When I look back at some of the major projects I’ve done, I can’t say I would do much differently. Maybe some little tweaks here and there, but no wholesale re-vamps.
One area in which I believe I erred is in discussing the treatment of chanter reeds in my two instructional DVDs, Pipes Ready! and Pipes Up! In Pipes Ready! in particular, I make it clear that one should never wet a chanter reed before playing it. Very shortly after those DVDs came out some years ago, I changed my mind, and it has remained changed ever since. I now always moisten a reed very slightly before I play, either with my lips, or by licking my thumb and forefinger and then gently rubbing the reed. I believe this fills out and flattens the top hand slightly, and helps hasten the initial “blowing down” period required when you first get your pipes out.
I’m not saying this is the only way it should be done. I’ve known many people who never moistened a reed and whose chanters sound superb. But I want to clarify my change of opinion since many of your have probably watched those maintenance and tuning videos.
I think a bit of moisture is good for the sound of a reed. What is not good for a reed are extremes. Letting a reed get quite very wet, and then letting it dry out over the course of the next few days is not a good way to treat cane. Imagine a piece of wood that lays outside and gets rained on then baked over and over again.
This leave me puzzled by chanter caps (aka “reed protectors”) that have a drying hole bored in the end. To me, that is negating the major reason for using a chanter cap.
I use a chanter cap for two reasons. First, I want the chanter reed stored outside of the stock. When I’m finished playing, the inside of my chanter stock is wet. If I leave the chanter and reed in the stock, the cane will soak up that moisture and become wet. Then, if the bagpipe sits unplayed for some days, it will dry out again. Those are extremes and they dramatically shorten the life of a reed.
Secondly, I want the chanter reed to retain some of the moisture it has acquired while I was playing, and the sealed cap helps do that. If I don’t play for a few days it will dry out anyway, but at least it’s never getting soaked and then drying out quickly.
Humidified chanter caps are a good solution for many as well. However, you have to be careful not to set the humidity level too high in the cap, or else one day after a break of a week or so, you will be shocked to discover your pristine reed has grown a layer of mold, like something that’s been in the fridge for too long.