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Learning to Play and Make Uilleann Pipes

Martin Preshaw C 3/4 Set

Martin is turning out some gorgeous sounding, and looking, work. Here is his latest C 3/4 set.  (Slideshow)  (Audio Sample: Nice!)

I just got tenor and baritone D concert regulators from Martin and I must say that they are really nice.

Tube Bending Video Tutorial

Another excellent tutorial by Curt Garvis, this time on bending brass tubing:

NCH Tone Generator Freeware

NCH Tone Generator is software that generates a sustained tone at a frequency you designate.  The tone can be a sine wave, a square wave, and a number of other basic waveforms.  Tones can be designates and saved to a list. Playback is with a click on the saved item.  One use would be to setup a just scale and match chanter tuning against that. It’s also a useful reference for drone and regulator tuning.  PC Only.

Delrin and Cocobolo Wood Penny Chanter Mod

Curt Garvis documents a modification of David Daye’s Penny Chanter design, using Delrin rod and Cocobolo wood stock to enhance the aesthetics of the stock design.

The use of the Delrin rod drilled exactly to size should eliminate the problem of voids between tone-holes resulting in air-bleed.

Note that metal inside wood can be problematic, but in this case, the wood is probably thick enough to withstand expansion pressures.

It’s a very attractive modification.

Seivane Pipemaking Videos

Susan Seivane is a wonderful Galican piper. She comes from a tradtion of pipers and pipemakers, starting with her grandfather, and now her brothers.  She has made available a series of facinating videos that document the Seivane pipemaking process.

New C Penny Chanter Home-Build

Here is the C Penny Chanter I just finished.  I’m very happy with how it looks and more so, how it sounds.  I had a little trouble bending the brass headstock tube, and maybe did not anneal the brass properly. You can see the crimps in the tube, which should not be there. Also I’ve decided to not work with lead anymore as tube-bending filler. It is too toxic (even with a good air mask).  Next time I will try fine sand. My backyard is full of it.  Also, the E hole seems way oversize, and sharp, so I had to tape. Otherwise tuning remains excellent. It is easy to reed with a Daye type D Penny Chanter reed, using the conical staple.

Thanks again to David Daye for publishing build dimensions.

C Penny Chanter

C Penny Chanter

Second Octave Troubles

I have a new reed that is having trouble holding the high second octave. Other than that, it seems a good reed; good tone, in tune. What to do?

David Daye has written up some procedures for diagnosis and repair of second octave problems:

Seán Reid Society Journal Volume III Published

Volume III  of the Seán Reid Society Journal has been published, in PDF format, and not as an ISO image.

Visit and click the image on the right, or on the ‘Journal’ dropdown menu.

Volume III Notes:

This volume focuses on the life and work of Richard Lewis O’Mealy. 

Of particular interest to the pipemaker is the following article:

Pipes made by R.L. O’Mealy:’Mealy%20Pipes.pdf

A Deluxe Set of Mealy Pipes:’Mealy%20set%20of%20pipes.pdf

The O’Mealy Box:’Mealy%20Box.pdf

A brief investigation of reamers used by R. L. O’Mealy.’Mealy%20Reamers.pdf

Preparing for Regulators

With regulators coming soon, I probably should try and get a handle on how to reed and tune them.

Here is Geoff Wooff’s excellent article on the subject:

Dremel Stylus

The Dremel Stylus rotary tool is a lithium-ion battery powered no-cord, ergonomic revision of the standard Dremel tool which most of us are familiar with, and probably use a good deal.  I have to say, it is the most useful little tool that I’ve come across in quite a while.  It is perfect for tasks like undercutting tone holes, smoothing rough edges, and deburring in general. It just is comfortable for use in a way that the standard corded Dremel tool is not, and I find I use it a lot more than the corded model. Due to it’s ergonomic design, I feel I have much better control over the cutter as well. And there is no cord to get in the way. Battery life is excellent, I’ve been using it moderately over two weeks and have yet to recharge it. 

It has two downsides that I am aware of:

1. It has much less torque that the corded model. That’s OK for the types of jobs that I describe above, but don’t expect it get much satisfaction using carbide cutters on harder metals or stone. It will not work well for that.

2. The battery is not replaceable as far as I can tell. Once the lithium-ion battery wears out, you toss the tool– too bad. I imagine the life of a lithium-ion battery is a few years, based on a small Bosch drill that I have.

In my C Penny chanter project, I used this tool to debur the brass tubing after cutting with a bandsaw, to remove  brass burrs after drilling operations, and to undercut the C hole on the chanter which was playing a little flat. It should work really well on hardwood, given the right cutter or sander.

First Chanter

I made my first successful chanter this last weekend. What a feeling of accomplishment, and it took a long time to get here. It is based on David Daye’s C Penny Chanter design, for which I am eternally grateful to Mr. Daye for making available to the public, and to all his patient help. I can say all parts of this are self-made: chanter, reed, bag, and bellows.

I have no pictures yet (it’s not much to look at), but here is a quick recording:


…and I am very pleased with how it sounds, and amazed at how in tune it is without tweaking. The only adjustment I made was taping the e hole a bit as it is playing fairly sharp. What’ s out of tune in the recording is my playing, not the chanter.

Also, I’m brand new to playing a C instrument (normally playing D Concert) and it is a challenge– a little akin to jumping from Violin to Viola, though probably somewhat easier.

I plan to post a description of the build process and some pictures later.

Vinyl Bag HOWTO

Eric M. Wilson over at the Arizona Uilleann Pipers Society has posted a very thorough tutorial on making a Vinyl bag.

Vinyl Bag

Vinyl Bag

David Daye’s Reed Adjustment Chart

I’m always hunting on the net for a reed symptom / adjustment summary.  David Daye has a good one on his extensive website:

Two Books for Makers

Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics: Second, Revised Edition:

How Equal Tempermant Ruined Harmony:

Delta X5 Wood Lathe Review

[Note: I posted this review about two years back on Uilleann Forum. Thought it might be relevant here, as the topic seems to arise frequently for beginning makers. One year later I still like it a lot, though am having problems with headstock vibration at a few  speeds. I can't seem to clamp the headstock down as tight as it needs to be, using the headstock cam lever. I need to take the cam lever mechanism apart and see what the problem is. Probably a worn bushing of some sort.  Also, i've since replaced the stock toolrest with ones of better quality.]

Delta X5 Variable Speed Wood Lathe:

I purchased this wood lathe new in the fall of 2007 from Woodworkers Supply in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. Cost was about $2100 U.S. dollars plus tax. Costs for wood and metal lathes seem to be rising quickly due to greatly increased shipping costs and I see the lathe now runs in the $2200 - $2400 US range.

I am happy with the purchase. This lathe seems to me a good value, and is great fun to use.

The lathe was delivered directly to my garage by drop-gate truck, and packed on a skid.

All metal parts were coated with grease, to prevent rust. Kerosene and a rag removed it easily. I did this both before assembly and after.

I was able to assemble the lathe by myself with no help, though get assistance if you can, especially when mounting the bed. Once assembled, it is heavy enough to be quite difficult to move, so consider your final floor placement well, and then assemble. Don’t hurt yourself putting this heavy lathe together!

The length of the lathe is 68″, with 42″ useable between centers, with a 16″ swing. In this regard is quite adequate for pipemaking. I would not want a shorter lathe! I should probably repeat that… I would not want a shorter lathe for pipemaking.

The lathe is heavy enough at 354 pounds to prevent vibration at least for pipemaking operations. If vibration does ever become an issue, the legs can be filled with sand, and the lathe can mounted on horizontal 4×4 posts to increase lateral stability. Take the time to level the lathe on your floor.

The ways are made of quality steel, are well cast, and have no twisting or binding issues. Way finish is good with no visible rusted areas on delivery, which is common with Asian lathes. I spray down the ways with WD40 weekly to prevent subsequent rusting. I live in the high desert, and even here, ways will rust if you don’t protect them.

The motor is 2HP. It has nice torque at low rpm (under 100) which is essential for reaming. I have not yet gotten the motor to bind at low RPM. Top RPM is 3000, and the faster speeds are nice for finishing. The motor appears to be of a high quality, and I have had no problems with it, unlike some lathes that are fitted with cheap Asian motors, which seem to have incessant capacitor problems. The motor is bolt on, and can easily be removed for service or replacement. The spindle is belt driven, and replacement belts are available from Delta.

One issue that you must be aware of before purchase is that this lathe runs on 240 volt 1 phase AC power. 240 volt AC provides smoother motor operation at lower cost, so is desirable. If you do not have a 240 volt AC feed to your shop, you will have to either install this yourself or have it installed. I did so myself. The motor WILL NOT run on 115 volt AC power. If your electrical drop box does not support 240 volt AC for whatever reason, the cost on obtaining this could be prohibitive. Please consider BEFORE you purchase this lathe or any other 240 volt power tool. If you decide to add such a 240 volt AC feed to your shop yourself, please be careful!

What I like most about this lathe is the variable speed controller (VFD), a newly affordable technology which allows change of speed on an AC motor with a single dial turn, from 0-3000 RPM. If you have used a lathe where speed change is accomplished by a dangerous belt or gear change, you will appreciate how convenient and safe this feature is. I do try to keep the VFD electronic unit vacuumed out, as they can fail due to dust accumulation. My understanding is that they do fail for this reason eventually.

The drive spindle hole is 9/16″, which is small. I would have liked 1″ or more for passing stock well into the spindle.

The drive head can be rotated on the ways for other lathe operations like bowl making. Drive head alignment can be locked down with a cam hand lever. Because the drive head is designed to be easily rotated, runout can be an issue, so check alignment carefully before starting your work.

The lathe does not come with a chuck. The drive spindle is threaded to accept 8TPI chucks which are a standard. I ended up buying a Teknatool Supernova chuck. I regret that purchase, because none of the available jaws seem quite right for pipemaking diameters. Changing jaws in the Supernova is also a pain, requiring removing 8 screws, changing jaws, and then replacing the screws. I will probably buy a quality Bison 3 jaw metal lathe chuck at some point to do double duty with my metal lathe. Adaptors are available from Oneway. I have been able to adapt two nice three and four jaw Sherline chucks using an 8-16 TPI thread adaptor.

The tailstock is solid, and can be easily locked via a cam lever, with no slippage. The tailstock hole is 11/32″ with a 2MT taper which is standard for accepting drill chucks and centers of the same 2MT taper. The hole could well be adapted with bushings or collets for drilling operations or work holding. The tailstock spindle travels 4″ with a smooth rotary wheel controlling action. If you extend the spindle too far you will get chatter.

The lathe comes with a barely adequate live center. Replace this with the best one that you can afford. It’s been my experience that the cheap Asian live centers all too often have bearings out of round. I replaced mine with a nice Groz live center for under $100 US.

Oneway accessories fit the lathe well, given the right width clamp bar on lathe way bottom. I am using a Oneway 3 Spindle Steady, and a Oneway Drillmaster for drilling operations.

Oneway Spindle Steady:

Oneway Drill Wizard:

The lathe has indexing stops which are very useful for fixing chuck position when drilling holes. I believe there are 16 index stop positions and wish there were more. 32 index stops would be optimal, and this may be a future modification.

One problem, not a show stopper, is the low quality tool rest. It feels thin and cheap, and I prefer something a bit more rounded. I do believe that aftermarket replacements are available. If replacing, a short 3″ and long 12″-16″ tool rest combination would be nice. I have not yet made this replacement… I guess the tool rest is “good enough”.

The MT2 4 prong drive center is adequate, and I will probably replace it with something of higher quality eventually.

Another minor problem is that the locking lever of the banjo tool rest holder is set in a position when locked that it can get in the way of your tools or the steady when working on very short pieces. I have so far been able to work around this, but it can be an annoyance. I’ve not yet looked into remedies.

Overall, I am very happy with this lathe, and would recommend it if you don’t want to fuss with an older lathe that might have problems. Note that older lathes can have real issues like worn ways, or hard to find replacement parts.

You can certainly spend a lot more on a wood lathe. The variable frequency drive (VFD) allowing on-the-fly speed control makes this lathe shine. I’ll never go back, and have retrofitted my Lathemaster metal lathe with one of these units as well.

Sometimes the question comes up, which to purchase– a wood or a metal lathe. I think both if possible, but unless you are set on doing metal tooling work, I think if I were to only have one, it would be a wood lathe.

At some point I hope to review the Lathemaster 9×30 metal lathe, which is also a good value, but falls a bit short (literally) in some regards.

I hope this is helpful to someone considering a wood lathe purchase. I would think that a lot of my conclusions can be used to evaluate other wood lathes.

Your comments and technical corrections would be appreciated.

Interview with Cillian Ó Briain

Facinating interview with Cillian Ó Briain:

“Stick with the reedmaking, and stick with the playing. The two of those compliment each other. As you progress with one, you tend to progress with the other. They are the pre-requisites…  Anyone attempting to make a set of pipes who does not have those skills, the chance of success are, you know, there’s an outside chance but…” — from the interview.

I could not agree more. Now that my playing is coming along, I feel much better equipped to know what I want in terms of a reed, a chanter, drones.  When I was completely new to the instrument I was blind to the nuances.  Even for non-makers, reedmaking is such an essential skill; every piper should at least make the attempt to learn it. As with playing, practicing making reeds advances your art.

Brass Source

An American source for brass tube, rod and sheet is here:

Lewis Brass and Copper Company, Inc.





1-800 221-5579 (U.S. only)


(718) 894-1442 (Outside U.S.)


(718) 326-4032

The Seán Reid Society Journal ISO’s

The Seán Reid Society Journal Volumes I and II are available as ISO images here and here.

Journal articles provide invaluable information on topics ranging from reamer making to a photo documentary of Geoff Wooff at work in his shop.

Burn the ISO’s to CD using software like the free InfraRecorder.

I’m not sure what the status of Volume III is, but as if September 2009 it does not seem to be available for download. Check the The Seán Reid Society website for latest status.

Pipedreams Ezeedrone D Composite Uilleann Drone Reed Review

Available from:

Living in a high-desert climate with rather extreme humidity swings, I find that cane drone reeds are problematic for day to day usage. Sometimes getting them to play at all is a real challenge, and tuning is a constant chore. I was looking for a more stable alternative, and have had good results with composite reeds home-built as described by Tim Britton, John Liestman, David Daye, and others.  I was looking for stability in performance and tuning, and knew there would be some tradeoff, particularly in timbre.

I had heard positive comments about the Pipedreams Ezeedrone reeds, and decided to give these a try.

I ordered these directly from Pipe Dreams in Scotland though their website, and after an initial lost order, they shipped to New Mexico within a week. The order problem was resolved through a single pleasant email exchange, with no overseas phone call required. Email response time was prompt. I was very pleased with the transaction.

The tenor, baritone, and bass reeds come attractively packaged, with clear installation instructions, and are basically ready to play, with some tweaking required. The reeds are made out of an attractive synthetic material, with polycarbonate sheet reed tongues, elastic bridals, and an innovative and handy plastic tuning screw. Despite being made of plastic, they seem quite durable.

Written instructions were clear and to the point describing setup and adjustments for common problems. There is also a helpful installation video posted on the Pipedreams website.

Some tweaking should be expected, and will be variable according to your drones.  Uilleann drone reed-seat diameters are not standardized except grossly, and do vary.  Pipedreams has provided reeds that they believe will fit a wide range of makers pipes. However it is likely that you will have to do some adjustment, so expect this, and don’t be disappointed if the don’t fit right away. I would imagine there are the odd drones that these reeds would not fit at all. I agree that they should fit most, with tweaking.  Return policy is 7 days after delivery, as stated in Pipedream’s Terms and Conditions.

Out of the box, none of the reeds fit into the seats of my excellent Martin Preshaw drones. I referred to the clear instructions provided with the reeds for guidance.

First, each reed seat insert has a plastic shrink wrap that can be pulled off. The shrink wrap is about 1mm thick, and in my case for the bass and tenor reeds this was enough to allow a good fit into the reed seat. My drones expect a tapered reed; the Ezeedrone inserts are cylindrical and not tapered.  I achieved a slight taper, and reed seat protect with a little Teflon tape. Waxed thread could also be used.

Even with removing the shrink wrap, the baritone drone still would not fit, so I took some 120 grit sand paper and carefully reduced the diameter of the insert to where it would fit. I did this by spinning the insert in the sand paper by hand.  Reduction and fitting was accomplished in about 10 minutes.

With all reeds fitted to drones, my next jobs were to balance and tune.  I first taped off the bells of the bass and baritone reeds to keep them from sounding, and began adjusting just the tenor drone.  At first play, the tenor was very weak sounding and out of tune. To remedy, move the elastic bridal just a hair towards the seat. This made the reed speak nicely. However it was still quite flat in pitch, even with the drone tuning slide pushed all the way in.

Ezeedrone reeds have a screw tuning mechanism. To sharpen, screw in, and to flatten screw out.  Even with the screw and tuning slide all the way in, the reed was still playing quite flat.  To remedy, I shortened the overall length of the reed by sanding down the bottom of the reed, taking off about 2mm.  This put the reed in tune, with a pleasing and mellow tone.

I repeated for the baritone reed. Again, I had to move the bridal a hair towards the seat to get the reed to speak with more authority.  In this case found that by adjusting the tuning slide alone, the reed came into tune. I did not need to shorten the quill.

I found the same for the bass reed. It voiced and tuned easily.

With all reeds sounding with authority and in tune, I connected my chanter, to test for balance between chanter and drones.  I found that overall balance and air usage was acceptable, so did not need to adjust further.  Chanter/ drone balance can be adjusted by moving the drone reed bridals just a hair, lengthening the tongue results in a louder tone with more air usage, and shortening the tongue a softer tone with less air requirement. Don’t adjust too much or the reed either will stop sounding, or drastically change in its pitch. Just a hair is all it takes.

Performance is excellent. The reeds all stop and start with no issues. I can flick a finger across the bell of each drone and stop the reed while playing.  By relaxing bag pressure a bit the individual reed will start right up. Drones cut in and out with a flick of the drone switch.  There is very little if any pressure variation in pitch. This is all as it should be.

Tone is loud and mellow. There is no rasp like one might get from a cane bass drone reed. Timbre is definilty different than cane, but not displeasing. I would describe it as more or a sine wave, compared to the square wave cane can produce. Rounder.

Tuning is extremely stable. I’ve had them a week now through a 100 degree plus heat wave followed by monsoon rains. With all the variability in heat and humidity I have no issues to report. My drone problem is solved.

If you are having drone reed tuning or stability issues, I can highly recommend the Ezeedrone Uilleann drone reeds.  Also if you just don’t want to fuss with your drone reeds this would be a good choice.  Personally I do prefer cane timbre, but given my circumstances, this works well for me.

Here is a sample recording of the Pipedreams EzeeDrones.

Recorded by me, on Martin Preshaw Drones, direct to disk in Reaper, 24bit mono, AKG C3000 Mic flat, normalized, converted to MP3 in Audacity.

Zoukfest 2009

Zoukfest 2009 is over, and it was both great fun and informative.  Zoukfest was held in Albuquerque for the first time, over three days, at UNM, June 12-14.  This is a shorter Zoukfest than in the past, but my understanding was that attendance was up, probably due to the easily accessible Albuquerque location. Attendees came from the Denver area, Albuquerque, and southern New Mexico, and Arizona for the most part. Many are repeat offenders. This was the first time Zoukfest was held in Albuquerque, but hopefully not the last. 

The 2009 event started with a welcome and pizza dinner followed by a crowded but rousing session at Brickyard Pizza.  The session, led by Roger Landes, went until 2AM with the music getting better and better as the wee hours of Saturday morning progressed. The session police were on patrol, ticketing whackers, clackers and clankers as needed. Bernie was doing a bit of board member baiting with her spoons!

Classes began Saturday morning, at the comfortable but chilly UNM Student Union Building, on Mañana time, promptly sometime after 10AM.  Sleepy instructors were Roger Landes, bouzouki and tenor banjo, Moira Smiley, voice, Randal Bayes, Celtic fiddle, Elliot Grasso, flute, and Dain Forsythe, Bouzouki.  Classes were given progressively at the beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.  One thing I noticed is that few beginners were in attendance, and next year perhaps classes can be adjusted accordingly.

I was lucky to attend classes with Moira, Elliot, and Randal. All are outstanding teachers.

I particularly enjoyed Moira’s freeform voice seminar, where we explored vocal timbre, and discussed many topics including Hambone / Step style, and diverse topics like how vocalists and bands interact, and differences between Irish and Scottish song styles. Moira is a natural teacher, and I highly recommend taking her class, weather you sing or not.

Randal presented three Celtic fiddle classes and I was able to attend the third, which was really more of a seminar.  Randal started by giving tips on violin amplification, always an interesting topic.   Next, Randall presented the cooks choice on getting an education in Irish traditional fiddle, talking about classic recordings, music sources, and complex bowings. At the same time he threw example tidbits of tasty tunes to be explored later. He wrapped up with a masters class critique for student volunteers.  Amazingly, he is self-taught, but with what I consider near perfect violin technique. His tune ornamentation is the most precise I have seen. Obviously he has worked hard at both his playing and teaching. His Friday Harbor camp is to be recommended.

Elliot Grasso presented tunes and concentrated on their form, ornamentation, and harmonization. Elliot is a great flute player, but is an Uilleann Pipe master, and we were lucky enough to get to hear him prepare for the nights concert on a Seth Gallagher full set lent by attendee and pipe maker Dirk Mewes. I missed his ‘Variation in Irish Music’ class, and would have liked to attend.

Dain Forsythe, Bodhran, and native to the Duke City, gave beginning and intermediate instruction in the Irish skin drum.  I did not attend his classes, but  can recommend his instruction. He teaches beginning and intermediate Bodhran classes at UNM continuing education at Apple Mountain Music, and is a prominent teacher and session player.

Private lessons were available with all the instructors.

Saturday’s classes were followed by a wonderful instructor performance at ‘The Outpost’, an intimate concert hall with an excellent sound system, Neil Copperman presiding. Moira Smiley began the set with an A cappella rendition of some Irish traveling ballads.  Dane Forsythe soon picked up his Bodhran for some tasty accompaniment to a more upbeat song in Jig time. Moira is a joy to watch onstage, and is an inveterate performer. She truly seems to enjoy her work.  Soon after, Elliot played some harmonically and rhythmically complex tunes on his borrowed pipes (which performed amazingly well given potential unfamiliarity and the dry climate). Of particular note was a set dance with complex changing meters and intricate regulator work accompaniment, the name of which escapes me.  Soon after Randal and Roger joined for some traditional sets, all wonderfully played. I had to leave after the first half of the concert ,so cannot comment on what followed. I believe a session ensued afterwards.

Sunday started again immediatly on Mañana time. I attended an excellent violin seminar by Randal, described above.

Zoukfest concluded with another session, held at Two Fools Irish Pub. The playing was excellent, but Two Fools suffers from being small, noisy, and crowded.  The session would perhaps have been better held elsewhere. Local Uilleann pipe virtuoso Andrew Post made a rare appearance, pipe-less, playing on his Sindt whistle.

All in all, a mighty weekend, full of learning, sleep deprivation, and the meeting of friends, both old and new. I can’t wait until next year!

The Zoukfest website is at:

Moira Smiley’s website is at:

Randal Bayes website (which is very interesting) is at:

Roger Landes’ website is at:

Dain Forsythe’s website is at:

Note to self: Drilling Ebony

Note to self: when drilling ebony, go slow, in tiny increments, and use some sort of lube, lest it crack! 100RPM drilling seems too fast.  Cracks develop internally and you don’t even know they exist until they reveal themselves during turning.

The Complete Metalsmith

An essential book for the pipemakers library bookshelf is:

The Complete Metalsmith. An Illustrated Handbook, by Tim McCreight

In one form or another, this book encapsulates much of the knowledge needed to work with the metal components of Uilleann Bagpipes.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.  Great tips on silver soldering, annealing, and pickling, among other things.

New Clips of Martin Preshaw’s Pipes, Played by Eamonn Dillon

Martin Preshaw, the Irish Uilleann Pipemaker, has recorded Eamonn Dillon playing his Uilleann Concert D Half Set. It’s just wonderful!

And a link to Martin’s website, which I maintain.

Question from Martin Preshaw on Uilleann Pipe and Reed Making Instruction

Martin Preshaw, the Irish maker of Uilleann Bagpipes, is considering offering private instruction in bagpipe making and reed making.

If you are interested, please complete his short survey.


He is trying to gauge interest.

Finbar Fury Reedmaking Tutorial

Finbar FureyAn excellent Uilleann reed-making tutorial for a Concert D chanter, by master Uilleann piper and reedmaker Finbar Furey.