BagpipeLessons.com Precision Tuning Tool Kit - BagpipeLessons.com

BagpipeLessons.com Precision Tuning Tool Kit

by Jori Chisholm, Founder of BagpipeLessons.com
Last Updated: May 20, 2024

I’m thrilled to introduce you to my new BagpipeLessons.com Precision Tuning Tool Kit, designed to help you get your bagpipe chanter and reed set up perfectly. This kit includes everything you need to achieve a great sound, making your pipes easier to play and ensuring they stay in tune.

The pipe chanter reed is the most crucial component of your bagpipes. Hand-made from cane, these reeds require precise adjustments to get the right sound and feel. Whether your reed is too hard, too easy, or just inefficient, my tool kit has you covered.

I’ll show you how to make these adjustments without damaging the reed, so you can focus on your music and performance. The BagpipeLessons.com Precision Tuning Tool Kit includes professional-grade elastic chanter reed bridles, the Piper’s Ultimate Reed Poker, a precision sanding pad, high-performance chanter tuning tape, and a stylish microfiber pouch to keep everything organized. These tools have been essential in my tuning process for years, and I’m excited to offer them to you in one convenient package.

Watch the video and scroll down to read the full video script.

Video Transcript: The pipe chanter reed is the single most important component of your bagpipes, affecting both how your pipes sound and how they feel to play. And pipe chanter reeds, because they are hand made from a natural material, cane, take the most adjustment and tuning to get it right.  Chanter reeds can be too hard, especially when they are new. They can also get too easy, usually after you’ve been playing them for a while  causing chirps, squeals, instability, and tuning problems.  And even reeds that are the right strength can be inefficient and lacking that clear, bright, and efficient, projecting sound that pipers love.

That’s why I’m so excited to tell you about my new BagpipeLessons.com Precision Tuning Tool Kit. It includes everything you need to get your bagpipe chanter and reed set up perfectly so you can enjoy a great sound with pipes that are easy to play and stay in tune and so you can focus on your music and performance.  These tools and supplies have been an essential part of my tuning process for years, and I’m excited to offer them to you for the first time in one convenient bundle at a great price.

Let’s take a close look at my new BagpipeLessons.com Precision Tuning Tool Kit and how you can use it to get your pipes in tune quickly and easily.

Typically when you get a new pipe chanter reed, you want it to be slightly harder than your final desired strength because the reed will ease up a bit once it’s been played. The reed gets a little easier, more responsive, and efficient. But what do you do with a reed that is too hard – sometimes so hard that you can’t even play it to start that break-in process?

First, make sure to store in a Tone Protector so it’s not too dry. Use the Tone Protector chanter cap on your chanter and store your other reeds in the Tone Protector™ Reed Case. These are my award-winning and popular products that I invented, used by pipers around the world. To learn more about how reeds are affected by moisture, Check out my video on my channel called “How to Protect Your Sound: What Every Piper Needs to Know About Moisture, Humidity and Bagpipe Reeds.”  Links to the video and the Tone Protector Chanter Cap and Reed Case are in the description below.

When selecting a reed, try to find one that has the right strength and responsiveness. A reed that’s just slightly harder than your desired playing strength is usually a good place to start.

But what do you do with a reed that’s too hard for you to even break in?

You need to make the reed easier to play without damaging or permanently altering it. I used to lick, pinch, or scrape my reeds, but I’ve stopped that entirely since I started using the Tone Protector and these Professional Grade Elastic Chanter Reed Bridles.

I like to put the bridle low on the reed and double or triple it so it’s nice and tight.

I never go higher than about 1/3 of the way up the reed.  By keeping it low and tight it pushes the blades closer together which makes the reed easier to play.  It also will raise the pitch of the reed, too.  I’ve had reeds where I put the bridle on and it just stays there.  I’ve also had reeds where after some playing time the reed gets a little too easy and then I just slide the bridle down which makes the reed a little less easy.  You can even slide it all the way down onto the wrapping, where it doesn’t have any effect anymore but it’s there in case you need it.

These elastic reed bridles are adjustable and non-permanent. Unlike other methods like scraping, sanding, or pinching, these bridles allow you to make adjustments without causing any harm to the reed.   Since every reed is made from a unique piece of cane, the adjustable bridles allow you to make fine-tune adjustments to get the strength of your reed perfect for you. This flexibility is crucial in ensuring your reed always performs at its best, adapting your reed to your desired playing strength.

This is a much better solution than scraping the reed or cutting the cane, which can’t be undone. Those methods can also make the reed unstable and shorten its life. Pinching the reed isn’t good either because it can damage the reed and make it very unstable. For years, I used to lick and pinch my reed before playing. But since I started using the Tone Protector, I don’t need to lick my reeds anymore. And with the elastic bridle, I don’t have to pinch or scrape them either. I haven’t licked or pinched a reed in years, and the reed life and stability have been amazing.

I’ve experimented with many types over the years, trying different diameters, thicknesses, materials, and colors. These elastic bridles included with my Precision Tuning Tool Kit are the best for bagpipe chanter reeds in terms of size, strength, and tightness. Smaller ones are too tight and difficult to get on, while larger ones can be too loose. The material matters too; some of the colored or clear elastics don’t hold their shape, get overstretched, and stop working effectively. I selected these elastic bridles since they maintain their shape, are easily adjustable,  and provide the perfect amount of tension to make your reed the perfect strength for you.

What about a reed that is too easy?

If you have a reed that is too easy, it often becomes sharp, meaning it’s too high-pitched, or thin, meaning it is quiet and doesn’t project well, especially on the top hand. You might hear chirping sounds on gracenotes or certain note combinations, especially when moving from higher to lower notes, or even get squealing sounds. This can happen with a brand new reed that is just too easy, or more commonly, with a reed you’ve been playing for a while that starts to get too easy. It might serve you well for a long time, but one day you notice a chirp, squeal, or it starts to go sharp. That’s a sign that the reed is getting too easy. So, what do you do now?

If you have an elastic bridle on the reed, move it all the way down or remove it completely. If it’s still too easy, some pipers might throw that reed away and buy a new one. But you don’t need to do that if you have the Piper’s Ultimate Reed Poker.

It’s THE essential tool for making a reed that is too easy stronger and more stable. Just like using an elastic bridle to make a hard reed easier, the Reed Poker opens up the reed from the inside. This makes the reed a bit stronger, brings back its clear sound, and eliminates the chirps and squeals.

Over time, I’ve found that some of my best reeds were ones I had poked. I would play a reed for a while, break it in, and it would get really good but maybe a tad too easy. A tiny poke with the Reed Poker, and suddenly, it’s just right. The reed, having gone through the break-in process, just needs that little poke to open up and regain its full sound and stability.

Because of the unpredictability of pipe chanter reeds, sometimes a reed can start to go right before a performance. If you have my Precision Tuning Tool Kit with the Piper’s Ultimate Reed Poker in your pipe case, you can give your reed the little poke it needs, and you and your reed are back in action in 60 seconds or less.

The Piper’s Ultimate Reed Poker comes in this nice little storage tube. The key is the design. It has a wooden handle and a steel tip that is round and tapered, the perfect shape for precisely controlling how much you want to open up your reed.

The round, tapered tip makes it simple to use. Start by inserting the poker into the reed from the bottom. Do this gently until it stops. At this point, the poker has made contact with the inside of the staple, but you haven’t done anything yet. Due to the tapered shape, the deeper you push the poker into the reed, the more the reed will open up. It’s always smarter to start with a small poke and see if it improves your reed. I use my thumb as a marker and just go maybe a millimeter or two.

Now push harder and you’ll feel a tiny bit of resistance. Continue until your thumb touches the reed, then stop. Use your thumb to push on the bottom of the reed and pull to remove the poker. 

From blowing the reed, you can feel it’s taking the right amount of air and will be comfortable to play.

If you test the reed and it’s still too easy, you can give it another poke. It’s always better to give it a tiny poke and then another one or two more, rather than over-poking the reed.

I’ve seen other reed poker designs that are square and blunt without a tapered tip. These pokers require twisting, which is risky—you can easily damage your reed. The precise adjustments you can get with the Piper’s Ultimate Reed Poker just aren’t possible with these other designs. The square edges on these pokers can easily get stuck inside the reed, whereas the Piper’s Ultimate Reed Poker slides in and out smoothly and easily.

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But having a reed at the right strength isn’t enough. To achieve a great bagpipe sound, your reed must project efficiently, giving you a bright, clear sound with minimal effort. This is a crucial aspect often overlooked or misunderstood.

Think of the pipe chanter as a megaphone that amplifies the sound created by the reed. The chanter itself doesn’t produce any sound; it merely changes the pitch via the holes and amplifies the sound through its cone-shaped bore, which starts narrow and widens out. The reed is responsible for making the sound by vibrating when air flows through it. The key to a great chanter sound lies in the sound the reed makes during the blow test. You want a clear, bright sound where you can blow through the crow at a comfortable strength.

If the reed is too hard, use an elastic bridle. If it’s too easy and produces a high-pitched squeal, use the Reed Poker. But if the strength seems right, yet the reed doesn’t give a clear tone, it’s not vibrating efficiently. Another sign is when the chanter is loud on the bottom hand notes but gets quieter as you go up the scale, despite blowing hard. 

This means the reed isn’t translating your blowing effort into sound effectively.

Here’s where the Precision Soft-Foam Chanter Reed Sanding Pad comes in.

Using the sanding pad is simple and easy. First, blow the reed on its own.  If it produces a crowy sound that doesn’t clear up even when you blow harder, it’s time to sand the reed. 

Gently place the reed on the sanding pad and slide it down an inch or so. You’ll see some cane left on the pad and notice where you’ve sanded the reed. Repeat this on the other side of the reed.

Be careful—it doesn’t take much. If you press too hard or take off too much cane, you can ruin the reed. But just the right amount can free up the reed.

Now blow the reed again and listen for that clear tone. You’ll feel the reed is freer and really projecting nicely. When you pop it back in the chanter, it’s more efficient, and the bright, clear tone comes through all the way up the scale, from the bottom to the top hand notes.

This is important: don’t sand the reed to make it easier. Use the sanding pad only to free up the reed, enabling it to vibrate freely and produce a clear tone when you blow the reed on its own and a bright, clear, projecting, and balanced sound in the pipes.

Never use a knife or a razor, and stay away from the bottom of the reed.  I have experimented with different types of materials and found the perfect Soft-Foam Sanding Pad for pipe chanter reeds, it’s powerful and gentle and allows you to precisely take off just the perfect amount of cane to unleash the potential of your reeds.  This can be used on new or old reeds to help them perform their best. Sometimes a reed can perform well for a long-time and then start to feel dead or non responsive as the cane breaks in with playing and often just the tiniest amount of sanding of the cane blades frees up the reed and it’s back to delivering that efficient, bright, and stable sound.

Once your reed is the right strength and vibrating properly, it’s time to play the pipes and see how the reed sounds. Most pipers spend a lot of time tuning their pipes, and for a truly great sound, you want your drones to be in tune with each other and in tune with the low A, AND you also want every note on the scale to be perfectly tuned so it harmonizes with the drones.

Bagpipes are unique in that they have a continuous drone sound, so every melody note played on the chanter should blend and not clash with the drone. We achieve this by adjusting the reed depth in the chanter reed seat and by applying tape to the holes.

Once your reed is at the right humidity level, strength, and is vibrating properly, it’s time to listen to how it sounds in the chanter. Even with a great chanter like the Infinity, you’ll need to fine-tune each note to get the perfect sound. The sound is created by a combination of the chanter and reed together, and every reed is different because they are made by hand from natural cane, and every piece of cane is slightly different.

So when you play, you want to adjust the tuning for each note to get it perfectly in tune. This means achieving a specific pitch based on the drone so that each note is as in tune as it can be with the drone. You can do this by ear or using your smartphone with my popular InTune Mic and a tuning app like the  Braw Bagpipe Tuner. You can tune by ear but it’s 10 to 20 times faster using the InTune Mic and a tuner app.

Here’s how pitch works: The length of the air column, from the reed to the end of the drone, determines the pitch. The longer the air column, the lower the pitch. The same principle applies to the chanter. Think of the open hole as the end of the chanter. The distance from the reed to the top of the open hole determines the pitch. When you cover part of the top of the hole, the air travels further, lowering the pitch.

This is how tape works: If you put a little bit of tape at the top of the hole, it effectively lowers the top of the hole, lengthening the distance the air needs to travel, and therefore makes that note a little bit lower in pitch—flatter. We use tape to adjust a note that is too sharp (too high in pitch) and make it flatter or lower in pitch. It works really well and allows pipers to get precision control of the tuning of every note on the chanter.

I’ve experimented with many different types of tape for chanter tuning, and I found the best is the High-Performance Chanter Tuning Tape included in this kit. 

Here’s why I love this tape: It is the perfect width for chanter tuning. It maximizes the surface area for a secure fit but is not so wide that you need to cut it lengthwise to fit between the holes. The perfect amount of stretch comes from the thickness of the material and the stretchiness of the tape itself. I’ve tried thicker, stiffer tapes, and they don’t hold as securely and also don’t feel as nice under the fingers when you play. It’s made from a durable material with the perfect amount of stretch and a professional-quality adhesive that works in all conditions. This tape allows you to make precise adjustments to the pitch of each note, ensuring your chanter is perfectly in tune.

I’ve tried every brand of tape I can get my hands on, from basic electrical tape you can find at your local hardware store, to expensive tapes marketed as “special” bagpipe tape. This is the best chanter tuning tape I’ve ever used and allows me to get my notes perfectly tuned.

Using my High-Performance Chanter Tuning Tape, you can make precise adjustments to ensure each note on your chanter is in perfect harmony with your drones. You’ll know that any tiny adjustments you make will hold and your pipes will be ready to play when you are — in any conditions.  This allows you to focus on your music and playing, knowing your pipes are set up to sound great, feel great to play, and stay in tune.

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I'm Jori Chisholm. I created BagpipeLessons.com to help you fulfill your dream of becoming a piper. I hope to see you soon at weekly online sessions of my Inner Circle.

Finally, keep all your tuning tools organized and protected in this stylish, BagpipeLessons.com Signature Microfiber Pouch. This keeps everything in one place and makes it easy to carry your tuning tools wherever you go and shows the world that you are serious about your piping and about getting a good sound.

You love to play your pipes, and you love to play even more when your pipes sound great, feel great, and stay in tune. Take your pipe chanter sound and tuning to the next level with my BagpipeLessons.com Precision Tuning Tool Kit. It’s got everything you need to get a great sound, from making hard reeds easier to play with elastic bridles, to strengthening easy reeds with the Piper’s Ultimate Reed Poker, to ensuring your reed vibrates freely with the sanding pad, and finally, to fine-tuning each note with the tuning tape.

These are the exact tools that have been an essential part of my tuning process for years, and I’m excited to offer them to you for the very first time in one convenient and comprehensive package. It’s the best of everything I use and trust to help me get a great sound.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to elevate your piping experience. Visit https://bagpipelessons.com/toolkit to get your BagpipeLessons.com Precision Tuning Tool Kit today.

For more tips, tricks, and tutorials, subscribe to our channel and hit the bell icon to get notified about our latest videos. Check out BagpipeLessons.com/learn for more resources, including videos, lessons, and guides. Download my free PDF guide called “How to Achieve a World-Class Bagpipe Sound” – the link is in the description below.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments section below.  

If you are looking to take your piping to the next level, please check out my BagpipeLessons.com Inner Circle that gives you full access to the very best at BagpipeLessons.com including weekly live interactive online classes for pipers of all skill levels and access to my exclusive lesson library filled with hundreds of videos, lessons, tunes, exercises, demonstrations, and more, covering EVERY topic in piping, from music theory to technique, to tuning maintenance, setup, and so much more. And you get personalized support from me to help you reach your piping goals. To find out more about joining my Inner Circle, please visit https://bagpipelessons.com/membership.

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These tips are based on my 30+ years of experience as a piper and teacher to pipers of all ages and ability levels from around the world.
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