We understand that it is very difficult to order reeds without being able to see or hear them and that you are relying on us to select them for you. This is why we test pipe chanter reeds before shipment and always strive to meet your specifications.
Of course, being a piper means dealing with reed issues, so here is some information that may help you to avoid, identify or undestand these. Other than the tried and tested method of "blowing in" a good chanter reed, we do not advocate one method of reed manipulation over another. After some experimentation, you'll find what works best fo you. Every top piper has ruined innumerable good reeds in gaining knowledge; there is no substitute for experience.
Blowing In a Chanter Reed
- Choose a reed that is harder than what you would like to play. It will come down in strength in a short time and will ultimately last longer.
- Put the reed in the chanter and blow up and down the scale two or three times. This will provide the reed with some initial moisture. It is not advisable to lick, soak, squeeze, poke or actually do anything else to the reed at this point. Manipulate the reed only if it is too hard for you to get a sound. Hold the lips of the blades together (between your thumb and forefinger). You can hold this for up to a minute. If you are experiencing a "weird" sounding F, don't worry. This is called a double toning F and can be easily remedied. GENTLY, using your thumb and forefinger, squeeze the sound box of the reed until you feel it give. This will fix the F problem. Be careful not to squeeze too hard or you will collapse the sound box. If you do this, the reed will be useless.
- Now put the chanter in the pipes, cork all your drones and play (you may want to remove the drones altogether). The reed may be hard but keep blowing. We do not recommend that you blow in a chanter reed while playing your good drone reeds, especially if they are cane drone reeds. You will be playing at a much higher pressure than normal and will probably ruin your drone reed set up.
- Play for 5-15 minutes (depending on how hard the reed is) and stop. Take care not to strain yourself.
- Take the chanter out and inspect the reed. If it is wet, dry any excess moisture from the stock and around the reed. If there is significant moisture present in 20 minutes or less of playing then you might want to think about getting a water-trap or even examining the condition of your bag. Store your spare reeds in an airtight container. Good spare reeds should be blown every couple of days for a few minutes to keep them in good condition. Take care not to let them dry out.
- Repeat the above playing time three or four times a day. Don't blow the new reed for hours at a time and, again, take care not to strain yourself. Patience is the key. The "blowing in" period is made easier if you have two pipe chanters. If you stagger the process you will have one "good" reed that you won't have to fiddle with while you work on others in a second chanter.
The overall blowing in period can take weeks or months. Your reed will change during this time so don't worry too much about taping notes etc. It will not sound perfect right away. You will learn through experience when the time is right to play the reed with your drones. The reed may need some minor adjustments to help it along (see tables). We would suggest that you do not carry out any adjustments too early. Wait until you feel the blowing in process is nearly done. This is only one method of blowing in a chanter reed. It works. It's well worth the effort. With experience, pipers usually develop their own methods. A single pipe chanter reed that has been properly blown in and is well cared for can last years.
|Reed too hard
||(1) Squeeze lips of blades gently. (2) Lightly sandpaper or scrape blades above sound box. (3) Use pliers to close staple.
|Reed too weak
||(1) Open up reed with a mandrel. (2) Snip a tiny amount off the lips of the blades. (3) Throw reed away and choose a better one.
|Top hand too sharp
||(1) Raise reed in reed seat. (2) Sandpaper or scrape the upper part of the blades (not the lips).
|Top hand too flat
||(1) Seat reed further into chanter. (2) As a last resort, snip a tiny amount off the lips of the blades.
|Individual note flat
||Use a small file or very sharp scalpel to undercut the top of the hole.We do not recommend that you perform this surgery until you have tried many reeds and exhausted all other possible solutions. It is however a common course of action. Preferably, ask an experienced piper to demonstrate this procedure. If done correctly the shape and size of the hole on the outside of the chanter will remain intact.
|Individual note sharp
||(1) Tape. Apply to the top of the hole and adjust as necessary. If it gets sticky and slippery, clean it off and get a new piece. Don't believe the myth that good chanters don't need tape. Tape is extremely useful for fine-tuning your chanter. 99.9% of good pipe chanters will need some amount of taping.
|Dull sounding reed
||(1) Lightly sand the lips of the blades. This will sharpen the top notes. (2) Reed may be a little to dry. Blow by mouth (a few times up and down the scale) then play in pipes. Reed may regain a full and bright sound as it naturally absorbs some moisture. (3) Reed may have completely dried out. Check if sides have opened up. If so, thoroughly soak with water and allow to dry naturally. If sides have not closed up, discard reed.
|1. Reed squeaking or 2. sounding before drones are fully in.
||(1) Try possible remedy for weak reed (see above) (2) Check drones are not taking too much air (especially if playing certain synthetics). However, the problem is more likely to be that the chanter reed is too weak. (3) Reed too weak. Throw away.
||Chanter reed may be too strong. Reed could be too dry, this will make it unresponsive. Also check other possible areas where pipe may be losing air, e.g. bag, valve, stocks or drone reeds taking too much air. Also check for cracks. The problem could also be with the chanter itself. Some makes of chanter can be more prone to producing a choke than others and so require more controlled, steady pressure.
|Double toning F
||CAREFULLY, squeeze sound box just enough until you feel the cane give a little. This problem is common in harder new reeds. You may need to perform the squeeze a few times but the problem should disappear as the reed comes down in strength. Over time the problem may return, usually if the reed is not played for a period of time. Remedy in the same fashion. Reeds which start off with a double toning F can turn out to be perfectly good reeds.
|"Scratchy" high A
||If your reed is brand new, wait until it's been blown for a few hours before adjusting the reed. As the reed eases up you may be able to blow through this to a clear High A. If you must adjust the reed use very fine sandpaper to sand the tops of the lips. This only takes a tiny amount of sanding.
You will likely ruin many reeds when first attempting some of the above actions. You will learn from your mistakes.
Some tips for ridge/shoulder cut reeds.
These reeds can be worked on more or less in the same manner as regular reeds. The sound box may be pinched gently to ease the reed. This will also eliminate a flat/double toning F. Rather than sanding, it is preferable to scrape the blades with a very sharp utility knife or scalpel. You may find that a curved blade works better and reduces the chance of snagging the lips when scraping up into the corners of the blades. Scrape lightly and a little at a time. Play for a while before making further adjustments. We do not recommend that you remove any cane from the sound box. Ridge cut reeds do not perform well when dry. If you do not play every day you may want to moisten (a little) the lips of the blades.
We hope that this information may help you on your way to becoming more knowledgeable about your pipe chanter reeds and more confident in performing adjustments. Do not expect your new reed to be perfect from the outset. Be patient, treat them well and happy piping.
Some thoughts on pipe chanter/reed compatibility.
There are many excellent pipe chanters and reeds on the market. We have confidence in the brands we offer and from our experience suggest the following pipe chanter/reed combinations. We realize that this is not the last word in pipe chanters and reeds but it is a good place for beginners and less experienced players to start.
||Works well in
||Shepherd, Gibson, Naill
||Easy, Medium, Hard
||Warnock, Gibson, Shepherd, Dunbar
||Easy (beginner), Medium
||Gibson, Shepherd, Dunbar
||Naill, Gibson, Hardie
||Easy, Medium, Hard
||Naill, St. Kilda
||Naill, St. Kilda, Kintail, Shepherd, Gibson
If you find you cannot get any of the above combinations to work then you may want to examine the way in which you break in or store your reeds. You should not have to blow through hundreds of reeds in order to find a good one for your chanter.
Climate and reed care.
Pay attention to the moisture level in your pipes. Don't believe the myth that chanters must always be kept out of the pipes. Experiment for yourself and you will find what works best for you in the particular environment in which you play. Much depends on the conditions. There are many top pipers who leave their pipe chanters in their pipes. If the climate is humid then capping the chanter after playing is probably a good idea. If the climate is dry (lets say below 40% humidity) then you may want to leave the chanter in the pipes. It is advisable to take the chanter out immediately after playing, check it for moisture, leave it out for a couple of minutes if need be, dry the chanter stock and then replace the chanter in the pipes. Remember not to leave your chanter reed exposed to excessive dry conditions for more than a few minutes. This is enough time for it to turn into garbage. If you do experience dry conditions where you live you should take precautions to protect your reeds and your instrument or expect the worst. Your pipes will be prone to warping and cracking and your reeds will be dry, brittle and lifeless. Use a case humidifier. You will find one at any music store. Violin or guitar case humidifiers are probably the best. They are inexpensive and your pipes will thank you for it.