Reed Anatomy: Synthetic Drone Reeds

The last ten to fifteen years or so have seen an explosion of synthetic drones reeds makes out on the market. The modern Highland bagpiper is not at a loss when choosing a make of reed that is suitable to personal bagpipe vintage or sound taste. Stalwart varieties spawned from Ross’s early plastic body and cane tongue design still try to carve their place among players. Newer, more advanced designs try to elbow their way to the fore by improving on the all-synthetic designs introduced by R.T. Shepherd and Mark Wygent. Many the intrepid tinker it is who still tries his hand at improving on the simple functionality of a vibrating tongue and moveable bridle. Today’s reeds can be like mini-machines, with all the moving parts, tools, and advanced materials to go along.

Many of the commonly played synthetic reeds today elaborate on a basic design, with the only variation being in the materials used or small differences in dimensions and tongue length. All of these variations though, can influence the overall quality of sound coming from your bagpipe. For the inexperienced player, it can sometimes be quite frustrating to work with these new machines. It is often hard to remember the right things to do in order to get them sounding their best in your pipe—and easy to do the wrong things.

The anatomy chart above shows the basic synthetic reed design most often seen with all of its parts identified and some of the more common actions and results explained. Most of the reeds seen these days use a variety of materials and sometimes even the same techniques to adjust their sound might yield differing results. Getting the reeds set “just right” for you is often the most tedious work—but it is also the most rewarding. If properly set, today’s synthetic drone reeds will perform consistently and remove many of the frustrations and variability in performance that can inhibit your improvement as a musician—and produce a fine sound that is as good as any natural cane reed. Download and print the diagram and keep it in your pipe box as a reminder when you have to make adjustments. You will then always be ready to get the most your drone reeds have to offer.

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