Humidity for pipes, high or low?

Humidity for pipes, high or low?

I’m a bit confused about other threads about humidity. For pipe reeds is high humidity bad or good? I’m buying a place soon in a highly humid area, it rains a lot and winters get minus 0 sometimes. It’s basically up on a mountain. I’ve always wanted pipes at some point and I may have the means now to purchase some.

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

Humidity doesn’t get below 60% all year.

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

High humidity can be bad for reeds if they aren’t made to cope with it. Cane reeds in general like reasonable, comfortable amounts of humidity; very dry conditions tend to make them collapse, but very humid, sweaty conditions can make them open up so much they go out of tune and become difficult to play.

Think of it this way: if you’re comfortable, your reeds will probably be comfortable too; terribly dry conditions that dry out your skin will dry out your reeds, while terribly humid conditions that make you sweat profusely will make your reeds misbehave in a different way.

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

Michelle you have some resources not far from where you are. If at possible, reach out to Craig Fischer in Adelaide. He is an extremely adept reed guru, and has some knowledge about cane resources native to Oz.You might be able to contact him through Jack Brennan, or even though they are currently closed because of the ´Rona plague, the Adelaide Irish Club. Local always seems to work out better with the dry-blown reeds. Local, of course is a relative thing, but at least Adelaide is not in Europe…

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

Very low humidity is generally a struggle for any kind of pipe - like around the 10-15% mark.

Other than that, the absolute number doesn’t really matter so much as how it varies. 60% all the time will be much easier to manage than 60% to 30% and back again. Ideally, if you can find someone who lives close by who can advise when it’s you, the reeds, the instrument or what is really helpful.

Posted by .

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

I only know about the low humidity.

Usually here in coastal California the humidity is fairly pipe-friendly, often being around 60%.

If the humidity falls much below 50% various bad things start happening:

-Back D starts sinking at normal pressure
-Bottom D can start gurgling
-the low notes in general get weak and hard to keep from jumping into the 2nd octave
-the drones become wildly unstable (worse than the chanter) and you give up and just shut them off.

The good news is that the high notes get super easy to play! High D? No problem!

Here in Southern California we have, two or three times a year, the "Santa Ana winds" which are extremely dry, the humidity can fall below 10%. I’ve had chanter reeds collapse inward, never to speak again. Wise pipers store their pipes in a safe place until the Santa Ana winds go away.

You said mountains? At least here, pipes are as sensitive to altitude as they are to humidity. If they’re adjusted to play at sea level they go wonky in the mountains, and visa versa.

And as Postie is saying it’s best to go with local cane. My chanter works better in the dry than most, it’s California cane.

Better yet are wood reeds. My flat chanter has a cedar reed (I think) and it’s amazingly resistant to changes in humidity.

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

Well, when we get into wooden reeds, we are into the Arcana. I make reeds from North Coast Pacific Red Cedar…not actually a cedar, but thuja plicata. Very resistant to changes in humidity. But it takes persistance and great care to get one to ´sing´, but once you´ve got one, it´s a gem to be treasured.
There are several Uilleann Pipes makers in Australia who can kit you out. Proximity to your maker has great value to a you as a beginner.

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

I’ve played outdoors in summer in the Midwestern US during rainstorms under a tent and it was a disaster. It was a very warm (30 degrees Celsius) and very humid (approaching 90%) night and of course nothing worked. To make matters worse, I tried to remove my chanter top so I could close my reed down and ended up destroying my chanter reed. I can still hear the crunching sound in my nightmares.

Stable, 60% RH year round with only minor fluctuations sounds heavenly compared to what we deal with here in most of the US. There is a damned good reason that uilleann pipes were rare in States until recently…and it wasn’t just the scarcity of the instrument in general compared to say fiddles and accordions, although that was part of it. I passionately believe our climate made it nearly impossible for a beginner living outside of a few coastal cities to make any progress in piping.

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

PS if I didn’t have an excellent reed maker helping me out early on I would have gotten nowhere, there simply would not have been enough hours in the day when you factor in working a full time job, housework etc.

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

I left a comment a day ago but it didn’t go through.
Thanks postie and everyone for your comments. I think it’s doable. I can always get a dehumidifier for the house if it gets too moist.

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

Isn’t Ireland a fairly wet place? It hasn’t stopped them!

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

In my experience, reeds do best near the humidity they were made in. I have reeds made in Ireland and Germany, that are happy between 40% and 60+% humidity. At 30% and below, the chanter and reg reeds need adjustments to the bridle, but the drone reeds seem unaffected. I have found it pays to keep an hygrometer and a humidifier in the room that I play and store my pipes in, and that the reeds last much longer when humidity is more constant. Frequent adjustments to double-reed bridles is not conducive to long service life.

I have another chanter reed that was made in Colorado (where it is much drier) and it seems unaffected by low or high (60%) humidity.

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

I’m sure I can find some Arundo donax growing feral locally once I’ve been playing and learning how to use reeds. Do I need a whole lot of large machinery to make my own reeds?

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

Michelle Mc said: "Do I need a whole lot of large machinery to make my own reeds?"

No, you don’t need any large machinery at all - but you do need some pretty specific small hand tools and jigs.

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

Thanks An Draighean I’m sure I’ll take a workshop course somewhere and get some hand tools. I like working with bamboo already 🙂

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

In Italy, after a lot of time with no rain - but not very high temperature - a few wet days
gave back to my reed the right taste , in terms of harmonics and presence.
You always need a little humidity for pipe reeds, to me.

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

It’s amazing how a small change in humidity will make a noticeable change in your chanter performance.

A few years ago I had a series of church concerts. In the green room my chanter was singing, everything perfect.

On stage I would get the first warning sign of the reed being too dry, Back D starting to become unstable.

I do keep a hygrometer in my pipe case, and taking readings in the green room and onstage I found out that the difference in humidity was only around 10% (around 60% in the green room and around 50% onstage).

I wouldn’t have thought that such a small difference would have made my chanter pressure-sensitive.

And my chanter’s Back D is more stable than most around here. We have an uilleann piper’s club and there have been Santa Ana-ish days where everybody’s Back D was sinking but mine was fine.

There’s an annual church gig I’ve done for many years and it seems cursed by the Santa Ana winds, which I would guess have been blowing over half the time.

I have to take my chanter out of the stock onstage and mouth-blow the bag full of moist air in between tunes. It’s just enough to allow me to get through one piece.

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

> Do I need a whole lot of large machinery to make my own reeds?

No, in fact practically nothing is *really* essential - most of the manufactured machines and jigs that you see are for speed and repeatability, not because they’re needed. If you had all the time in the world, a sharp knife and sandpaper would be enough.

Posted by .

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

Isn’t Ireland a fairly wet place? It hasn’t stopped them!

Extreme heat and humidity spikes during the summer are far worse in the interior and southern parts of the US than in Ireland. There is no comparison. You can build a reed for that climate, but it needs to be different in construction, and you still have to baby it somewhat unless you like making reeds all the time.

I hate, hate, hate making reeds, so I just buy good ones from a good reed maker, and spend my precious free time practicing instead of participating in wood shop.

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

Ah, as having been trained as a machinist, I love certain words, that have very specific meanings: Accuracy, Precision, and Repeatability. Calum touched on repeatability. As a beginning reed-maker (reedista 🙂 ?) repeatability will be your goal, and your greatest trial. I have seen videos of Kevin Henry, and of Finbar Furey making serviceable reeds in just a few minutes with little more than a very sharp pocket knife. I saw the same thing in person with Eugene Lamb. But what you don´t see is the years and years of practice, or the rubble heap of cane to get there. Use whatever tools, fixtures, and aids you need to to make a fair reed. And try to keep good notes as well…

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

Any professional reed makers in Australia? Specifically New south wales? I’m not having much luck searching online.

Re: Humidity for pipes, high or low?

There are people in your region who may be able to help. It’s not like you’re in the middle of the godforsaken North American prairie…