Seth Gallagher Workshop | Uilleann .com

Uilleann Pipes Maintenance for Gallagher Sets

General Maintenance

Uilleann pipes are an instrument that require regular maintenance, whether it be tuning hemp adjustment, reed adjustment, or maintaning airtightness. Adjusting the joints so that the set doesn't fly-apart in the winter, and stick together in the summer is fairly straightforward, but you want to consult with me on reeds and tuning. I generally don't charge for such consultations, and the results can be an easy playing, in-tune set, set-up to your liking.

Keeping the Hemped Joints in Good Order

Since wood shrinks and swells with the seasons the hemped joints of the uilleann pipe may need to be adjusted during the year. It is not uncommon to have to add hemp in the winter, and remove some before summer. This is especially the case with parts with wood tenons and metal sockets (such as chanter tops, some drone stock cups, and some drone slides). I like to use poly/cotton thread for this because it is strong and thin and so allows fine tuning of the fit. Cork grease can help joints seal better and slide more easily. Vaseline can work as well. Cork grease can made by melting beeswax and adding neatsfoot oil.

Polishing the metal

If you wish to keep the brass sets shiney you will need to polish them. I recommend a polish such as "Flitz" which is available at most autoparts stores, and would avoid products like "Brasso" which leave a white residue. Be careful when polishing to avoid getting the polish on the plastic-ivory mounts, as they can get discolored from it.


I think of the uilleann pipe reed as an instrument in and of itself given its importance to the instrument, the difficulty of its construction, and the importance of respectful maintenance. The reed is in many ways both the brains and the heart of the uilleann pipes. It needs to produce notes of certain turnings and produce them in a pleasing and even inspiring tone. The chanter is certainly important in this respect, as of course is the player. But a bad, or poorly adjusted reed can make the greatest chanter unpleasant to the ear, and cause a great player to achieve less than his or her best.

Reeds under waranty and beyond--an important note

One of the most important things to keep in mind as an uilleann piper is knowing when to bug your reedmaker :) Don't wait for several months if your reed has problems before contacting me. By then the damage to the reed could be irreversable (if the reed has closed down) and you will be very frustrated. Cantact me as soon as you notice problems and I will do my best to correct them. I often work withour charge on reeds long out of waranty. I consider that covered in the cost of the reed initially. It is in this way that we create reeds that can last for years, even dacades.

When to Adjust the Reed

When first considering whether to adjust your reed, consult with a knowledgeable person if possible. Try contacting the reedmaker. Many problems can easily be solved over the phone. For new reeds that I make, especially when they are under warranty, I advise the owner not to cut, scrape, sand or mouth-blow them. This last item is not an adjustment, but it is something that can damage a reed over time. The other adjustments alter the reed and cannot be undone, and should be made as a last resort.

Constant adjusting of the reed to achieve "perfect" tuning can ruin the reed, and waste valuable playing time. Certain types of adjustments, especially where incorrectly done can make a problem worse, create a new problem, or irreparably damage the reed. If the reed is playing at a reasonable pressure is in tune to your ear at a pleasant volume, able to achieve the second octave with fingers well sealed, has a thumb note-D that doesn't break in most circumstances, a bell note D that doesn't gurgle, and a second octave E that doesn't screech or go sharp with normal pressure, then you should count your blessings and get on with enjoying the pipes

Even if some of the above problems arise, they can often be corrected without adjusting the reed. An experienced player can often play the same set-up with less pressure, especially in the second octave, than the novice. Thus problems activated by increased pressure will be mitigated by experienced player. This is particularly the case with the second octave E and the back D. It is also the case with second octave tuning. If fingers leak and additional pressure is needed to get to and sustain the second octave these notes will be sharper in pitch than if less pressure could be used.

While over adjusting the chanter reed can and does lead to problems, not adjusting it can also lead to problems. Living in a constantly changing climate, many if not all reeds do need some adjustment from time to time.

Some Common Reed Problems and Their Remedies

A reed that is quiet, has a weak back D, and is sharp in pitch indicates that the lips may be too closed-down. The lips can often be opened either by sliding the bridle up, or by carefully squeeze the outside corners of the bridle (fig. 2) while watching the lips as they open (especially if the reed has the bridle mounted just above the windings). Remember that a tiny adjustment in aperture can make a great difference.

A reed that is too loud, has difficulty getting the second octave, and is flat in pitch may be too open. This can often be corrected by closing the aperture of the lips by either sliding the bridle down, or carefully squeezing it closed while watching the lips (fig. 3).

The thumb-note D will vary in pitch. If the note is sharp to the first octave A note then put some tape over the hole to bring it down. If it is flat in pitch there are several options: 1.Taping the other holes to bring those notes into tune with the thumb-note D, 2. Inserting a wire rush into the chanter - ending below the D- to flatten the notes below the D (the rush will also sharpen the second octave relative to the first), 3. Opening the reed . 4. Moving the bridle up.

If the reed is either flat or sharp overall, either insert it further into the reed seat (removing some hemp from the bottom of the reed) to sharpen it, or pull it out (adding some hemp) to flatten it. Pushing the reed further in will also sharpen the thumb-note D relative to the rest of the scale.

Bore adjustment to correct the "growling" second octave E

One problem that occasionally occurs on the uilleann pipe chanter is the "growling" or sharp (approaching F natural) second octave E note. This can be corrected by adjusting the reed (see the above trouble shooting guide), or in some cases adjusting the bore of the chanter. For my chanters I have made a secondary reamer that I have been using over the past year or so that addresses this problem. This bore adjustment is easy to do on my previously made instruments with no adverse reactions. When I do this I also check the tuning of the instrument and make sure that all is in order. Turn around time is about a day.

For other problems and solutions consult the trouble-shooting guide.

Problem Possible cause and/or remedy
reed requires much pressure to play lips too open, or cane too stiff--close with bridle, may require more scraping
back D weak Reed is leaking; lips too thin, or too closed--rub wax on edges, wrap windings with teflon tape; chop edge back or open with bridle
back D is sharp D-hole needs to be closed with tape; sanding the lips will also flatten the back D . If the reed is sharp overall seat the reed further out of the reed-seat.
back D is flat reed may need to be shortened--chop the edge back a bit, or insert rush to flatten notes below the back D. Also try opening the reed, or move the bridle up. The other holes on the chanter can also be taped. If the reed is flat overall insert the reed further into the reed-seat.
hard D difficult to sound bottom of V needs more scraping, possibly into U-shape; rush in bell of chanter can help
bottom D is sharp Insert rush, such as twist-tie, into the bell

gurgle on bottom D
reed too short, or scraped too much
high E is sharp or growls lips too closed, or not vibrating freely enough--open with bridle or scrape more; tape on lower half of ghost D hole can help as well. If the bore has a rush (excluding the bell rush) remove it. Add rush to staple of rush. See note bellow on bore adjustment.
reed is dull sounding blade edges too thick or not shaped correctly so that only the very edges are in contact with each other --untie and resand on cylinder generally of a larger diameter than the one originally used.
second octave is too sharp staple size [internal volume, not length] needs to be reduced by either rolling a new one, or squooshing the existing one more; or reed head can be lengthened by retying and pulling the staple out a bit.
second octave is too flat staple size needs to be increased; or reed head can be shortened by retying and pushing the staple in a bit
second octave is difficult to obtain blades too open, too thick or too long --close with bridle or scrape more high B is difficult to obtain staple volume too small; volume of chanter from thumb-hole to throat too big for reed--try wire rush in this area or staple with larger internal volume.


When first starting to play the pipes it is best to learn without the drones playing. But if one contimues to play it is inevitable that the playing incorporate the drones. After all, it is the drones that give the uilleann pipes that timeless bagpipe quality that sets if apart from other instruments.

Tuning the Drones

The three drones are all meant to play octaves of D. When tuning the drones try to match the D of the drone to the A on the chanter. The A is a good note to tune to because it is more stable than the thumb note-D and the bell-note D. Start with the little tenor drone first and tune it to the A on the chanter. Shut the other drones off by touching your finger to the end of the drones and stopping the airflow for a split-second. They can be started the same way (Initially you start the drones by pushing the drone switch toward the drone stock). To see if the drone is in tune with the chanter flatten the A on the chanter by shading the hole with the ring- finger. If the drone comes into tune it is flat relative to the chanter and the tuning slide should be pushed in (shortening the drone). If the drones goes further out of tune the drone is sharp relative to the chanter and the slide should be pulled out.

When the tenor has been tuned, silence the chanter (remove it and plug the hole with your finger, or fold the neck of the bag) and tune the baritone drone to the tenor drone. Then touch-off the baritone and tune the bass to the tenor. Now all three drones should be in tune to the chanter.

When beginning to play the drones, it is easiest to play one drone,the tenor, and get used to that amount of airflow. Then add the baritone drone, and then finally the bass.

Some Common Drone problems and their remedies

If one or more drones shut off with too much pressure check that the reed is securely seated in the reed seat . If the reed is secure and continues to shut off you can lightly spring the tongue of the reed. If you spring it too strongly it will take too much air and be too loud. Another possible solution is to move the bridle down,and thereby legnthen the tongue of the reed This, however, can sometime cause the reed to go sharp with pressure.

If the reed is unsteady with pressure check the the bridle is tight on the reed. It may have to be carefully replaced. If the drone is going sharp with pressure the tongue may be to short, and bridle may have to be moved down. Cane can also be removed from the vibrating end,lightening it. Unfortunately both of these solutions can cause the drone to shut off with pressure within the playing range.

If the drones are requiring a lot of air to play them one or more of the reeds may be leaking air. To check if they are leaking shut the drone in question off by touching the end (leave the drone switch in the open position so the air can get to the reed) and feel with your hand for air leaking out of the end of the drone. If the reed is leaking a noticable amount of air it will have to be fixed or replaced. Often a reed can be made to be be more airtight. When the reed is first made the initial horizontal tongue slice will push the cane apart and create a potential leak. A bit a moisture applied there and some gentle burnishing with the finger nail can usually get this gap to close up.

If one or more drones do not sound even though the reeds seem to be playable then not enough air may reaching the reed. This can be checked by removing the drone and trying to play the set with the drone switch on. Air should come out of the drone socket with enough force to make the set unplayable. If no air is escaping or only trickling out then the hole connecting the drone chanber to the stop switch inlet area is probably clogged. To clean the hole out remove the stop switch nut and washer and poke a wire through the hole.


Now onto the regulators. They can be tuned by moving the reeds, or the tenor and baritone can be micro-adjusted using the rushes. Moving the reeds is probably better on these two as the rush will effect some holes more than others. The bass can most easily be adjusted by sliding the keyed section in and out. A 1/16" should be all the adjustment that is needed from playing to playing. I usually tune the tenor reg by the A note on the regulator to the A note on the chanter, the baritone by the either the F# or D on the regulator to the A on the chanter, and the bass G to the chanter G. If an individual note is sharp relative to the others on that particular regulator then a piece of teflon tape or other such material (wax) can be added to ftatten that note. But be aware that notes below the material may also be flattened a bit. On the baritone regulator if the G is flat it can be sharpened by pulling out the end stop, thereby lengthening the regulator bore.

On the bass regulator if the notes, especially the low G is gurgling, check to see that the turn-around section is fully pushed in to the section mounted in the stock, and that there are no internal leaks in the regulator due inadequate hemping. More commonly the gurgling notes and octave jumping are the result of the reed and can be cured by opening the reed up, and thereby strengthening it, and/or adding a rush to the staple of the reed. I use a fairly large rush for the bass reg reed made by cutting a strip of copper sheet. The rush also flattens the pitch of the reed.

Bronze Regulator Reeds

The reeds on the regs are bronze and quite stable. They are however very crushable, so be very careful re-inserting the regs into the stock (so as the reeds don't catch the sides sliding in). The rush in the reed flattens the pitch of the reed, mellows the volume of it and helps it from jumping into the second octave on the lower notes of the regulator.

The bronze reeds can't be adjusted the way a cane reed would be. There is no bridle on the reed and squeezing with pliers will only crush the reed. A person inexperienced with bronze reeds can easily destroy them, so beware. Damaging a reed through unseccessful adjustment voids the waranty so you might want to talk to me first.

The way to open the reed and strengthen it is to carefully squeeze the side of the reed using both hands and the pressure as spread out as possible, with both thumbs on one side and forefingers on the other side. Putting leather along the edge while doing this definitely eases the process and is easier on your fingers. Please note that you can only adjust so far before you will bend or crush the reed and make it unplayable.

To close the reed down you have to manipulate the lips of the reed so that they are closer together. Hold the reed the thumb and middle finger and with the forefinger against the flat face of the reed at the very end of the blades. Carefully push the forefinger and bend the blade so that there is less curve to it. This can be can be done on the other side, against the other blade if needed.

Playing the regulators

The reg notes are:

The basic pattern of playing is to play one or two notes in a row at a time against the chanter. The main chords are D & G.

If you are playing A or F# on the chanter play a row of keys that has A or F# or D in it (the F# on the tenor with the baritone D is a common combination). If you are playing a B & G play a row with B, G or D in it.

When I say playing a B or G or A or F# I mean a note or a phrase that features or is centered around those notes. Also, disonnance is OK if it is resolved.

The A against the C works nicely, as single notes or in the double pattern AC on the top line of the regs. The C note on the regs can be played with E for a nice chord against the drones. The G can be added to the C as well, althought the working the regs in this diagonal pattern can be tricky, especially with a full set. The B and F# is another fairly common diagonal pattern. As this would imply the B on the regs works nicely against the F# on the chanter. Try using the G & D, and F# & D in some airs to start out.

RESOURCES-Books, Publications, Websites My website including my reedmaking guide, a pipers' contact list, faq, tionol information, links and more.

David Daye's Bagpipe Page- has a reedmaking guide, Information on home-building pipes and links. You can also contact David about subscribing to the uilleann pipe mailing list.

David Quinn's The Piper's Despair is a fine book on redeeming for the Northumbrian and Uilleann pipes. It is available through the Irish Pipers Club, Seattle. (See Iris na bPiobairi)

Dennis Brooks' Irish Union Pipes: A Workbook. Distributed by the Irish Piper's Club, Seattle (See Iris na bPiobairi)

The Uilleann Pipe Reedmaker's Guidance Manual by Dave Hegarty is available from NPU (above) and the Seattle Piper's Club.

Iris na bPiobairi The Pipers' Review, published quarterly by the Irish Pipers Club, Seattle has many articles pertaining to reedmaking, and if you play the Uilleann pipes you should be a member of the Pipers club anyway. Yearly subscription and membership is U.S.: $15, Canada $19 and foreign $22. Their address is PO Box 31183, Seattle, WA 98103-1183. Telephone: (206)784-7353. Website:

NA Piobairi Uilleann also has a journal, An Piobaire, and many books, tapes, and supplies for sale. Their address is 15 Henrietta Street, Dublin 1, Ireland. Phone: 353 1 873 0093, and email: Website:


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