July 31, 2008

Bannatyne bagpipe, bag, reeds and moisture system

Blackwood drones, polypenco chanter, hide zipperbag bag, chanter reed, drone reeds, moisture-control system
All designed, developed and manufactured by Bannatyne Ltd.
Bannatyne Ltd.
Separation filter media Ltd.
Unit 20, Burnhouse Ind Est,
Whitburn, EH47 OLQ
Reviewed by Bob Worrall
The name “Bannatyne” has for some time now been recognized as the manufacturer of one of the finest pipe bags. The company has now expanded its operation, offering a wide selection of full bagpipes, drone and chanter reeds, and moisture-control systems.
I was given a complete Bannatyne bagpipe for review, including a hide zipperbag, drone reeds and the company’s new moisture-control system. This was no easy task. Most of us play some variation of a composite instrument. Quite often the top soloist or band piper is playing drones and chanter from different manufacturers, drone and chanter reeds from different reed makers, and a moisture control system from yet another source. Few manufacturers offer the full package. So, I felt it best to provide separate feedback on each component of the Bannatyne package.

Drones and drone reeds
The drones I was given to play were beautifully combed blackwood with nickel ferrules and imitation ivory mounts. The workmanship was first rate. The tenors and bass all tuned nice and high, giving a full and bright overall quality. I tried a number of different drone reeds in these drones and was very pleased with the result. My feeling is that the synthetic drone reeds that came with the pipes take a little too much air for my liking and tend to be a bit too dominant when putting together the complete tonal package. One plus of these drone reeds was the “inverted” bass. It is extremely stable and amazingly accurate in the strike-in of the pipe.
Chanter and chanter reeds
Bannatyne drone reedsThe company manufactures both blackwood and polypenco chanters. The one that came with this pipe was polypenco. I really liked the overall pitch of this chanter. It is probably not quite as high in pitch as some of the chanters on today’s market. (That’s a big plus for this reviewer!) At the same time, it is quite bright. With the reed that came with the chanter, the bottom-hand balance was extremely accurate.
A fair amount of tape was needed to balance out the top-hand, however, when I switched to some other reeds by different manufacturers, much of this tape disappeared. Backup Bannatyne chanter reeds were not sent along, so I couldn’t determine whether or not the top hand balance was just a function of this reed. It’s a ridge cut reed very much like two or three others on the market today. On the plus side is an outstanding high G (once balanced with a little tape). And, the official test came when I played the ground to the “Earl of Seaforth’s Salute.” The piobaireachd high G was extremely accurate and stable.

Bag and moisture-control system

Bannatyne hide zipperbagSo, now we are down to assessing the pipe bag and moisture-control system. The company offers both synthetic and hide zipperbags. The one that I tested came with a medium hide bag with a zipper on the bottom (as opposed to the usual side placement of the zipper). I’ve been playing a synthetic bag for a number of years and absolutely loved the feel of the hide bag. It is easy to see why so many players who have been playing synthetic bags have been making the move to the Bannatyne hide bag. Testing this alone has me on the verge of making the switch.
The zipper allows for the installation of the Bannatyne moisture-control system. It also allows the player to use a different system in the Bannatyne bag if he/she wishes. I am a very wet blower and the drying system I have used for the last 20 years or so has totally eliminated one of my biggest frustrations.
I gave the Bannatyne system a good tryout. The individual tubes attached to the drying canister and drones/chanter were extremely flexible. That should prevent or delay deterioration of the tubes. I was very impressed with the free flow of air that I got when the entire system was put together.
Bannatyne moisture-control systemYou are left with the option of whether or not you want to attach the tube intended for the chanter stock. You can also reduce the amount of the drying agent that you may wish to use for the chanter. This gives lots of flexibility given the type of chanter reed you’re playing, the amount of humidity in the atmosphere, and a wide variety of other variables.
The moisture control system worked very well. After an hour of playing there was no sign of moisture on the drone reeds. The chanter reed was, in fact, a little too dry. But, with the removal of some of the drying agent from the chanter compartment of the canister, the problem was solved. The individual tubes have what appears to be a very firm suction cup that fits over the bottom of the drone stocks. No clamps and screwdrivers required! That’s the plus side. However, I did have a little trouble installing a couple of them and, while none have come loose in what amounts to about two weeks of playing, time will be the true test with regard to this potential concern.

All in all, the new Bannatyne products are first-rate. I would summarize my feedback simply as follows:

  • Superb workmanship on the drones
  • Excellent pitch, balance and stability of drones
  • Stabile and balanced drone reeds
  • Excellent inverted bass drone
  • Slight concern with amount of air required by drone reeds, resulting in a somewhat dominant drone impact (solved by switching to some alternate drone reeds)
  • Very pleasing chanter pitch
  • Bright chanter tonal quality
  • Slight top hand balance concern (solved by what was a fair amount of tape on a new reed; but, very little tape required when I switched to some alternate chanter reeds)
  • Excellent bottom hand balance from the chanter with this reed
  • An amazingly accurate high G
  • Loved the pipe bag (nice, solid feel under the arm, making it easy to control pitch, strike-ins and stops)
  • A very efficient and easy-to-use moisture-control system
  • Possible concern as to how secure the suction cups attached to bottom of drone stocks may be over time

Two thumbs up to Bannatyne for giving us great quality and more choice in what has become a highly competitive market.

One of the world’s foremost pipers, Bob Worrall travels the globe imparting his knowledge to soloists and bands, providing his critical ear for competition judging and performing in recital. The winner of both light music events at the Northern Meeting, Bob Worrall lives in Burlington, Ontario.




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