August 14, 2008

The price of a reed

Going once, going twice . . .About 20 pipers (I assume all of them were pipers) went to Colin MacLellan‘s workshop on making chanter reeds at the National Piping Centre, and I was one of them. I figure you can always learn more about reeds, and learning from a reedmaker is getting it straight from the source.

I thought the seminar might be very straightforward explanation of how a chanter is made, and it was, but it was also an in-depth, step-by-step demonstration that involved actually making a few reeds on the spot. Colin allowed two people there to make their own chanter reed and take it away with them.

For all their finickiness, the construction and manipulation of chanter reeds is a very basic, yet still meticulous business. Because he’s handled and made tens of thousands of them, Colin has total confidence sanding, bending, squeezing, snipping, even pummeling reeds to get them the way he wants them.

The reed that Colin made at the session turned out to be one that he told the class that he “wouldn’t hesitate to play in the Clasp.” He decided that he would hold a little charity auction, and, after the attendees rejected the idea of the proceeds going to the Spirit of Scotland Drinking Fund, people agreed that money should go to the College of Piping’s Building Fund.

So, Colin started the auction. Now, for all the moaning people do about not being able to get a good chanter reed, here was a reed that at least 20 people knew was a first-rate product. They had watched it being made by a master craftsman, watched it being tested by a master piper, and heard it being endorsed by a master competitor.

After some hemming and hawing, someone started the bidding at £6. To get things moving, I bid £7, and I went back and forth against one other bidder until I actually won it at £13.50. Still a massive bargain. (Rab – the cheque is in the mail. Promise.)

I was surprised at the relative bargain. In an era when people will spend $200 on the latest set of synthetic drone reeds, you would think that a guaranteed great chanter reed would have a much higher value to more people. I wonder why it doesn’t.


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