Jori Chisholm Bagpipe Lessons Q&A — Setting Up & Adjusting Drone Reeds, Reed Humidity Levels & more! - BagpipeLessons.com

Jori Chisholm Bagpipe Lessons Q&A — Setting Up & Adjusting Drone Reeds, Reed Humidity Levels & More!

by Jori Chisholm, Founder of BagpipeLessons.com
Last Updated: June 3, 2024

In today’s live video, I’ll answer your more of your questions about many important bagpipe topics., including: Drone Reed Set Up & Adjustment Optimal Humidity Levels for your Tone Protector and Tone Protector Reed Case The Foundation Reed and more…!

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

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Video Transcript: Hey everybody, thanks for tuning in live, Jori Chisholm here from BagpipeLessons.com. So I have been trying to up my game on the YouTube channel and part of that is making more edited videos and part of that is making some shorts.  You can check out the short videos which are under a minute and part of that is doing these lives. 

So these lives have been really fun and here we go. If you like these videos, please subscribe and click the little bell to get notified when I’m posting new things here on the YouTube channel. That helps me grow the channel, it helps YouTube know that you like the videos and it’ll share my videos with other pipers. 

So thank you. Cool, so we already have a couple of comments in the chat which is great so we’ll get right into it. Nancy Erwin says, “Calibrating drone reeds is something I don’t seem to understand very well.  Can you illustrate the process? I have read about it but watching it would be really helpful.”

Yes, let’s do that right now. I’ve got my bagpipes here, I’ve got a box of drone reeds and I’m going to show you how I would do it.  I’m going to just real quickly take my drone cords off so I can show you what my drone looks like on its own. Okay, there’s my outside tenor, my Atherton Legacy pipes. So I don’t know who came up with the word calibrating drone reeds, that’s not a word that most pipers I know use, although that word has sort of caught on online in recent years. 

What we’re looking to do is take your drone reed and set the pressure for that drone reed so that it matches the pressure of your pipe chanter reed. So why do we do that versus the other way around? Well, how hard your pipes are to blow is determined by the pipe chanter reed. That little cane reed that’s in your pipe chanter, that is the hardest part of your instrument. So if you were to hook up your Bagpipe Gauge to your pipes, this is my very popular Bagpipe Gauge, plugs the stopper into the end of one of your drones. 

I usually use the inside tenor, but either tenor works. You could do bass two if you wanted. And then this measures the pressure in your pipes. And that reading on the Bagpipe Gauge, that number that it gives you, say 30, that’s 30 inches of water. 

That’s how hard your pipes are. If it’s 35, it’s a lot harder. 40, now you’re getting into kind of crazy territory. And that’s determined by the reed. Not anything else. Now, obviously, if you have your drone reeds set up to where they’re taking too much air, or you have a leaky bag, or you have some joints that are loose, and you’re losing air there, that all contributes to your pipes taking more air.  But that’s not the same thing as your pipes are hard to play. And what I mean by when I say your pipes are hard to play, it means that the pressure is too high. 

So it’s two separate things. If your pipes don’t feel right, there’s a couple of things that it can be. Well, there’s more than a couple, but the two main things are: your pipe chanter reed is too hard, which means the pressure you’re required to blow into your pipes is too high to be comfortable. 

So you should check out the video on my YouTube channel called ‘Why Are My Pipes Too Hard?’ And it really goes into that into a lot of detail. But assuming your pipes are the right strength, you got a good efficient chanter reed, you’re keeping it in your Tone Protector so that it’s properly at the proper moisture level by controlling the humidity where you store the reed when you’re not playing. 

So your chanter reed is good. Now what you want to do is make sure your drone reeds are set up so that they do a few things. Number one, you want to make sure that when you’re playing, they don’t shut off. So they’re not set up so that they can’t handle the pressure that you’re blowing your pipes, right? Because you have three drones and a pipe chanter reed and they’re all in the same bag. 

So you have one pressure level for your entire instrument. So you need to know that that drone or all three drones are going to operate properly at the pressure that you’re blowing your pipes. And the pressure that you’re blowing and squeezing your pipes is determined by the pipe chanter reed. 

So on one hand, we want to make sure that the drone reed can handle the pressure that you’re blowing so that it doesn’t shut off. And on the other side, you want to make it as efficient as possible so that the drone reeds are taking the least amount of air possible and still give that nice steady efficient sound. 

So how do we do that? Well, let’s take a reed here. I have got a whole box of reeds. You’ve been playing as long as I have.  You got a lot of reeds around. So this is an Ezeedrone reed. And like all drone reeds, it’s tube and the tongue, there you can see it’s a clear, that clear plastic tongue. There we go. That’s a good shot. 

So the way the reed works is that as you blow air in your pipes and it goes through the stock, the air starts to travel underneath the tongue because there’s a little hole in there, a little hole you can see through the transparent tongue. And as the air starts to go underneath the tongue, through that hole, and out the reed, and out of the drone, the air starts to escape. And what happens is there’s a pressure differential, and there’s lower pressure inside the reed than on the outside, and then the tongue closes down.  And then once the tongue closes down, the springiness of the tongue pushes it back up. And then that process repeats. A drone, if it’s operating properly, a reed, if it’s operating properly in your drone, will have two tones. 

Sometimes you call that a double tone, not double tone in terms of a negative, like, “Oh, my drone’s double toning,” but you want to have those two tones. So as I blow softly, to start, there’s one tone, and as I increase the pressure, it’s going to kick into that second tone. 

Some reason we’ll make a little bit of a whistle or a squeal if you blow really softly. That’s just a feature of some drone reeds. Ezeedrones do that. I love Ezeedrones. They’re my favorite drone reeds, and you shouldn’t be afraid of that whistling thing. 

You just have to know how to deal with it. So in the pipes, what you need to do is give it just enough of a… When you strike it in, just give it enough of a pop that it doesn’t make that whistle. So here’s what we need to figure out. 

We need to figure out if that drone reed has… kicked in to that second tone. That’s the tone that is going when we’re playing our pipes. We want to make sure that when we strike in our pipes, first tone, when you strike in, you push your bag up, get your hands on the chanter, increase the pressure, bang, to bring in the chanter reed, right? 

That’s what happens when you’re doing a pipe band attack. Pipe Major calls off, drums do the roll, pipers all strike in their drones first, push it up, and then altogether we bring in the E. So there’s really three pressure levels. 

There’s no air pressure in the bag, so there’s no sound. There’s the first pressure level when we strike in the bag, but it’s drones only. And then there’s the third pressure level, which is when the chanter kicks in. 

And here’s what’s the important thing we need to figure out and we need to adjust, which is we need the drones to kick into that second pressure just before or at some point before the chanter reed kicks in.  We don’t want to have our E come in on the chanter and have the drones be in that first level. We need the drones to have kicked in. So if I’m striking in my pipes, it’s drones first, and then when the chanter kicks in, I go to that second sound, a little flutter thing that happens with some drones. 

Again, nothing to be afraid of. I actually really like that sound. And in the old days when we played the cane drone reeds, pipers would get that gurgly kind of motorboat warbling sound in between the first and the second tone.  It’s like it’s going in between one and two. And then when the full pressure comes in, it kicks into that clear second tone. That’s cool. I like that sound. Nothing wrong with it. So we just need to make sure that this drone reed is adjusted so that when my chanter reed comes in, it has kicked into the second tone. 

So how do we do that? How can we make adjustments to the pressure that this reed takes? Well, that’s what the bridle is for. So the reed is a tube with a hole with a vibrating tongue. That tongue is at a little bit of an angle. You can see that there. Let me show you some other reeds that I have. This is a Selbie reed, very similar to an Ezeedrone, but different color. Still a tube. And you can see the black plastic tongue, but you can see that little gap there, crucial that right there.  So if we want this reed to kick into that second that second level at lower pressure, we are going to scoot the bridle this way so that it closes that reed down.  So you can see a little angle there, like I’m gonna draw in here the Selbie is really cool. It has a clear tongue and it’s got this white body they call it imitation cane, it’s some kind of really cool plastic with kind of a wood grain to it.  So you see I’ve made little marks there with my blue pen to show where that bridle is.  I’ll just draw it a little bit longer there. So if I want this reed to kick in at a lower pressure, I just scoot the bridle towards the end of the tongue. 

So see what I’ve done there? Come on, focus. This camera is a great camera, but it loves to focus on my face. So you can see I’ve moved it forward a little bit. I should probably straighten it out so it’s not at an angle. There we go. So I’ve moved that forward. And actually, that amount is huge. That is a huge adjustment. So if I grab my ruler, that is probably… It’s about a millimeter and a half. So a millimeter we think of as being a tiny, tiny fraction of a distance.  But that’s a lot when you’re talking about drone reeds. So you can see that that tongue, there’s very little gap there. In fact, it doesn’t work at all. So I’ve gone too far. So I’m going to go back about halfway. 

And now it works. So I’ve gone halfway. I’ve gone just enough to have the blue line covered. So that’s how it works. You have your reed body and you have your tongue. Here’s your vibrating tongue. And that rubber band bridle is like a belt.  It’s like a strap that’s holding it down. Like somebody driving down the freeway with a mattress on the top of their car. And that rope, the air is blowing the mattress up and the rope is holding it down. 

And they probably have a hand out the window to hold it down. So that tongue wants to spring up. The bridle keeps it down. By sliding the bridle forward, it pushes it down a little bit more.  By sliding bridle backward, it lets it open up.  So basically the bridle works against the springiness of the tongue, that’s how it works.  And different drone reeds work in different ways.  The Ezeedrone is actually underneath the bridle.  The tongue actually has a little bit of like a fold in it, and it actually pops up. The Selbie tongues are curved so they all work in the same way, which is tongue wants to spring up, bridle pushes it down by scooting the bridle forward, you push it down more by scooting the bridle back, the tongue pops up more.  So that’s exactly how this thing is going to work.

So here’s how I would recommend you do it: what you want to do is adjust your bridles forward so that they take less air, so that they kick in at a lower pressure.  I can tell just by feel that I think I could close this down a little bit more.  And with an Ezeedrone I just take my fingernail and I push it forward a little bit.  And I do it on both sides.  The Ezeedrone bridles are very tight and because they’re tight, it takes a little bit of pushing the fingernail. What I’d recommend you do is draw a little line on there. One of these fine sharpie pens works really great. Or you can use a pencil, and that is just going to give you an idea of how far you’ve moved your bridle. 

So if I just just scoot it forward, I can feel it takes a little bit less pressure for that reed to kick in. Oh yeah, it’s good a little bit forward. Now you can’t tell where you are, but I can tell by the feel how hard I have to blow.  It’s much much easier to get that reed to kick into that second tone. So my goal here is I want this drone reed to be as easy as possible, because that means it’s going to kick in with a lower pressure. There’s also going to be less air flowing out of the reed.  So when there’s less air flowing out of the reed, it means I have to blow less.  I’m just less physically exhausted, my pipes feel good, and they’re more efficient.  It’s easier to play.

But what happens if you go too far? Well, what happens if you go too far, just like with the Selbie reed, when I moved it really far to make a demonstration, no sound.  Because what happens is that you’ve made the reed so easy that now the pressure that you’re giving the reed just shuts it down completely.  It slams that tongue down like a door slamming shut and it doesn’t have the springiness left to pop up.  So the reed will shut off.  So that’s how you know you’ve gone too far, and that’s how you figure out the exact sweet spot for your reed.  So you want to close it down by scooting the bridle towards the open end of the reed again to close that down as far as you can. Then if the drone reed shuts off when you’re playing at your strength, which is determined by your pipe chanter reed, then you push it back a little bit.  That’s it.  There’s other ideas out there on the internet which I don’t agree with.  Because that is the most important thing: you want this drone reed to be operating as efficiently as possible, meaning it’s taking the least amount of air possible for your strength, that you blow into your pipes, which is determined by the pipe chanter reed. 

So you may find out that, okay, my drones are perfect, I got them all calibrated, all three drones are all dialed in, I got my reed, and then I got a new reed. I got a new reed because my old one got too easy, and now I got a new reed, and my new reed is a little bit harder. Maybe I’m used to blowing a 28 on the Bagpipe Gauge, and now I’ve got to blow a 32 or even a 34, and now my drone shut off. So you have a couple of options, one would be you can open up all your drone reeds to accommodate that higher pressure, that’s one option. 

Another option would be to try to ease up your pipe chanter reed, and you can do that with an elastic bridle. Another one would be don’t do anything, if you’re just playing at home, just let your drone reed shut off and just blow the chanter.  That was the old Alasdair Gillies trick. He told me that he’d get these new reeds to be really hard, and all his drone reeds would shut off, and he didn’t care, he would just play with no drones, and then after a few hours of doing that, the chanter reed eases up, and then the drones will manage that lower pressure. 

So that’s my approach. I don’t like to mess with my drone reed bridles once I’ve had them set up. Ezeedrones are really, really good.  I’ve got a bunch of different Ezeedrones on the BagpipeLessons.com shop, they’re all great. 

My favorite one is with the classic style tenors, and the new style Increased Absorption Bass, it’s just a phenomenal bass, even if you don’t care about the moisture absorption feature, because you use a moisture control system that keeps your drones dry, as I do, like the Dri-Flo Bannatyne Lightweight Bagpipe Moisture Control Canister Drying System, it’s just an amazing bass reed. 

So the same thing with the bass, see if we can do this here, there’s my bass drone. There you go, it’s got the double tone. If you don’t have a double tone, the two tones, the first tone that comes in when you blow lightly, and the second tone that comes in when you blow harder, the chanter reed strength, if your reed and drone is not doing that, there’s a problem. 

I don’t consider that an option that, “Oh well that’s just how my pipes go.”  Well, what’s going to happen is that your pipes, that reed in that drone, will be inefficient and it will be wildly unsteady. 

So that’s just how the physics of these drones are set up. You need to find a way to get that nice double tone. I love that and sometimes you get it.  It actually kind of goes, it has like a thunk sound, and it really like has like a thunk sound.  And that is really good, it means it’s really happy and it’s kicked into that second tone.  So the way to test this is with your pipes and you can actually go one drone at a time.  Cork off two drones and start with one drone and strike in.  See if you can get that.  Well first thing you do the mouth blow and see if you can get the two tones there.  If it’s wildly easy or hard, you can make your first adjustment of your bridle there.  But if you think you’re pretty close, strike in see if you can get that first tone with a gentle strike in of the bag, get the bag up, and then when the chanter reed comes in, you want to make sure that it clicks into that second tone, then you’re good.  You may try playing and maybe just intentionally increase the pressure a little bit in the bag and see if that drone reed shuts off.  If it does, maybe need to open it up a little bit, or maybe you’re okay.  So you can repeat that process with each drone, and the thing that you’re looking for is that drone, it kicks into second tone by the time the E has come in, by the time your chanter comes in, that’s it.  I don’t do the thing of like squeeze super hard and try to get the drone reeds to shut off or anything like that.  That’s pointless to me because that is testing the reed in a scenario which will never happen.   If you’re using your Bagpipe Gauge, you can find out that, oh well if I just increase the the pressure in the bag, I have to go about 15 or 18 before the drones make any sound, and I can comfortably strike in and maintain anywhere between 20 and 25 and the drones all are fine.  And then I increase the pressure to about 30, and then all three drone reeds kick in, and my chanter reed kicks in and that’s great. Maybe if I get a little bit excited and I over blow a little bit and I go to 32 or 33, they still don’t shut off, and that’s great.  There’s no sense in (thinking that) it’s going well, I’m going to squeeze, and I want to make sure that they all shut off at 45.  My pipes never go that high.  So you want to make sure that the drone reeds all kick in by the time the chanter reed kicks in.  I hope that’s helpful.

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Alan McPhee’s got the comment: “I’m thinking of adapting a chanter reed pressure tester to use on drone reeds.”

I don’t use a chanter reed pressure tester, other than my own mouth and blowing on reeds.  What you need is the Bagpipe Gauge. So I’m working on a good idea for another video, which is to go through this entire process, setting up one drone reed at a time, and getting it exactly dialed in for the chanter reed pressure using the Bagpipe Gauge. 

So that’s a great idea. Cool. Another question from Alan is, “Will you explain the reed storage case? Is it to keep the reeds from being too wet or to keep them dry?”

So he’s talking about the Tone Protector™ Reed Case: Digital Reed Storage with Two-Way Humidity Control.  Desiccant is for absorbing moisture. Right, so here’s my Tone Protector Reed Case. This is a case for your chanter reeds that keeps them at a specific humidity level. And it’s got the Bovita packs in the back, which are the moisture packs.  I’ll show you what that looks like. And the Bovita pack is an amazing product, which is not a desiccant. These are humidity packs. So what they do, and when they’re new, they’re nice and puffy. I can feel a little bit of liquid moving around in there.  So the way these work, this is a permeable membrane. So no liquid comes out, but water vapor can come through, just like a Gore-Tex raincoat. So the reason we love Gore-Tex raincoats is that they keep the rain out. 

So water droplets don’t come through, and our clothes stay dry on the inside. But any moisture from our body, from our body heat, passes through. So if you’ve ever worn a rubber raincoat or a vinyl raincoat, it does a really good job for keeping out the rain.  But you get wet on the inside, because the moisture that comes off of your skin builds up on the inside. So that’s why we love Gore-Tex. That’s how this permeable membrane works in here. So what these packets do is they are two-way humidity control. 

This does not just release moisture and it does not just absorb moisture. And that’s why this is such an amazing innovation for the bagpipes because this is going to keep your reeds at a specific humidity level.  If it’s too dry, this is going to release moisture into the compartment where it is. So if it’s in your Tone Protector Reed Case, if the humidity in here is less than 75%, this is going to release moisture.  If the humidity in the reed case is more than 75%, this is going to absorb the moisture. So it’s like the thermostat in your house if you have heating and air conditioning.  It goes both ways and that’s why it’s such a genius two-way humidity control. 

For most people in most parts of the world, what the Tone Protector does with these moisture packs is it’s going to be releasing moisture into the Tone Protector and it’s going to be releasing moisture into your Tone Protector Reed Case because most places where people store their pipes, the humidity is less than what you want inside the Tone Protector. 

Not always, there are places where it is very humid. So if you live in an extremely humid place, and that humidity gets into your Tone Protector, that packet will actually absorb moisture. 

But for the most part, in most places in the world where pipers are, it’s not 84% or it’s not 75%. Maybe it might be outdoors, but a lot of people in those super humid places, we’re inside, they have air conditioning or we have dehumidifiers and that sort of thing. 

So that’s how that works. Some people occasionally email me and say, “Hey, I need to get some of the more desiccant packs.”  I just have to just let them know it’s not desiccant, it’s this two-way humidity control technology. 

How does it do it? Well, it does it through a specific salt. The details aren’t fresh enough in my mind to go into the chemistry of how that works, but there are specific salts that want to stabilize at a specific humidity level.  So that’s within these packets is water and that specific salt. I think they add a little bit of something to make it gummy so it’s not as runny inside. And there’s an anti-mold agent in there that’s totally food safe. It’s the kind of stuff they put in a lot of store-bought cakes and breads and stuff.  It’s just a minuscule amount, so you’re not ingesting it anyway. Yeah, so that’s how that works.

The number one thing you’re going to want to do if you want to get a good chanter sound, is you need to get good reeds and you need to store them in your Tone Protector Reed Case and then your Tone Protector Chanter Cap. So much of the hassles that we experience with our reeds is because the reeds are too dry. And it was amazing when I was working on the prototypes of my Tone Protector Reed Case. 

I got some reeds from the UK and as was typical in those days, they would just come in a little cardboard box, like wrapped in paper towels, or some sort of cotton wooly kind of stuff.  And they’re completely dry because it’s dry out there. And especially because it’s been in the back of a mail truck or in the bin in the back of the post office, or is on an airplane.  And it’s not like in some beautiful climate-controlled situation. It’s just in the bottom of the airplane, so it’s cold and dry. So by the time you get these reeds going through the postal service, whatever it takes, a week or two, they’re completely bone dry. 

And for this experiment, to test my prototype of my Tone Protector Reed Case and the humidity-controlling technology, I tested all the reeds. I think I had 36 reeds. And I just got a paper, and I numbered all the reeds on the paper.  And I gave a description for how the reed was in terms of its strength, in terms of its responsiveness or efficiency, if it was vibrating properly, if it was doing anything else that was notable, like it was collapsing on F, or super-crowy on high A, or trippy, so I went through all the reeds.  I mouth blew them, and I tested them in a pipe chanter, and I get a full description diagnosis of the reed. Then I put them in my Tone Protector Reed Case, and I waited, I think it was a week. And I came back, and I tested them again. 

And all of the reeds were vastly improved. And it was just a shocking moment for me and a very exciting moment to realize that so much of the problems that we have with reeds was simply that the reeds are too dry. So it was a very exciting moment, and it proved that this technology really had some potential to help pipers. So I went from having just a couple reeds in that initial test that I considered to be good. 

If I was testing the reeds at a reedmaker in a shop, I would have just counted most of those reeds, except for maybe a couple, and said, “OK, these ones are good. I don’t want to buy the rest of those. Those are junk.”  I went from that scenario to the complete opposite, which is they were almost all great.  And that was amazing!  So that’s the first thing that I do, is make sure that all my reeds are in my Tone Protector Reed Case.  That’s what I recommend you do too. Cool all right.

Thiago is saying in the comments, “I always have some problems with my chanter reeds: it’s always hard to blow and keep easy.” 

So there you go, the first thing is to get good reeds.  There’s no magic in the Tone Protector that’s going to take a truly bad or defective or poorly-made pipe chanter reed and make it great. But it will make your reeds better than they would be if they were dried out for sure. I think a lot of the problems we have with reeds is just because they’re too dry.  If your reeds are the right humidity level, and they’re still too hard, what you need to do is put an elastic band on the reed. 

So I just last week released a new product on my BagpipeLessons.com shop called the BagpipeLessons.com Precision Tuning Tool Kit. And it’s got everything you need to adjust your pipe chanter reeds and to get your reeds in tune, get your chanter in tune. 

So one of the things that it has, well, it’s got four things. It’s got my Piper’s Ultimate Reed Poker, and this is for when your reeds get too easy. You open up the reed from the inside. So you take your poker, stick the reed on it.  Now it’s not doing anything. But if I use my thumb as a guide, maybe one or two millimeters, and push, I can feel the resistance and then pull it out. And what I’ve done is I’ve opened up the reed from the inside. 

So the reed has those two little blades of cane and on that little hole there, and it just opens it up very slightly. So if your reed is too easy, sometimes that can be a new reed that’s too easy, but typically it’s a reed that was really good and was the perfect strength and you had it for a while and then it started to get too easy.  So poking it will bring that reed back to life. You really want to have one of these Piper’s Ultimate Reed Pokers with you because sometimes your reed will go right at the worst moment, as you’re warming up for a performance competition. 

Maybe it’s a warmer day. Maybe that reed was just giving you some hints that you didn’t notice, or were ignoring because you loved that reed, and had been so great for so long and it starts to chirp or stuff to go really sharp on some of the top-hand notes. 

Tiny little poke, tiny, tiny poke will bring that reed back to life and extend that reed’s life. That’s for reeds that are too easy. If you have reeds that are too hard, I’ve got in my Precision Tuning Tool Kit elastic bridles.  So these are tiny little elastic bands like rubber bands. I have experimented with many different sizes and strengths and materials over the years, and this is the one that is the very best. So you put it on fingers like this, put it over the reed, and double it and double it again. So now it is tight and low on that reed. So what does that do? Well it does the opposite of poking. It pushes down on the reed and it closes it down. So that makes it easy, easier to blow, takes less pressure, takes less air. 

It’s just like with our drone reeds, we scoot the bridle forward, and that closes the tongue down. Same thing here: the bridle, by scooting this up, it closes the reed by pushing the blades together. I pretty much go about a third or a quarter of the way up, and that’s all. I don’t go any higher. These are my Foundation reeds, and you can see there’s that beautiful little ridge there. Yeah, you can see that. So it’s sort of wide on the bottom, and then there’s a ridge here, and then it angles in. I don’t go any higher than the top of the ridge. So you can see that there. Yep, that’s as high as I go. If you find that the reed is too hard with the elastic band there, and you’ve gone as high as you can, and it still needs to be easier, I would double that rubber band one more time, make the rubber band tighter.  And what that elastic does is it’ll push it down. The reason you don’t want to go high is that when you get above that ridge, the reed gets quite wide up here, and what ends up happening is that the elastic is actually pushing in from the edges of the reed instead of this way.  Instead of closing it, it starts to push in from the edges of the reed, and you can have all kinds of problems there. 

So in my Precision Tuning Tool Kit, you’ve got the Pipers Ultimate Reed Poker.  Bring those reeds back to life and extend the life of your reeds. Saves you a ton of money. You don’t have to throw out your reeds. You’ve got the Precision Tuning Professional Grade Elastic Reed Bridles to take your hard reeds and make them easier. 

I’ve had reeds where I put the bridle on there to make the perfect strength, and I just play the reed. And the reed sounds great, and it kind of breaks in, and it’s perfect. I’ve also had reeds where I had the plastic on there for a while, and then it starts to get a little bit too easy, and then I just have to scoot it down. And then maybe it got a little bit easier, and then I scoot it down. And if you scoot it down onto the wrapping, it doesn’t do anything. And it’s just there for safekeeping. The elastic bridle is something that you use to adjust the reed to get it to the right strength for you. 

It’s not necessarily a temporary thing, although it could be. The other thing that I have in my tool kit is a sanding pad. And the sanding pad is just to take a little bit of cane off the blades to free up the reed. 

So the first thing you want to do, just to review, is make sure that your reeds are at the right humidity level, that they’re not too dry. And you do that by storing them in the Tone Protector Reed Case or with the Tone Protector Chanter Cap. Those things over my shoulder there. The second thing you do is you make sure the reed is the right strength. It’s either poked if it’s too easy, or use the elastic bridles if it’s too hard. If the reed’s the right strength and it’s the right humidity level, but it’s still inefficient, meaning you’re playing and it’s just not giving the free, bright, projecting, crisp rich sound that we like, it could be that the reed needs to be freed up and we do that with my sanding pad. So check out the toolkit, my BagpipeLessons.com Precision Tuning Tool Kit at BagLessons.com/toolkit. That’s the product page and you can check out all the pictures of everything there or find the video on my YouTube channel that I just put out this week about the toolkit and it shows how that sanding pad works. 

It’s like a very thin piece of foam, almost like a sponge, like a soft squishy foam with the perfect grit of sanding material on top, like a sandpaper kind of material. I’ve tested a bunch of different grits and a bunch of different materials and this is just perfect.  That foam rubber just gives you the perfect little soft cushion for that reed, and it’s a really cool demonstration if you can take a reed that’s sort of going, which means this reed is maybe a little bit too hard. But you can take a reed which is the right strength, but it’s just not giving that beautiful clear tone that we like. This reed you put in a chanter is going to have a great sound: boom, loud on the top and the bottom. When pipers talk about “A balanced sound,” what they usually mean is that it’s not just that it’s in tune, it’s that the volume is balanced.  It’s nice and loud and broad and projecting up and down the whole scale.  Sometimes you can get a reed which is really loud on the bottom, but then as you go up the scale it gets harder and harder to produce any sound.  So you’re blowing the same strength up and down the scale, but there’s just no sound coming out of the top, and that’s what this reed does, which is just scratchy. 

I can be really hard, or just as hard on the top, and it’s not responding. So that’s what the sanding pad is for. Just a little bit on both sides and wow, it frees it right up. So check that out at BagpipeLessons.com/toolkit, my Precision Tuning Tool Kit. 

The other thing that’s in the kit is the very best chanter tuning tape. This is the tape that I’ve been using for years. It’s the half inch width, so it’s the perfect width to fit between the holes. You don’t need to be cutting it lengthwise and it’s got this really, really good adhesive and just got just the right amount of stretch and it’s nice and thin too.  So I’ve tried other tapes, I’ve tried every kind of electrical tape I can get my hands on. I’ve tried these various things you can buy online: special bagpipe tape, which can be very expensive. None of them come close to the professional grade tuning tape that I have in my toolkit, so check that out. 

OK, this is great. We’ve got another question in the chat, which is, “How often do you need to change the humidity packs in the Tone Protector?”

I would say most people get many, many months out of them, maybe a half a year or even a year or longer. It all depends on how humid it is, where you live, and how much you play, right? So as I said before, the humidity packs work by releasing moisture into your Tone Protector when it’s drier in the Tone Protector than the specified humidity level. 

For the Tone Protector Chanter Cap, it’s 84%. And the packets that come with it are 84%. And for the Tone Protector™ Reed Case, we use a very slightly lower humidity level because that tends to be for long-term storage, 75%.  And both the reed case and the chanter Cap are designed not to be completely sealed. So that means a little bit of that moisture comes out of the packet into the Tone Protector then escapes, and that’s by design. 

We don’t want to seal it up. Sealing it up would have the packets last longer, but sealing it up also doesn’t let in any fresh air and can lead to mold. So we don’t want mold. So another area where these humidity packs are used is for high-end musical instruments like violins or guitars. If you live in an extremely dry climate, people will keep their instrument in a case with these packs in it. Also people who have cigars.  A cigar humidor is similar in terms of how the Tone Protector works: where you have something in there that you want to have kept at just the right amount of moisture, not too much, not too little. Having it in a somewhat sealed environment, but not completely sealed, is what we want.

So it all depends on how dry it is where you live. If you live in an extremely dry climate, that means that this Tone Protector Reed Case is having to work a lot harder to get it to 75% or the Tone Protector cap is having to work a lot harder to get to 84%. It means that there’s going to be more moisture coming out of the pack. It’s going to get used up and depleted quicker. So the way that you know that it’s working is if you look at the hygrometer which is a little digital readout on your Tone Protector.  It should be right at the precise humidity level that you’re going for: 75% for the case or 84% for the cap. Or close to it.  Plus or minus a little bit is okay, but if it’s significantly lower, like I would say if you’re consistently five percentage points less than you want it to be, that’s a sign that that packet has been dried up and needs to be replaced. It’s really easy to tell you know, just pull the packets out and you’ll go, “Oh, it’s hard and crunchy.” 

It’s kind of all dried up compared to what it was like when it was new, when it has that nice soft puffy feel with the water.  The other thing that will help your packs last longer is if you play regularly. Because every time you play, you’re blowing this hot steamy breath into your reed or into your pipes. Some of that moisture gets into the reed and then some of it will be in the reed. So that will affect that also, the Tone Protector cap also goes over the hemp. 

So if there’s any little bit of moisture in your hemp, that’s also going to be in the Tone Protector. So that idea of playing moisture into the reed is not going to affect your Tone Protector Reed Case as much because this is usually for long-term storage of reeds and breaking in of new reeds.

Okay, one more question here: “Have you run tests on new reeds if they sit dry, and then get put in humid conditions, versus starting there? Do you think that reeds that dry out can’t come back to their original potential?”

I think they can for sure yeah, so if you have a box of reeds as many of us do, if you’ve been piping for a while, and you’ve got these little boxes of reeds, like cardboard boxes or in little baggies or whatever, there might be some great reeds in there.  If you’re like me, you hate to throw out reeds that you spent good money on, even if they’re no good.  I know I’ve spent thousands of dollars over the years on reeds that I never played because they just weren’t any good. Some of those could actually be good. And some of them, if they’ve never been in a Tone Protector, they might be really good. 

So that’s exactly what I would do. Get your Tone Protector Reed Case. Get those reeds in there and see. Let them sit, I’d say a couple of days, maybe five days or a week if you’re not in a hurry. And then you can even replicate the study that I did.  Test all your reeds and go, yep, these are all not that good. These are too hard. These are not responsive. These are chirpy. These are bad reeds. And then stick them in your Tone Protector Reed Case and then wait a week and see what happens. 

Some of the reads might not be good, but I would expect they are going to be a lot better, that’s been my experience. So I’ve got a drawer of all kinds of reeds over there, and sometimes they’re like, okay, that reed is better.  Maybe it’s not great. Some of the reeds are no good and some of the reeds might be great. So it’s worth doing the experiment. And that way you know if that reed has been in your Tone Protector Reed Case for a week, and you’ve tested it and for whatever reason, it’s too chirpy, it’s really unbalanced, then you can throw it out and you know that you gave it a good shot.  There’s no reason to keep that reed. 

Okay, last question, then we’re going to wrap it up. This has been really good. Thanks everybody for the live chat. I’ve got a list of prepared questions and hardly got to them. But before I get to the last question, I just want to say thanks to everybody. Make sure you subscribe. I’d love it if you subscribe to the YouTube channel and hit the little bell icon to be notified. Check out my new BagpipeLessons.com Precision Tuning Tool Kit at BagpipeLessons.com/toolkit. 

I’ll put all the links in the description below. Check out my Bagpipe Essentials Masterclass. One of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my piping teaching career is this course of 31 high quality detailed videos on all of the essentials of bagpipe technique from putting your hands on the practice chanter for the very first time, going through all of our gracenotes, doublings, bottom hand embellishments, tachums, GDEs, crossing noises, good form, the works. 

So check that out at BagpipeLessons.com/masterclass. And if you are thinking about that, but you want to get even more, join my BagpipeLessons.com Inner Circle, which is a membership. I do weekly Zoom classes like this, but you get to join me on Zoom. 

And actually we have a conversation face-to-face and I have a lesson library with hundreds and hundreds of lessons on every piping topic, there’ve been hundreds of them that are now recorded. You can go back and watch them anytime from your phone or iPad or phone or a computer. So check that out at BagpipeLessons.com/membership. And if you’re thinking about that and the Masterclass, the Masterclass is included for free with the Inner Circle. So you don’t need to sign up for those separately. Saves you some money. 

So let’s take a look at the final question here for a wrap up. Alan says, “The Tone Protector Cap is open to the atmosphere through the reed.”

That’s exactly right. So reeds in the chanter, Tone Protector cap comes over it. There’s a little bit of a gap here, but then also the air can escape through the reed into the chanter. And that’s by design. You don’t want to seal it. It’s designed to work with a little bit of fresh air and breathability and that reduces your chances of mold. That’s the best way we’ve figured out. 84% packets in the Tone Protector Chanter Cap that’s what they come with. For the Tone Protector Reed Case, they come with the 75% humidity level packets.  So check those all out on my BagpipeLessons.com/shop or you can go to ToneProtector.com.  It takes you right to the page with all the info for everything you need for your Tone Protector. One last thing: if you do need a good chanter reed, check out my Foundation reed

Since I started talking about these reeds on the YouTube channel, I can hardly keep them in stock. It’s BagpipeLessons.com/foundation. This is the best chanter reed I’ve ever played in my life. It’s a collaboration between myself and Melvin Reed Makers, and these reeds are special reeds made exactly how I want them in terms of the responsiveness, the efficiency, the brightness, and the stability. 

They work in all pipe chanters that I’ve tested. Of course my favorite chanter is the Infinity chanter, but they will work in any pipe chanter.  If you want a really good reed, and you just want to buy the number of reeds that you need, and not like eight reeds to get one or twelve reeds to get one or two.  These Foundation reeds are guaranteed. I give you my personal guarantee that you’re going to love these reeds. If you don’t, I will give your money back, or I will send you another reed. I personally hand pick every one of these reeds that goes out the door. 

They are made then transported in Tone Protector Reed Cases the whole way.  I will send it to you in a sealed container that you can put right in your chanter, put your Tone Protector on it, or put it right in your Tone Protector Reed Case. 

Guys, you’re going love these reeds. I had a really hard time keeping them in stock, but finally I got a huge order and they’re ready to go.  So you don’t have to wait if you need a new reed for the season, for band, or for solo, or just for practicing, or playing for fun. Check out my Foundation reeds, you’ll be happy.  I’m getting lots of repeat customers for these Foundation reeds.  They cost more, but they are worth it because you don’t have to pay for reeds that are garbage.  You just buy the number of reeds that you want, and at the exact strength that you want, and you’ll be happy.  So check those out.  Okay well that’s it.

We’re kind of getting into the end of May here, which is exciting for a lot of us.  Competition season is just around the corner, so good luck! And we’ll see you next time here at BagpipeLessons.com or on my Youtube channel.  Thanks everybody, mahalo.

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