Large (more detailed) image
NB - the colours in these pictures are pretty muddy; the reeds are actually identical to the big pipe reeds in materials and design concept (and hence colour). The main difference, as you can see, is that all the tongues are inverted.
Bandwidth - please do yourself and everyone else a favour by downloading and saving locally a copy of the recordings, as repeated listening from my server soon adds up. Ta.
My setup procedure was basically to get one reed set up at a time, first in the mouth, and then in the pipe. I've recorded each stage, from all-cane to all-plastic, to let you have a chance at hearing what difference they make tone-wise (Executive summary: slightly different, but no worse, to my ears). Notes of what I found follow.
First, here's what an all-cane setup sounds like. I'm playing Ian Kinnear's polypenco smallpipes. They're over five years old, probably one of the earlier sets he produced. Whether he's changed his design in the meantime, and whether this has any bearing on reed setup, I can't say.
The first reed I set up was the bass, as this is the reed I have the most trouble with (by trouble, I mean pitch changes in warm environments, or even stopping altogether. With cane, I can't maintain a decent sound in a session). The first thing I found is that all the reeds have to have a slip of hemp put on them to get them firmly into the reed seat. This minor annoyance out the way, I got on to mouth blowing the reed. The first thing I found was that it was shutting off immediately it felt a breeze, so I opened up the tongue, and discovered the main 'aha' with these reeds: the tongue is very sensitive to bridle movements. It's possible to not see any bridle movement at all and still make the difference between working well and not working. Still, it's not a major problem, and once you've got it right (doesn't take long), it doesn't cause any further problems.
Once I had the tongue going properly, I screwed the screw right in to get the drone up to pitch. One good thing about these reeds is that they are designed to tune up the pin; whether I was just unlucky I don't know, but most of my smallpipe drone reeds tune a long way down on the pin, and it doesn't do the sound any good, apart from anything else.
Having mouthblown it to pitch, I got it plugged in, and discovered I was being an enthusiastic Highland piper and overblowing my reed...pulled it out, shortened the tongue by a hair from the heid of a bald man, and plugged it back in and got it going again.
This reed took a long time to settle into tune. It sharpened up by almost a semitone in a few minutes, meaning I ended up having to pull the screw back out again. Once it was moderately steady, I recorded a sample.
As with the bass, I had the same fun getting the tongue spot on, though I managed a bit faster this time. I also screwed in the screw. The main problem here was really that the bass was still moving slightly, so tuning the thing was more annoying (I just tuned that d*** bass!). Recording here - the difference in sound is beginning to making itself noticeable here. This reed settled down faster than the bass - shorter tongue, perhaps?
The baritone was the easiest of the three; the tongue needed no adjustment and I just had to move the screw in a bit to get the slide to the optimum position. Again, it settled into tune fairly quickly, though all three reeds were still moving very slightly when I took the final recording.
By the way, the tunes on this last recording are "The Merry Wives of Carlisle" and a reel called "The Fyket" (literally meaning "The Fidget", the 18th century's answer to "Itchy Fingers"). They both come from Gordon Mooney's book of Border pipe music.
These are excellent reeds. I've maybe made the process sound harder than it is; if you are at all used to plastic reeds then setting these up is child's play, literally. It only took me an hour because I was faffing around recording it all. The sound, to my ears is no worse. I'll perhaps post more once I've played them for a fair while, but at the moment, they get an A-minus (for the sensitive tongues; I don't think they need to be that fussy).
A note on the recordings: They were recorded using Audacity, the free cross-platform music recording system, and encoded to MP3 using Lame with VBR encoding at a high quality setting.
I won't put the original wav files up here, as I like my bandwidth the way it is (ie not saturated). If you really want them, drop me a line and I'll email them out in a single batch. The quality is not significantly higher than the MP3 files, though.
Edit 2009: I more or less agree with what I wrote six years ago. The reeds are still in the pipes and going strong. I have been told by a couple of pipemakers that the sensitivity of these reeds to pressure is more a function of the construction of the drones than of the reed itself, and this makes sense in view of the simple fact I never had great success with cane in these either. I tried out a set of Fred Morrison's Reelpipes and with essentially the same drone reeds, they are a much more forgiving instrument.
I took this page down a while back under the impression it had outlived its usefulness but I see from my hits log that it is still getting hits pretty frequently, so after finding a backup that worked, it's back.