Petestack Blog

17 March 2013

Humidification for woodwinds

Filed under: Music — admin @ 10:28 pm

While it may come as a (counter-intuitive?) surprise to some that Scottish winters can be too dry to leave your precious flutes, pipes etc. simply sitting out in the open (indoors, of course!), cold northern climes aren’t necessarily much safer for them than southern deserts, and preparing suitable storage conditions for my new Dave Copley keyed flute had been exercising my mind from the moment I’d ordered it in Solomon Blackwood instead of the anticipated Delrin. So, having arrived (through testing and evolution) at a solution I’ve been happy with for a good couple of months now, I’d been planning to write about it here before unexpectedly finding myself prompted into describing it (like last year’s Whistle Rolls) on the Chiff and Fipple forums first. And this is most (but not all) of what I’ve written, with the full discussion accessible from any of the links:

Note, October 2014: the hygrometer now lives on top of the crate rather than inside because the crate humidity’s pretty stable and it’s more the room humidity telling me when to bring the flute in (which hasn’t been necessary all summer) than crate humidity determining when to take it out. And the pipes can stay out a fair bit longer when they’ll tolerate a good 10% lower.

Posted: 15 Mar 2013, 08:41 (re. the concept):

Sounds a bit like my plastic crate system, which I’ve been meaning to describe for a while but haven’t got round to yet. So just have to let these photos speak for themselves right now, noting that the top (dry) layer takes the smallpipes when I don’t want them in the bottom (wet) layer…




Posted: 15 Mar 2013, 18:58 (re. the crates):

These are by AUER, though I found them on (and ordered from) Solent Plastics. Not cheap at £98.16 for the two crates, lid and delivery, but exactly what I wanted (big enough at 800x600mm to take the pipes whole, and straight-sided when most/all of the alternatives tapered wastefully) when nothing else I saw was. (NB they also do smaller ones at 600x400mm and 400x300mm with a range of depths in all sizes.)

(re. achieved humidity and method):

It was pretty steady at low 50s to low 60s till we had a prolonged spell of very cold, dry weather in February, at which point I stuck in a second shallow tray of water (like the one with the sponge) to keep it there. And now the weather’s been changing again, I’m typically getting 60 to 65% with the extra tray still there and happy with that. (I was getting 75% testing the concept over Christmas with much smaller crates before I got the AUER ones, but was never going to keep that set-up when it was really too ‘wet’ for the pipes, couldn’t take the bass drone whole and would also have required multiple crates and hygrometers.)

I’m not humidifying the shallower top crate, which is there to give the pipes a break from the main ‘chamber’. But I’ve just turned on the little hygrometer you see in there to check (the one in the main crate is on all the time) and it’s saying 39% RH when I’ve got 60% down below, which (noting that this one always reads slightly lower than the other) suggests I’m getting about 20% benefit from the water in the big box. (One reason I rejected ‘converting’ a cupboard/closet was that the space proved too big to humidify easily by such simple means, whereas the other smaller crates were almost too easy!)

Regarding the actual ‘humidifiers’, yes, two deep tubs and a shallow tray with sponge (+ the extra similar tray still in there). Still experimenting with tubs/trays/sponges and think the sponge seems to do something, but would probably rate water surface area most important of all. These shallow trays/boxes came from IKEA (fortuitously spotted when there for something else!) and I’m still planning to get two more of the larger ones (£1.50 each) with room in the deep crate for another ‘layer’.

Probably also worth pointing out that the handle slots on the crates provide useful ventilation without giving the water too much to do and the whole thing was ‘designed’ to be user-friendly where neither individually humidified boxes nor humidifying whole rooms really appealed to me at all. For comparison to other locations/climates, we’re talking West Highlands of Scotland, there’s another hygrometer in the living room currently reading 34% which has been as low as 31% in the couple of months or so I’ve had the whole thing going, and I’m pretty happy with it all.

Posted: 15 Mar 2013, 19:45 (re. humidity again):

While you get different recommendations from different makers, I’m working from Dave Copley’s ‘55% to 80%’, but aiming for low 60s because that seems to be suiting flutes, recorders and pipes alike where observation’s maybe suggesting low 50s for these pipes alone.

Posted: 17 Mar 2013, 13:08 (re. 40% RH being ‘too low’):

IMHO, yes, that’s too low. While numerous woodwinds had ‘survived’ in my house(s) for 30+ years without targeted humidification, it’s obvious now (having largely reversed a number of loose joints and some ovalling bores) that most were too dry. And the ferrule on the common stock of my new pipes came loose (surprising their maker, who built them just up the road!) after just a few weeks in my living room at c.40%.

(re. risk of mould at higher humidities):

While I’m theorising largely from my own observations here, I’d say you also have to consider ventilation and would personally think sustained moist storage in airtight boxes/bags more risky than higher humidities per se. When my new Copley flute (NB my first with lined head!) spent several weeks in a smaller (but still vented) ‘test’ crate at c.75% RH, it might sometimes have looked/felt just slightly ‘clammy’ when taken out (or was that the older recorders I’d been consciously re-humidifying in a smaller, not quite sealed box?). But nothing ever feels like that in my big vented crate even with it (as now, with a change in the weather and the extra water still in there) sometimes pushing 70% RH, and I’d never be keeping the pipes in there (leather bag, tweed cover and all) if I thought it ‘wet’ enough to be risking mould. So I guess what I’m suggesting is that the highest ‘safe’ humidity probably varies with size/ventilation of immediate environment (eg the various crates and boxes I’ve tried) and you can go higher with bigger, better-ventilated boxes.

9 October 2012

The accidental piper

Filed under: Music — admin @ 11:47 pm

Having got back to whistle and flute playing in a big way last year, this year’s addition of Scottish smallpipes to my jack-of-all-trades (master-of-none!) musical armoury was still quite accidental. True, I nearly ordered a basic set (with chanter and drone as a double bore in one piece of wood made, I think, by a guy called Ian MacGregor we used to meet at Clachaig gigs) a good twenty years ago before buying an accordion instead (!), but I’m blaming Richard Cook’s Double Scottish Smallpipes videos (seen on 27 February) for rekindling my latent interest in what I described then as ‘a way that’s sure to have consequences’ (and very quickly did!)…

So I started researching smallpipes, joined the Lowland and Borders Pipers’ Society, was lucky enough to get one of their Richard Evans practice sets on hire straightaway and, with the enthusiastic endorsement of top piper Dougie Pincock (now a Highland music colleague of mine), went to see Ross Calderwood at Lochalsh Pipes about a set of my own.

Now, Ross is a true enthusiast, interested in a wide variety of music as well as passionate about piping, and (having had ample time to hone his craft at a serious ‘hobby’ level before quite recently starting to market it more) working with native Scottish hardwoods to make some of the most attractive and best-value pipes out there. So we talked about pipes and woods for hours, with the result being a kind offer to specify two different woods for my combo set (leaving the final choice till the time of collection), and I left knowing that I’d be coming back to choose between the local laburnum that first caught my eye or the very attractive alternative of yew.

So away I went and continued to work with the Evans (single drone) set till this Ian Kinnear poly set in A (apparently perfect bar a damaged chanter reed) popped up at an irresistible price on eBay. Now, of course I didn’t need it with my new set already on order (though I’d otherwise have snapped it up at the ‘Buy It Now’ price), but sat watching as it nearly went for a silly price, threw in a half-hearted, last-second bid I judged to be too low and was amazed to actually get it. So off I went to see Ian in Edzell in July to get a new reed and the pipes checked over/set up to his satisfaction, also signing up for his September course at the Burn (which looked like just the ‘right thing at the right time’ for me). And the course (just two weekends ago now) was great, with Ian and guest tutor Duncan Nicholson full of good advice to help me past some problems both previously identified (overgripping, fighting the chanter, hunching my left shoulder) and unsuspected (left wrist position, of which more anon), not to mention the very welcome chance to meet, talk to and play with a number of other pipers of varying experience. So, with Duncan also looking at my recent pipe setting of one of my own tunes (Sadie Cameron’s Waltz, for which you can find both whistle/flute audio demo and original/pipe notation here), making a few suggestions to tidy up the gracing and giving me a quick extra tutorial on the great G.S. McLennan’s Kilworth Hills, my head was absolutely buzzing by the time I got home!

Now, while I’d hoped at one time that Ross might have my new pipes ready for Ian’s course, it’s probably just as well that I was spared the added distraction of a last-minute collection of an untried set I couldn’t yet manage and had to wait a further week to pick them up. So I chose the laburnum set after all (though I’d honestly have been delighted with either!) and now just have to get used to their unexpectedly different pressure requirement (lower than I’ve been playing recently despite sharing some key design characteristics with Ian’s pipes). To which I must add that, while I had liked the higher pressure Ian set up for me in keeping my beginner blowing steady, I just love the sound of Ross’s pipes and, with some judicious tweaking at his house followed by three days of pretty solid practice at mine, am starting to regain that level of control without the associated physical effort (possibly yet another factor in previous tension issues) and think I’ll now have to take back the pressure of Ian’s pipes a bit to keep both sets ‘compatible’.

So, returning from the course to work with level shoulders, more relaxed hands and a host of other improvements, perhaps I was finally on the fast track to becoming a ‘respectable’ piper? But there’s always something, and I’ve got Ross’s keen eyes to thank for spotting the misaligned (‘recorder-style’) left thumb that now so obviously explains both my awkward wrist position (noticed by Ian the previous weekend) and frequently clumsy top hand gracing (noticed by me on a regular basis). And perhaps that really is the final piece of the jigsaw… for now (till I remember all the things I still can’t do and/or discover what else I’m missing)! :-)

23 July 2012

Eastern approaches

Filed under: Climbing,Music,Running — admin @ 3:02 pm

Nice trip east (within Scotland!) this past weekend with music, climbing, running and catching up with old friends all combining to produce a hugely enjoyable whole…

Started with a visit to Ian Kinnear in Edzell on Friday afternoon to get a new chanter reed and general check-over for a set of smallpipes he made, then on to Kirriemuir to see Campbell, Jillian, Brendan and Lauren. Climbed three modest bolt routes (Becalmed F4+, Sombre Reptiles F5+ and On the Up F5+) at Kirrie Hill with Campbell on Friday evening, then up Glen Clova to the Red Craigs (see bottom right corner of map) for a couple of routes on Saturday. So we did the super-classic VS Proud Corner (surely one of Scotland’s finest outcrop pitches at the grade), which I’d done once before three years ago with Simon Davidson, then the Hard Severe Monster’s Crack, which starts well before degenerating into a scrambly garden and improving again through a steep variation finish with surprisingly awkward top-out. Then, having said my goodbyes yesterday morning, I set off for a meaty hill run from the Glen Doll car park, achieving most of my ‘Plan A’ by taking in all tops of Broad Cairn, Cairn Bannoch, Tolmount and Tom Buidhe but canning a possible northern extension to Carn an t-Sagairt Mor with cloudy and viciously windy conditions combining to slow me down and reduce its allure. And there’s the essential paradox of hill running in such conditions, with the freedom of keeping your head up and moving quickly (both warmer and more fun) at conflict with the necessity of stopping for conscientious navigation work (colder and frustratingly ‘stop-start’) and leading to mistakes like my bizarre overshoot of Crow Craigies (don’t know what I was thinking there except that what I could see of it didn’t look significant enough to be classed as anything!). But, once free of the clouds and fiddly navigation, I made good time down Jock’s Road to complete the loop, coincidentally (and strangely satisfyingly) logging 20.93 miles to go with Tuesday’s 20.92! Also no doubt that (despite the cloud and wind) I had the best of the day when it started raining on my way home, got wetter and wetter on the drive west and is still absolutely bucketing today!

30 April 2012

Whistle rolls

Filed under: Music — admin @ 10:03 pm

Another month with no blog post (yet!), so here’s something (‘whistle rolls’) I’d originally intended to write up here but posted in response to a question about making such things (just scroll down for the images if it’s not clear what I’m talking about) to the Chiff and Fipple Whistle Forum instead…

Posted: 05 Feb 2012, 09:41

Yes (my designs made up by a friend!), and I keep meaning to do a blog piece with photos, ‘plans’ and rationale…

Posted: 05 Feb 2012, 13:49

Yep, mine were made from towelling after my partial mock-ups with safety pins and old towels (all I had to hand!) suggested that the material had some merits for the job, but edged across the pocket tops and round the outsides with acrylic tape. While we’d originally planned to sew the diagonals (or separate ‘ends’ like your bag shown above) to suit complete whistle ‘sets’, further testing led us to leave the larger bag at three discrete lengths (several pockets each at low D, low F and A length) and the smaller one (for smaller whistles) at a single length for increased versatility (the point being that you’re not ‘losing’ a slightly shorter whistle in a slightly overlength pocket, but can’t put a longer one in a shorter pocket!). And we’ve left off straps or ties for the time being, with separate (non-fixed) straps currently suiting me fine.

Will try to get some photos and measurements up soon.

Posted: 06 Feb 2012, 22:54

OK, here we go…

The plans are as originally drawn (all measurements in millimetres), with black dimensions still to scale but amendments as actually made up in red (we had to make them slightly narrower overall because the towels we bought off eBay weren’t quite as advertised!). The 55mm channels are for low D, Eb and E whistles, with 50mm for Fs and Gs and 45mm for anything smaller. You need to make the top flap twice the length of whistle you want sticking out (2 x 60mm to the dotted lines in this case) + whatever depth of overlap you want the flap to have (we’d planned for 100mm, but made the large roll’s slightly deeper and the small roll’s much deeper so it could take As and Bbs as well as the Cs and smaller I’d originally intended). The wider side channels (80mm and 90mm instead of the 100mm originally planned) were included partly to give extra coverage when rolled, but also allow for instruments (eg flutes, recorders etc.) that don’t fit comfortably into the regular ‘whistle’ channels. The dotted diagonal and ‘stepped’ horizontal lines are what I’d originally envisaged stitching to take the channels progressively down to Bb length on the large roll and high E length (via D and Eb) on the small one, but practical testing led us to leave the large roll at 4 full-length (520mm) channels, 4 x 430mm for Fs and Gs and 4 x 340mm for As and Bbs, with the smaller one left full-length at 280mm throughout (and, no, that’s not my whole whistle collection you see in the photos!).

Don’t know how long the towelling will last, but it’s easy to work with, kind to whistles, protective enough to stop them bashing each other up and can always go through the washing machine if needed (NB I put the towels through twice to allow for shrinkage before we started measuring and cutting). Also can’t say I’d have bought black towels for the bathroom (no goths here!), but liked them for this job and my friend and colleague Jan Hamilton did a great job of making them up for me (thanks, Jan!)…

Posted: 07 Feb 2012, 00:09

Might just add some further comments as follows:

1. The channels for the various keys had to take those Overton/Chieftain bores (spot the three Bernard Overtons on display?) and tuning slides comfortably without leaving the narrower whistles ‘rattling’ around, so Jan sewed up a whole range of widths in a couple of old hand towels (still in use as extras!) for me to test before drawing up my plans and procuring the materials for the final job.
2. While we knew that some similar designs have tapered flaps to stop those awkward edges spilling out when rolled, we decided to stick with square simplicity when the towelling’s soft enough to bundle up a bit as you go.
3. Towels come in a huge range of weights and you want good, heavyweight towelling for this.

So that’s it, really (no need to edit or expand my original words here), and thanks again to Jan for such a good job so willingly done! :-)

21 July 2010

Sir Charles Mackerras

Filed under: Music — admin @ 9:43 pm

Just heard that the great Australian conductor Sir Charles Mackerras died last week. So, while this isn’t my typical blog post (actually the first I’ve posted under ‘Music’ despite it being central to my life), I must say that there have been few (if any) recent musicians I’ve admired more and I’m genuinely sorry to hear of his passing. Can’t remember now if I ever heard him live (while of course that should be a memorable experience, it would be many years ago now if I did), but his wonderful recordings of (amongst others) Mozart, Beethoven and Janacek will surely stand the test of time and I’m listening to Kat’a Kabanova right now.

Might also point the interested towards this official Linn Records video promoting his second double album (both are brilliant!) of Mozart symphonies with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, which is the last Mackerras recording I bought on its release earlier this year. He was one of the true greats.

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