"Penny-Chanter" Reeds

Also May Apply to Other Leo Rowesome Family Concert D Chanters

Copyright 1997, 1998 David C. Daye, all text, image and sound files presented here.

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The Penny-Chanter is now playing well with examples of each of these reeds. The "Quinn/Koehler" seems to be a bit sharper, and can be made with common, slightly narrower tubes of cane in the 7/8" to 1" diameter range, including French bassoon cane. The "O'Flynn" uses larger diameter cane including contrabassoon cane and is a bit flatter, but may be slightly more stable on some 1st octave bottom-hand notes. I have done very little comparison so I cannot say more than this.

1. David Quinn / Benedict Koehler Reed

These dimensions come from the U.S. east coat reedmaker Benedict Koehler. Benedict plays a Quinn chanter himself and recommends these measurements as ideal for the Quinn chanter.

Click here to see diagram & basic measurements of the Quinn / Koehler reed.

Current reed tip sits 70 mm above chanter head. Soft inhalation produces a 2-octave 2-tone crow. Upon gentle inhalation through the staple, the first pitch heard should be between high F# and high G. Medium inhalation adds either the 5th or the octave below the first tone, depending on the piper's mouth.  In other words the reed is free and "loose" feeling. Scrape is modestly U-shaped at bottom but no special tricks or fine-tuning were done to reed.

I have found the length to be reasonably important for these reeds in the Penny-Chanter. The intended overall length is 3 1/4" but can be a bit longer, 1/32" to 1/16" and sometimes more. I have found tuning and squealing or howling problems with reeds that are much more than 1/16" shorter. There are some other designs of reed that may work quite well in the shorter length.

Here are 2 basic families of blade shape and scrape style. An important reason they both work is that, when the blade shape and the scrape are combined appropriately, they produce the same internal volume or airspace inside the head of the reed. The amount of volume in different parts of the chanter bore controls the tuning and behavior of various notes. This is also true within the reed, and it is a factor that is nearly as important as the vibration and flexibility of the blades.

Click here to see diagram of tapered and non-tapered reed heads.

The overall amount of internal volume tunes the 1st octave against the 2nd octave. A reed with less volume will have a sharper 1st octave and a larger volume will yield a flatter 1st octave. The Penny-Chanter requires a rather large internal volume. This is why the reed width is 1/2" to 17/32" .

To some extent this acts like a ratio of volume compared with reed length; so that when a reed is trimmed shorter, its length at the nearly-closed end has been reduced, which changes the length more than it reduces the volume. The relative amount of internal volume is a bit higher, and therefore trimming is often used to achieve a higher internal volume if the 2nd octave is sounding flat [1st octave sharp]. The amount is very slight, 1/64" to 1/32" at a time. This is useful for slight tuning differences between the octaves. The outside of the blades will probably require light sanding afterwards to restore proper flexibility and an easy, free vibration and response in the 1st octave.

Some reed makers and reed recipes have played very sharp in the Penny-Chanter, especially in the 1st octave. In this case the internal volume is too low. If you have this result, first be certain that your staple is the recommended size. The chanter has been tested and evolved throughout its development exclusively with the recommended staple. The fact that other staples may work quite well in other Rowsome-family chanters does not assure that they will work in this Penny-Chanter. They might, but I recommend use of the staple the chanter was tested with.

Click here to see a diagram of alterations of the inside volume of a reed for tuning. The following paragraphs give some explanation.

If the reed is well sharp with the correct staple, it may not be scraped and sanded enough yet. If it has been finished to a normal degree, and the length is 3 1/4" or greater, then the internal volume between the blades is insufficient. The reed should be taken apart. The lower 1/3 to 1/2 of the inside surface of each blade should be fine-sanded on a 1" to 1 1/4" diameter cylinder to increase the amount of internal volume. A small amount can make a large difference. I recommend making some pencil marks on the surface and sanding only enough to remove them; be careful not to sand away any of the edges, which would cause the blades to lie closer together to reduce rather than increase the internal volume. Then reassemble the reed and test. Not every specimen can be saved with this approach but many can.

If a reed is flat, especially on the 1st octave, it has too much internal volume. The sides of the assembled head can be scraped and sanded carefully to make them narrower. This can be made easier by lightly binding the very top of the blades to hold them together, and removing some of the permanent binding around the level of the top of the staple to expose the bottom half of the blades and the "waist" near the eye level.

One of the important features of any uilleann pipe chanter is the "hard bottom D," which is a type of sound-effect made while playing the bottom D or bell note. Hard D is to be attained by blowing a bit harder than normal for the note, which often causes the note to begin to sink too flat in pitch, and simultaneously flicking the top ring finger to produce a very brief A gracenote. This causes the harmonics of the D to change, including an increase in the 2nd octave A portion of the D harmonics, and a louder, brighter D is created.

Ideally this should require some but not much extra pressure.

If the chanter gurgles when playing bottom D or attempting the hard D, there is not enough internal volume in the low part of the blades around the eye of the staple. If the hard D requires a large increase in pressure or will not sound at all, there is either too much internal volume or the sides of the scrape on the outside of the blades have not been thinned enough. The scrape remedy is easier for a reluctant hard D. Scrape the bottom of the V part of the scrape to become more of a rounded or U shape. The scraping can continue upwards along the bottom 1/2 to 2/3 of the length of the scrape. If insufficient improvement has been had, then the internal volume of the bottom of the blades needs to be reduced as discussed above.

Finally, there is a compromise in all these chanter designs relating to the tuning of the E in the 2 octaves. Usually chanters tend to have slightly sharp 1st octave E's. The same internal volume adjustments that affect the hard D also affect the E. Increasing the volume brings the 2 E's into better tune (less sharp on the 1st octave E and less flat on the 2nd octave E), but it makes the hard D more difficult to attain. Therefore pay attention to the E's when adjusting the reed for the hard D. Some reeds will work out with excellent tuning and behavior on both, but more often one will begin to deteriorate before the other has beem made ideal.

Click here to see printed instructions for this method by Seth Gallagher. Caution, be sure to use the dimensions shown above for this chanter.

2. Liam O'Flynn Reed

Click here to see notes and diagram by David Quinn and some slightly different observations from Pat Sky, of Liam Og O'Flynn's reed for his chanter, of which the Quinn chanter was intended to be an identical copy. This reed may work well in this Penny-Chanter; I have just made one model and it seems to work fairly well in both the Quinn and the P-C.

3. Tim Britton / Nick Whitmer Reed***

This small, thin-headed style of reed has an exacting method of manufacture which cannot be summarized here. Advantages are that the staple is much easier to make, being simply straight hobby-store tubing, and also most of the important dimensions are fixed by the construction method. The reed is described in Timothy Britton's booklet My Method, available from Na Piobairi Uilleann and the NW Pipers' Club. I deviated from the method in only 2 ways, I made my staple 2 1/8" long instead of the recommeded 2" (this can easily be shortened later anyways) and I kept the blades as wide as possible, about 31/64" wide.

Click here to see extensive photos and some diagrams of the reed-making process. This, too, is an incomplete work in progress!

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