Plastic-Bladed Double and Single Reeds

For 1-Octave Smallpipe Chanters and Uilleann Pipe Regulators and All Drones

Updated 23 November 1996

Copyright 1996 David C. Daye

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Double Reeds

Revision Coming:

Photos and sound files will be added to this work in late November and early December 1996.


Medium soft plastic is used to make the bleades, in place of the familiar Arundo Donax reed cane. Blades seem to need to be made a bit shorter than cane blades. The staple may be made a bit longer to preserve the overall reed length and therefore the intonation up & down the scale. Blade width is the same. There are a few differences in shaping plastic blades, major differences in the scraping and bridling. There is no break-in period at all for plastic-bladed reeds, and only minor changes occur during warm-up each time the reed is played.


A medium-soft plastic such as modelmakers' thin sheet styrene, or a plastic container for food or other household products such as yogurt is chosen. Hence the popular designation Arundo Yoplait after the brand name of a popular yogurt. US reedmakers have had success with plastic bearing the recycling codes of "5" and "6."


There is no gouging of this thin material. It should be chosen from containers having a pre-formed radius, or if flat sheet stock, be heat-formed into an appropriate radius, such that the finished blades will have a somewhat greater elevation that desired for playing. This gives room for adjustment. It is much easier to reduce the elevation of plastic reeds than to increase it. For uilleann pipe and smallpipe chanter reeds, the 1-quart US yogurt containers seem to have a useful radius. These containers are often conical with a greater radius near the lid than at the bottom, allowing some choice of radius for the lips of the blades. The range seems to be for diameters of 6" to 10" for concert D uilleann pipe chanters, bass regulators and some smallpipe chanters.

Cutting and Shaping the Blades

Blades can be rough-cut with ordinary scissors and then carefully trimmed to shape using a sharp razor or knife blade against a metal straightedge. Cutting should be as precise as possible because the plastic is often rather slow to sand. Sanding against medium grit (150) sandpaper held on a flat surface such as a piece of glass can be used to finish the edges.

The inner surface must be finished with very fine (600) sandpaper to remove any burrs created by sanding, and occasional molding marks from the manufacturing of containers. A few moments will suffice.


At first a slightly longer staple than is used for cane reeds should be tried. Many 1-octave pipes such as Scottish smallpipe chanters and Irish uilleann pipe regulators (harmony-pipes) will tolerate a staple cut from simple extruded hobby-store brass or aluminum tubing of an appropriate diameter. These can be made very quickly and easily, and the taper leading up to the "eye" at the top of the staple can be formed by squeezing the tube with flat pliers with a forming mandrel or even a simple ice-pick inside the tube to prevent the midline of the staple from collapsing more than the edges.


The top 1/2 of the blades are bound as they would be for cane reeds, with temporary binding, to keep them in alignment. The staple is inserted into the tails normally. The tails of plastic reeds will spread wildly. This is no concern. The first few turns of permanent binding are wound on and then tied off while the tails are glued to the staple.

Gluing is not essential but since the plastic is usually very slippery it helps the reed to hold together. A drop of superglue between each side of each tail and the staple will suffice. It can be quickly spread along the staple-blade joint with a sharp razor blade or scrap of paper etc. Within 3 to 5 minutes the binding can proceed.

The binding is made in the usual way but for the parts of tails & blades which are wider than the staple, much looser than with cane blades. Only use sufficient force to bring the edges of the blades together near the top of the staple. It is probably wise to wrap beyond the top of the staple to add support to the rather thin blade material, perhaps 1/8" to 1/4" above the top of the staple.

Despite this, the edges of the blades will separate immediately above the binding. One solution is to wrap plumbers' teflon tape around the blades, starting 1/2 way up the blades, and down over the tails near to the bottom of the staple. This helps keep everything air-tight, and if the edges of the blades were cut straight and the interior sanded smooth, there should be absolutely no leakage through the reed upon inhaling through the bottom of the staple and blocking the lips with a finger.


"Scraping" is done very simply, merely by sanding the upper exterior surface of the blades. If the reed is tested in the pipe immediately after assembly, it will play but will be prone to squeaking and, if the elevation is at all above the ideal for playing, it will require excess pressure to sound.

All that is required is to sand the top 1/4" to 1/2" on medium fine sandpaper (150 grit) evenly until the squealing disappears. Care must be taken to avoid nicking or gouging one part of the surface of the very soft and pliable plastic. The sanding should be minimal at the bottom of the "scrape" and greatest at the lips. Between 1/3 and 1/2 of the original thickness should be removed at the lips. There does not seem to be any particular requirement to sand the center more than the edges, or vice versa.


If the elevation is excessive, a weak bridle made of thin, fine rubber band or other elastic material, possibly even ordinary sewing thread or fine string or hemp, can be fit to hold the lips closer together and to make the tone more soft and mellow. This must be positioned far higher than is normal for most cane reeds, perhaps only 1/3 to 1/4 of the head length down from the lips, or even higher, well up into the "scrape." Bridles fit in the middle or lower portions of the blades will not close the lips since this plastic is uniformly flexible in all directions, unlike cane which is much stiffer vertically than across the blades.


If the reed is too flat either overall or on the top holes, either the blades can be trimmed and resanded, or the bottom of the staple can be trimmed.

Tuning Slide

An extruded-tubing staple can be left slightly short (1/4" to 3/8" or so). The missing length can be restored by a piece of the next larger sized tubing which is semi-permanently fit into the reed seat of the pipe, through which the staple can slide for tuning purposes. The outside bottom of the fixed slide can be tapered so as to fit more deeply and securely into the pipe, and the bottom of the staple can be very very slightly flared over needlenose pliers so as to create a snug airtight grip against the outer tubing which will not slip unless it is deliberately moved. An alternative is to fix the slide in place with a little bees' wax.

Single (Drone) Reeds

Revision Coming:

Photos and sound files will be added to this work in late November and early December 1996.


A solid tube of metal or plastic is filed and sanded to create a flat "bed" with a long opening into the tube for the flexible tongue to lie upon and vibrate against. A thin plastic tongue is used, considerably shorter than a cane reed tongue would be, whose strength and loudness are controlled by an adjustable elastic bridle.Click Here to see 59 KB diagram of general principles.

WORK IN PROGRESS 14 November 1996!!

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