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Synthetic drone reeds offer pipers adjustment options, reliability, and stability, but they are not without complications. In most cases, your drone reeds will come set up well from the factory, but these settings can be changed over time and use, or they may need to be adjusted for your pipes. This guide may help in troubleshooting your reed issues and better understanding the type of synthetic reeds you use.
General Tips for Synthetic Drone Reeds
- A little change goes a long way, so make very small adjustments and test them
- Blowing reeds without the drone may damage them
- Only "flick" reed tongues if this is recommended in the manufacturer's insructions
- Make sure to keep the reeds away from extreme heat
- Keep reeds clean by keeping the pipe bag clean and free of desiccant material
- Twist reeds in and out of the drone to avoid snapping wood tenons
Drone Reeds & Moisture
Managing the amount of moisture in your pipes is one of the many areas to be mastered on the way to achieving a good tone from your instrument. Excess moisture will effect your synthetic reeds to one degree or another.
- Composite body reeds control moisture very well as the bodies are designed to absorb moisture, so there is somewhere for moisture to go.
- Plastic body reeds accumulate moisture inside the reed body, eventually making it unsteady.
- Plastic tongues can get heavy with moisture in very humid conditions and may perform sluggishly.
- Carbon and Glass Fiber tongues, particularly stiff carbon tongues, perform very well in wet conditions.
- Cane drone reeds are notoriously sensitive to changes in moisture. To keep them in playing condition, they must be played every day.
- Whatever your pipe set up, play pipe frquwntly for short periods to avoiding soaking the system.
Specific Help for Reeds with Plastic, Carbon Fiber, and Glass Fiber Tongues
Plastic-tongued drone reeds have a reputation for producing a broad and mellow tone. However, they do, arguably, take more time to settle in and adjust than Carbon Fiber tongues. Plastic tongues tend to take all the air the player allows them. The bridles must be adjusted into the optimal position over time and will require regular checks to ensure they remain air efficient.
With some makes of plastic-tongued synthetics, it is often difficult to tell if the reed is performing in an air-efficient manner. The reed may appear to be functioning properly, but you will be working harder than you should be. You may not be able to put your finger on the problem right away. Be on the look out for the following indicators that your drones reeds may be taking too much air:
- drone will not blend
- drone is excessively loud
- drone tunes very low
- no double tone (foghorn like) or hard to blow through double tone (tongue may be misshapen)
The bridles on synthetic reeds require only a very fine movement in order to make a big difference in the performance of the reed. A good way to ensure that your reeds are taking only enough air to make them function is to shorten the tongue so the reed does not sound at all. You should then work back, lengthening the tongue a tiny amount at a time until the drone sounds. Ensure the drone is not shut off easily, but, at the same time, is not impossible to shut off. Test the reed in the pipes after each adjustment. Stop the other two drones and work on one reed at a time. We strongly recommend you add new drone reeds one at a time. Allow each reed 4 - 5 hours of playing before introducing the next.
Remember, the strength your drone reeds is dependent on the strength of your chanter reed. The chanter reed will govern the overall strength of your bagpipe. With this in mind, set your chanter reed first, give it time to find itself, and add the drone reeds one at a time. If you're still finding your pipes too difficult to blow, there may be another issue affecting air efficiency. Feel free to call us if you're having trouble, as we may be able to help with tips or product recommendations to make things more comfortable for you.
When you are happy with the strength of your reeds, you should make the necessary pitch adjustments in order to achieve the correct tuning position. You can do this by repositioning the reed in the reed seat and moving the tuning plug/screw. It is not advisable to move the bridle for tuning position if you are happy with the strength of the reed. Again, we will be happy to help you choose an appropriate make of drone reed for your particular bagpipe.
Plastic tongues will wear out over time. It will depend on the amount they are played. Many professional players will change their reeds every year to ensure reliability. However, the average player should expect 3-4 years out of these reeds. Some manufacturers allow for only the tongues to be replaced. With other makes you will have buy a new set. Different makes will also require different blowing in periods. We recommend you read the manufacturer's instructions before playing and adjusting your new reeds.
Carbon Fiber-tongued reeds are renowned for their rich harmonic sound, steadiness and overall reliability in wet conditions. These reeds are generally easier to set up than some plastic tongued reeds and settle in very quickly.
Most carbon-tongued reeds have rubber o-ring bridles. These require very fine adjustment and should be slid over the tongue, not rolled. You may experience problems if your pipes have narrow diameter stocks, as the o-rings are very bulky. Care should be taken when removing and inserting the reeds not to bump them on the side of the stock as the bridles may move easily.
When setting the reeds up in your pipes, we again recommend you work on one at a time and test in the pipes after each adjustment. It is not advisable to blow the reed by mouth as saliva can clog the movement of the tongue. You should not attempt to bend carbon tongues unless recommended in manufacturer's instructions. Most carbon tongues are stiff and are designed to lay straight on the reed body while being held open by the bridle and change in gradient of the reed body at the back end of the reed. Flicking will have no effect on most carbon tongues. In theory, carbon reeds should last a lifetime. The o-ring bridles will likely break down over time but can be replaced easily.
Glass Fiber tongues, arguably, are the most harmonically similar to cane. Some makers stress that their tongues should not be manipulated, while others state that their tongues can be shaped like cane tongues. It depends on the thickness of the tongue material itself as to whether it can be shaped without putting a permanent kink in it.
Like Carbon Fiber, Glass Fiber tongued reeds have a very long life. They may settle eventually and need adjustment. However, they should not need as frequent tweaks as plastic tongues.