Composite reeds often have brass or wooden bodies and either plastic or cane tongues. Wood and metal tongues have also been used and recently, people have experimented with carbon fibre. The quest is on the find the material combination which gives the best drone reed! The design I use is very stable and here I will describe how to make any adjustments you might need. Reeds of other designs can be adjusted by following the same principles.
If your drones reeds have been made for your pipes, they should stay in tune and play at an appropriate pressure indefinitely. However, environmental factors or knocks may lead to the need to make small adjustments from time to time.
If you have bought new reeds and need to set them up in your own pipes you might need to make some small adjustments to make them play at their best in your set.
The main reason you might wish to adjust your drone reeds is that they aren’t playing at a comfortable playing pressure. You will know this because they either shut off and fall silent after you start them up but before you reach normal playing pressure, or that they don’t sound or start up at all. The next most common reason to adjust them is because they don’t play at the correct pitch. It is possible that the problem you’re having with them might be temporary so do give them a chance to settle to your playing environment for a couple of days before making any adjustments.
Before you make any changes it’s wise to check a few things-
- Is the drone airtight – make sure there are no leaks where the drone meets the stock, where the slide meets the standing part or around the tuning beads or piston.
- Is there any damage to the drone – check for cracks and breaks.
- Is the reed seated firmly in the drone?
The reed design I make allows you to adjust either or both of the playing pressure of the reed and its pitch. All adjustments should be made in very small increments (less than 1mm at a time) as small changes can have big results. You might like to mark the position of the reed tongue and bridle on the body of the reed before making any changes. This allows you to put everything back as close to its original position as possible if necessary. If the reed doesn’t play, it might just need a little encouragement so try gently pulling up on the tongue a few times, and suck through the open end to get it going.
If you need to adjust pressure and pitch, always adjust pressure first.
Adjusting Playing Pressure.
The reed is set to play at a comfortable pressure (approximately 12” Water Pressure). If the reed starts to play but then shuts off before playing pressure is reached, the tongue needs to be opened slightly. If the pressure needed for the reed to play is too great the tongue needs to be closed slightly.
Hold the reed horizontally in front of you, with the reed tongue on top as in the picture. You will see that on the left the reed tongue is loose and there is a small gap between it and the body of the reed. The size of the gap is set by the position of the bridle ring which dictates where the reed tongue meets the body of the reed. To close the tongue slightly, move the bridle to the left. To open it slightly, move the bridle to the right.
Although this adjustment is done to manage playing pressure, you may notice a resulting change in pitch. If this can’t be managed by adjusting the drone sliders, then you may need to move on and adjust the pitch.
This is controlled by the length of the tongue from its bridle to its loose tip. If you wish to lower the pitch of the reed, make the tongue longer by pushing it to the left from its fixed end so that it moves under the bridle. Make sure the bridle doesn’t move when doing this or the playing pressure may change.
If you wish to raise the pitch, you need to shorten the tongue by sliding it under its bridle to the right. You can do this by holding the bridle in place and pushing the flat surface of the tongue with your thumb. Do not push the loose end of the tongue and it may bend out of shape.
You may find you have to repeat or combine these operations over a few days until things stabilise, but with care you’ll soon have the reed set up how you like it.
For more information about the Northumbrian Pipes contact Kim@Northumbrianpipes.co.uk