Bagpipe Chanter Reed…secrets revealed!
Among pipers and bands, the search for the perfect bagpipe chanter reed is universal. Of the thousands of chanter reeds made each year, many seem destined to disappoint and live a short and difficult life.
There are some who claim, and not entirely without foundation, that the top bands and solo pipers receive the “pick of the litter” when it comes to reeds. Without question, many top competing bands and solo players are closely aligned with reed makers and distributors and, as such, receive preferential treatment.
The top bands and players are looking for qualities in reeds that are unique to the chanters they are playing or to the sound they are striving to achieve. Personnel within a band is also a major consideration. Does this mean that the rest of the reeds are simply “no good”? Perhaps not. It just might mean that these reeds don’t meet the needs of those individuals and bands. In my experience, most reeds can be persuaded to release/achieve their full potential. It’s perhaps just how you approach the situation. Let’s peel back a few layers of the onion and see what we find.
First of all, it’s important to understand that all cane is not created equally. The quality of cane is graded and that which is best suited for reed-making goes into that industry. Further, within the more specific category of reed cane, there are even more levels of quality to choose from. As soon as a reed-maker starts to work with a new batch of cane, he can instantly tell you about its qualities. Experience teaches the maker which cane produces the best reed so his first priority is to find a consistent source of good cane. In years gone by, I can recall that makers dealt with a shortage of quality cane. Factors such as temperature and rain during the growing season were cited, as well as the drying/curing conditions.
Next we have the manufacturing process. As much as we would like to believe that it is an exact science, there is a certain amount of “art” that cannot be discounted. In typical manufacturing .005 is an acceptable tolerance. In reed-making, this variance can have a huge impact on the qualities of a reed. If we took a typical gross of reeds (144) from any given maker, there would be a percentage that would be “excellent” right out-of-the-box. A certain percentage would require a modest amount of adjustment in order to sound and behave to a particular standard. Another percentage would present an increased challenge and then there would (hopefully) be the few that might not be suitable at all.
In my experience, a huge factor in how a reed sounds and behaves is subject to the abilities of the piper or the pipe major. The factors and considerations here are too many to for this one blog. These words were written to simply open the discussion. Subsequent blogs will explore the many facets of selecting reeds, working with reeds, and maintaining reeds. Just as a teaser, if I told you that 100% of the bagpipe chanter reeds you buy could be guided toward “excellent” and that they would last for a year or more, would this interest you?
Next blog….You’ve received your batch of reeds. What to do.