The uilleann pipe "Penny-Chanter" is made with the same construction to effectively reproduce the reed seat, the narrower "throat" of the chanter, and the remaining expanding-taper bore down to the bell or bottom. Some sort of exterior covering is applied over the finger- and key-hole region to create the proper depth or "chimney length" of these holes. This is essential for proper tuning and the distinctive uilleann pipe behavior and voice. A wooden top is attached which fits into the chanter cap.
I have two slightly different construction variants playing right now, a total of 4 working chanters. These are well enough tuned and comfortable enough to play to state that the design is clearly workable at least for introductory study of the uilleann pipes. I have also demonstrated that a Penny-Chanter is quite useful for medium-quality playing in jam sessiuns and amplified folk-music stage bands.
Although there is not enough information here to allow a beginner or nonpiper to make a chanter and begin playing, there is enough to allow some established pipers to get other beginners started. I hope this can be of benefit to some pipers' clubs and teachers, at the very least to enable practice to begin while a more conventional instrument is on order.
At the present time this information is intended exclusively for established pipers who already have the other equipment (chanter cap, bag, and bellows) and who know how to make the necessary reed. The main intent now is to get other pipers, or anyone who can use the incomplete information presented here, to help improve the design.
Note-- The current Penny-Chanters are playing all the same reeds that play in the wood chanters from which they were copied. The reeds demonstrate all the same features and shortcoming in both chanters. Therefore it is safe to say that the Penny-Chanter construction method can probably be used to replicate other U.P. chanter designs and even regulators--not just the particular dimensions given in the example(s) shown here. For more information see Diagrams and Data below.
The uilleann pipe chanter: It's not just an adventure--it's an OBOE!
The potential of the Penny-Chanter can be summed up by the reaction of a disappointed Tionol volunteer at San Francisco who had missed the chance to hear the Penny-Chanter. "Not true" said my wife Beth as she pointed a few feet away, "you've been hearing it all day long from that table right over there!"
Reports from the Belfast and German events include spectators giving "shouts of 'what's that?' and 'I can't believe it.'" A number of pipe makers have affirmed the basic utility of the chanter as an entry level instrument, especially in consideration of its very low cost. One testor reported on the uilleann pipe e-mail list that it would be a nice option for playing when one's primary chanter needed to be sent off to a maker for repairs or reeding. The touring Penny-Chanter was even used at Na Piobairi Uilleann by an instructor teaching a group lesson.
This is not to claim the Penny-Chanter as any kind of super-instrument, but it does show that a decently musical and well-behaved chanter, the equivalent of a school-band-quality clarinet for example, can be made by this remarkably inexpensive and easy method. I hope it also advances the acceptability of chanters made in more traditional manner from other artificial materials, as the Highland pipers have done for nearly a generation.
Omit the 3 smallest pieces (throat and upper bore to around back D) at this time, since they are involved in fine-tuning. Begin with the 4th smallest i.d. tube, which usually ends below the back D hole. All the larger pieces can be cut and assembled at this time using either superglue or one of the appropriate types of solder. Solder is far stronger and more permanent but for experimental purposes the super glue is quick, inexpensive and easy to use.
The easiest method for home-building is to employ taper-cut tubing. By cutting the bottom of a tube at a narrow angle, the gradually narrowing "tail" reproduces the acoustics of a smooth tapered wooden bore. It also allows for considerable and easy fine-tuning. Varying the shape here creates or solves behavior problems with bottom D (such as gurgling or lack of hard bottom D), excess effort required to reach and hold the 2nd octave, and mistuning between the two octaves, among many other problems. Special thanks to the Australian pipemaker Craig Fischer for demonstrating this construction principle to me!
Click Here to see a diagram of one particular set of 2 innermost tubes which create the throat and the upper bore. The piece at left is the smallest or Throat Tube. On the right is the larger, longer Upper Bore Tube. Dimensions will vary; any dimensions shown represent one particular prototype.
The "tail" on these pieces is designed as follows. Click Here to see diagram. The tube is an intact cylinder down to the location where its i.d. is found within the tapered bore in the original pipe. Just at this point, the side of the cylinder opens up to form the top of the tail. The tail extends down into the intact or cylindrical portion of the next larger size tube, increasingly narrow, thereby creating an increasing amount of air volume as the bottom of the pipe is approached. The tail ends just at the height where the larger tube opens up at the start of its own tail. In theory this creates an equivalent of the continuous taper of the original chanter. It would seem that all the tubes of the pipe should be cut this way so that the entire bore would equate to a smooth tapered bore. However two models I have built this way have tuned and behaved rather differently from the original. The matter is under investigation. Meanwhile a chanter made with straight cut-off tubes for the lower 2/3 or so, and taper-cut tubes for the innermost 2-3 tubes, seems to give a decent replication of the pattern wood chanter.
If however the i.d. of the throat of the pattern chanter is not equal to a particular size of tubing (almost always the case), the next-larger size is used for our throat piece, and an inner lining of some sort is installed at the appropriate location to achieve the desired inner diameter. The throat tube will need to have a short intact cylindrical section, as shown above, followed by a long tail. There are 2 general ways to make the actual throat region which will lie within the short intact cylindrical region. 1) One or two layers of a narrow paper strip can be thoroughly "wet" with modelmaking glue, wrapped around a small drill bit, and then unwrapped while being pressed against the inside of the tubing; or . 2) a partial section of the next smaller size metal tubing can be cut and super-glued into the upper portion of the throat tube. Click here to see a diagram illustrating these two different methods.
I suggest grinding the tails of both the Throat Tube and the Upper Bore Tube to a simple flat slope at first. This can be done very quickly with an inexpensive disk-sanding attachment for a common handheld electric drill, or more tediously with an ordinary flat metal file. Be sure to clear away burrs and thin shards of metal from all edges. While testing the chanter these last 2 pieces of tubing can be given a 1-layer wrap of teflon tape so that they will hold place and remain airtight, until permanent locations are set at which time they may be glued into place.
Once these pieces are pushed down into place within the chanter, the head of the chanter will have a large inside diameter, too large to hold a reed. Length(s) of tubing of the appropriate diameter may be set into place within the top to form a narrower reed seat to hold the base of the reed during testing. Once the upper bore is permanently installed, the reed seat tubing can be glued in place as well.
Once the fine-tuning is finished, and there will be no additional covering applied to the tone holes, the wooden top can be permanently glued into place.
Smaller holes give flatter pitch, more response to cross-fingering, a quieter basic note with greater "swell" or increased loudness when the chanter is lifted and/or extra fingers below the hole are removed. Larger-than-usual holes tend to be needed for notes which are (sometimes) fingered with the chanter set upon the knee and only one finger up, such as F# and A.
After the holes are drilled, use a smaller diameter bit at high speed to grind away any burrs from the inside bottom edge of the hole. A long small-diameter bit can be inserted up the bore and used to clean away burrs beneath the holes.
The finished shell must be at least 1/2 to 2/3 as thick as that of the original wood chanter. If only short pieces of heat-shrink are available, a single layer can be pieced together if the joints are placed well away from holes. Cut the heat-shrink tubing to length, allowing 1/8" or a few mm extra length for shrinkage. Position the tubing over the desired region of the chanter. If shrink-wrap has printing or labelling along one side, rotate this towards the back of the chanter to improve the appearance. The wrap can be held in place with a finger or two while heating, or, for short pieces, with a bit of adhesive tape. Apply gentle heat to shrink the wrap into place. Gas flames such as from a stove or cigarette lighter are clean, but matchflame or candle flame will do. Do not get a flame very close to the wrap or it will burn and harden the wrap.
Allow the chanter to cool after each piece is heated or the super-glue or solder may be loosened.
Once the chanter is wrapped, the underlying holes will be quite visible and can be re-drilled (if the wrapping is a hard substance) or punched out (if rubber electrician's heat-shrink) with appropriate diameter of brass tubing whose end has been reamed out from the inside and/or filed down from the outside to make a sharp edge all around. Such edges are easily dulled in contact with underlying brass layers. If the hole is not completely punched through on a first attempt, check the end of the tube and recreate the sharp edge as necessary. A fine pointed hobby knife is also useful for cleaning up holes. The soft rubber material is not suitable for drilling or cleaning with a drill or small file.
Wrap hemp around the base of the reed staple and/or finish with teflon tape for a snug fit into the reed seat tube(s). Now set this assembly into the head of the chanter. Put the cap onto the chanter and begin testing.
Appropriately reeded and tuned, this chanter will play the 2nd octave at *no more* or even *less* pressure than the 1st octave after the bump up. The behavior (gurgles, hard D, stable back D, octave ability) should generally be optimized first, then tuning of notes after proper behavior has been established. As you might guess, when tuning is manipulated, it is possible for any aspect of the behavior to go awry. Certain note(s) in the 2nd octave may become hard to achieve or hold, gurgles may appear, etc.
One method for making the mounting for chanter keys. Some brass U-shaped channel can be made or cut from rectangular cross-section brass tubing. Photo shows side and end view of rectangular tubing, and a key made from square brass stock with a pad soldered at the end, the key is fit in the end of some freshly cut mounting stock.
Carla visited me for a reed adjustment and introductory playing session in November of 1996 and I had time to confirm that it played virtually all my reeds very well indeed. I had no trouble adjusting her reed, and I sold her one of my own as a spare. Realizing the poor quality of all the chanters I had been able to buy over a span of 13 years, I prepared to abandon pipes myself, but had one last thought of applying the step tube construction to a chanter I might make myself. There is very little manufacturing in my region of the world, and I had no easy source of lathes and tools for traditional pipemaking or I might have tried making chanters years earlier.
I made one based on my Dave Williams chanter and to my great surprise, before I had even drilled any finger holes, the chanter displayed both a decent bottom D and hard D almost the same as the Williams. I realized that this construction would indeed be capable of making as good a chanter as any it could be patterned upon. Carla agreed to allow me to visit and measure her chanter in detail, and the New York piper Bill Ochs very generously offered to ship me his own Quinn chanter for an extended period of study. Bill was not currently playing this chanter and did not have it reeded. However it had been made for him by David Quinn who was a personal friend. Great care had been taken in its manufacture, the bore remaining very round and straight, and so I felt it would be the best representative of Quinn's work and tooling upon which to base a Penny-Chanter. It has been invaluable to have the Quinn on hand as I experimented with the Penny-Chanter copy of it, to compare reed behavior in my chanters against the original.
The Australian pipemaker Craig Fischer was absolutely indespensible to this project. Most obvious to a user of the Penny-Chanter will be his ideas for construction and tunability of the throat and upper bore, which he showed could be made arbitrarily similar to a tapered wooden bore if the bottoms of the tubes were cut at a tapering angle. This allows the chanter to be completed and fine-tuned using very robust, easy-to-manipulate tubing consistent with the rest of the construction. Craig has also kept up a steady interchange of ideas with me, some of which have been very helpful in keeping me from wandering too far off track. Perhaps his greatest contribution has been to support my morale, which was absolutely broken by years of failure with the instrument I have long wished to play.
Special thanks to Wally Charm, editor of the Pipers' Review in Seattle, who has been very encouraging for a long time, and who graciously offered to ferry the demonstration prototype of the Penny-Chanter to the Spring 1997 Tionols in Germany and Belfast. There is no way that such an unusual and unexpected development in pipe construction could have been recognized and appreciated through diagrams and textual discussion. The chanter had to be presented in person to expert players and makers, and Wally was the perfect ambassador.
My true hope for the uilleann pipe is to see traditional makers using plastic and other artificial materials to construct chanters, for some buyers. But having invented the Penny-Chanter I would also hope that it remains a viable option for uilleann pipe construction by the (would-be) piper himself or herself, especially those who enjoy making things for their own use, and persons of limited financial means such as the unemployed and children who would learn the pipes.
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