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Folk Instrument FAQ's
Because we are here to assist everyone interested in folk music, we are setting aside a portion of our web site to answer questions about folk music and folk instruments. If you have any question at all about what an instrument is, how it is played, where you can find a particular song, how to build or repair an instrument, etc., please email us; we promise to do our best to answer all inquiries as soon as possible.
You can email us at: mail@songsea.com  We look forward to hearing from you!
Which practice chanter to get
How to start playing a Highland pipe

Beginning Bagpipes
Which Practice Chanter to Get:
One consideration is, if there is a band that you might be practicing with, what is the most common practice chanter that they use.  The reason for this is that every maker's chanter plays in a different pitch.  The odd thing is though, that very few bands have one chanter brand that they all practice on.  This is only helpful at band practices if you are all playing together on practice chanters, which may not be that frequent.  If you are taking lessons in a large group and you all play together, the same chanter is handy.  If you are practicing individually and then when you get to band practice are on the pipes, with "matched pipe chanters", then the whole band will be in tune, because all the chanters will be the same pitch, ordered from the same maker at the same time.  These matched chanters for the pipe are essential if a band wants to play together, it is the only way you can tune up together.
        So a different practice chanter is not that much of a problem unless you are doing group lessons on the practice chanters.
        At band practice, many bands will have people sitting around an 8 foot table, with the bottom of their practice chanters sitting on the table and the mouthpiece reaching up to their mouth as they sit in a chair.  What does that mean for the size of chanter?  If you are over 5 foot 11 inches you may feel more comfortable with a "long" practice chanter, you won't need to feel like you are hunched over, trying to reach the table.  If you are under 5 foot 11 inches tall you will probably want a "regular" practice chanter so you won't feel as though you have the top of the mouthpiece stuck into the roof of your mouth.  If you are under 5 foot 2 inches you may feel more comfortable with a child's chanter, or if you have extremely small hands.  If you have a shorter table or taller chair or just don't like to rest your practice chanter on a table then you just have to pick a practice chanter size that seems like a good fit for you.
        A "child's" practice chanter definately has a tighter finger grouping than the actual chanter on the pipes.  A "regular" practice chanter has a slightly tighter finger grouping than the actual chanter on the pipes, except for a Gibson which is the same stretch as a pipe chanter.  A "long" practice chanter, normally is the same finger stretch as most chanters for the pipes.  There is not a huge difference between the regular and long, stretch.  Most modern makers, countersink the holes on the chanters so they are easier to feel for and more closely resemble the feel of the normally larger holes on the pipe chanter.  After you have done your time on the practice chanter, it should only take a few days, to a week, to feel comfortable with the fingering on a pipe chanter.  The pipe chanter holes are so much larger, they are very easy to feel under your fingers and lead to rapid self correction besides a pipe chanter is atleast 5 times louder than the practice chanter so you get instant feed back as to whether you are not covering the tone hole properly.
        As you may know already, there are only 9 notes on the Scottish pipes, the same system is on the Highland Pipe, the Border Pipes and the Smallpipe.  Geographically that is pretty much in relation from the mountains to the sea.  If you play piano, the familiar 88 notes on a piano are wicked harder than a Scottish pipe has ever thought about being.  Traditionally you have on the Highland Pipe three different pentatonic scales, A, D and G.  That gives you enough notes for a diatonic 8 tone scale, plus 1.  The Piobaireachd music, or classical music for the pipe was set up for these pentatonic scales.
        Before we go on there are a few other oddities that you need to know about.  The pipes keep getting sharper through time.  In 1850 they were about A=440hz, in 1945 they had moved up to a modern B flat and now, depending on the make of the pipe chanter and the year it was made, the pipes are somewhere between , 20-45cents sharp of B flat.  That is why, as a band it is important to have matched, pipe chanters.  If you have 25 bands on a field, there is a good chance you may have 20+ different pitches out there.
        Please note in the discussion above I've been talking about 2 totally different chanters.  The Highland Pipe chanter is a conical bore instrument used on a set of Highland Pipes, that depending on the hardness of the reeds, in the chanter and drones, can kick out from 90-130 decibels.  We like to call the Highland Pipes, "on the brighter side of life" or also affectionately called "the Harley-Davidson of Bagpipes".  90-130 decibels is like the sound from, 1-3 trumpets, pointed at you sounding from 3 feet away.  On the other hand, practice chanters are the chanter from a Scottish Smallpipe, with a cylindrical bore, a weaker(quieter)reed and putting out by themselves about 25-35 decibels. If you add Smallpipe drones to that you can maybe get up to 45-60 decibels, depending on the pipe with a smallpipe chanter reed instead of a practice chanter reed in the chanter.
        All the music is written as though it is in the key of C, no sharps or flats are seen.  Your key note, Low A, will actually be sharp of B flat.  Just read the notes to get the name for the fingerings of the notes.  All the books will show within 1-5 pages all the fingering information for the 9 notes that exist.  All the rest of the book is related to figuring out the different grace note systems. Why you ask?  Well the 9 notes are nice and musical but a little dry, plus you can tongue the blow pipe all day long put you won't hear any tonguing out of the pipe, because the bag is in the way.  Tonguing is a very nice affect produced on a wind instrument.  The grace notes mimic tonguing and create all sorts of wonderful "pops" out of the chanter.
        Ok, the last weirdness is the temperament.  Keyboards, piano especially, the organ sometimes not, most woodwinds and brasswinds are normally equal tempered.  The pipes predate all of that by over 3 thousand years.  The pipes went from just being a simple, short melody line to having one and later, more droning tones playing along with the melody line.  Most the time those drones are octaves of the keynote, rarer one drone might be the fifth.  So the reason the pipes to some, "unexperienced ears" sound out of tune, is because the chanter is perfectly in tune with the drones, no "beating", out of tune tones. This temperament is a "just temperament", a little closer to Pythagorean temperament.  That is the reason pipes don't always "play nice" with equal temperament instruments.  Especially if the pipe's drones are playing.
        So back to the choices above. CHANTER KIT 2  gives you a nice injection molded, plastic chanter that plays close to B.   The book and the CD-Rom cover all the basics but are much shorter than the COLLEGE PIPING 1  book/CD Rom set, which has been the world standard since 1953.  The Walsh, Gibson or Dunbar chanters are real nice chanters and play close to B flat.  The Walsh has a built in water trap and plays a little lighter reed.  The Gibson has a "little" longer fingering spacing, mimicking the pipe chanter, and a little harder reed.
        Walsh, Gibson and Dunbar practice chanters are turned from polypenco rod stock.
        This all might seem hard but it is not.  Remember we are only talking about 9 notes here and just a few musical keys.  This is "music lite", fun, colorful and yes, it is handy to practice. Remember the piano, clarinet, flute, oboe, etc., these are geometrically more difficult?  Most of these have from 3-7plus octaves and you have to practice all the variations in position for 12 major and also 12 relative minor keys, that definately gives you something to do.  So, on pipes, if you practice, you can make fairly quick headway and take your pipes on picnics and walks in the park.

Which pipe to get??
I'm still working on just starting out on the GHB (I got a band loaner and am learning the breathing now!  For me this is a big accomplishment!    However, I'm looking WAY down the road to getting a quieter version of the pipes so I can play music with my friends who  use other instruments.

What really is the difference between the sounds, price, and quality of chamber, small, shuttle, and reel(?) pipes?
Is it worth the money to get a set or should I just get one of those advertised practice pipes to play along with other instruments?
        Hi Nate,
        It is usually best to always start with a practice chanter.
        Here is a short run down, in terms of two wheel transportation:
        The Highland Pipes are a wonderful thing to behold, we call them the Harley-Davidsons of bagpipes.  In blackwood they are mellow and loud and just the thing if you would like to play in a pipe band or send messages from mountain top to mountain top.  You are looking at $1000-1500 for a nice set without a lot of fancy artwork.  These pipes play from Bb up to 35 cents sharp of Bb, depending on the brand of chanter and the reed that is in it.  Depending on the set up you will blow into these every 2-5 seconds
        Small pipes and Shuttle pipes are the BMWs of the pipes, mouthblown or bellows driven.  They are wonderfully efficient and you blow into these every 5-15 seconds.  Small pipes are usually in a real key, Bb, A, D and right tight to concert pitch.  You will be able to play with others who play in these keys.  The D chanter will not help with Highland pipes because of the narrow spacing, like an F penny whistle. These pipes come either in Polyp. or Blackwood, many play with all synthetic reeds.
        Shuttle Pipes play nicely in A and are slightly quieter than Small pipes with mainstock drones.
        Practicing pipes are the Mopeds of pipes, they let you practice, are very portable and affordable.  They are either the Practice pipes from Scotland with brass tube drones or the Kitchen pipes from Canada which have turned combed poly drones
These are pictured on our web page:
        Then there are the bicycles, the practice chanters.  You can do a lot of good work on these.
        No matter what pipe you play, you will have fun and they will take you places you may never have thought that you would go.
        Happy piping,
                Eddie Damm

How to start playing the Highland pipe:.
        Start with a practice chanter to start to get the fingering down pat and a sense for how much air pressure you will need to run the pipe.  Generally it is easier playing on the pipe once you have the timing down between running the pipe on your lungs or running the pipe with your arm pressure.
        It is like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time.  Not difficult but something that needs to be practiced.  Timing is everything, you want both your lungs and your arm to be able to take a break.  If neither gets to take a break than you will tire quickly.
        Playing the pipes is like finding out you have a 200 meter low hurdle race to run.  Not something that you can do in one day.  It will take a few weeks to practice your timing transference or air pressure between your lung and your arm and to learn to blow at the right time.
        If you are just starting out, hopefully your pipe supplier has set up your pipe with "soft" reeds.  Reeds that don't require as much air as "hard" reeds.
        You want to develop playing ability on the pipes in "small" steps.  Get drone stoppers and at least one stock stopper.
You need to learn to play the pipe, piece by piece.
-Always swab out your blowpipe and blowpipe stock after playing.
-Take the chanter out and keep its reed in a safe and secure place.
-Put a stock stopper in the chanter stock.
-Put drone stoppers in both the bass drone top and the middle tenor drone top.
-You leave the drones on the pipe to learn how to balance the pipe.
-Learn control of the pipe by playing that one drone.
-Filling the bag will take from 4-5 full breaths.
-When the bag appears full, like a balloon under your arm, stop blowing and start pressing on the bag.  If you press hard enough the drone should turn on.  When you have decreased the bag's volume by 1/5th-1/4, refill the bag by blowing into it while gently decreasing your arm pressure on the bag to nothing.  When the bag refills, stop blowing and gradually reapply arm pressure.
-The reeds on the pipe want to be able to see a constant air pressure not jumps and bumps.
-Try to keep playing the one drone for 5 minutes.
-Next day see if you can keep that 1 drone playing for 10 minutes.
-Next day see if you can keep that 1 drone playing for 20 minutes.
-Next day see if you can keep that 1 drone playing for 30 minutes.
-Next day take the drone stopper out of the second tenor drone and tune the 2 tenors together.  See if you can keep both tenors playing for 5 minutes.
-Next day see if you can keep those 2 drones playing for 10 minutes.
-Next day see if you can keep those 2 drones playing for 20 minutes.
-Next day see if you can keep those 2 drones playing for 30 minutes.
-Next day take the drone stopper out of the bass drone and tune the 3 drones together.  See if you can keep all 3 drones playing for 5 minutes.
-Next day see if you can keep all 3 drones playing for 10 minutes.
-Next day see if you can keep all 3 drones playing for 20 minutes.
-Next day see if you can keep all 3 drones playing for 30 minutes.
-Next day you can stopper off all 3 drones and put you chanter in the pipe and see if you can play your chanter for 5 minutes.  The chanter always takes the most air and is the last part of the pipe that turns on as you are striking in your pipe.  When you first strike in the full pipe it can easily run all 3 drones without turning on the chanter.  It takes an increase in air pressure to finally turn on the chanter.  After your 5 minute chanter work out, see if you can play the full pipe for 5 minutes, unstopper your drones, tune your drones to your chanter and see if you can play for 5 minutes.
-Next day play your pipes or back up and play just part of your pipes.
Happy piping.

Apps Bagpipe Chanter Reeds
I read that App reeds are cut with a laser and are therefore very consistant. This also lets the reeds be cut for the proper strength, unlike hand made reeds with reedmakers tools, which seem to just get the reed somewhere close (or more close to a 2X4). Anyway my question is to all you experienced pipers who have used these reeds, what is your opinion of them? Do they hold up as long as a regular reed with the proper care? Do they have good volume and tone? Do they cost moret han a normal reed ($8 to $10 USD) Any info is appreciated.

It would be nice if the reeds could be cut with a laser, it would be neat to see them , smoking, rolling off the assembly line, but alas there is a very accomplished craftsman at the end of that knife. If you did use a laser, you would see the telltail burn trail left behind. After talking to Mr. Apps, it is the template and a few other magical things that have been cut by a laser, for accuracy and consistency. I must admit, they are so consistent, nowadays folks probably would say that a machine must have done it. So a good craftsman with good tools and knowledge can make good stuff. Mr. Apps's reeds have thicker lips than some other reeds and are thinner than a few others. Thick lips are less prone to damage from manipulation and can drive a good strong tone. There is a good instruction sheet that Mr. Apps has for the reeds that shows well how to adjust them. We carry Mr. Apps's reeds along with, Warnock, Soutar and Shepherd, and are quite pleased with them.

Bagpipe Chanter Dimensions
I was wondering, which practice chanter could I substitute for the original Pakistani chanter to give the best sound. I'm pretty sure the practice chanter, adapted with the goose adapter, would be fine for the Parlor Pipes, but it might not be loud enough for the reel pipes. What do you think? Also, I noticed that on your page where you advertise parlor pipes you also sell "brass reeds" for them. What are "brass reeds???" Do they give a better sound in parlor pipes? (Also, in your opinion, do you recommend replacing the original cane reeds that came with the parlor pipes with other reeds to get a good sound?

I measured out the parlor pipe and the pin on the chanter, the part of the chanter that goes into the stock is only 1/2" wide. Other chanters are:

Parlor 1/2" Dunbar 9/16" Child's 9/16" Shepherd 9/16" Tuck 10/16" Truetone 11/16"

A Dunbar goose adapter goes form 3/4" O.D. to 10/16" I.D.

This goose would not fit into a parlor pipe chanter stock. You could probably make a goose out of vinyl tubing that would work, you'd have to play around with the sizes, but then you could use any practice chanter. The Brass drone reeds are for the parlor pipe and work very well, they have a much more even tone and are easier to adjust. For the GHB we suggest Shepherd or Wygent drone reeds.
Do you mean by "reel pipes" Great Highland bagpipe?? If yes, then you might try substituting a clanrye#1 chanter reed or a very soft cane reed (we have some Shepherds,Warnocks and Apps reeds that are soft) and Shepherd or Wygent plastic drone reeds. The reason for using soft reeds in a Paki pipe is because of the smaller bag size--it doesn't have much of an air reservoir for stronger reeds. If the reel pipe is not a fullsize Great Highland bagpipe, then please explain what the term means. For the Pakistani parlor pipe, we don't think that you can attach a practice chanter to the chanter stock of the pipes. The goose is designed for a fullsize pipe.

Bagpipe Fingering
1. Does anybody use any method of making their fingers more airtight on the chanter, eg. a cream. I ask this because covering holes has been a slight problem in my piping.
2. How do you play high and low notes without changing the sound of the drones?

It is vitally important that you use pipe fingering and not tin whistle fingering. You won't be able to reach and be comfortable for longer than 5 minutes, without it. It takes awhile to feel comfortable using the second segment of your finger, i and m on the left upper hand, i,m, and r on the left lower hand. Let's face it you don't pick up coins or cotton with the second segment of you fingers. Ring finger on the left hand and little finger on the right hand, usually use the first segment of the finger. Try to keep your fingers as flat as comfortable and you will be able to play for a long time, unless you have kids. You can try to make multiple layer, sticky adhesive, paper lable rings for around the holes. It gives you fingers a little more to grab onto. With young kids we start them out on Dixie Fifes, when they want to play whistle, because they have a high raised ring on each hole, you can't miss. You can almost always close off all the air with this system. See if you can try somebody's chanter that has chamfered holes. Those little valleys at each hole guide your finger right into a good position. I'll let the pipe and reed makers answer the drone reed wavering question.

Bagpipe Electronic Tuners
Will any of the tuners that you have listed work on bagpipes?
We carry the Korg CA30 for $25----you can use this to tune the chanter, and then use your ear and tuned chanter to tune the drones to your chanter. Both tuners listen to 7 octaves. The CA30 model also generates tones for one octave.
For tuning the drones separately, I tried them all out. I was hoping that the less expensive ones would come through like troopers, they didn't, they were great on strings plucked at a low volume but with all the amplitude (power) of the pipes they mostly danced around trying to figure where all that sound was coming from. On the other hand the Korg AT-120 and the Korg MT-1200 were great they stayed right on the note like a bird dog, but they are no longer manufactured.

I believe the Korg Bagpipe Tuner is around, $350 U.S. I would think that unless you could vary the settings on the Bagpipe Tuner you would be stuck at what ever frequency they gave you, like Bb 466. What do you do when a lot of bands are playing higher and Piobaireachd is at, 459Hz?  Korg U.S.A., does not handle the Bagpipe Tuner, we would have to get it from Canada.
Bore Oils for Bagpipes
    I have heard that bore oil helps give a mellow tone. Has anyone out there had any experience with different types of oil that can be used and does it really help the tone?
If you live in a dry and cold area like North America, north of Cleveland or NYC, you want to dry out your pipes with a brush after playing and if you play alot, lightly swab the insides once to twice a month with bore oil ( a petroleum product) or almond oil ( you might have eaten some tonight with dinner, it's a nut product). Northumbrian pipers sometimes use olive oil or neat's foot oil.  This is to make your wood slighty impervious to water, less moisture taken in and less moisture lost. Believe me if you ever test out finishes, 2-3 coats of oils with 2-3 coats of wax, these will still water spot within 60 seconds. Varnishes are better, that's an oil with a dryer in it. That's why those nice wood pipes have a lacquer or oil finish on the outside.
     So the bore oil is to help out on the inside or outside of the pipes. We've got a bagpipe bore oil, which is like a lemon oil. You can also use, almond oil or neat's foot oil.  There have been war fought over which oil to use.  You probably want to use the oil that your pipe maker suggests, to use.  Some woodwind bore oils are mineral spirit based, almond and olive oil are vegetable based and neat's foot oil is critter based.
Cardboard Dulcimers
I'm looking at buying a cardboard dulcimer for my daughter and I came across your site on the net. You've listed a cardboard dulcimer with a mahogany fretboard, but could you let me know the overall length and the number of frets?
The total length of the fingerboard including the head area with the geared tuners is 31 inches. It is a one piece head/fingerboard. The string vibrating length (from nut to the bridge) is 26 1/4 inches. The width of the cardboard body at the bottom of the dulcimer is 8 inches. It has 18 frets, which includes the 6 1/2 and 13 1/2 chromatic frets.

Clanrye Reeds
How does the Clanrye synthetic chanter reed sound compared to a cane reed,such as Warnock?

The Clanrye reeds are a little brighter, not as warm sounding as the cane chanter reeds. The advantage is that they stay the same, don't change as you play them, don't change with the weather. You might get a medium, if you have been playing for awhile.

Dulcimer Dusters
Our dulcimer dusters come in ultra suede. The ultra suede works great and picks up an unbelieveable amount of dust and dirt. There is a wider, feathered section to clean broad sections and around tuning pins, and a narrower section to clean in tight places. These work great on any musical instrument that needs dusting around tuning pins, bridges or strings; hammered dulcimers, harps, autoharps, etc.

Guitar Repair
I have an old Guild G-37 Acoustic (Maple Back and Sides, and the back contoured). My questions have to do with the top on the guitar, it's starting to "belly-up" just in front of the bridge, and one of the pieces of bracing inside the top are starting to come unglued. This is starting to cause the action to rise slightly. although it is still very playable, what can be done to fix it, how much should it cost, is the guitar really worth putting money into (I'm assuming this isn't going to be a cheap repair), or, should I just live with it as is?
Usually the belly sinks on the side of the bridge toward the head and raises on the side of the tail, through time and tension. It bends the belly counterclockwise as you look across it from the left. To reglue a brace you loosen the strings so you can tape three to each side away from the soundhole onto the belly. If your finish is not in good condition ( the tape might pull up the finish when you pull it off), remove the strings from the bridge to get them out of your way. You can make a glueing jack ( a piece of something that will supply pressure ) from a popsicle stick. Cut it long enough to go from the back to the bottom of the brace, supplying enough pressure to close the gap. Check it with a small mirror and a flashlight. It might be easier for you to work with a clean rug on a table, belly up or down whatever you feel comfortable with. Put some Titebond glue on your finger and press it into the crack on both sides of the brace. Put the jack in under the brace, and something under the jack to create more pressure if it seems not tight enough. Clean away any squeeze out glue within 5 minutes. There could be a huge debate over what glue to use but Titebond should be fine. Wait 24-48 hrs. before removing the jack and bringing the guitar back up to tension. Play and live well. If you have a solid maple back, don't apply too much pressure or create a hard pad for the jack to sit on to spread out the pressure. You should be able to do it if your hand can get in the hole.

Hammered Dulcimer Plans
Hello, I am interested in Plans to build a H.Dulcimer from scratch. Have you heard of the Charlie Alms book "How I build the Things". I bought it and it seems poorly written and illustrated. It talks about a H.D. with a cover that I guess you build on the H.D and then cut it off at the end. What is the kind of H.D. plans do you have ? What is the "sandwich" design like? It sounds like the cover design - a bit.
Our plans are for a 15/14 sandwich design. Sandwich design is the oldest design with a back, rails and pinblocks, and back. You could slightly overhang both the top and the back and then trim them flush to the sides with a router. These plans have a very nice blueprint. We have been selling this type of design for 18 years, plans, kits and completed. Its very efficient with the amount of wood and bracing you use, compared to the , "rim- inset top design"- which is more traditional to N.Y.,Ohio and Michigan and gives you almost endless surfaces to do artist work on.

What would you suggest to humidify your instrument??

You need to make a small environment for your instrument, if you are in a dry climate.  Dry climate means, winter in North American, anywhere North of Virginia, in the desert or in the Western mountains.  If the humidity goes below 55%, then you should start thinking of humidifying your instrument.  If the humidity goes below 45%, then you should realize that you should have started humidifying, at 50%.  Put your instrument in its case in a large clear plastic bag.  Clear is good so you realize that your instrument is in it and you donít throw it out like those black garbage bags.  Every 2 days, exhale a breath twice into the bag and use a spring clothes pin to close the bag.  In 2 days, breathe into the bag again.  This provides enough moisture to humidify your instrument, but not so much that it causes mold. You can do this with a $10 bamboo flute all the way up to a $50,000 violin.  The instrument will be happy.  You can obtain a humidity gauge from your local hardware store, to see what per cent humidity you have.

Pakistani Parlor Pipes and John Walsh's Shuttle Pipes

Interested in parlor pipes, wondering about the quality of a Pakistani version.
 We donít carry Paki pipes and donít suggest them, they do look wicked cool hanging above a fireplace or on the wall but, let's just say, getting them to work the way they are supposed to work can be problematic.    For a no muss, no fuss, house pipe, the Hepburn Practice Pipe, Walsh Shuttle Pipes or Small Pipes or Gibson Fireside Pipes are great. Take them out of the box, tune the drones for a minute or two and youíre making music.
Smallpipe Reeds
Do you have extra reeds for various smallpipes??
 We do carry Hepburn Smallpipe reeds(made in Scotland) that will work in many smallpipes, even Pakistani Parlor Pipes.  We also carry Ezeedrone Smallpipe reeds made for specific brands of Smallpipes, we most often have these sets, for Shepherd Pipes.  We also carry regular Shepherd Small Pipe drone reed sets for either A or D pipes.
Uilleann Pipes
What key are the pipes in? > > Do they come set up with reeds? > > Does the chanter have (chromatic) keys,or places where keys can be > mounted later? > > On the half and full sets, are the drones the standard bass, > baritone, and tenor? > > Is there a switch to shut the drones off?
The pipes we carry are D sets, meaning that they play in the keys of D and G and their related minors, B minor and E minor respectively.
The pipes come with reeds.  The chanters come with some accidental keys, already mounted.  The drones are tenor, baritone and bass.  There is a drone switch on both half and full sets.
How do I get started on learning to play Uillean Pipes?

Dear Eddie,
    I've been listening to a lot of uilleann pipes lately, and I have decided to change my mind about trying to learn to play them...they are just too awesome sounding to not give it a try.  With that said, I don't want to go all out yet and purchase a practice, 1/2, or full set (or rather order one considering the long lead time), but would rather start with something simpler to see if I can get the "fingering" down.
    In your opinion, what would be the better to start learning the mechanics with: the uilleann reeded practice chanter or the uilleann whistle chanter?

         The Uilleann Pipes are overblown, like a whistle, to get to the next octave.  For "most", notes you use the same fingering and just give more or less air.  Uilleann's have a different fingering pattern than a whistle but in this scheme they are close to the same.
 A, high D whistle, usually available for under $10, is a great way to start.
      The Jubilee Low D whistle, which has a wonderful low tone, is one that you can use with high whistle fingering.  There is no Uilleann Pipe that has this tight of fingering.  The long dreaded,"oh no, do I have to use pipe fingering", is next.  It is actually fairly easy.
 Hand position is critical.  If you try to finger, lower whistles, Bb and lower or Uilleann Pipes without some alteration to your fingering, from high whistles, after 7-10 minutes, you are going to say,"ouch" or "maybe I should play drums, instead".
        Pipe fingering takes about a week to feel comfortable with.  That's a week, trying for a while each day.  The reason for this fingering is so there is no pain, and you can have fun and no injury while playing.
        So 4 ways to start out:
1-Just keep playing whistle, it's always easier.
2-Start with a UWC, Song of the Seaís, patented Uilleann Whistle Chanter. It's not a lot of money and you are only worried about your fingers, not about a bellows, bag or reed.  It will sound like an A whistle, "gone Uilleann", and take very little air.  Like everybody else, it overblows to go to the second octave.
3-Start with a Hepburn practice set.  It is fairly inexpensive, all plastic and brass.  This is a simple, no muss, no fuss instrument.
4-Start with a normal practice set.  This is expandable all the way to a full set.  This is where life gets a lot more pricey, but it is the "real McCoy", wicked cool, and better than paying for cigarettes.
        There are many similarities between a whistle and an Uilleann Pipe.  If you feel comfortable on a whistle then you already have much of the finger and tune facility needed for Uilleann Pipes.  You just have to start to master the mechanics of making the pipes work.  Bellows, bag, changes in air pressure through the scale.  This all seems automatic on a whistle after a while and it becomes so on an Uilleann Pipe also.  You are relying on arm pressures to create the color of sound that your mouth and lungs have done on the whistle.
        Hope this helps and doesn't sound too scary.  Uilleann Pipes are capable of great emotion, from dancing feet to having the trees cry.
        The Clarke book is good and the NPU videos and DVD are great because you are there, just like if you were taking class at NPU in Dublin.

Does anyone have any information regarding reference material on chanter reeds relative >to advanced tuning tricks, etc.?

For Highland Pipes:
Royce Lerwicks "Pipe Majors Handbook"
MacNeill, Seumas College of Piping Tutor, Bk2
McGillivray, Jim. Pipes Ready!    Pipe setup and maintenance Volume 1                        McGillvray, Jim. Pipes Up! Vol. 2 Tuning tutor for highland pipes Volume 2
For Uilleann Pipes:  http://www.songsea.com/books.htm#UILLEANNPIPE
Damm, Edward Uilleann Pipe Synthetic Drone Reed and Stop Valve Plans BK UP 1 FREE
          It now is free, can be seen on: http://www.songsea.com/syndronestopvalveplans.html        Hegarty, Dave Uilleann Pipe Reedmakers Guide                                                               Quinn, D.M. Piper's Despair BK

Wygent Drone Reeds
I recently read a rave review of Wygent drone reeds on the newsgroup. >The person who posted it had bought them from you. Could you describe >them a bit for me? Is any part of them cane? I have Sheperd all >plastic reeds now, but I find them rough sounding. I've tried all cane >reeds; they sound beautiful, sometimes, but they seem like a full time >job. Do the Wygents combine the warmth of cane with the convenience of >plastic?

Yes, the Wygents do both at the same time. They also have more adjustment possibilities than the older Shepherd R-12ís. The Shepherds are a good light reed but you have to keep trying to back them off so they will go at the least amount of air possible, it will make them quieter. The Wygents can adjust for pitch with the screw on their end. They are built on a brass tube, with a wood/glue matrix covering the tube. The tongue is much thicker than the Shepherd R-12ís.

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