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Perks for the Editor - now there’s a rarity! But out of the blue arrived a set of drone vibrators for me to try. I'm still experimenting, but apart from a problem of the seating size being unsuitable in one of my drones, they seem to do all that Al James describes in this article.

Enclosed is a set of three Small-Pipe, drone vibrators that I have recently made to suit my own pipe which, purchased a few years ago, is pitched in A and reasonably close to 440hz. The original drone reeds were of cane and had been heavily tongue-scraped to sound, which they wouldn’t: so I bought some cane of similar size and made reeds. They worked and had a nice hum, but required too much winding effort for comfortable playing. The sound was very steady.

A good friend who now lives in Saskatoon and who has made his own excellent Small-Pipe, gave to me a set of copper-bodied and plastic-tongued vibrators which had been fashioned from copper sheet into a cross-section “U” shape with a small diameter spigot at one end, a soldered stop at the other and a plastic tongue tied onto the open channel of the “U”. They played with less winding effort than the cane reeds but still required too heavy a pressure.

Realising that the problem was air leakage ’twixt tongue and body, an experiment was made with square section, brass tube, using for tongue material brass strip first, then cane and   finally plastic.

The sound of the brass-strip vibrator was harsh, with cane the air leakage problem was little improved, for it is difficult to obtain the perfectly flat and smooth surface areas and at the same time have the tongue curve up at the tip to afford sufficient beating space.

With the plastic tongue the sound was robust but smooth enough and the winding effort was, by far, the easiest. Accordingly, a plastic-tongued set was made and played in the pipe and to date the vibrators have played satisfactorily with but a touch of tuning to compensate for the effect of climatic changes on the cane, chanter reed.

The tongue material is Styrene sheet of 0.020" thickness, made by Evergreen Scale Models Inc, of Kirkland, WAS 98034 U.S.A. It is available in thicknesses from 0.010" to 0.250" in

0.005" increments.

The square section brass is available in Hobby shops throughout Canada and probably in the U.K. and U.S.A., in sizes from 1/8" to 5/16" in 1/32" increments (the metal being 1/64" thick) and in 12" lengths.

The round brass tube is usually stocked with the square-section and other brass materials, in similar sizes and lengths.

The slot in the square-section tube is made by drilling a suitable number of 1/8" diameter holes and by filing away the points in between. Care must be taken to cleanly de-burr the inside edges and to not distort the body by over-tight clamping etc. The body is then sawn off the stock length using a fine-tooth coping saw, the saw burrs removed and the slotted face polished on fine-grit (600) paper on a level and smooth surface.

One end of the round tube is then dressed down on the square tang of a small, rat-tail file using a small hammer and anvil, for 3/16", then lightly filed with a flat, smooth file until it will fit snugly into the end of the square body.

The contact surfaces are cleaned and coated with flux, the square end of the round tube inserted into the square body, and the tube slid onto a dowel stick which is clamped in a vice or to a bench etc., and the joint soldered. A 100 watt iron or gun is ample for the job, and the solder will soon run, at which point the gun and solder stick should be removed, since sufficient solder will have leached into the joint to seal and hold, while none will have run into the body. When the metal has cooled, saw through the tube to leave a 3/8" long spigot protruding from the body. De-burr and clean away traces of flux with mineral spirit.

The other end of the body must be sealed, and as it will be under no greater stress than that of the air-pressure of the pipe bag, a squared-off piece of glued-in wooden dowel will be adequate. It should not, of course, be inserted past the end of the slot. For good measure I have pared the plugs of the “gift” set to a point, as a hint to the user to push the vibrators into the drone by holding the sides of the brass body and not by pushing down on the plugged end. To be sure of a seal I have also varnished the plugs.

The tongue is made by cutting from the styrene sheet and binding it to the body with a suitable thread. For this set I have used heavy cotton coated with cobbler’s wax. Yellow hemp coated with bees wax is also suitable and while wax is not mandatory, it serves to hold the binding in situ, and the vibrator in the drone.

Before mounting the tongue, be sure that there are no edge burrs left over from the strip cutting process and a light rubbing of the contact surface on the fine-grit paper will ensure an almost leak-proof mating with the polished, brass surface. The tip of the tongue need be long enough only to cover the aperture slot plus 1/32". A longer tongue will give more contact area of tongue on brass and will coarsen the sound.

The last operation is the softening of the tongue. A thin blade is slipped under the tongue all the way to the binding and with a thumb on the binding, is turned upwards to slightly kink the plastic at the binding line such that when the blade is removed the tongue is straight but standing up slightly at the tip. Gently does it, for too much of a turn upwards will give too big a kink, the tip of the tongue will be standing up too high and the sound will be coarse.

This may require removal of the binding to rectify. In closing, most pipers are aware that there is little or no acoustical difference between square and round tubes if they are of similar cross-sectional areas and lengths. One could have square-tube drones and maybe even a square chanter, for there are square-tube organ pipes and non-round shawms: but in any case, square-tube vibrators work efficiently.