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Clanrye Synthetic Chanter Reeds
For the Great Highland Bagpipe

(List price, $62.00)
Includes Free Shipping (U.S.A.) via 1st Class Mail
(International Customers: Please contact us for postage costs.)

A Clanrye Synthetic Chanter Reed
The Clanrye synthetic Great Highland Bagpipe chanter reed
Six month warranty!
Current model may differ from reed in photo;
We sell only the most recent version of these reeds.

Stock Status:

All Strengths In Stock Unless Otherwise Noted Right Here

Background and Comments on Bagpipe Chanter Reeds:

At the very heart of every bagpipe lie the reeds. Most Western European bagpipes, including the Scottish Great Highland pipe, use a double-bladed reed, fitted into a tapered socket at the upper end of the bore of the melody pipe (chanter). A double-bladed reed consists of two slightly convex, wedge-shaped blades of a thin springy material tied together on a short tube (called a staple). The two upper, widest, ends of the blades together form a narrow lip-like opening. When air above a certain minimum pressure is blown through this narrow opening, it forces the blades apart. This causes a drop in pressure, because the opening is now larger. When the pressure thus drops, the springiness of the blades returns them towards one another and decreases the size of the opening between them. This causes the air pressure to again rise, and the blades again move apart - the pressure then drops, and the blades move together. The cycle repeats rapidly and endlessly, resulting in the production of sound. The pitch and volume of the sound, as well as its more subtle characteristics, are determined by a large number of factors including the size, shape and composition of the reed blades and the staple. Small changes may have large effects - for example a slight change in the thickness of a particular area of a reed blade might completely alter a reed's character and performance.

One of the great difficulties in dealing with bagpipe reeds comes from the fact that the reeds are not under the direct control of the player - that is, they aren't between the player's lips. All modern western reeded woodwinds - oboe, clarinet, bassoon, sax, etc. - afford the player direct control of the reed during playing; the reed is held in the mouth and direct physical pressure can be applied or relaxed to affect the sound produced. The woodwind player can also modulate the air pressure during playing to affect pitch (and of course volume). The piper not only has no direct mechanical control of the melody reed, but can't even modulate air pressure to compensate for pitch problems because a change in the pressure delivered to the chanter reed also changes the pressure delivered to the drone reeds, and the instrument will become out of tune with itself.

So, a bagpipe chanter reed must work correctly without being manipulated, directly or indirectly, during play. It might seem that once adjusted properly a reed, being nicely protected deep within the instrument, would function well for a long time. Unfortunately this is rarely the case, in large part because of unavoidable fluctuations of moisture. Reeds are traditionally made of cane ( species Arundo donax, most commonly) and like any other wood-like material cane will absorb moisture from the piper's breath. As a reed becomes damp its characteristics and behavior change. Temperature also plays a role. The result is that a reed may perform well early in a playing session and then suddenly refuse to play some notes, or play them grossly out of tune, or make rude gurgling sounds, or squeal violently.

Most commonly each time a bagpipe is played the chanter reed will require, at the least, a certain amount of "warming up" and will then stabilize for a period - hopefully long enough to complete the performance. The warming-up period is a major problem in certain settings because it needs to be done out of earshot of the audience; this, if it's possible at all, can introduce further problems. For example at an indoor wedding when the piper has warmed up outdoors, reed stability may collapse quickly when the pipe is brought inside. The reed may also require adjustment from one day to the next, depending on changes in weather, altitude, temperature and, it sometimes seems, for no reason at all. Finally, the constant wetting and drying shortens the life of reeds, which are subject to splitting or simply becoming worn out. Trouble, when it strikes, often leaves the piper with no choice but to stand red-faced in abrupt, deafening silence. In any event, a piper is always at the mercy of the reed, and it is a rare and fortunate piper who spends less time fussing with reeds than piping.

All of this has a lot to do with the near-extinction of bagpipes in many cultures. In early times, solo pipers were often called upon to provide the music for celebrations of all sorts and when the piper's instrument stopped, usually because of a reed failure, so did the party. As other powerful less troublesome instruments evolved (notably the violin and later the accordion), many musicians switched to safer ground.

However, there have always been efforts made to increase the stability of bagpipe reeds. Most successful was the indirect approach of replacing the player's lungs with bellows (not surgically, you understand) as the air supply to the bag and reeds. Bellows-blown pipe reeds are called "dry" reeds and while still subject to some difficulties under gross changes in climate they are vastly more stable than mouth-blown reeds. Irish Uilleann pipes and Northumbrian Smallpipes are perhaps the most familiar bellows-blown pipes. These can pretty much be simply picked up and played, even after lying around for days or weeks, and the reeds often last for many years. Unfortunately the larger more powerful bagpipes, including the Great Highland Bagpipe, do not lend themselves well to bellows operation because they require more air than can reasonably be provided by bellows.

Another approach has been to attempt to seal the blades of the reed so they don't absorb moisture. Most experiments in this direction have failed, apparently because whatever is used to cover (or impregnate) the cane also affects the resiliency and/or other physical characteristics negatively. However, work in this direction continues, using different substances, vacuum chambers, microwave ovens and so on.

The final approach, most pertinent here, is to replace the moisture-absorbing material of the reed blades with a substance that remains stable through a wide range of conditions. All sorts of things have been tried, including metal, ivory, bone, fiberglass and a vast number of different formulations of what is loosely called "plastic." Many of the smaller bagpipes have responded very well to plastic reeds (as have practice chanters) and very finely made bagpipes are now routinely fitted, by their makers, with plastic reeds. The shift from cane to plastic has been ongoing for a number of years now, but what has worked well for the majority of smaller bagpipes did not soon provide a solution for the Great Highland Bagpipe (GHB). The GHB is an especially loud pipe that consequently runs at a higher air pressure than most if not all other bagpipes, and apparently this is the primary reason why a GHB chanter reed is so touchy - the reed, like a race-car engine, is operating at its outer limits and any flaws or quirks become magnified, if not catastrophic.

The Clanrye GHB reed package
Instructions on the back of the Clanrye reed package

The Clanrye Chanter Reeds:

So, an alternative reed material and/or design must function under unusually severe conditions in the Great Highland Bagpipe. These problems have been addressed by a number of reed makers, with varying degrees of success. One of the most tenacious of these efforts has resulted in the Clanrye reeds offered here. First brought to market around 1991, the Clanrye reeds have continued to evolve and some reported problems with earlier versions have been resolved. It must be mentioned, however, that synthetic reeds in general are still somewhat controversial in regard to the finer nuances of tone and character. They are certainly superior in all regards to a mediocre cane reed, but the really (sometimes grimly) serious GHB competition players are so far still sticking with cane. On the other hand, we are getting happy reports about the Clanrye chanter reeds from pipers who play in ordinary public settings (such as weddings) and also of course from beginning pipers who are more concerned with practicality than with near-ethereal subtleties. One close friend who often plays weddings was almost moved to tears when he realized he no longer needs to break into a cold sweat before every ceremony, wondering if his reed will hold out (or fighting furiously with it minutes before having to play). It is because of reports like these that we decided to offer this reed here.

The Clanrye reed comes in three strengths - easy, medium and strong. It is important to choose the correct strength, because unlike a cane reed, a Clanrye cannot be scraped, sanded or otherwise tweaked to change its strength. A Clanrye also doesn't "break in" and become easier as does a cane reed. Our experiences and those of our informants yield the following opinions:

The "easy" strength Clanrye is quite mild in its demand for air. It gives moderate volume, suitable for playing in closer confines. Like many easy-blowing cane reeds, it is somewhat sensitive to pressure changes in regard to pitch. The ease of blowing and the sensitivity (which teaches proper steady air control) are both beneficial for the beginning piper. Experienced pipers will probably only choose this strength when a lower volume is desired.

The "medium" strength Clanrye is just that, medium, and corresponds to an average-to-light cane reed, both in air required and volume produced. It's probably the best choice for most pipers, once they've got their basic chops - a good solid and stable sound.

The "strong" strength Clanrye is stiffer and again of course louder. It requires more pressure than the others, but most established pipers can handle it, and it is still less demanding than what most people consider a stiff cane reed.

Any of these Clanrye synthetic Great Highland Bagpipe chanter reeds will free the piper from the constant aggravation and sudden failures inherent to cane reeds. Cane will always have its place, we think, and it may be that no synthetic will ever quite match it in some regards; but it now seems that at least for the beginning and casual piper, and for the professional who cannot afford to risk the untimely demise of a reed, there is finally an alternative.

As would be expected, these Clanrye synthetic reeds will generally outlast cane reeds (Clanrye tells us, "One is still going strong in Japan after seven years." Thus they come with a six-month replacement warranty by Clanrye, provided they have not been damaged (broken or abused as opposed to an operational failure). We here at the Universe of Bagpipes will handle any warranty issue for our customers. The general longevity of these reeds and this warranty makes them an excellent value, in spite of the initial cost, in relation to cane reeds.
~ O.S.

Stock Status:
All Strengths In Stock Unless Otherwise Noted Right Here.

The price per reed, in any strength, is

US $55.00

(List Price, $62.00)
Including postage via 1st Class Mail (U.S.A.; other locations please contact us)

Note:If you are buying three or more reeds, postage service for US addresses only will be automatically upgraded to Priority Mail. If you are in a real big rush ("The dog ate my reed and I have a wedding to play Saturday!") contact us for fast shipping options and costs.

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(707) 937-1626

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Clanrye Synthetic Great Highland Bagpipe Chanter Reed, EASY Strength
Worldwide Shipping Included: US $55.00
Clanrye Synthetic Great Highland Bagpipe Chanter Reed, MEDIUM Strength
Worldwide Shipping Included: US $55.00
Clanrye Synthetic Great Highland Bagpipe Chanter Reed, HARD Strength
Worldwide Shipping Included: US $55.00

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