Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Drone Reeds

Drone Reeds are 10% off this week at the DoJo, so I thought I would write a quick article about the basics of drone reeds! Check out to view/purchase drone reeds!

Whether we’re playing the new-fangled techno-reed, or we’re old-school and we play cane, here are some tips to make sure you’re getting the most out of your drone reeds:

1) Make sure your drone reeds are seated firmly in the reed seat.

This may seem like a no brainer, but if your reeds aren’t seated tightly in the reed seat, a variety of problems can occur: They could fall into the bag. They’ll probably be considerably less steady. Your pipes will be harder to blow. The loose reed will likely take on moisture sooner.

Here is what you do:
a) used waxed hemp, to get the tightest seal possible with the reed seat.
b) Make sure you have a lifeline. A lifeline is about an inch of excess hemp that will stick in the area where the drone meets the stock. That way, if the reed does come loose, it’ll just dangle instead of falling in the bag!
c) another option is to THREAD your drone reed seats. The idea of threading is that the drones (which are still hemped with waxed hemp) “screw” into the reed-seats, making it virtually impossible for the reeds to fall out. Most piping shops and pipe makers can help you with this project, if you’re interested.
2) Calibrate your reeds to suit the strength of your reed.

This is essential. Many times, we see students come in with reeds that are all taking different amounts of air, and all taking too much air relative to the strength of their reed. The result is a really loud, unsteady, un-tunable drone sound!

Here’s how we suggest you calibrate your drone reeds.
First, cork off your bass and a tenor. Play Low A on your chanter with one drone going. Your drone reed should shut off when you blow too hard on your chanter. Gradually increase your blowing pressure until you know you’re blowing too hard. Does the reed shut off? It should.
Here’s why: If your drone reed shuts off when you blow too hard on your chanter, you know it’s taking the minimum amount of air necessary when you’re blowing normally. This is essential in trying to acheive an efficient bagpipe!
If your drone doesn’t shut off, adjust the bridal on the drone reed down, towards the end of the tongue. Most synthetic reeds will only need the slightest adjustment (too much and the reed won’t sound at all). If, by chance, your reed is shutting off too soon, adjust the bridal away from the tip of the tongue. [if you aren’t sure how to do this, be sure to have a teacher show you a couple of times. Reeds are expensive, so you need to be careful not to damage them in the process of adjusting the bridals]
Ok, now that the first reed is calibrated, our objective is going to be to calibrate the other two drone reeds to the same strength of the first.
I would cork off the chanter, and then open up a second drone. Now, we’ll gradually increase the pressure in the bag, in hopes that the two drones will shut off at exactly the same pressure.
Do they? If the “new” (recently opened) drone shuts off later than the first, you’ll need to close it down a bit, by moving the bridal towards the tip of the tongue. If it shuts off too early, move the bridal away from the tip of the tongue. When they shut off at exactly the same pressure, then move on to the third drone and perform the same task.
The reason we want them to shut off at the same time is this: Obviously, the principle from above still applies – if all the drone reeds shut off when you blow too hard, that means when you blow normally, the reeds are taking the minimum amount of air. Now, we add in the extra step – if the drone reeds are all taking the SAME amount of air, that means they will all react the SAME to changes in blowing. They’ll be steadier, stay in tune, and take on the same amount of moisture. Try it! It really works!
After this process, your pipes are guaranteed to be as efficient as possible, and they’ll be more stable as well!
3) Keep moisture off the reeds!

This is especially important with most synthetic reeds. Condensation on the tongue makes the reeds vibrate unpredictably. Whenever a droplet moves on the tongue, your drones will go out of tune.

This is an extremely in-depth topic, but consider a few simple strategies:
a) Make sure your bag is seasoned properly. Seasoning helps subdue moisture issues in the bag
b) If you play a moisture-control system like a canister bag, make sure the “rocks” are dry.
c) About ten minutes before a performance, check the reeds for condensation. If there’s a lot, wipe it off, then minimize the amount of air you put through them before you have to perform.
d) Avoid cold environments. Even a few moments in a cold space could cause moisture in your bag to condense!!! On the same note, be aware that the colder the environment, the more moisture you’ll have forming on your reeds!
Ok, there you have it! Check out to peruse or purchase new reeds!
All the best!
Andrew Douglas
Piper’s DoJo | | |
  • Anonymous

    A possibly useful tweak for Ross Canister users:

    The Ross Canister is more than just an air drier; it can also be set up to redistribute the air pressure between drones and chanter, giving more mix & match and setup flexibility.

    I cut ~1" squares from a thin high density cloth normally used to clean up spills. I put them on top of the canister compartments upstream from the drone hoses to restrict the air flow through them. This made it possible to slide the bridles down further for a lower minimum pressure, and allowed me tune farther out on the pegs. Stability improved too–especially on the bass. It also helps keep desiccant dust out of my drones too!

    As a bonus, this tweak made more air pressure available for the chanter, so I can now blow a somewhat stiffer chanter reed without the penalty of increased effort!

    Happy pipin' to y'all!

    CharlieG, MVFPB

  • Anonymous

    Besides the better feel of suede and easier access of the zipper location. I've found the new Ross red box is a big improvement over the original box design. It needs more air to pass through, improving the overall air distribution. The Bass part of the box is larger with more rocks just in this portion. You also have the ability to adjust how much moisture you want going to the chanter reed And to the drone reeds if you play real cane drone reeds. When your playing in dryer conditions or in the sun this really helps the system work more efficiently with better control than before. Of course you still have to have good maintenance practices and vacuum dust before putting the box back in.

    Ian Lyon's moose valve/water trap holds excessive moisture in the stock before it enters the bag. Even the Ross system is not full proof alone. In cold and damp conditions these two used together are ideal. Trust me the St.Patrick's day parades in RI can be near freezing and we play four of them.
    I use dental floss instead of hemp for the blow stick so it's easier to remove to dump the excess water out during rests. Hemp expands too much when it gets wet making it too tight to remove the blow stick easy. Best part of the moose valve/trap is it's adjustable so your given even more control over how much or little it will collect. This is done by fully seating your blow stick against the trap inside to add more water in the bag or by leaving it 1/16 – 1/8 or more away from the seat to collect more water in the trap.

  • If the tongue can move, sticking his tongue lower the tone of the shank. On the contrary, if the language has been removed, pushing back on the pitch rise. These effects are taking the reins has stayed in the same position.

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