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What things cost: Reeds

If I were Scrooge McDuck, I wouldn’t be diving into a vault full of money for enjoyment. Instead, I’d go for the above. =)
Image: Husk Reeds

Chanter reeds

~$15 each

Many people need a new reed for their chanter every 2-3 months, especially beginners. Others can go between 6 months to more than a year without replacing.

Chanter reeds as they appear when seated in the chanter. These reeds are made by reed maker David Caldwell.
Image: caldwellreeds.com

Chanter reeds are almost always made out of cane, just as they’ve always been. They’re made by hand, and like any natural material, they’re going to wear out eventually. Many factors are at play as to how long a reed will continue to play well. In general, the tougher the reed is at the start, the longer it is likely to last, but this isn’t absolute.

Personally I like to start with a tough reed and shave it down until it’s quite easy—for some reason, this seems to produce a nicer sound that lasts longer than if I’d started with an easy one. Effectively though, I play an “easy” reed, and I find I can get at least a year out of them.

An example of what used to be the one-and-only option … cane drone reeds. These, above, are made by MG Reeds. Image: mgreeds.com

Drone reeds

~50 – $200 per set

There’s an exhaustive variety of options available now in terms of drone reeds—even more so when pipers mix and match different types and makes.

The sheer number of various drone reeds out and about now is enough to make one dizzy. The cheapest option is regarded by many to be the best-sounding: cane (yup, just like the chanter reeds). You can usually get a good set of them made for less than $50.

BUT, cane drone reeds can be rather temperamental and, at times, unreliable. If I were to guess, I’d say that 9 out of 10 pipers you’re likely to meet are playing some sort of synthetic drone reeds. Depending on who you ask, nothing gets 100% the same sound that’s produced from a set of cane reeds that are going well … ahem … that are going well, I repeat.

And here’s an image showing a wide assortment of synthetic drone reeds. In particular, these are all reeds with a carbon-fiber tongue. Makes me wonder how many reeds I could make from my kayak paddle.
Image: Patrick McLaurin

I love cane, and I believe every piper should know how to manipulate them in order to get them to go right. But that doesn’t mean I want to deal with it all the time. Frankly, I had my fill of that when I first started playing. Thus, I too will usually use some sort of synthetic reeds in my drones.

Synthetic sets tend to start around $100 or so, with few if any costing more than $200. Longevity can vary, but I know folks who have used the same set for 5 years plus.