In 2009, Callum Armstrong, while still a recorder student at Trinity College, London, ordered a set of Julian Goodacre's Scottish smallpipes.  The only non- standard feature on the chanter that Julian had made for Callum was the addition of two keys allowing it to play two extra notes, but Callum rapidly discovered nifty ways of using them to access many more notes into the upper octaves. (Julian's and Callum's full account of this is in the June 2012 issue of Common Stock.)In March 2013 Callum applied for a £500 grant from the LBPS to work with Julian to develop the capabilities of the chanter., which sent them on a technical and musical journey of discovery.  Here they combine to give an account of the subsequent developments.

Julian:  I am well aware that the minutiae of chanter design are likely to have far more appeal to those few tortured souls who design and make chanters rather than those carefree pipers who merely buy one and then get on with the main purpose of playing music on it. However this has been a fascinating project, funded by the LBPS, and it is important to give the members an idea of how their money has been used.

Callum: On my two-keyed chanter I had established that 2 extra octaves were accessible in a higher register. The process of jumping into the second register that I used was by playing a note and disturbing the airflow 9 holes above, by briefly half venting the hole and then replacing the finger. This made the whole instrument jump a 12th and play with a much purer sound. However, this process was limited as I could only jump into the register by playing a Low A or G and half venting the high A or B hole, and had not been able to jump greater intervals upwards without the pitch falling back into the lower register again.  I wanted to try and make it easier to play. Modern woodwind instruments have keys which operate small holes near the tops of the instruments. This,  on a clarinet  is called a speaker key. Since our chanter jumped a 12th like a clarinet, I wanted to see if adding a speaker key would allow for greater opportunities for jumping intervals in the second register. I also suggested an extra ‘throat key’ to fill in the second note gap between the lower register and the upper register. On our 2 keyed chanter, the high C sharp was only accessible via a very awkward fingering and I wanted to add this key to eliminate some of the work load on the player.Julian: I am never keen on adding  keys to my chanters but Callum is persistent and persuasive and his achievements on my two-keyed chanter were so impressive it was appealing to pursue his goal of achieving the maximum amount of notes with the minimum number of keys.  I know from years of experience that experimental development on chanters of any kind can be very time consuming and I suggested that he apply for a grant from the LBPS.Callum: In my application I wrote:
“My aim is to create a stable chanter with the minimum number of keys which can play three semi chromatic octaves.  I look forward to sharing my findings with others and encouraging any adventurous pipers who want to explore the possibilities that this extended range offers.
Julian has agreed to spend a 40 hour week for researching and developing this and to teach me more about reed making/ increase my knowledge and skills of reed making and manipulation. We hope that at the end of the week he will have made a working chanter for me (ie that I will own and be able to play)
I was very fortunate to have my application accepted in April 2013. In the meantime, I had been thinking about where to place the keys, and deciding where to place additional keys. I decided that the speaker key should be operated by the thumb at the back and placed in such a way that it could be 'pinched', in a similar way to the thumb hole on a recorder, or the speaker key on a clarinet. I also decided to add a high C# key to fill in the gap between the lower register and the second register.”

Julian: We chose a week in September for this work which gave us a couple of months to prepare. In July we attended Rencontres Internationales de Luthiers and Maîtres Sonneurs at Chateau D'Ars (formerly St Chartier) in central France. This was the 25th time I have exhibited my pipes here and Callum's first visit.
We gave a 30 minute presentation entitled SCOTTISH SMALLPIPES; OLD AND NEW, where we outlined the history of the previous attempts to extend the smallpipe range. Both the Musette de Cour and the Northumbrian smallpipes achieve each extra note by adding an extra metal key. Callum then demonstrated his new approach to overblowing into the upper octaves with his two keyed chanter.Callum:  This was my first time as a piper in France, and there was a lot of interest in my pipes and playing. I was delighted to be awarded 3rd prize in the piping solo- playing my double chanter.Julian: After our trip to France I started thinking about how we should approach the work. I have never collaborated with someone else on a project like this before and with only a week it was important to work in a methodical manner and not get sidetracked.  It was important to think about not only what we were intending to do, but also how we were going to work.I wrote to Callum;
I know you already have specific ideas that you want to explore and I want you to ‘take the lead’ on this side of the project. I will be there to make chanters and drill holes, so you can test the result. Then I can block them up and redrill them as required. Once you are reasonably happy with the results we can start designing suitable key work. However, apart from hole positions there are also almost infinite other variables that might affect the performance, response, tuning of my design of my A smallpipe chanter. There is no way in a week we can even begin to explore them all, but it is important to be aware of them all. And I am quite sure there are more variables that I have not even begun to think of (therein lies madness….).
I have a tendency not to be systematic in my approach. I do eventually achieve good results from working instinctively, but I can spend weeks stabbing holes and blocking them in a frenzy.  One week is not a long time; so we should be systematic about how we work.
Before making any major change we should be clear what we are trying to achieve and write down our intention. You then test it with the reeds you have chosen and then we write a report on the result and what our next step may be. Sometimes a good tactic will be walking up to the house, having another cup of tea and discussing what we have just achieved, rather than tearing into the next test.
It is important that by the end of the week we have a design for a working chanter.  So it will be beneficial if we first make a week plan so we can daily assess how the work is proceeding, and adjust our plans accordingly if necessary.The quantity of variables in chanter design is mind-boggling, so I listed as many as I could think of  to help us be clear about which ones we were going to concentrate on during the week.

CHANTER WOOD; Different woods affect the tone of a chanter, but I doubt if they affect the response. I had already decided to use holly for our prototype chanters and damson for the final one.
WALL THICKNESS;  My chanter has very thin walls. There are infinite possibilities to increase the wall thickness in order to encourage forked/ cross fingering possibilities, but I decided to use my basic design of chanter for our experiments.
REED SEAT; I use a parallel reed seat so there is a slight step in the top of the bore. It is possible that using a tapered reed seat might affect the upper octaves, but I decided to ignore this possibility.
BAG DESIGN;  The shape of the bag can greatly affect chanter tuning. I have made a large bag with alters the 6th note on my A chanter by nearly a semitone.
Callum comments: “I briefly tested some different shapes of bags during the week and found that although they did affect the tuning on some notes, they did not alter the chanters capability to overblow. I decided to stick with Julian's standard smallpipe bag shape.”
STOCK DESIGN; I made a few chanter stocks of different dimensions and one which tapered out towards the bag end.
Callum.adds: “I tested them quickly during the week but did not feel that the different stocks affected the chanter’s capabilities enough to warrant a change in design from Julian's standard stock.”
REEDS; Neither of us were keen to make alterations to my standard plastic reeds for these tests. There is a lifetime of possibilities for experimenting with reed modifications to explore in the future….(Wider staple bore/ different taper at top/ different blade profile/ different plastics/ different scraping etc etc.)
HEMP BINDING; Callum believes it makes a difference to chanter performance and he has yet to convince me!
Callum replies: “I still believe that I am indisputably right about this!”
CHANTER BORES;  My chanter has a complex bore and I did not propose to change it. However I did make one prototype with a slightly narrower  cylindrical section at the top to see if this affected the over blowing.
Callum notes: “When I tested it I found that the narrow bore created a very unstable bottom octave, and therefore I decided to stick with the wider one which I already knew was a good basis to work on.”
HOLE POSITIONS;  It was clear to us that the main focus of our week would be on identifying the optimum position for a speaker key. After this we could continue to adjust finger-hole positions and design suitable keywork.
I made two keyless chanters in advance and Callum arrived on Sunday 21st September. The following six days were the most intense and focused pipe making week of my life!  It was obsessive work. Every day saw us  testing new ideas and evolving new theories; many of which we soon rejected.

MONDAY. I started by making a batch of my standard plastic reeds.Callum: I sifted through the reeds, testing them in several different chanters and against the reed from the old two keyed chanter, which I was using as a control model. I settled with a stronger reed that would not overblow in the way I had devised on the 2 keyed chanter, as the stronger reed was more stable and had a richer tone. I was convinced that I could make this reed overblow with the use of the speaker key.
TUESDAY. We began the search for the best position for the speaker key. Over the next few days Callum often asked me to block up holes and redrill them in slightly different positions. Technical note; this often involved expanding the diameter of the hole and then filling it with a cocktail stick dipped in Super Glue!
Callum: Julian has worked out a lot of quick and easy solutions for all sorts of problems and this speeded up the process of finding a position for the speaker hole. There was quite a bit of trial and error involved .and I found it quite amusing to find that the final speaker hole turned out to be almost the same size and in the same place as the initial hole we drilled.
WEDNESDAY. We began to design the keywork. Orchestral woodwind instruments all have very thick walls, which allows keys to be positioned almost anywhere by attaching it to external metal posts which screw onto the thick walls of the instrument. Smallpipe chanters have thin walls and the conventional system is to leave blocks on the side of the chanters which have channels in them for the metal keys to operate in. It is a good system, but tricky and slow to design and make. With only a week  I had to quickly develop a system of 'gash' keywork in aluminum, which is lovely stuff as you can cut it on the bandsaw and thump it into shape and it glues well with Araldite.  Callum told me where he would like each key and I made the key channels out of thin brass and glued them onto the chanter . Rubber bands served as springs. The keys were easy to bend and adjust to suit Callum's fingers. It was quick, crude, effective and looked awful, but I could make and fit one in about an hour.
THURSDAY. We began to notice that after such an intensive 3 days we were both beginning to suffer from mental exhaustion, but we steamed on! I made a drilling jig so that I could make further chanters using the new hole positions. Pat returned from Hong Kong and we all went out for a pub meal that night. Such was my mental state I have no memory of it!Callum: I spent the whole day testing the relationship between the dimensions and position of the speaker hole and the tuning of the top register. I constantly referred back to the previous days work to build up a greater mental picture of how the chanter operated. Julian was very tired at the pub meal and would jump violently every time I mentioned the word chanter!
FRIDAY. By now most of the work was being done by Callum; fine tuning and testing with different reeds.Callum: By Friday afternoon I had become very frustrated with balancing the two registers so that they were both in tune. The top register was about 30 cents sharper than the bottom one. However the breakthrough happened after lunch when I discovered that by reaming the bottom 3 inches of the bore I could actually flatten the top register and in the process tune it to the bottom register.SATURDAY. By then we had a working chanter which exceeded our  original expectations. It sounded great, but looked absolutely horrible! Callum took it away with him to carry on testing it, but I made him promise not to show it to anyone.Callum. I was very satisfied with what Julian and I had achieved and it gave me a greater understanding of the functioning of a smallpipe chanter, along with an insight into possible future developments.Looking back I see how naive I was to think we could complete the entire project in a 40 hour week, however we were very pleased with what we had achieved. We had completed the research and development stage. My task was now to make a complete and presentable chanter for Callum to reed up and tune. This took two more weeks of our time.

During a week in February I spent several days making the final chanter in damson wood. This entailed designing and positioning the key blocks, cutting and lining the key channels and making all the final key-work in brass. My 'gash' aluminum and Araldite keys had only taken minutes to complete, whereas brass ones with wooden key blocks took many hours.

Callum: It was very important to get the keys in practical and comfortable positions.  I worked with Julian to get the right shape and the most comfortable operating action for the high C sharp key and speaker key, so that they were in a position to be operated with minimal finger movement. I then tested the new chanter out briefly, making sure all the keys were airtight, before proceeding to do some approximate tuning.
After I completed it I removed the key-work and submerged it in my oil tank to give it my standard vacuum and pressure treatment. The chanter remained in the tank for a few days before I took it out and left it for four weeks while the oil dried.

In mid March Callum returned for the final week where we reassembled the chanter and I adjusted the keys.  My part of the project was now completed.
Callum: I spent the rest of that week fine tuning, testing  and widening the bottom bore for tuning.  The new chanter has solved many of the problems that I encountered with my two keyed chanter. I can now confidently jump between any note very comfortably in the first 2 octaves of the chanter regardless of interval, at quite literally the touch of a button.  Although the 3rd octave is only accessible via the second octave, or by easing off the pressure momentarily  from the bag, it is more stable than the second octave and doesn't require the speaker key to work. I still have not had the finished  chanter for long and I am continuing to become familiar with its capabilities and finding new notes.  However I have already discovered that the speaker hole is able to greatly reduce the dynamic range of certain notes, without affecting the pitch, and also helps to produce various chromatic notes within the range.  It is satisfying to find that many of my initial beliefs about smallpipes acoustics were right.

Julian: It has been an amazing  Odyssey and I am proud of how quickly we have progressed, even though it took far longer than we originally anticipated. There has been a lot of learning for both of us; and inevitably some mistakes.  And it has been been very enjoyable. There have been many periods in the history of musical instrument making in Europe for the past 500 years when the interplay between musician and instrument maker has led to new and challenging developments. It is a great privilege to be part of this process, working in collaboration with Callum to explore these entirely new possibilities.

Callum: This project has been an incredible adventure, enhanced by the support and understanding of such a skilled and knowledgeable pipe maker as Julian, without whom this project would not have been possible for me to complete. The chanter was very well received at it first 'airing' at the LBPS competition in Glasgow, where I was awarded 3 prizes, two of which were won with this new chanter. I am continuing my exploration of this instrument’s possibilities and look forward to seeing where they lead me.
We would both to thank the LBPS for showing faith in this project and supporting it with a generous grant.

4 stages in the growth of a smallpipe chanter

There’s no sense in making pretty prototypes… tape and string and elastic bands are perfectly adequate

The new chanter from the back

The new chanter from the front

The new chanter from the side

fingering the c sharp key

operating the speaker key

 [Ed. In case you’re wondering, Julian tells me that the small ‘knob’ at the top right of the chanter allows the adjustment of the ‘volume’ of the speaker-hole chamber.]