Published: October 31, 2005

Get in line

Hylands In-Line Drone Valves
Lyons Bagpipes and Supplies
$60 AUS

Reviewed by James MacHattie

Over the past few years, the piping supply market has seen the introduction of a variety of new products, all designed to make it easier to control this finicky instrument we love, and sometimes hate. The Australians have been leaders in developing all sorts of gadgets, many of which are designed to overcome the difficulties associated with synthetic bags. Hylands In-Line Drone Valves claim not only to “assist in starts and stops, but also act as an efficient air flow regulator to give a steady and concise air flow to the drones for a steadier sound.” I had heard both praise and damnation of similar devices, so I thought I might as well see for myself.

They fit tightly into the tubing innards of most canister systems, and are easy to install. They do significantly increase the length of the tubing before the canister, though; to make them fit in smaller bags, the original tubing must be shortened.

As a piper who has only just recently moved to synthetic bags from sheepskin, I still remember the frustration of getting used to cutting off my pipe at the end of a band set. However, with a bit of practice, I got the hang of it. When I plugged in the Hylands Valves this spring, I found that they do, as they claim, very much facilitate cut-offs. They allow the piper to blow the pipe much closer to the end of the set than without the valves, reducing the concern of sagging tone at the end of a set. But I cannot understand the claim that the valves assist in starting the pipe. If one has problems striking in the pipe, the drone reeds themselves are not set up properly. The valves did not help me strike in my pipe whatsoever.

My main concern before testing the valves was that they would compromise my drone sound. I resisted using a synthetic bag and plastic drone reeds for so long because it was much harder (for me) to match the quality of chanter and drone sound I achieved with natural products. When I put the valves in just as they came, my drones did not have the same ring as without; however, the valves can be adjusted, and once I eased the tension on the valves, my drone sound returned to its original quality.

I must admit I do like these valves, provided they are opened up enough to allow the drone reeds to vibrate properly. I have reservations, though. I would not recommend them to beginners, because I believe one must learn to cut off one’s pipes correctly first. I also worry about excessive reliance on crutches; there is no adequate substitute for putting in the time and effort required to “know your instrument.”

James MacHattie is Pipe-Major of the Toronto Police Pipe Band and a leading solo piper. He has just completed his doctorate in classics at the University of Toronto and lives in that city.

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