Yesterday I got tired of sitting in front of the computer and decided to give reed making a go. I had bought some tools from the local hardware store…files, sandpaper, pliers, etc. and I have had cane drying drying underneath the couch since last year. I thought to start making bagpipe reeds by using a book I had been given on how to make Northumbrian Small Pipe reeds by Colin Ross. This book was given to me by a reed maker from Appleby in Cumbria, UK. not too far from where I live. I met Bill while I was busking one day in Carlisle and through this contact I later met him in his home where he showed me his workshop, give me some tools and materials and sent me away telling me to go and make reeds, as he was stopping making. I did not do anything for a year, but now I have the time I will try it.
For this experiment I would not use the cane underneath my couch, I would use plastic so if i make a mess I can easily start again. The plastic came from a yoghurt carton and after cutting it to the specified measurements and fixed it to the metal staple I blew into it. It works, it is not loud, I need to experiment a bit with it, add a bridle, scrap it, etc. but it sounds and seems to be the right shape.
There is now a tradition of making plastic reeds. I am in favor of them, as a musician you need that stability these days. The cane reeds are great if they work well but when using your breath to play the bagpipe the moisture can cause all sorts of problems. Plastic reeds last, and it is possible to get a nice sounding reed especially if you learn to make them yourself.
Of course cane reeds sound excellent and if you are into the tradition then they are the right reed for you, but I feel if you are trying to make a living by using cane reeds then you need a steady supply of good reeds and this is not always possible to get on demand from busy pipe makers.
Bellows blown pipes are less of a problem of course due to the dry air from the bellows, but humidity is a problem with the NSP and I have played countless times…or not played, due to the reed closing, changing, getting weak and altering pitch to such an extent that I had to stop playing. This can not be a factor if one is playing for ones living. On the streets it is wet and hot, cold and windy…I am tired of playing in the shadows all the time when it is warm.
So a stable reed is important and I am quite sure if the traditional pipers from centuries ago could have had a plastic reed I am sure they would have used it.