Bagpipe FAQ : GHB : Reeds :
How do I make a reed easier to play?
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I've played the same setup as you--I own two very nice MacFarlane (Travaille) chanters--though at the moment I'm playing Mike Gilmour's reeds in my Naill chanter and having good success.
Mike uses very hard cane indeed (probably indigenously grown Australian cane), and I wish I'd known about it when I was a professional bassoonist. Now that I'm back to the bagpipe, I find that I get to use my "classical" double-reedmaking and reed adjusting skills with Mike's reeds in particular, since they are so "hard."
In the current issue of the EUSPBA's "The Voice" magazine, Nancy Tunnicliffe has an excellent article about chanter reed adjustment. You should definitely read this! The one very important thing she does not address, however, is the actual technique that you must employ when using a (very sharp) knife or utility razor or straight-edge razor (one of those old-fashioned ones) to scrape cane from the reed blades. I guess the most important pieces of advice here would be (1) use a really sharp blade, preferably something heavier than a razor, which tends to "chatter" and thus create little ruts in the cane; (2) never scrape "backwards"--always scrape FROM the wrapping TO the reed tip; (3) always hold the edge of the knife blade perpendicular to the cane; and (4) never "dig" at the cane, but rather "scratch" at it in smooth motions, as if scratching an itch on your arm with your fingernails.
Scraping is rather an art in itself, and you may want to refer to some books on oboe reed making for text and illustrations (try Jay Light's The Oboe Reed Book, esp chapter 6 on "The Scrape"; also David Weber and Ferald Capps's The Reed Maker's Manual, which is really an excellent resource book overall and has a lot of info that transfers readily to the bagpipe chanter reed). Bassoon reed making is a little different, though the scraping/knife techniques are similar. But I think the oboe stuff transfers best to pipe chanter reed work.
Nancy rightly points out that using sandpaper can be bad, because it creates dust that can clog the pores of the cane. Oboists and bassoonists use specially cut and sharpened knives to make and adjust their reeds. (You can easily find these knives in woodwind specialty shops, such as Forrests in Berkeley, CA, and Brian Charles Double Reed in North Conway, NH. Both of these shops have great websites--just do a search.)
The other thing Nancy doesn't discuss is "balancing" the reed. It's certainly important to try first to take cane out of the "heart" of the reed, the part nearest the wrapping (also called the hump, the back, etc.) to ease the reed. But I've found it necessary to balance that work by taking a little out of the blades, too, right out to and including the very tips of the blades. This is where it helps to use what classical double-reeders call a "plaque," a thin metal lozenge that is actually gently inserted between the reed blades to help support them while you're scraping each side/blade of the reed. The fact that many pipers are often abjectly terrified of actually scraping near or at the reed tips is often why they end up with reeds that have flat E's or F's, at least in my experience.
Well, I hope all this blether helps you somehow. All the best,
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