Putting the Uilleann Set Together
On this page we will show some of the various steps involved
Inserting the chanter reed. The reed should always be held between the thumb and forefinger carefully by the thread- (or plastic-covered) neck, never by the white plastic lips. Firmly twist the reed into the end of the chanter that is thread wound, as shown below. This is the same for either the blackwood or rosewood chanter.
Below we show the Mid-East rosewood uilleann chanter (the piece on the left). When this chanter is attached to the top section for blowing by the mouth, it is assembled as shown. You push the two pieces of rosewood together; the reed is inside and will not be visible. Be careful not to scrape the reed when joining the two pieces, as this can damage the reed.
To attach either the blackwood or rosewood chanter to the starter set, push the chanter into the chanter/bag connector piece as shown below. (Try to hold the blackwood keyed chanter without pressing the keys.) When the chanter is joined on, the reed will be inside and will not be visible. Be careful not to scrape the reed when joining the two pieces, as this can damage the reed.
In order for your bag to hold air when you pump the bellows, the following are necessary:
1. The chanter reed must be in place. If there is no reed in the chanter, the air will just whoosh through.
2. The valve on the bellows must work (the bellows is shown at left). The round wooden ring encircles a hole; if you look down the hole there is a leather flap at the bottom. This flap opens to allow air into the bellows (when you open the bellows) and then closes to prevent air from whooshing back out of the bellows into the room (when you close the bellows to expel air into the bag).
3. A second valve on the bag end of the plastic connector pipe between the bag and bellows must work. This is a leather flap that opens when you push air into the bag with the bellows, and closes when you open the bellows to get more air; it prevents air from whooshing back out of the bag into the bellows. (A photo of this connector and flap is on its way.)
4. If you have a starter set only (no drones attached), you must make certain that the rubber stopper is firmly inserted in the hole inside the brass cup. This hole is where air goes from the bag to the drones when the drones are attached (you remove the rubber stopper when you attach the drones). If it isn't closed, air will simply whoosh out into the room.
5. If you have the drones attached, you can shut off the air from the bag with the brass lever that comes out from between the drones at the point where the drones are attached to the brass/wooden cylinder valve. (This lever is shown in the photo at left.) The lever moves up and down only a small amount, and is used to turn the drones on and off. There is a lever adjustment nut at the threaded end of the cylindrical valve; this nut is visible at the right side of the valve below. If this nut is screwed down too tightly, the shut-off lever will not move at all.
IT IS STRONGLY RECOMMENDED THAT BEGINNERS ATTEMPT TO PUT TOGETHER AND PLAY ONLY THE STARTER SET AT FIRST. Most uilleann pipers suggest a year or so of practice before adding the drones.
6. If you wish to play the drones,
you lift the brass lever to allow air into the drones. All three drone reeds must be in
place for the drones to work; if you try to pump up the bag with no drone reeds in place,
air will whoosh out through the drones. At left we show placement of drone reeds.
Each drone pipe is a different size. To attach the drones to the valve, push them into the hole that is the correct size. The reeds will go down into the holes in the cylindrical valve.
Note: push the drones carefully, straight in. Do not scrape the reeds against the sides of the holes, or you may damage the reeds.
7. You will see that there are wooden plugs in the remaining two holes of the wooden valve; these are for two of the future regulators. The third regulator will fit into the brass pipe on the side of the wooden valve (the plug on this end of the brass pipe is shown in the closeup below). Actually, when you are playing with drones but no regulators, this brass tube must be plugged at both ends, or air will whoosh out. (If you are getting the idea that there are all kinds of places for air to whoosh out of an uilleann set, you are quite right.)
Close-up of drones where they join to the valve.
Another view of the drones and valve.
8. The final part of a full uilleann set is the three regulators, which are basically keyed drones. Many players never get to these at all, and you need not feel guilty if you never get to the regulators.
The regulators. Each has a reed that fits into one end, the same as for the drones.
9. The regulators fit onto the cylindrical valve: one onto the brass tube, and two into the remaining two plugged holes, as mentioned above. The full set is shown below. The thing to keep in mind when figuring out how the regulators fit, is that the regulators are played with your wrist. This means that the regulators have to be lined up as shown, or your wrist cannot hit the keys. Note (this is important): one of the drones and one of the regulators has the same size diameter; this means that two of the holes in the valve are exactly the same size. If your set just isn't working out right for the position of the regulators, check whether one of the drones should be moved.
Okay, so now you've got your whole set together, and you've joined the pros. Congratulations!
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