Is it possible...

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JohnnyKerr
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Is it possible...

Post by JohnnyKerr » Mon Mar 07, 2011 3:51 pm

...to get a nice, rich tone out of a reed in a climate that is extremely low in humidity year round or is moisture required regardless of where the reed is made?

On one hand I've got the recordings that made me fall in love with the pipes and the reeds just sound so juicy and smooth but everything I've played or made just sounds so strident and harsh. My question is this: is it possible to make a reed in this climate that will play in this climate and sound like a well-made reed played in a wetter climate?

Or, should I resolve to either move or accept that my pipes will never sound at their full potential where I'm at?

Thanks.

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PJ
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Re: Is it possible...

Post by PJ » Mon Mar 07, 2011 4:27 pm

JohnnyKerr wrote:...I've got the recordings that made me fall in love with the pipes and the reeds just sound so juicy and smooth ...
Don't trust recordings. Modern recording techniques can make instruments and voices sound entirely different. I don't recognise the sound of my own chanter when I hear it recorded.

That said, I don't recognise my own chanter when I hear it played by someone else. Sitting behind the tone holes means that much of the sound is projected away from the piper, which may have something to do with it too.
PJ

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JohnnyKerr
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Re: Is it possible...

Post by JohnnyKerr » Mon Mar 07, 2011 4:37 pm

PJ wrote:
JohnnyKerr wrote:...I've got the recordings that made me fall in love with the pipes and the reeds just sound so juicy and smooth ...
Don't trust recordings. Modern recording techniques can make instruments and voices sound entirely different.
A good portion of the recordings I was referring to are not necessarily modern. I do understand what you're saying though. Unfortunately, in my case, I do recognize the sound of my own chanter on recordings I've done for self-critique and for sharing on this board... and it's pretty harsh and loud. I also had the chance to play a few chanters at the SoCal Tionol (not to mention how much better mine sounded over there) and I felt like weeping when I got home to play my chanter again :)

A.Sh.
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Re: Is it possible...

Post by A.Sh. » Tue Mar 08, 2011 2:55 am

Humidity in my place is also contantly low, but i don't think it affects the tone, it mostly causes problems with tuning.

outofthebox
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Re: Is it possible...

Post by outofthebox » Tue Mar 08, 2011 6:24 am

The best approach is to get into making reeds. Not a quick solution, but think longer term. It is the best way to achieve bespoke reeds for a chanter, made to suit a particular location and an individual player. Comparing notes with reedmakers who are coping with similar climatic challenges will be a big help.

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Mr.Gumby
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Re: Is it possible...

Post by Mr.Gumby » Tue Mar 08, 2011 7:21 am

Humidity in my place is also contantly low, but i don't think it affects the tone, it mostly causes problems with tuning.
I think you may be grossly underestimating the effect of humidity, or lack of it, on tone.

I had a student over yesterday, the day was nice and the window open but a fire burning for heat. The house is about as dry as it will get in a West Clare climate (at 60%). Within five minutes of playing I could hear her chanter (a Mickey Dunne with a big fat tone) going stuffy and quiet. Extrapolate that to your own low humidity.
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JohnnyKerr
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Re: Is it possible...

Post by JohnnyKerr » Tue Mar 08, 2011 9:13 am

@ OOTB, I am currently learning about reedmaking and have made a few on my own as well as a few under the instruction of another maker.

I know that a reed which is accustomed to a wetter climate will suffer in many ways when coming to a dryer climate but I just am not sure if a reed made and kept in a dry climate can ever sound and play close to a reed made and played in a wetter climate. I know that humidity affects reeds drastically but I don't know if a certain level of humidity is required for a reed to play with a nice fat tone (and without being super hard in playing characteristics). I hope I am making sense.

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Mr.Gumby
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Re: Is it possible...

Post by Mr.Gumby » Tue Mar 08, 2011 9:33 am

You can make a reed for drier conditions that will work well. I do believe that if you go below a certain level of humidity tone will suffer. In the same manner there's no cure cure for the July West Clare warm sea mist humidity that usually lands during the Willie Clancy week. As bad for reeds as it is for potato blight (especially as you'd be out for the week, not minding the spuds).
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PJ
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Re: Is it possible...

Post by PJ » Tue Mar 08, 2011 1:27 pm

I don't think that being in a humid or dry climate has as much an effect as changes in humidity. In other words, if you make a reed in the summer time when the temperature and relative humidity are high, don't expect it to perform well in winter when it is colder and drier. Even changes of a few degrees and humidity % points in one day can affect a reed.
PJ

verdatum
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Re: Is it possible...

Post by verdatum » Tue Mar 08, 2011 2:50 pm

Johnny, have you read David Daye's writings on the subject? He's done a lot of experimentation with the tempering of reeds for various climates. He describes a technique of heating and cooling the reed at various moisture levels, causing the reed to settle, and simulating the aging process. He also uses Thompson's water seal to make the reed more resistant to humidity changes. Other pipers treat reeds with oils, like almond oil or neatsfoot oil.

Another common technique is to just play with a portable humidifier pointed near your bellows intake.

The frustration really tempts me to pick up the pursuit of developing a quality composite synthetic reed. I suspect I'll regret it whenever I finally cave and get into it.
Pennywhistle: A dangerous gateway drug.

outofthebox
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Re: Is it possible...

Post by outofthebox » Wed Mar 09, 2011 5:28 am

I know that there is a lot of opposition to plastic reeds, but it is certainly worth experimenting with them. I started my reedmaking using plastic, just to learn the basics of putting a double reed together. I had some success with the thicker grade plastic from a fabric conditioner bottle from which I was able to make playable reed. It would be worthwhile doing some more experimentation with these to see if a sweeter tone can be achieved. When I am happy with my cane reed method, I intend to revisit these plastic reeds.

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dirk the piper
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Re: Is it possible...

Post by dirk the piper » Wed Mar 09, 2011 3:57 pm

Short answer: yes, it's possible to get a good tone in a dry climate. It happens regularly, and many traveling professional players have proven it. Longer answer: in Colorado, where the humidity has been seen as low as 12%, I have seen a handful of reeds that were made in wet climates play quite beautifully here. Most collapse, and become unplayable, mind you. However, some have survived. I have seen several reeds that were made in Ireland actually survive and play here just as well as in Ireland. Also, I make reeds here all the time, and they sound pretty much like reeds made anywhere else, with allowances made for my ability level of reed-making and playing. It's just that when you change the environment of a cane reed, it often changes things somewhat unpredictably, so you can't really count on the reeds behaving the same here if made elsewhere. Most of the reeds do change a lot, which scares a lot of good players away from this climate. Usually, the drier climate makes the reed shrink, and close. Opening it up again then means pushing on the edges of the reed, which seems a little to me like pushing on a rope. It makes for even more unpredictable results in most reeds, as the pushing on the edges causes weird buckling, and it's hard to control whether the cane relieves the pressure by flexing concave or whether it flexes in a more convex orientation, or even an S-curve. I have found that it's a bit more reliable to make a reed too open, and then push it closed with the bridle. If the reed shrinks, then you can relieve the central pressure from the bridle, rather than try to push it open from the sides.
-Dirk
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JohnnyKerr
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Re: Is it possible...

Post by JohnnyKerr » Sat Mar 12, 2011 10:14 am

Thanks to all who commented. Truth is, I've been lucky to have local resources for getting started on the pipes and extremely lucky to have playing reeds at all, everything considered (and thanks to my man, Jason). If it weren't for hearing my own pipes in a wetter climate or playing that Wooff B set in the coastal California air, I wouldn't have even known what I was missing tone-wise. I guess it's something to aspire to in my reed making. I had a feeling that this would be the case:
You can make a reed for drier conditions that will work well. I do believe that if you go below a certain level of humidity tone will suffer.
but the comments are encouraging. I was wondering in regard to Dirk's comments: we've had pipers such as Paddy Keenan come through here and sound fantastic as well. I am wondering if this is in part because (as I've heard) reeds absorb humidity at a fast rate but expell it at a slower rate. If this is really the case then perhaps their pipes make it through performances because they aren't around the climate long enough to lose all the moisture in the reeds. I know that when I first received my chanter from Kirk Lynch it played like a dream for several days before the reed died on me and had to be forced open to a honky, strident tone. I've been trying to copy that reed ever since but I'm just not skilled enough yet.

Thanks again.

outofthebox
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Re: Is it possible...

Post by outofthebox » Mon Mar 14, 2011 5:12 am

Does anyone know if the professional players use a humidifier of some kind to keep their reeds in good tone while they are on tour in America?

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PJ
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Re: Is it possible...

Post by PJ » Mon Mar 14, 2011 6:55 am

outofthebox wrote:Does anyone know if the professional players use a humidifier of some kind to keep their reeds in good tone while they are on tour in America?
Not while playing but I've heard of people using humidifiers in pipe cases while travelling by air.

Having said that I heard that Paddy Keenan had terrible trouble with the dry air at a concert in Colorado (at high altitude) and ended up putting a wet sponge into his bellows.
PJ

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