Full Review: MacLellan Revelation Bagpipes

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Alright, now that I have a few playing sessions on these, I feel like I can give them a full review of this instrument (highlights, lowlights, etc.). Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of Roddy’s pipes, but I’ll do my best to be as objective here as I possibly can.

To save time, I won’t go much into detail of the unique features of this bagpipe, which you can read about in my previous post so you know what I’m talking about as far as that’s concerned. Also, for reference, my full test setup was as follows: Ross suede bag, tube trap, Kinnaird Edge drone reeds.

So let’s start off with the cellulose polymer lined drones and the silica cartridge stocks mentioned prior. How well do they really work? The answer: very well indeed. As mentioned prior, I completely removed my canister drying system and replaced with just a simple tube-style water trap. I am an oral firehose, so some kind of canister or dessicant system is a must for me, so reducing to just a tube trap was a real torture-test of the moisture resistance of this bagpipe.

After an hour long session of playing, I disassembled the bagpipe and noted the following: 1)  absolutely no visible condensation on the drone reeds, and 2) only the slightest bit in the drone bores. There were no visible beads in the bores, but the polymer lining appeared to be slightly wet. Nowhere near enough to condense on the surface and dribble down into the drone reeds to cause tuning or stability problems. Though my tube trap was totally full and I dumped about a shotglass worth of water out of it, the silica and polymer did an excellent job of removing the rest. I’m so impressed I’ve decided to also just run my ABW set out of the silica cartridge stocks for the superior moisture control, thus removing the need for a bulky, heavy canister.

Drying out the stock cartridges couldn’t be easier – simply remove them from the instrument and allow them to air dry naturally. For quicker drying, a hair dryer on medium heat can be used for 20-30 seconds. You do not want to microwave these the way you would a canister system, for it could distort the shape of the cartridge and not allow it to be reinserted.

So we’ve established that this bagpipe does have superior moisture resistance, better than many wooden bagpipes I would imagine and definitely better than every other Delrin bagpipe out there. So what about the tone and air efficiency? Concerning air efficiency, it’s got the same air efficient profile of my ABW MacLellan, so I noticed no difference there (it surprised me initially when I got my first MacLellan how little pressure was required to produce a superior sound).

Tonally speaking, this bagpipe is a total winner. It lives up to the claim of sounding more like a wooden bagpipe. There isn’t any of the harsh, brassy, metallic tone that’s often found in all-Delrin bagpipes. The cellulose polymer lining does a fantastic job of tempering that, giving a more natural, wood-like tone. Compared to my ABW set, the drones aren’t quite as loud, but have more than ample presence. Maybe Robertson-esque or Lawrie-esque is how I would describe them (not quite as loud as a classic Henderson, but not as subdued as a classic Glen, MacDougall, etc.).

The bass drone features a great depth and richness of sound, which are complemented by warm, ringing, but not bright, tenors. The blend is steady, seamless and brought out many rich, ringing harmonics in the three chanter/reed combinations I tried with these pipes. Those combinations being: McCallum McC2 solo poly w/Husk reed, MacLellan standard solo delrin w/Apps G3, Dunbar/JM Aurora solo poly w/Troy McAllister reed, all 3 the same strength (about 23-24″ H2O – very light but necessary for me). The drones went well with all the chanter/reed combinations, and save for some adjustment of the tuning screws to pitch each on the tuning pins, I didn’t have to touch the reeds. Of course, each chanter/reed combo retained its unique tone and pitch, as to be expected, but all were a great blend. Though all chanters tested were solo chanters, I’m sure they would go equally well with a band chanter.

My preference was the JM, but that’s with any setup as it is slightly lower-pitched than the other two, which is my liking (probably the lowest pitched solo chanter around – Jim McGillivray and Dunbar did a great job designing it and it sounds fantastic. It also has a fairly narrow finger spacing making it very comfortable to play).

As far as downsides, there were a few to note, but I already knew these things going into it. The first thing to note is the weight. Delrin is a fair bit heavier than wood, and the pipes are noticeably heavier than my ABW set in the same drone profile and with very similar adornments. However, removing the canister system negated this effect and actually resulted in a slightly lighter setup than my ABW set with canister. The other is the blowpipe, which seems to have a small-ish bore and is slightly restrictive. In its place, as I have for the past several years, I play an aftermarket blowpipe from Peter Crisler, which is wide-bored, adjustable, and has absolutely no restriction whatsoever. Lastly, and this is very minor, but the cartridge stocks have a rather large outer diameter to accommodate the cartridge. This can make fitting to certain pipe bags with grommets/collars a bit of a challenge. I had to work to get them into my Ross bag, and I’m sure a Bannatyne or Canmore bag would be an even greater challenge.

All in all, color me impressed. Roddy really has elevated the Delrin bagpipe to heights beyond any other before it. Not only is it more moisture resistant, the sound is virtually indistinguishable from a wooden instrument, while retaining the durability and resilency of Delrin that make it the ideal material for playing extreme heat, cold, wet, dry, etc. environments that would likely damage a wooden instrument. Sure, there are production Delrin instruments from other manufacturers that are half the price or less depending on decoration, but the extra cost and wait is well worth it for a superior instrument.

I highly recommend these pipes.

PS: I tried to capture a sound clip, but I don’t have any professional recording equipment and my phone and computer mics were overpowered by the sheer volume. I’ll try to get one sometime if I can get some better recording equipment.

The Newest Addition to My Musical Instrument Family

At approximately 1:30 PM CDT Friday, prior to my departure for San Antonio, I took delivery of these:

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To supplement my existing 2008 MacLellan bagpipe in African Blackwood, I decided around the beginning of this year I wanted one of Roddy’s new “Revelation” instruments. This bagpipe is made of Delrin plastic, which is not an entirely new concept within the bagpipe world as Delrin has some distinct advantages over wooden instruments – mainly when it comes to playing outdoors in extreme heat, cold, arid, wet, etc. conditions. Wooden instruments are very sensitive to the environment around them, and any time you add in these factors, you risk cracking, warping, among other things. (To be fair, I’ve played my ABW set in some extreme conditions without ill effect, but it always left me nervous afterward.)

That said, Delrin isn’t without its drawbacks. Due to the density and hardness of the material, it often times results in a rather brash, hard, and unrefined tonal quality as compared to wooden instruments. It’s also not porous like wood, which results in moisture condensation from the player’s breath forming inside the drone bores much more quickly than with a wooden instrument. For these reasons, I’ve held off on a Delrin instrument.

Enter the new Revelation design from MacLellan. Debuting in 2017, this instrument elevates the Delrin bagpipe to a level beyond anything any other Delrin instrument has. Roddy has made some really unique innovations, bringing together the best qualities of Delrin while eliminating the drawbacks.

The first thing of note is the cellulose polymer lining inside the drone bores:

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Cellulose polymer is used extensively in the bagpipe world, as many synthetic drone reeds are made from it. Cellulose polymer adds two things to the bagpipe, namely moisture absorption more like a wooden instrument and, being a wood-based material, makes the air column resonate more like a wooden instrument, thus softening the often brash sound associated with a Delrin instrument.

The other thing is the incorporation of a silica gel cartridge inside the drone stocks (the stocks being the part that ties into the bag – for those of you who aren’t bagpipe people):

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These also have the cellulose polymer lining as you can see, but beneath the perforations lies a charge of silica gel desiccant. This also absorbs moisture, much like the various canister systems. For this reason, I plan to run both sets of pipes through the same stocks for that effect, so I can eliminate my heavy, bulky canister system and replace with a simple tube-style spit trap as a “first line” of defense against excess moisture and have these take over from there.

Between these two innovations and a slight tweak of the internal dimensions, MacLellan really has elevated the Delrin instrument. In addition to these benefits, due to the material these can be traveled with worldwide without issue, whereas most woods used in the making of bagpipes today are now listed as endangered per CITES and need special permitting to travel with.

Of course, as with all of Roddy’s instruments, they can be customized to suit your personal decor. This is part of what drew me to his instruments originally – they have a unique, distinct look in the world of “cookie cutter” bagpipes. They are works of art. My Revelations are no different, and I chose designs that I think are a reflection of me. My pipes are done in his chalice profile fully combed and beaded, with imitation horn button mounts and dragon knot engraved bronze slides, ferrules and caps:

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So there’s that. Hope you enjoyed some of the eye-candy. I’ve been gradually getting them set up this week, from re-doing the hemp thread joints (as I do with any new set of pipes I receive), fitting the bag, cover, cords and reeds, and hopefully sometime this week I’ll get to calibrate the reeds and play a few tunes. We shall see though.

In the meantime, here’s a great video of Roddy explaining a lot of what I’ve explained above. It’s quite interesting.

The Scratched Out Face…

So it’s been but a day since I’ve had my new tattoo. For those who missed the post, here it is:

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The question I’ve gotten from a few people is who is that person in the picture frame? Whose face is marked out of that picture? Some have speculated it’s an ex-lover, an ex-friend or something of the sort. Truth be told when Jade first drew it up I didn’t quite know either (note: this was an element in the original concept drawing she did with the hourglass and scroll, but it didn’t fit on my left side). I just knew it spoke to me in some way and asked her to add the element back in for this piece. Well today, in my daily BSing and virtual cuddling with my beloved neuro-sister Laina, I figured it out.

So who is this person? I can’t speak for Jade and her vision in the original drawing. That said, as I’m the one wearing the tattoo, it’s up to me to define, so here’s your answer: that person is *ME*.

Now hold on a second, why would I scratch my own face out? It’s easy really: I’m not the same person I was a few years ago. Hell, I’m not the same person I was two months ago. In that light, the scratched out face represents the old me. The me who dealt with my pain in very unhealthy ways (of which I will not go into detail here). The old me who was judgmental of others. The old me who hated the mere concept of neurodiversity and got so angry with my fellow autism spectrumites who said “I don’t want a cure.” The old me who thought I was sick, broken, and a freak of nature. The old me who thought I was doomed for failure from the day I was born.

In short: the picture represents the me I don’t ever want to revert back to.

I’ll keep that picture as a reminder of where I’ve been and where I don’t want to return. The picture stays there on my desk (or, in this case, in my dermis) reminding me not to look into the past, but to the future instead.

Moving forward is not about forgetting my past. It’s about processing it and moving on from it. It’s about becoming the truly best version of me I can be. Placement wise, it’s almost in direct line with my semicolon – my very first tattoo as a symbol that I’m still here. Whether or not that was a conscious thing for Jade when she stenciled it on I don’t know, but to me it ties that in. After all, my first tattoo is what set all this in motion anyway – launching this blog, which led to me crossing paths with so many of you, and for Laina and I to eventually meet in person. My ink journey started my transformation, but that was only the beginning. My trip to San Antonio at the end of March was a bigger step – being in the presence of the person I now believe is my “twin soul” who helped me realize my own worth as I am.

I’ve still got a lot of work ahead of me, but it’s nothing I can’t handle. Nothing worth it is easy after all, now is it? Alas, this is the start of better things ahead.

And that, my friends, is the story behind the scratched out face.

Next Tattoo Preview

You know I can’t go more than a few months without a new tattoo, and it’s been two months since my last one thus the time is getting near again.

For this one I wanted something like a tabletop scene to “complete” what I just completed on my left arm. What would I normally be doing while writing? Probably smoking a cigar and sipping some wine right? Hence the concept for my next tattoo was born, which I pitched to Jade and she loved, so here’s what she came up with:

Appointment set for Saturday May 4th so stay tuned; as always my lovely followers are among the first who will see it!

I’ll Spread My Wings and I’ll Learn How to Fly…

In the final post of this series (and likely also the shortest), this refernce is another one you practically had to be living under a rock to miss the reference. Well, maybe not as blatantly as you would have had to with “Complicated” but maybe it’s obvious to me because this last one was almost our high school class song (it lost out to some stupid-ass country song called “Young” – I was disappointed).

So I’ve decided to embrace my quirks and so-called “flaws,” decided to un-complicate things and decided to live life I never have. So what do I have to in order to do that?

That’s an easy one: I need to spread my wings and learn how to fly. I need to do what it takes to touch the sky. I need to make a wish, take a chance, make a change and breakway from this prison that I call Crapilene. When I moved to DFWTF, I thought my heart was calling me back to Abilene and maybe it was in the interim, but that was just a safety net. I realize I was just falling victim to Stockholm syndrome, aggravated by the excessive misery heaped upon me by the toxic culture of “The Met” (and anyone who has lived there knows DFWTF will absolutely suck your soul).

With starting a new business comes a huge risk. Oh it’s a risk. I’ve done some scary shit in the past, but that’s probably the scariest thing anyone could ever do. Alas, with big risk also comes the potential for big reward. My business model will never make me rich, and I mean never. If I were to be honest with myself I’d be making considerably less money than I am now, even being in a city that’s all but ideal for my business concept (which SA is while Abilene is not in any way). A high end cigar & spirits bar is a labor of love all the way.

Alas, there is one thing I’ve come to realize: getting rich is life’s biggest booby prize. Living where I do (not actually in Abilene, but in a farming community just outside) I’m actually considered high income for my area even though I don’t bank. Alas I have next-to-no living expenses in my current arrangement. I’m living almost like someone who really makes half again what I make in my salaried 7-4 job. I used to think all I needed was money and I’d be happy (particularly when I went through a long stretch of unemployment), but now that I have some money in the bank and am still as miserable as ever, I realize how wrong that notion was. Of course, it’d be nice to be both happy and rich but I think every person on this fucking planet would pick happiness over riches if they were forced to pick between one or the other. You’d have to be a real idiot not to (or maybe a masochist).

Of course, the added benefit of being in SA would be to be close to my beloved neuro-sister. While it might be the icing on the cake, it’s a very, very thick layer of icing – maybe even thicker than the cake itself. Someone who I see as potential partner in this business endeavor (but who would also be the toughest one to convince to come with me) actually seems to sympathize and suggested we might be twin souls. Maybe that explains the pain I’m feeling as I write this – maybe it’s like a magnet that’s pulling on my body so hard that it’s creating pain beause my body can’t move with the pull.

Of course, that’s not to downplay saying goodbye to the ones here. Of course I love my parents, and while they would be sad to see me go, they’re even sadder that I feel so bad. I’ve not yet divulged to them why I feel this bad, but they know. They just know, and I’m sure they’d be 100% supportive of me when this comes to fruition. I’ll be back to visit of course. Abilene to SA is only about 250 miles after all, and after I’ve gotten this far in my tattoo journey almost exclusively as one artist’s canvas (and soon to be just one artist’s when I have her re-work the one done by someone else that healed like complete shit) so I’ll have to come back to add to my tattoo collection, unless she decides to break away herself and open a shop in SA that is. 😉

And yes, you read that right – it’s not “if,” it’s “when” – it’s in the stars – not only am I a tropical (false) Pisces I’m also a sidereal (true) Pisces and self-employment is in my DNA according to the true system and after exploring sidereal astrology with Laina I am a firm believer in it – hence my calling this whole thing a spiritual awakening. I’m not saying I make my every move based on it, but it’s amazingly and bizarrely accurate.

My purpose isn’t to sit in an office all day. My purpose is to do cool shit with cool people. While cranes are cool machines, the career/industry surrounding it is anything but. It’s just as soul-sucking as any other corporate job. Nah, I have to transcend. I have no choice. If I don’t, well then I might as well just commit suicide because by not I’ll be doing nothing but prolonging needless suffering and I absolutely refuse to subject the ones I love to the pain of losing a loved one to suicide. I just can’t do it. Why do you think I’m so glad my attempt four years ago failed, against all odds.

Breaking away is the final step in my personal transformation, which has been a process and now it’s entering its final stages. Of course, the process started on January 2nd, 2016 when that seemingly small blue mark was permanently etched into the dermis of my posterior inner right wrist reminding me that my story wasn’t over yet. Who knew something so small, so profound would have such life-changing consequences? What are the odds.

It’s not coincidence. It’s destiny.

Well, so much for being the shortest post of the series. It turned out to be the longest. Oops. I guess the words just flow sometimes. But that’s OK. I’ll say what needs to be said regardless of word count. Hope you enjoyed the song if anything else.

That concludes this series. I know I’ll have my haters, but you need not comment. I have no time for that. If you dare to hate on any of these posts by the time this one goes up (note: the series were pre-written on the same day and set to post in succeeding days) you will be automatically blacklisted. I don’t need anyone raining on my parade. You’re either with me or you’re not and if you’re not fuck off and unfollow me. Thank you.

Some Thoughts About Bagpipe Pitch

Continuing my recent theme of bagpipe-related posts, one thing I don’t think I could gloss over is an issue that has bothered me for a long time now – the ever-increasing pitch of the bagpipe.

An old grad school friend of mine last night remarked to me that it seemed to her that the pitch of the bagpipe has increased sharply (pun fully intended!) in the modern time. I reassured her that it was not just her ears playing tricks on her. This trend is a real thing and it’s just not a good trend in my view.

As for why this trend is a thing, despite a lot of pipers not being happy with the trend? Well, let’s just say pipe band competition drives a lot of market trends in the industry and pipe bands (particularly at the top levels of competition where minutia can make the difference between a first place and last place finish). For whatever reason, bands tended to note that if they pitched their chanters (and subsequently their drones) just a shade higher than the rest of the field it gave them an edge in scoring, most likely because a higher pitched sound is perceived as louder (well, at least within the normal operating range of the bagpipe). As such, the stage was set for an arms race for who could produce the highest pitched sound.

This trend took an instrument that once pitched a few hertz higher than concert Bb (that’s B-flat for you non-musical people) to one that now pitches right at B (natural). In the last 10 years we’ve seen almost a half-step increase in the pitch.

So why is it a problem, so long as the instrument is tuned well? The answer is the higher up you go in pitch the more of the upper harmonics (upper partials if you will) you lose as they become inaudible to the human ear as they are now in a frequency range the human ear does not detect. What you gain in perception of volume and clarity you lose in richness of tone. In the band scene this might not be a huge issue when you have multiple instruments to fill the sound out, but a soloist at today’s modern band pitch does not sound pleasant. Hell, it’s even so high now that bands don’t sound pleasant anymore.

Let’s do some case in point here. Same band, 10 years apart. One performance from 2008 and one from 2018. The difference in pitch is absolutely shocking.

This has no doubt gotten out of hand. Alas, it’s harder and harder to find lower pitched chanters these days, which is why I was relieved to find one in my perusing of shops last night (designed by a major bagpipe making firm in conjunction with a top-level piper), and no doubt I’ll be ordering one to complete my new set of drones (and to use with my current one). My current go-to chanter was designed for a vintage pitch but along with chanters, even modern reeds are designed higher pitched than they used to be so the pitch of my chanter has creeped up in turn. It’ll be interesting to see how this one compares.

I don’t know. All I do know is that I sure hope the trend reverses soon.

What do you think? Pipers or laypeople, what do you make of this trend?