One struggle I’ve often found with setting up my bagpipe to match my physiology (which requires a very easy bagpipe – my chanter reed is set around 23-24 inches of water) is with drone reeds. Namely, I’d have to close my drone reeds off so much that the drone tops would nearly be falling off the pin and a substantial amount of tonal quality sacrificed due to having a short effective tongue length.
For the longest time I played a set of Rocket drone reeds which were fine at the time but those are hard to come by these days and, to be quite frank, the last set I received just didn’t have the same quality as I had come to enjoy out of the original set that came with my 2008 MacLellan bagpipe.
After retiring the Rockets I settled on a set of Kinnaird Evolution reeds – the previous iteration of the Kinnaird reed. These were solid reeds with a good tone but due to having to close them down so much striking them in was impossible (even with a set of easy Evolutions). I was left to only blow them up with a quick puff and having to tolerate a split second of squealing tenors.
Then enter the Edge drone reeds – not an entirely new concept in the world of synthetic drone reeds but one that borrows some of the best design elements of various drone reeds prior and rolls them all into one killer combination. First off is the unique curved carbon fiber tongue on the Kinnaird reeds since day one – probably the most harmonically rich synthetic reed design and the closest to a cane sound as they come. Second is the fixed bridle of the Rocket reed – this gives the longest possible effective tongue length across all strengths. Third is the grub screw strength adjustment of the Ross/Crozier Omega drone reed – this eliminates moving the bridle and allows for much more precise adjustment of the strength.
Now here’s where the Kinnaird Edge is different – instead of the bendable body with flat tongue of the Omega reed and/or the fixed tongue spring of the Rocket, one adjusts the tongue’s spring level of the Edge using the adjustment screw at the base of the tongue. No bridle adjustments are needed, leaving the full effective tongue length intact. Of course, pitch is adjusted with the grub screw in the nose cone as in all of the Kinnaird designs previous.
The reeds arrived to me well packaged and insulated. The reeds themselves are made from materials that are practically indestructible but this was an added measure of protection so the reeds will no doubt arrive at your door in proper playing condition.
After adding the required amount of black waxed hemp to seat the reeds securely in the reed seats, I plugged off the bass and middle tenor and proceeded to use the outer tenor as my baseline to match with the chanter reed for strength. I quickly found out that the tiniest of adjustments with the tongue grub screw produced drastic changes in strength. So much as 1/16th of a turn can make a very light reed into a very strong reed and vice versa. Several tiny movements and a little bit of patience are required to dial the reed in perfectly, but after several tries I found the “sweet spot” of having just enough overblow protection but not consuming too much air compared to my chanter reed.
I then proceeded to cork the chanter and then match the bass reed to the outer tenor and finally the middle tenor to the other two. Again, several tries were required to equalize all three reeds in terms of strength but a little persistence paid off when I got all three reeds to shut off at the exact same amount of overpressure. After I accomplished this, I added in the chanter to make further adjustments.
After 15 or so minutes of warming up the chanter to get it up to pitch, I was required to sink the grub screws in the nose cones to bring the tenors tops and bass mid section down to the sweet spot on the tuning pins. It should be noted these reeds are pitched fairly high so if you play a lower pitched setup you might require reed extenders. I had to sink the screws almost as far down as they’d go to get the drones in their optimal tuning range using a McCallum McC2 solo chanter with a Husk reed (my Low A pitches around 475 Hz with this setup – on the lower side of today’s tuning range which is my preference).
Once I got the pitch dialed in to match my warm chanter I proceeded to play several tunes. The results I got were nothing short of astounding – the drones did not budge in the slightest for the entire time I was playing. Not only did they remain locked in for the duration of the session they produced a big, bold, powerful sound in my MacLellan drones – a deep, profound bass with bright, ringing tenors that blended together seamlessly without any of the harsh buzzing noise found in many synthetic reeds. The end result was a solid wall of sound that brought out the overtones in the various notes of the chanter in a huge way. The entire setup just seemed to vibrate into my core. The entire instrument became a true joy to play.
Strike-ins and cutoffs were a cinch, even with a synthetic (Ross suede) bag. Note I do not use drone valves or a canister system either one so that’s saying something. Moisture resistance was very good – even as water vapor condensed on the reeds they remained steady as a rock.
I have nothing more to say than I am totally blown away by these reeds. They were the absolute perfect solution for my situation. The ease of setup, bold/rich tonal quality and ease of starts and stops really make these the ideal reed for a variety of players. I think only well-set cane reeds could possibly beat these for tone but who’s got the time and desire to deal with the headaches? If you want the best out of your drones without the hassle of cane, give the Kinnaird Edge drone reeds a try. You’ll be glad you did. Rating: 5/5.