High G is the most effected) which is fixed with tape.

Also the pipes overall play at a higher pitch.

How well bands can cope was recently demonstrated at the Phoenix Highland Games, which was attended by the Isle of Skye Pipe Band. They appeared to have little difficulty getting a good tone in the dry desert air.
Richard Cook
c1980 Quinn uilleann pipes
1945 Starck Highland pipes
Goldie Low D whistle
Glenarley
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by Glenarley »

Good morning Richard

You are one of the few of the GHB mob that I found understanding the fact that the GHB moisture environment is stable because human breath is stable.
I can not even begin to comprehend playing the uilleann in 8% humidity, is it even possible? How could you get seven reeds to operate across two octaves with such dry reeds?
You have a better understanding than me of sound and pitch altering as a result of humidity and while the theory is known to me I have not had the training to be able to apply it. Same applies to how altitude affects pitch and tuning, I know it does but my work around is more suck n see rather than actual technical theory.
You are right about the high G and D mucking up first in atmospheric changes. The high G in particular is a bit of an issue especially on the early Bb chanters where the reed profile is almost a semitone different in crow pitch to a current pitch chanter.
I think we would have alot to chat about if we ever got together with a couple of bottles of red. I hope your experience is appreciated by the pipers you associate with. I see there are hoards of uilleann pipers in California, why is this?

Cheers

-G
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Re: How to leard to blow the bag

Post by pancelticpiper »

Glenarley wrote: Tue Aug 08, 2023 5:51 pm I cannot even begin to comprehend playing the uilleann in 8% humidity, is it even possible? How could you get seven reeds to operate across two octaves with such dry reeds?
Oh, you can't!

We uilleann pipers here have gained quite a bit of experience over the years of how to cope.

The main thing is to have a hygrometer and know what the humidity is BEFORE you open your case!

One local uilleann piper joked that somebody should make an instrument case with a built-in hygrometer that's wired to the locks, and if the humidity is below a certain level the case can't be opened.

When I first got into uilleann piping in the 1970s I tried playing my first practice set, made in Northern Ireland with its original reed, at an outdoor festival.

The Santa Ana winds started to blow and the humidity started to drop but I tried to play anyway, and my first note went

AAAAAAEEEEE-IP!

And silence. I looked at the reed, it had utterly collapsed. The blades resembled a potato crisp. It had suddenly and permanently died.

At the time I was the only uilleann piper in the area, but for years now we've had a piping club and they bring in humidifiers and gather indoors.

About the order of things, the uilleann drones are the first thing that becomes unusuable, in dry air becoming wildly unstable.

Next is the chanter will exhibit the "sinking Back D".

My chanter is more immune than others for two reasons, one it was made with a wider throat, and two is that my reed is of California cane, which stands up to dry better.

A Florida reedmaker has been having great success with hardwood chanter reeds, spruce and cedar. These are far more resistant to humidity changes than any sort of cane.
Richard Cook
c1980 Quinn uilleann pipes
1945 Starck Highland pipes
Goldie Low D whistle
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