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Subject: Calculating Chanters
From: Casey Burns <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:[log in to unmask]
Date:Tue, 10 Feb 1998 18:08:44 -0800

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Benade refers to a thorough treatise on calculating toneholes for wind
instruments called "Acoustics of Wind Instruments" by Cornelius
Nederveen (Knopf). I have a copy of this small but rather expensive ($85
in 1984) book and once went through the math required (all similar to
electric capacitance and resistance theory) to see if it had any bearing
on flute designs for a simple 6 hole tapered bore flute. The results
were rather poor, compared to starting with something more empirically
based and whittled out in the workshop - not to mention all of the time
wasted making calculations. In the long and the short of it - only a few
general guidelines could be observed from this: move a hole towards the
reed - pitch goes up; make it bigger, pitch goes up. Tapered bores with
double reeds behave similarly to tapered bores with single reeds and
overblow the octave. Single reeded cylindrical bores overblow the 12th.
Reeds themselves don't behave at all! All that math might help calculate
a pitch - even with the aide of a programmed computer. But the empirical
method of making several iteratively better instruments cannot be
replaced with calculations. The effects of undercutting, reed quality,
bore texture, and general experience with an instrument can't be easily

I much prefer the Italian method for making bagpipes. For the bores of
all the different pitched zampognas, they use pretty much the same set
of reamers. Sometimes that set of reamers is whatever seems to be
locally available (in one's scrap heap!). If the holes don't work on a
chanter, that piece of wood is discarded for destructive testing. I have
been saving every "second" quality flute and bagpipe chanter for years
that I have generated (I have boxes of this firewood) and recently, I
have been using these to test tone hole key seat cutters and other
techniques on this wood. Eventually, enough testing, modifying the tools
including reamers, etc and trying again and again one will create
something that works. Maybe after 10 tries. 

The bottom line: when you start to experiment making your chanters, of
whatever style, don't treat them as sacred! Plan to turn, bore out and
ruin alot of wood. Use something inexpensive and available instead of
blackwood or box. For new prototypes, I have used rock maple, cherry,
plum, other fruitwoods, Madrona and even Black Locust (my favorite
prototyping wood for larger bagpipes). All inexpensive and wonderful to

Casey Burns
Wind Instrument Maker
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