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Richard Evans describes how he uses an alternative to cane.

I have been a pipemaker for quite a few years now, and over that time I can claim to have come to terms with most aspects of the craft. A few things, however, have caused me a lot of frustration. One of these is the making of cane tongues for brass bodied drone reeds. I don't know why this should be the case since I have no particular problem with chanter reeds. I have always found difficulty in getting the thickness and aperture just right, particularly with the small reeds.

Recently I have been using what seems to me to be a very useful substitute for cane. 1 have tried various forms of plastic, and one which seems very good is a model maker’s plastic called "Plasticard". This is available from model shops in A4 sheets at a modest price, in various thicknesses. It is a bit softer than a yoghurt pot and it has the advantage (for drone reeds) of being completely flat. A single sheet will obviously make a very large number of reeds.

A thickness of 0.010" is suitable for high ‘g’ and ‘d’ Northumbrian pipe drones and high ’d’ of Scottish Smallpipe D sets. A thickness of 0.020" is suitable for larger reeds.


  • Cut a strip the desired width using a craft knife and steel rule.
  • The knife leaves a slight ridge along the edge of the strip. Remove this by drawing the strip between your thumb and a piece of wet and dry paper. Do this carefully.
  • Shape the tongue to fit the reed body.
  • Bind the tongue to the reed body. I seal the binding with shellac knotting.
  • Open the tongue by carefully flicking it back in the same manner as for a cane reed.

There is no need to thin the plastic and that, as far as I am concerned, is the major advantage of the material. The free length of the tongue is consistently less than the cane equivalent, by about 40%. The same brass bodies may be used, or shorter ones if desired.                              

Typical free lengths are:

LowA 22mm                   LowD 20mm                 Highd 11mm

The critical question is, of course - what do they sound like? They do not sound exactly the same as cane tongues. They have a slightly more buzzy, open tone which I find completely acceptable. Others may disagree - it is very much a matter of personal preference. They are immune to humidity and temperature and remain in pitch from one day to the next - both pretty useful attributes. Overall I would recommend anybody to try these reeds - they may be just what you are looking for.