Bagpipe Tip: The Basics for Breaking in your Chanter Reed

Reeds take a while to “break in,” as many of us already know, and have already experienced. I don’t know for sure, but I assume this is because all the fibers in the cane of the reed need a chance to stretch out and become flexible in order for it to become a bit easier, and for it to reach its full vibrancy.

There are a lot of different philosophies for breaking in chanter reeds, and a lot of different little tricks to get things going. Without getting too complex, let me take you through my basic philosophy:

Deep thought 1: You’ll get out of it what you put into it.

And believe me, this is where I go wrong every time. I want my new reed to sound awesome, AND be comfortable to blow on the first day. All experience has taught me that it’s not going to happen. Or, if it does happen, your reed will last about an hour before it’s too easy, and sounds wimpy as all get-out!

You’ll get out of it what you put into it – that means, pick a reed that’s a bit outside of your usual comfort zone strength-wise. A reed that’s a little bit hard today will be just right in about a week. Put in the blood sweat and tears, and it will come out great in the end. It takes patience – hence why I church through so many reeds!

Deep thought 2: Leave ‘er alone! Keep ‘er simple!

I’ve always found that “messin” with reeds in the early stages is always a bad idea. Here are things that I say away from:

  • pinching
  • shaving
  • poking
  • bending
  • soaking in water (VERY bad idea – learned that the hard way when I was, like, 9 years old!)
  • cursing
  • voodoo
  • putting a rubber bridal on it to make it “easier to blow in”
  • so on,
  • so forth
  • etc, etc.

Keep it simple, put in the hard work, and most reeds (if they were selected well – we’ll talk about this more some day soon) will come out just fine in the end.

Once a reed is has broken in a bit, only then should you start to “tweak” it to suit your specific desires. Maybe a little shave or a rubber band or the like will bring everything in the way you like it. In the future, I’ll get into manipulation techniques to acheive desired effects with your reed.

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