Sunday, February 24, 2008

Customization start

Last night I gave up on the PVC chanter I was making. It would have been a lot easier to place the baroque fingering on it because it is a straight chanter, but every time I tried to blow air on it it sounded really horrible and the finger holes were kind of irrelevant.

The finger holes on the regular Scottish chanter are distributed in such way that they relate to the conical shape of the whole piece. I had no other choice...

... I got some tools and started carving new holes on the cheap chanter I got (always thinking that it had probably cost me 10p).

I also need to take rid of one of the drones for good, so I will need to make a new bag. I chose a nice piece of vinyl from the fabric shop down the road. It cost me about £5/m.

I bought two bars of Milliput (epoxy). I paid £7 for both and their mission is to cover the holes that I carved by mistake or the bits that make some notes go too sharp or too flat. I am also making a gargoyle's head for the chanter bore, such as the ones Saltatio Mortis and other German pipers bring up in some of their shows.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Second and crappier set of Pakistani bagpipes.

Yes, I couldn't stop the temptation.

"Set of rosewood highland bagpipes for decoration. This instrument is not playable." starting bid: £0.75.

I was the first bidder. After three days I won the set... for 75 pence plus delivery. Now I have a set to do some serious scrapping with.

The funny thing is, it came with air stoppers, a full roll of hemp and two sets of reeds. The chanter reeds need a lot of work, but the drone ones work just fine. Good deal, huh?

It was true. The instrument wasn't playable. The flapper valve was made of really old, stiff and deformed leather. The joints are not airtight although the bag is. Of course, how not, the bag is made of rubber. The chanter, after I fixed the whole thing a bit, is a bit out of tune, just a tad.

The wood used is not seasoned and I would not even suggest that it is real rosewood. Some parts of the wood is just as yellow as pinewood. Some of the combing was damaged, etc.

PERFECT. Still £0.75. Just the goodies would have costed me way more.

Now, I have bought a PVC tube and I'm carving a chanter there. I also need some vinyl to make a new bag (since I only want to have two drones there is no use for any of the other bags). I think I will use a whistle I have at home as a reference for the fingering. This whistle is as thick and dense as the PVC pipe. Same measurements, I can't go wrong. I only need to be careful with where do I add the last hole.

After the chanter is finished I will have to make a reed to match. Not finding any help in forums I think I might go for "D".

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The other Medieval Bagpipe blog

Yesterday I was posting as usual, then I had the thought "if I change the name of the blog to "medieval bagpipes", like in plural, it would be easier to find in the internet. When I tried I found another blog:

After reading this blog I felt so defeated... for so many reasons:

1. Is a blog with almost the same name as mine.
2. It is about the same subject, only that I include tips of aestetic customisation and repairs.
3. This guy has been doing it for much longer and also has a band.
4. He refers that the learning methods I've been using have been wrong.

Now a million questions assault my head:

Are the baroque chanters straighter than the mixodilian (scotish) ones? what is the most common key that people play on in bagpipe medieval bands? is it D, just like in the tin whistle? can be the scotish chanter be altered at all or do I need to build/get a new one? will PVC be good for it? Will I need to make a new reed myself? How do I tune the fingerholes once I have made the chanter?...

...or should I ask Ardor (one of the members of Corvus Corax, who is also friends with my girlfriend) all of these questions.

Any advice to be given, anyone?


Monday, February 18, 2008

Changing the look of the cheap pipes.

Alright. Now I have to change the Pipes.

I think the look of the GHB is cool, but there is so many of them around that when you see any other set of pipes it blows your head away.

My thought is to be faithful to the Medieval european tradition and have just two drones; a bass one and a tenor. The look of the bottom of the chanter will be molded on epoxy, just as the cover for the chanter bore, which will be a dragon's head made of epoxy too. The bag cover will be either worked on soft leather (I want it to be very elastic, so I'm not too sure about this) or in some nice medieval patchment, red and gold or something like that.

It will have lots of black and metal painting, with touches of very dark green and dark red. The joints will be made of leather and I will use lots of old rings and cheap fantasy jewelry hanging here and there. And the best bit is that since I spent so little on the set I don't mind if I ruin it.

I wont be able to compete with scotish pipers, but I just don't want to, or need to. I am aiming to do something different. If there was some website around to help people like me...

Polypenco practise chanter

However I found out that my suspicion was right: My practise chanter was out of tune, SOOOOO much... none of the stuff I had been practising for months plays on the real bagpipe. And since it is incredibly loud, I cannot be practising at home just blindly and producing a horrible noise.

I ordered another practise chanter, but this time it costed me £40, and it was a long polypenco chanter (the best choice for practise chanters, if you ask me). It is supposed to sound almost as good as blackwood and it is also the best to take all the moisture in the world.

When it arrived, to my delight, it was tuned with the real pipes and now I'm all happy with my cheap set of pipes.

Now, looking at the tutor and the video CD that came with the chanter I have the feeling that it is going to be very handy to learn to deal with some scotish tunes and practise all the grace notes, a necesary evil. However, this is not my goal. I don't need to learn scottish stuff in order to play it on performances, but to practice fingering.

Right now I have a long list of German bagpipe bands on my Ipod such as Furunkulus, Cultus Ferox, Corvus Corax, Saltatio Mortis, In extremo... (now that I notice, all their names are in Latin). Their melodies are hundreds of years old in some cases, much simpler but still in need of grace notes every now and then. I will use my practise chanter to learn the grace notes at the same time I learn to play all these popular melodies.

The Pakistani pipes - part 2.

I set up the drones, the reeds, the blowpipe and the chanter (apparently I wasn't supposed to know how to set them up without a tutor, but hey).

They didn't work. I didn't even get the bag to be full of air or a minimun pressure. I had a look at the bag; it was made of sheepskin but I noticed an inner layer of plastic inside. How can the skin absorb the moisture through that synthetic layer? It also leaked air through the stitches of the seam. The flapper valve was leaking too, big time. Should I send the whole thing back to the providers? I read the reviews, and there was a lot of "item returned, awaiting for cash back for two months now" etc.

But there was the challenge. I ordered a bottle of Robertson bagpipe seasoning and took the whole bag to the lugagge shop in my neighborhood to have it re-stitched. It costed me £3 to have it done in five minutes. The seasoning costed around £12, including delivery, but it is something any piper needs to have anyway.

I seasoned the bag and I noticed a dramatic change on the amount of air needed to inflate the bag, but I still had a leak on the valve. I substituted it by a provisional valve made with two layers of regular A4 printer paper, covered by two oposite pieces of celotape (I made the valve at the office). The bag and the whole pipes were meant to work, but...

The chanter didn't sound. For some reason the reed was too tough, and then I found out that chanter reeds need to be broken into, sometimes moisturising, pressing, scrapping...

I just liked the reed a couple of times, pressed with my fingers for five minutes, put it back into the chanter and plug it.

IT WORKS!! and it sounds GOOD!!


The Pakistani pipes - part 1.

I found a nice set of bagpipes for £50 in ebay. It was promoted as Rosewood bagpipes, blah blah...

Now, I don't know if you are aware but rosewood doesn't sound too bad on bagpipes. That's about it. It is OK but is not the kind of stuff you want your bagpipes be made of.

The reason is very obvious only when you have had a set of bagpipes already on your hands, and the word is "moisture". Rosewood is wonderful to make string instruments, but when it comes to wind, forget it.

With all these reasons I still went for it. Under my point of view, if an instrument splits open because of moisture after a couple of months of use and it only cost you £50 and most of the pieces are reusable, you still win. And what causes this? the cause is that the next step in price is about £200 and still is made of rosewood, the step after is about £800 and although the drones are made of blackwood, the chanter is still polypenco, and so on.

The £50 bagpipe sounded good to me because I assumed that the thing wouldn't work from the start and I had to apply all my knowledge to make it play. This is not a line of thought recommended to people who are not handy with tools and glue. So if you are planning to buy this pipes but you don't know what is the structure of a flappervalve or how to fix it then just save a lot of money while sticking to your practise chanter.

Another thing, many advertised or so called "rosewood" bagpipes are actually made of whatever wood was found around the furniture making company and painted with brown varnish...

My set of bagpipes arrived. I was very pleased with the reeds, made of real spanish cane. The bag is made of real sheepskin and the wood does really look like rosewood, even in the inside. How fresh it is, I don't know. Some day I might start playing and then a branch will sprout out of the side of one of the drones, but I don't know.

Moving back to London

I moved back to London over September of 2007. I was very happy that I finally got back to my normal life. I got a job soon after and I started having a look at bagpipes in ebay.

At this point I had spent a ridiculous amount of time making drones or components of bagpipes on pvc and not being too happy with the outcome. I wasn't too sure I was doing the right thing. I needed a reference, and I thought "none of these pakistan made bagpipes can be worse than my pvc and vinyl abortions". I was right, to some extent.

Epoxy Chanter

I molded an epoxy chanter. In one of our visits to London I took advantage of the availability of components in the city and bought few bars of "Milliput" and made the chanter.

To that purpose I printed a picture from the internet, scale 1:1. I followed the instructions, everything was fine. It looks really nice and I needed to try it.

In some point I used the reed from the practice chanter on it, and guess what, the fingering didn't make any sense. None of the notes were right. What did I do wrong?

Anyway, the sound was horrible. The Epoxy is strong as stone, and it can take as much moisture as a frog, but the composition of the material just gives away a poor, ducklike sound.

Months later I found out that the problem was not the fingering, but the reed. If you try to use a practice chanter reed on a real bagpipe chanter nothing will make sense, since the one is made to measure the other.

The PVC nightmare

Soon, I came across a whole load of information about PVC bagpipe making, and then my nightmare began.

Having spent my childhood amongst a million tools my father used to have, or living in places where you can just go down the road and buy anything from the hardware centre it was really frustrating living in Munich, where every single type of screw is sold in a special little shop... and such shops are scattered all over the city and nowhere to be found in the internet.

Components like epoxy were impossible to find. I tried everywhere, including OBI and IKEA... nothing.

In the end I gave up the idea of building my own chanter and drones.

I did manage to learn about construction of pipebags in vinyl and plastic reeds. I made a practise goose with a really good bag, with no moisture problems. I used contact cement (others advice to use transparent silicon, the one which smells like vinegar) on the seam and then stitched it together with strong thread, two layers. The thing was airtight from the very beginning.

The idea for the flapper valve came on a dream, actually. I used some transparent flexible plastic (the one from the blisters you can by things on display, although some salads also come in a kind of container that is really good too) The valve was airtight like nothing else in the world could achieve, but it raspberried when blowing in :S

All together the thing was almost umplayable, because the chanter was the practice chanter I had, and the blowpipe was made of epoxy putty. The thing was so heavy that I had to lift it constantly with my lips, which is insane if you add the pressure of your blowing, etc.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Kaltenberg Ritterturnier:

My girlfriend took me to Kaltenberg, finally. I had been growing a beard for that sole purpose and my outfit had been carefully thought of.

There was the same people from the Treffen, selling bagpipes, but this time they brought a cathaloge. They had a bunch of shawns hanging from the top of the tent, while the smoke and smell of burned wood was striking our nostrils from the market. The atmosphere was amazing. We asked for the price of the shawns (chanter made of blackwood, bell of rosewood) and the price went through our ears like a bullet, not letting our brain to process it (I have seen the same shawns in the internet for nearly half the price), so we didn't ask for the price of the whole pipes, again.

Corvus Corax perform three times per day on Kaltenberg Ritterturnier, since they are the official minstrels of the event. They have a short performance before the jousting, one to open the jousting and a long performance after.

Note: Kaltenberg is a huge event. Carries on for three days a week, three weeks in a month, having an average attendance of 10,000 - 12,000 people per day.

There were lots of pipers about, from Spain, Portugal, Italy, France... none from Scotland, strangely, even there were quite a few people dressed in kilts (ancient ones). Finally I adquired a really nice fighting sword, made in Czeck Republic and we went home. As soon as I took off my wet clothes (it was raining cats and dogs) I started practising with the practise chanter again...

Leipzig Gothic Treffen

We ended up going to the Leipzig Gothic Treffen. The city boils with people dressed up in black with tons of make up. The venues vary, but they are spread in three or four parts in the city.

Unfortunately our hotel was placed oposite to everywhere and it was a big issue if we wanted to go shopping.

Anyway, one of the big parts of the festival was just around the camping area and it was the Medieval market. There you could enjoy drinking mead, eating roast or even have a bath on a hot wooden tub. Practise archery, have a pendant hammered on an anvil in front of your very eyes... and of course, the typical re-enactment fights with swords, helmets and shields. There were few bands playing around, one of them called "Sierpe" with a dreadful female singer.

And there was a duo of bagpipers with a drummer. Really good stuff. Good melodies, quite ancient tunes.

There was also a stand where some young people were selling hand made bagpipes. Black sheepskin bag, cocuswood drones and chanter (one tenor, one bass drone). They were there basically to show people what bagpipes were about. They were only allowed to sell the pipes on the last day of the festival. Beautiful pieces of work, but I suspected that they were going to be awfully expensive, so we left.

Muenchen Hexennacht

This was the first time I went to a medieval fair, I mean, a proper one, with people walking around with real swords, real chainmail and well, all real. During my roleplaying adventures most armors were made of molded camping mat, sprayed with acrylic paint and given a dry brush of silver. True craftmanship but from the point of view of "safety for sixteen year old geeks".

One of the things that impressed me the most was the variety of medieval instruments that people play in medieval fairs in Germany. When my girlfriend introduced me to Corvus Corax I just couldn't resist the challenge: I had to learn to play backpipes. THAT was the real thing. I was really impressed by the event but my girlfriend kept uttering the words "Wait until you get to see Kaltenberg".

I adquired a practice chanter, made of rosewood, and a tin whistle in D (generation). With the tin whistle, following a course I found given in parts by a jesuit priest in youtube. He seems to be quite a competent teacher and learning with his lessons is very easy.

When I tried to find the same about bagpipes, I found that most clips were about fingering and grace notes, but not much about learning a melody. Not enough to keep me interested. Instead I started learning some Corvus Corax covers of "Ballade de Mercy", "Saltarello", "Skudrinka", "In Taverna"(from their Carmina Burana album "Cantus Buranus")...

One thing that called my attention was the fingering on the practice chanter. Why people were advising to cover certain holes with the right hand when it wasn't making a difference. I started to suspect that my practice chanter (won in ebay for £5+delivery) was hopelessly out of tune, but since I didn't have any reference to compare it with. Either way, I kept practising with it.

The start

I had been involved with Live Medieval Roleplaying for a long time. Every year I used to attend religiously to a festival called EJEN, around my birth city, Malaga.

I moved to London around April 2000. During November of 2006 I met my girlfriend and because of all the circumstances around I decided to move to Munich with her. The idea, to come back to London together after a few months. The few months were nine, and this is how it starts.

I can't really speak German, honestly. During those nine months that we were sorting out contracts and selling furniture to make the big move I was bored to death. I gave German a huge try, but my brain decided that Japanese is easier than German. No language = no job, so I had too much time on my hands.