How to Keep Yourself Supplied With
Great Chanter Reeds
Copyright 2006-7 David C. Daye
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If you have enough reedmaking experience to get between 1/4 and 1/2
of all the reeds you start building to operate successfully in your chanter,
even if they're not always ideal, it's a simple matter of statistics to
keep yourself supplied with 3-4 excellent reeds continuously.
One of the biggest factors in reed quality is irregular warping at the
top end of the lips. While there are tests to find ideal ranges of overall
stiffness or hardness, and skilled corrections can usually avoid breaking
or collapse, to date I've not heard of any test that can identify the suceptibility
to warping. So until that discovery, the old-time tradition of making reeds
in numbers and abandoning them at the first signs of inferiority remains
the best strategy. It works with every reedmaking recipe and method.
We can minimize wasted labor by making batches of test-reeds. Make one
test reed from each of several separate tubes, discard the bad reeds and
the tubes they came from, and make followup reeds only from the tubes that
produced the best test reeds. This way, even if 80% of your test reeds
go bad, you'll still have an overall rate of 50% or more reeds that are
- Buy or make a stock of about 10 staples carefully tailored to your
- Pick 5 cane tubes of your preferred hardness or
Make one test reed from each tube, noting its source tube.
Allow plenty of settling (or perform thorough forced settling) at each
Stop initial finishing at about 90% done.
- Updated suggested density ranges for uilleann chanters.
- 47% & less -- soft
- 48%-51% -- medium
- 52%-55% -- hard
Reject all reeds with dull tone and resistant performance unless you
elect to attempt revival.
- Leave reeds a little strong and sharp, with slightly high elevation.
Expose surviving reeds to mildly damper and mildly drier air to maximize
- Best to discard their source tubes even if you successfully revive
the test reed.
- Clean the staples for later re-use.
Finish only the remaining (typically 1-3) reeds gradually over a period
of several weeks.
- Best to have elevation a bit too high in the beginning.
- Allow a day or two in each condition.
- When moving into drier air, raise bridle to open lips more than normal
- Check after the first few hours for excess closing; raise bridle if
needed to keep lips open.
- Moisture cycling will warp and kill some reeds. Discard them and their
source tubes. Or revive.
Reject all but the very good to excellent reeds, and discard their
Repeat entire process with successive batches of 5 tubes.
- It's best to ease the strength as much by settling and as little by
scraping as possible.
- This leaves the most cane on the reed for maximum stability and endurance.
Reviving Warped Reeds
Certain inferior (especially warped) reeds can be rescued, sometimes
with breathtaking improvement in quality.
here for an illustrated outline of some remedies you can try if you
have the time and inclination for revival work.
Questions or suggestions, discoveries & comments, email David Daye
at: this email address
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