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Elder Drone Reeds

PostPosted: Sun Jan 08, 2012 11:10 pm
by Richard York
Happy New Year all, if it's not too late.

I've wanted to try elder drone reeds for a while, for their reputed gentle sound.
Francis Wood has been, as ever, helpfulness itself, (thank you Francis yet again), so I thought I'd spread the load by asking more of you here for advice!

I am now making more reeds which emit a very satisfying squawk on their own. The successful ones have a thicker tip than origin of the tongue, as recommended. The trouble is, despite the healthy squawk when in mid air, they fail to drive the drone when inserted.

On the random monkeys with typewriters principle, I may eventually hit on the right thing, given a longer life span than is reasonable to expect... but meanwhile suggestions for a vocabulary of things to try would be very welcome, please.
I'm not entering the realms of whether I should only cut wood on a second Thursday of the lunar cycle or not at this stage.
More seriously, I don't know whether I should expect a reed to do the job only when it's been tweaked, or if I need to keep bashing on until I make one which does the job as it is.
If it's the tweaks, a repertoire of tweaks would be useful - I can try opening it a bit, adding a touch of wax maybe - haven't done that yet... or is that just for tuning? What other moves are recommended?
With thanks,

Re: Elder Drone Reeds

PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2012 3:30 pm
by Barry Say
Richard York wrote:I am now making more reeds which emit a very satisfying squawk on their own. The successful ones have a thicker tip than origin of the tongue, as recommended. The trouble is, despite the healthy squawk when in mid air, they fail to drive the drone when inserted.

Do they clap shut or remain open? Is air coming out of the drone?


Re: Elder Drone Reeds

PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2012 4:19 pm
by Richard York
Some of each, between different reeds!
Thanks for picking this one up, Barry.

Re: Elder Drone Reeds

PostPosted: Tue Jan 10, 2012 8:54 am
by Barry Say
If they clap shut, they need to be more open to start with.
If they wont start, they are too open and need closing.

How many have you made? If you can spare a couple, send them this way, I'll see what I can do and report.


Re: Elder Drone Reeds

PostPosted: Tue Jan 10, 2012 4:36 pm
by pipemakermike
One person who could probably advise is Dave Shaw. I have seen him make chanter reeds from elder and I believe that he has made working drone reeds from the same material.
I tried to use elder in the early days and never got a good working reed. I think that I got close, but once I got a source of proper cane I gave up with elder.

Re: Elder Drone Reeds

PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 3:59 pm
by Richard York
Barry - I've made quite a few, but perhaps 6 or so which emit a decent noise, though less which fit into the right size of aperture :( Starting with limited stock of dried elder, I worked on practising simply getting a noise out of what I'd got first, and realised too late it was a waste of time when good noises came out of the wrong ones!
It's an intermittent exercise between multi-tasking the rest of life. Next time I get going I'll have a go at more subtle opening & closing of tongues, and if that's to no avail will gratefully send some your way.

Mike, it's so reassuring to know that you "got close" but still didn't reckon you'd got there! It gives me the hope that it's not just me being cack-handed!

Thanks both,

Re: Elder Drone Reeds

PostPosted: Thu Jan 12, 2012 5:21 pm
by Richard York
Hmmm, the last batch weren't generally so good :(

I've now got two which do still make a noise when in the drone, and even when played in situ in the pipes too.

Sadly one's a sort of mournful deep-ish honk rather than a lovely buzz, and I assume I therefore need a much shorter tongue on the reed to raise the pitch. That's where I get stuck at present, as the shorter tongues still don't want to make a noise.

The other reed is prepared to make a quick noise in the drone, but only at vast pressure, then it shuts down.
Closing it a bit in hopes of it working at lower pressure mean it just shuts before making any noise; there doesn't seem to be a happy medium.

Is it anyone's experience that elder reeds become reliably stable? Where I am getting a better class of noise, it's only transient before the reed changes its mind.

Onward and wossname... there is hope! (But not now until after the w/e.)

Thanks for reading.

Re: Elder Drone Reeds

PostPosted: Tue Feb 07, 2012 12:36 am
by Richard Heard
Dave Shaw wrote an interesting article about making reeds from elder. It was published in the newsletter of the Northumbrian Musical Heritage Society two or three years ago.

Re: Elder Drone Reeds

PostPosted: Sat Feb 18, 2012 11:02 am
by Richard York
Thanks Richard.
I don't have access to that Society's publications, so will have to see if I can get hold of the article from somewhere. My apologies for such a slow response too.

To my pleased surprise, I have to report that I now have a top G elder drone reed. It has worked for a few days, but will almost certainly be aware I'm writing this and stop immediately!
I wish I knew what the secret was of making it work. It was one I made about 6 weeks ago, and which squawked a bit, but lacked conviction to actually drive the drone. It's got a touch of wax on the tip of the tongue.
Because it had at least some life, I simply put it on one side. When the last lot I tried failed... again!... to work, for some reason I stuck this one in, and it now seems to go.
The down side is that I can't make it respond to the tuning bead and achieve A, it just gets to G#, and I'm reluctant to fiddle with it while it's working; I'd rather have a top G, but no A, than no G at all!
Do any of you who make reeds think that simply drying out some more (the twig was already over a year old when I made it) having been cut into shape may have usefully affected it?

Best wishes,

Re: Elder Drone Reeds

PostPosted: Thu May 24, 2012 9:52 pm
by andymay

I've experimented a bit with elder for drone reeds but i have a good friend who has used them in uilleann pipes for many years - with great results.

2 things -

1. I believe that a 'resting' period is very helpful when making all-natural drone reeds - from cane, elder or whatever. More often than i'd care to admit i find useful reeds amongst previously discarded wannabes on the floor. Certainly if i can help it i try and avoid making fresh guills and fitting them to the drones in the same sitting as i don't find it a recipe for a stable result, even if those same reeds can subsequently be adjusted into balance.

2. I wonder when elder reeds (largely) died out for Northumbrian pipes? In uilleann piping many historic sets have drone bores larger than would be considered normal nowadays, and this is often attributed to their being designed to work with elder reeds. Similarly the J Dunn set shown in C & B has drone bores slightly larger than the 'normal' sizes which the Reids establiched. I remember Francis W making a copy of the Dunn set and finding the drones verged on being too loud until he went the elder route. I suppose i'm wondering if the drone pattern used by most makers nowadays actually supercedes the use of elder for reeds? Interesting that Richard mentioned Dave Shaw in this regard because whilst his drone bores are similar to most ( i believe) he chooses to have them vent out of an open end much as many older sets - including the J Dunn set in C&B did. But could it be that Reid's drone pattern is basically incompatible with elder and optimized for cane or brass reeds?