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Reed lifespan

PostPosted: Thu Jun 28, 2012 11:03 pm
by Wallie Ogilvie
I know of some pipers playing chanter reeds that are 20 or 30 years old. Is there a natural lifespan to a regularly played reed, and if so what is it, and what dictates it? Are there any 100 year old reeds out there still playing?

Re: Reed lifespan

PostPosted: Fri Jun 29, 2012 10:43 am
by pipemakermike
My oldest chanter reed lived about 25 years and for half of its life was played a very large amount. In the end it died of incompetence/carelessness. This is the fate of most chanter reeds. Drone reeds also live a very long time and I have a set that is now some 30+ years old. Reeds can get dirty from the environment and there are a number of recommended methods of cleaning them and some more adventurous/courageous cleaning methods. Often a drone reed that has dropped into the bag and got slathered with oil etc can be cleaned with petrol. I have also used meths or acetone but care must be taken with any solvent to ensure that it doesn't dissolve anything that shouldn't be dissolved. Chanter reeds I always swill gently with clean petrol using a soft brush trying to only wet the blades.
There really isn't any reason why a reed, not subjected to extreems of environment, shouldn't last a very long time and there are tales of reeds of 70 years old still working.

Re: Reed lifespan

PostPosted: Fri Jun 29, 2012 11:56 am
by Richard Evans
The oldest reed I have personal experience of would be about 40 years old. It belonged to a member of our local playing group. I swapped it for a new one three or four years ago and we discovered that it was dated in pencil to the mid 1960s. It was still working but sounded pretty sad.
My own favorite reed must be about 8 years old. It leads a charmed life since it's also my test reed and gets swapped about very regularly. I'll probably go and break it this afternoon!
In general, a good reed well made will go on being good whilst a reed which has needed a lot of manipulation to make it acceptable is likely to have a shorter life.


Re: Reed lifespan

PostPosted: Mon Jul 30, 2012 10:08 pm
by andymay
Interesting question!!

I recently had the chance to try out Jack Armstrong's Atthey pipes only to learn that Jack's chanter reed was still in them and working fine. Brutal-looking reed mind you.

I have certainly seen drone reeds by Tom Clough, in both cane and metal, still working great which must surely date from the 1940s or earlier.

I have some chanter reeds by Clough which just about work although all have either cracked or collapsed at some point so you couldn't describe any of them as great.

Still, it's a daunting thought for us current reed makers - how many of our reeds will stand up to the next 50 years or more of use?