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Andrew's Bagpipe Shepherd Drone Tips

By Andrew T. Lenz, Jr., Santa Cruz, California, ©1998 - 2005

Shepherd Drone Reed Image Just so we know we're talkin' about the same animal, here's my illustration.

Here are some advice on how to correct a couple of issues: double-toning and reed shut-off.

How to Correct "Double-Toning" with Plastic Shepherd Drone Reeds.

I've found that the bad double-toning heard when a drone reed won't come in correctly (drone abnormally sounding like a car horn blaring) can be caused a number of things. Here's some possible remedies.

Try these:

1) Moving the bridle up a tiny bit (toward from the blade pin). Test.

2) Try flicking the tongue open (see below). Test.

3) Moving the bridle down a tiny bit (away from the blade pin). Test.

4) If your trouble is with the bass drone, make sure the top section of the bass is showing about a 1/2" of hemp and try moving the bottom joint down until there is only about 1" to 1-1/4" showing of the slider. This means you may have to move the bridle up a lot and will give the tongue a really large vibrating surface. Test.

5) Check/Flatten the blade.

a. Mark the bridle placement with a pencil.
b. Move the bridle back over the pin.
c. Remove the blade.
d. Check it for cracks or fatigue (looks brighter white), if so replace it. Test.
e. Rub the blade gently between your fingers to flatten it with body warmth and mild friction.
f. Replace reed and bridle to starting position.

If these don't work, you just might not be "striking in" the bag correctly (this and a combination of the bridle being down too far was my problem). Give the bag a good shove with the heel of your hand when you start the drones, you may need an instructor's help on this. Other than that, I'm going to be of no help.

How to Correct No Sound/"Cut-Out" with Plastic Shepherd Drone Reeds.

If you are finding that a drone won't sound at all:

1) Very lightly flick the tongue up with a business card.
2) Test by mouth-blowing the offending reed while it is seated in its drone.
3) If it still won't sound, move the bridle up a tiny bit (more tongue to vibrate), about the width of a pencil line—a small amount can make a big difference!
4) Test again.
5) If it still doesn't sound, go back to "1" and repeat the process.

If you are finding that a drone is shutting down and won't continue to play:

1) Very lightly flick the tongue up with a business card.
2) As hard as you can, mouth-blow the offending reed while it is seated in its drone.
3) If cuts out, move the bridle up (more tongue to vibrate) a tiny bit, about the width of a pencil line, a small amount can make a big difference.
4) Test again, blowing at maximum pressure.
5) If it still cuts out, go back to "1" and repeat the process.

Note that the less you move the bridle up, the less air will be required to make the reed sound and more efficient your reeds will be. If you wish, you can tweak the bridles down a bit for more efficiency, but at the risk of your reeds cutting-out.

Another option if the above is problematic, is to try an old cane reed trick, that is, place a human hair under the tongue next to the bridle on the loose side (not the side toward the drone). If the hair trick doesn't work, you could replace the tongue with one of Peter Crisler's less breakable tongues. With a Crisler tongue, you can be a little more aggressive bending the tongue open. Yet another option, if you have a synthetic bag, would be to put in a drone valve to slightly restrict airflow and also slightly reduce likelyhood of accidental reed cut-out. (See my Drone Valve Identification page.)

Verbatim from the Shepherd Instruction Booklet:

Drone tuning too high:
Carefully move the Bridle up 1mm, thus lengthening the vibrating length of the blade.

Drone tuning too low:
Carefully move the Bridle down 1mm, thus shortening the vibrating length of the blade.

In the unlikely event of the Reed Stopping:
Very gently 'flick' the blade open.
Please note: This action should be done with extreme care as a severe bend or distortion will effect [sic] the impregnated memory of the Plastic Blade.

[Business card works fine, but don't crack your blade! Be patient, do little "flicks".]

Bridle/Drone Length Relationship:

In order to maintain the same pitch on a drone, if you move the bridle down, your drone pipe needs to go "up" or lengthen. If the bridle goes up, the drone length needs to go down. So if you want to increase the resonance in your drone by increasing the chamber size (lengthening in the drone and flattening the sound), you need to move the bridle down (sharpening the sound).

Straight to the Source:

R. T. Shepherd & Son, 164 Jamphlars Road, Cardenden, Fife, Scotland, KY5 0ND
Telephone: 01592 720130, Fax Number: 01592 721857

R. T. Shepherd & Son Web Site.

Send e-mail to R. T. Shepherd & Son.

Shepherd plastic drone reeds are easy to strike-in and decent for a beginner—I played them myself for a couple years before others were available—though one could argue (and win) that there are other synthetic drone reeds on the market that sound better. Since the time I first wrote this, Shepherd released a second synthetic drone reed, the SM-90. If you are curious about the different drone reeds available, visit my Identifying Drone Reeds page.

If you are looking for more on drone reed adjustments, perhaps for other reeds, visit How to Adjust Synthetic Drone Reeds elsewhere on this site.

If you have comments on this page, please contact me.

This page last updated Sunday, March 14, 2010.
Page first created in December 1998.

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