|(This article is from http://www.hotpipes.com/tuning.html.)
On December 21, 2004 we received the following interesting
letter from piper Andrew Fuller of Adelaide, Australia regarding our
now-modified blanket recommendation in this essay to not carve chanter holes in
order to achieve desired tuning:
I read Mr Seeler's article "Tuning the Bagpipe" with great interest.
It is indeed a well researched article and is also very entertaining and witty.
I'd like to make one comment, however, regarding your statement that "many
chanters" have been ruined by carving/removing material from the holes and
that carving should be avoided. No doubt many chanters have been ruined by
excessive practices, however from a band perspective my experience with carving
holes has been a very rewarding one and I'd encourage you to research this more
as you will discover it is 'the norm' in this day and age.
I've played with several grade one pipe bands, most notably Victoria Police Pipe
Band (1998 World Pipe Band Champions), and the tune-up regime has, with a few
subtle differences, been the same in every band. Victoria Police (Vic Pol) was
regarded as having a very "broad", "accurate" and
"powerful" sound and yet we didn't play 'big' gut-buster reeds. The
power of the sound came from the accuracy of tuning and the harmonics we
It has been my experience that every top grade band, for as long as I can
remember, has carved holes (mostly undercut) to achieve the desired tuning. This
practice, in the hands of the right person, is very effective and quite safe.
When Strathclyde Police were dominating the pipe band scene their Sinclair
chanters had holes that were so big one could barely cover them and yet the
sound was sweet and deadly accurate.
The Sinclair chanters (at Vic Pol), after individual testing, were carved
typically on B, C, D, a bit on E, F and a bit on High A. The other notes were
typically needing to be flattened once the 'balance' of each chanter had been
identified. The carving was overdone to allow for some scope to further sharpen
the note by lifting the tape. Tape was then used to control the size of every
hole and we would then seat the reed in its optimal position to ensure that
holes were not over-taped
tape coverage was relatively equal on each hole
the chanter felt and sounded 'free' and vibrant
the scale was harmonically accurate against the drones
desired pitch was achieved
Those responsible for tuning the Vic Pol pipe corps would always tune their
chanters against their drones to get the intervals correct and a harmonic effect
on every note. Electronic tuners were never used to set notes on the scale, it
was always done by ear. Tuners were only used for setting the drones of the
whole pipe corps en masse.
Carving holes also enabled the band to work around variable playing conditions (ie
wet, cold, hot, dry etc.) but note due to the design and physics of the chanter
(thicker walls at the top and thinner walls at the bottom), temperature is
conducted at differing rates eg the bottom hand will usually change quicker than
the top hand due to there being less material therefore faster conductivity of
temperature. In fact, all notes move at differing rates due to the taper of the
internal bore of the chanter which gradually thins the walls towards the bottom.
This is why tuning to Low A, when the pipes have come straight out of the box,
can be risky (especially in cold conditions). Low A (bottom hand in general)
climbs in pitch quite quickly during the initial warm-up period and this can
result in 'tail-chasing' if the piper is inexperienced and has put all his or
her eggs in the Low A basket - ie they tune to Low A but the top hand sounds
sharp against the drones so they tape-down the top hand notes without realising
the bottom hand is actually flat (but won't be for long!) which eventually
results in a bottom hand that then gets up to running temperature (and would
have balanced-up with the top hand had it been left to settle) and a top hand
that is now flat (because it was flattened when it was actually more accurate
than the bottom hand in the beginning). Sometimes E is a better reference point
when first starting up as it rarely changes at the rate of Low A due to there
being more timber/material at that point of the chanter. It also allows the
piper to gain a better appreciation as he or she can hear the bottom hand coming
up to meet the drones that are tuned to E as they warm-up their pipes.
There are no two reeds alike but generally speaking there is a certain position
in the reed seat that will best suit a particular reed/chanter marriage. The
opposing view (of driving a reed into the seat to lift certain notes and to
avoid carving) can have a dampening effect on the overall tone of the chanter.
This is because the reed can sometimes be 'strangled' and cannot vibrate as
freely if it is seated well into the throat of the chanter. It can also lead to
that dreaded double tone on F that pipers fear.
Carving holes allows each individual note to be isolated from the others and
enables accurate and fast tuning with more options available at the time as
opposed to uncarved holes that still ultimately rely on reed manipulation. In
Vic Pol we almost forgot what our chanter reeds looked like because it was
virtually all done with tape, 'cold steel' and a reed of good tonal quality.
Furthermore, the less tampering with a reed the more likely it is to last longer
than a reed that is constantly handled, plus it is more likely to remain stable
and reliable and in the end that's what this caper is all about.
I've done my best to make sense but it's a topic that always promotes healthy
debate. This subject can also indicate the 'vintage' of each of the
protagonists. I've always subscribed to the 'horses for courses' debate when it
comes to solos but for bands I have experienced the pinnacle and would not sway
I hope this has provided another point of view.
Cheers and good piping!