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Harvesting and Selling Cane Since 1978


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By Ted Anderson

    As you have just ordered a set of cane drone reeds from me for your pipes, you may be at a loss as to how to set them up, unless you are experienced with cane drone reeds. Along with the reeds, I have enclosed a few maintenance supplies. They include a piece of green dop (sealing) wax, a piece of black shoemakers' (cobblers') wax and a short length of hemp thread. There is also a piece of silicone tubing you can slice new bridles from, should one break. These items can be ordered directly from me.

    The dop wax is used to seal the end of the reed and to add weight to the tip of the tongue. A corner of the wax can be melted over a candle or alcohol lamp and the melted wax applied to the tip of the tongue. Be careful not to seal the reed shut! You can remelt the surface of the wax once it is applied for a neater surface. An alcohol lamp is best for this, but a candle will do. Weight is added to a tongue in order to flatten the pitch of the reed. To sharpen the pitch, cane can be removed from the tip of the tongue. Before inserting a reed in its drone, remove the black thread from the end of the reed. Drag the thread between your thumb and forefinger a few times to soften the wax which coats it, then re-wrap the reed. The black shoemakers' wax can be added to the thread or a new piece of hemp can be waxed by dragging a piece of hemp through the black wax a few times. Friction will melt the wax and coat the thread. Bits of hemp left in the wax can be picked out after using it. The waxed hemp acts as a gasket when inserting the reed and will keep the reed in its socket, as the wax is adhesive.


    Before inserting the reed, stick it in your mouth with the open end outside. Don't let the reed touch your tongue or the inside of your mouth. Keep saliva off of the reed or dry it immediately if it gets wet. Blow on the reed. If it plays with a good amount of pressure, insert it firmly into the drone and try it in the set. Cane reeds often close up after they are made and shipped to you. If the reed won't sound, or closes down with little pressure, it need to be re-opened. This is accomplished by "snapping the tongue". To snap the tongue, the body of the reed must be flexed in order to lift the tongue from the body. Grab the tongue between thumb and forefinger. Hold the body of the reed with the thumb and forefinger of your other hand, with the thumb tightly over the bridle, as it can flex. Lift the tongue 20 to 30 degrees and let go of it, so it snaps back into place. This should leave the tongue more open. Blow test it again and re-snap if needed. Do not exceed a 40 degree lift, as the tongue can break off. Until the reeds settle, you may have to snap them a number of times. The reeds do best if they are slowly adjusted into playing condition and broken in over a few weeks playing. After breaking in, you will seldom, if ever need to snap them again.

    The variation in pitch and tone can be slowly tamed by shortening the tongue with the bridle. Make a less than 1/32" adjustment at a time with the bridle and snap the reed if that closes it up. As long as the reed will still play and not close down a lot, you are best off with a reed that is as closed as possible. They take less air and are more stable. This is a normal part of breaking in a set of cane reeds. Nothing is hurt by overly closing the reed. If you close a reed too much, you just open it up a bit with the bridle and snap it again. The goal is to have the reeds as closed as possible and yet not so closed that they shut off under second octave pressure. A reed that only occasionally closes will settle into staying open. There will come a time that snapping the tongue will become something you do less and less of over time until you might only snap a tongue once a month or so, if needed.

    The time taken to adjust and settle a set of cane drone reeds is one cost some guys don't want to deal with. Composites often will settle in and play much more quickly but you certainly sacrifice tone to use them. The process just takes time, perhaps as much as a couple of months until you reach reed nirvana. Some tuning can be accomplished with the bridle. It is best to use the bridle to set the pressure at which the reed operates and accomplish tuning with adding to or taking weight off of the tongue. A different size of reed may be required to accomplish this.

    Contact me if a reed that plays in the drone cannot be brought into pitch with the tuning slide. I will recommend the adjustments you can try. If it still won't tune well, I will make a new one in trade for the working reed. It may require a different size reed to work in your drone. I want you to have a workable set of reeds. Were I to have your drones in my shop, I would send them out with the proper sized reeds. As drone bores vary widely, without the drones in my shop, the best I can do is to send an approximate sized set and trade out any that can't be made to fit your drones.


Cane is the soul of the instrument

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