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Cane Drone Reeds

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While synthetic drone reeds have largely replaced cane reeds, many pipers still believe that cane produces a superior tone, and some will play little else. With reed companies like MG Reeds making cane reeds, cane drone reeds are also enjoying a resurgence of interest.
 
This section is intended to provide useful information on how to deal with cane drone reeds. We believe that even if a player has no intention of playing cane reeds, the serious piper should at least know how they function and how to adjust them. Having this knowledge will vastly improve their understanding of how synthetic reeds function and their overall appreciation of good tone.

When setting up your cane reeds, we recommend the following procedures:

Examine the reeds. Gently lift the tongue a little and while holding up to the light, check for a clean interior. If you find the inside is rough, take some very fine sandpaper; roll it to fit the diameter of the reed and sand out the reed until clean. If the tongue has slivers of cane attached, pull them free gently. Do not cut them off.

In an ideal situation, you should blow the tenor reeds in at the same time. The bass reed is usually easier to deal with. You should blow your cane drone reeds in on their own, without the chanter.

Insert the tenor reeds in the drones and with the chanter stock corked off, blow up your pipes. Keep the pressure low. The reeds will probably stop. This is normal. Lift the tongues gently. Now the reeds will play for a while but may stop again. Lift the tongues again gently. Expect them to stop again. You have to train the tongues into the correct position. Patience is the key.

At this point, examine the bridle. The tension of the bridle is critical to the performance of the reed. Many makers will tie the bridles too tight, or they become too tight as the cane expands with the absorption of moisture. If, even after playing, a bridle is too loose, it will have to be re-tied.

The following diagrams demonstrate one way of tying a bridle. Use only black waxed hemp.

Continue winding while moving to the left. Again, the correct tension is vital so you may have to do this a few times. Test the reed before tying off the hemp. A squeak indicates the bridle is too tight.

Three wraps is sufficient. Tie off the end in a half hitch. Cut off the excess hemp strands.

When you are happy with your bridle, set the strength of the reed by moving up or down the tongue. Closer to the drone will strengthen and flatten it. Closer to the waxed end will weaken and sharpen it.

The scope for pitch adjustment of cane is limited, as there are no tuning plugs. This means you have to establish what diameter of cane you need. This all depends on the make of your pipes. A wider diameter is lower pitched and a narrower diameter, higher pitched. Narrow bore drones tend to be inherently lower pitched (will require higher pitched reeds - narrower diameter cane) and wide bore inherently higher pitched (will require lower pitched reeds - wider diameter cane).

Even when buying synthetic reeds, you should take these facts into consideration as some synthetics have very little scope for pitch adjustment. In these cases you should be thinking about the diameter of the reed body and the compatibility with your make of drones. We will be happy to help you in choosing the right drone reed.

Troubleshooting Cane
This section lists common problems with possible causes and solutions.


Reed Stopping / Will Not Sound Reed New Follow guidelines (above) for breaking in new reeds.
Reed Too Dry/Wet Read section "Drone Reeds & Moisture"
Reed Poorly Finished Peel away any slivers of cane on tongue/bed and sand out reed body.

Reed Squealing Bridle Too Tight Re-tie.
Tongue Too Heavy Scrape along length of tongue with very sharp blade.
If you are a beginner, you may not be striking in correctly.

Reed Unsteady Reed Too Dry/Wet Read section "Drone Reeds & Moisture"
Hair Under Tongue The hair may keep the tongue open but will move. Follow guidelines (above) for breaking in new reeds. Use a hair only in emergency.

Difficulty Striking in Bass Drone Tongue Too Rigid Loosen by moving bridle to make tongue longer. If this does not work, lightly scrape tongue with sharp blade.
If you are a beginner, you may be not be striking in correctly.
Try an inverted bass reed.

Bass Drone Roaring While Playing (Heard particularly when playing B) Tongue Too Long Move bridle to make tongue shorter.
Tongue May Not Seal Throw reed away
Try an inverted bass reed.
If problem persists, contact pipe manufacturer. The problem may be in the drone itself and can be common in older instruments

Tenor Reed
Double Toning
Misshapen Tongue
There are a couple of ways to deal with a misshapen tongue. This problem may also appear with certain Carbon Fiber and Glass Fiber tongues.

1. Gently lift tongue. Insert a thin blade under the middle of the tongue. Push down of tip of tongue to re-shape. Great care should be taken not to lift tongue too much or push down too hard when re-shaping. This will damage the cane fibers and ruin the reed.

2. Tape the end of the tongue down and leave over-night. This will train the tongue into the correct shape. Hold tongue down when removing tape. Blow through the reed the wrong way to free up the tongue. If you need to lift it, lift it toward the middle of the tongue, not at the tip. If you lift from the tip, you may bend the tongue back into the wrong position.


Drone Tuning Too High Reed Too High Pitched Move bridle to lengthen tongue and flatten the reed. Do not touch the bridle if you are happy with the strength of the reed as this adjustment will also make the reed take more air.
Pull reed out in reed seat. Reed must remain secure.
Choose wider diameter cane.

Drone Tuning Too Low Reed Too Low Pitched Move bridle to shorten tongue and sharpen the reed. Do not touch the bridle if you are happy with the strength of the reed as this adjustment will also make the reed take less air.
Sink the reed in the reed seat.
Choose narrrower diameter cane.

Cane drone reeds are notoriously sensitive to changes in moisture. To keep them in playing condition, they must be played every day. You must closely monitor the amount of moisture they get. They will not perform steadily if too dry and they will swell and become sluggish when too wet. Allow new cane reeds to absorb some moisture before adjusting them. If you do not, expect them to be unresponsive to the adjustments you make. Cane reeds are not impossible to play and maintain and pipers should not be intimidated by them. Having a solid knowledge of cane will stand you in good stead for understanding the mechanics and capabilities of your synthetics. In addition, they are inexpensive. Take note of the effects your adjustments have and you will gain experience quickly.

Air Efficiency

Below is checklist of areas you should examine if you feel your pipes are just too hard. It may be down to a single problem or it may be a combination of problems.

  • Check stocks are securely attached to bag
  • Check the bag is airtight. Do not take this to the extreme. No bag is completely airtight. If you cannot put a significant amount of air into the bag after 30 seconds, it is tight enough. Do not dunk the bag in water. Put a small amount of water inside the bag instead.
  • Check for cracks in wood, pay particular attention to the blowpipe and blowpipe stock
  • Check your blowpipe valve is functioning properly. A little mac valve is very durable and convenient but will restrict the amount of air you blow into the bag. We might advise against this if you have any physical problems which hinder your blowing. Consider purchasing an Airstream blowpipe
  • Check the hemp job. Loose joints will lose air. If you do not keep your pipes in god order, do not expect them to perform for you
  • Read the information "Blowing & Pressure Control" If you cannot blow steadily you will not be comfortable with your instrument and it will always be a struggle to keep it going.
  • Check your reeds are secure in the reed seats. If your reeds are wobbling in the reed seats, remove some of the hemp and push them in further. If this does not remedy the problem, ream out the reed seats a little or get new drone reeds with narrower tenons.
  • Check the strength of your chanter reed. This is the first reed to check. See the information on chanter reeds.
  • Check the air efficiency of your drone reeds. Move the bridles to shorten the tongue and stop the reed. Work back until the reeds take the minimum amount of air i.e. they do not shut off when you play but can be shut off if you try.


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