Frequently Asked Questions

Feel free to e-mail me any question about Pipes, Pipe Making, Reeds, even playing.


Q. I've been told to ask for a D Chanter because I'm a beginner. What do you suggest.
A. Probably good advise. D Chanters are 14.25" (give or take) and are the easiest chanter to manage stretch-wise. Nearly all lessons, tutors, videos, etc. are conducted in 'D' and most of the printed music is written in suitable keys for 'D' Chanters. If you want to play with others in sessions etc. D will fit with fiddle, flute, concertina, etc.
Q. How do I know if a Chanter is any good or if it is in tune.
A. Ask an experienced player to check it out. Use your own ear and intelligence anyway. Ask to hear the chanter played against drones or equivalent. Each note should sound harmonious. If you are in doubt ask for another reed - a good chanter will sound good with most reeds.
Q. My Chanter is 15" and my Set is pitched in D, can you make this Chanter play with my Set to A=440
A. Over the years I have brought several Sets up/down a semi-tone or more. It is never completely satisfactory. The problems mainly arise with the Chanter (good Drones can usually be made to play a full tone up/down and good Regulators distorted by a semi-tone). A good Chanter always 'sings' at a particular pitch (rarely a pitch based on A=440), regardless of length or the nominal pitch. Once the Chanter moves from that natural pitch I find there is always a loss of tone and a gradual breakdown of stability - breaking back D, odd E's, and other distortions. Even moving the pitch up/down by 30 - 40 cents you will find the Chanter affected by humidity and temperature much quicker than a similar Chanter playing at natural pitch.
Q. Do you make Chanters in plastic, nylon, or other synthetic material.
A. Not now. I made some Chanters in nylon 12 years ago. I found the sound was OK, however, nylon is expensive and difficult to work especially as I do most acoustic work inside as opposed to outside (outside acoustic features are thin walls, scooped out finger-holes, etc.)  I'm not convinced that synthetic materials offer any great advantages - reeds are another matter and I watch experiments with great interest.

***** I'm thinking about this again in light of some discussions with US Pipers. If you have any   knowledge of non-wood or treated wood chanters please contact me. I'm particularly interested in hearing about the long term affects on Chanters treated by polyethol glycol (a moisture replacer).  

Chanter Keys

Q. As a classical musician now about to start on Uilleann Pipes I think I'd like a full set of keys on the Chanter to extend the range of tunes and the keys in which I play them.
A. If you are thinking of playing tunes in keys other than D or G (and related minors etc.) there is a problem 1. The Drones and Regulators are set to harmonise with the natural scales of the Chanter. 2. Pipes are tuned to harmonise with 'D' and will not transpose outside this range (they are not in equal temperament).

Some excellent professional players never use the keys at all, in fact I cannot remember seeing anyone use other than C nat or F nat keys  (except when messing about). A flat C nat is a feature of Irish Trad music and Pipers tend to exploit this by cross fingering and a partial uncurling of their index finger, the key is used for upper octave or where the fingering is too messy. F nat occurs in some slow airs and the key is more accurate than partial covering.

Q. What blocks do you normally leave for Chanter Keys.
A. I normally leave blocks for 5 Keys on a Concert Pitch (D) Chanter,  -    D'', C nat, A#, G#, and F nat.  On some Chanters I omit the blocks for D'' but I still drill and plug the tone-hole as it is part of the acoustical design. On flat pitched pipes I tend to follow the Masters and sometimes have blocks and keys for E'' and Eb in addition to the others mentioned.
Q. How are keys organised on a Taylor Chanter.
A. Taylors made conventional keys as well as their classic wide keys. On a classic Taylor, C nat key covers the Chanter back from tone-hole to thumb with the A# and G# mounted under this key. Both of these keys are operated from the front by pushing a wrap-around lever. F nat is mounted under the back thumb with a wrap-around lever operated from the front.
Q. Do I need a C nat key - how will I cope with the upper octave C natural.
A. Unless you are naming off tunes with high C nat that you qenuinely want to play there is no need to worry. There are very few such tunes in Piper's repertoires. Some experienced players find the C nat key handy but not essential.
Q. Should I opt for an F nat key on the side upward facing, on the back, or as a wrap-around
A. It is your own preference really. Wrap-around is the most natural position - maybe the best choice unless you are experienced. On the back is fine if it suits the style of the other keys. I've even seen Martin Nolan with two F nat keys on a Chanter, he tells me it fits different fingering especially on non-Irish tunes.
Q. Can I add keys to a Chanter later if I want them.
A. Beware of adding keys later if the tone holes are not drilled and corked from the start. The addition of tone holes is acoustically suspect and could change the behaviour of your Chanter. All Dooley Chanters have tone holes drilled and corked as they are an intrinsic part of the acoustical design. If you look very carefully at a Dooley D Chanter blocked for four keys you may find the fifth tone hole drilled but plugged.



Q. Why and how long must I leave my assembled reed before scraping.
A. I usually say overnight at least because it suits my schedule (I tend to make a dozen or more together). When you bind the blades onto the staple the binding usually pulls the blades into a new shape. If you open the binding an hour later the blades will have taken most of that new shape. Probably within 3 hours the blades would fully retain the new shape. A lot depends on the conditions and the specific piece of cane. In an emergency, you could cut away a portion of the classic V with a knife as this will speed the dissipation of tension. If you scrape too much before the tensions have dissipated you risk having a reed playing OK for a short while but collapsing afterwards when the tension goes. Sometimes the collapse is not obvious to look at but the reed is ruined just the same.
Q. I have ruined a number of potentially good reeds by trimming too much from the lips so the back D is too sharp. Can I recover.
A. Probably. Unbind the reed and rebind with the staple withdrawn 2 or 3 mm from the blades. Otherwise partially tape over the back D tonehole.
Q. When I am making reeds I find it difficult to get the sides to close properly. They close near the binding but open again further up.
A. Difficult to say precisely without seeing you in action. The most common reason is binding too tight, especially using a binding machine. Also be careful with the binding thread you use, if it is thin it could be cutting into the slip edges and distorting the pull. It is always worth checking your procedure against that advised by Dave Hegarty - your slip width, distance the staple is inside slips, etc. particularly the shape you give to the slip tails. Try one of Dave's tips - when the bindings is within 12-15mm ease the pressure and continue a rough bind right up the blades to persuade them to close. Leave this rough bind for 10 minutes then unbind to 12mm mark and finish the bind as normal. Other points to look for are gouging the staple bed too deep and leaving the slip shoulders too wide.
Q. The only working reed I have is sharp in the 2nd octave. What can I do ?
A. The normal cure is to make a reed with a narrower diameter staple. You could try inserting a rush inside the staple to reduce the internal volume. Typically I use a hair clip or a small piece of wire bent at one end. You may need to adjust the size of the rush and its position in the staple to get a balanced flattening.
Q. I rushed the staple as suggested but now my back D is out-of-tune.
A. You may need to sink the reed further into the reed bed (to sharpen the D). Otherwise look again at the rush and try extending it into the chanter throat. Its a trial and error situation requiring patience and perseverance.


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