Tom Kannmacher plays Irish Uilleann Pipes – sometimes building parts for them


How I started


The first time I have met with the uilleann pipes was when Finbar Furey played them in a radio program in 1972 which I tumbled in by accident, switching on the radio. They enthralled me immediately, and they kept fascinating me up till the present day, although I tried my hand on many other wonderful instruments. I swapped a concertina against a Dan Dowd practice set in 1976 and started off practicing with the tutor from the Armagh Piper’s Club. In 1977, I knew that I would successfully learn to play the pipes and ordered a full set straight away from John Addison, (who died tragically in1991) which I collected the same year. However, in these days the younger makers in a  non – Irish environment were struggling and experimenting a lot, so these pipes had a number of false dimensions and tunings that had to be corrected before playing. So I learnt all aspects of adjusting, reeding, tuning and maintenance, experiences which helped a lot when I later tried my hand at making parts and taking over second – hand  sets. Today this very instrument is in perfect condition and tuning (with a Rogge chanter, the original chanter being joined to another Addison set, and self – made bellows.)

I collected more sets to be equipped for any musical demand to be faced as a piper. By now there are at hand:


4 practice sets to be lent to students,

an Addison half set for tuition,

two concert pitch Addison,

 a narrow bore concert pitch Podworny & Reusch,

a C set by Robby Hughes,

a set in c sharp, formed out of a Kiernan half set body, home made regulators, bag and bellows  and a 19th century chanter.


Besides there are a number of chanters in all pitches between Bb and e.


The Role of A German Irish Piper


The uilleann pipes are the centre of my music. As I am not of Irish descendence, for a long period since I had started playing them in 1976, I had the feeling of not to be taken serious as a piper, both from the Irishman’s point of view, but also from my own.

This sight was changed when I found the early tutors and collections which show that this instrument was not traditional in the sense of today’s understanding when it was invented around 1740. The inventors – not known till the present day – did a great job by joining a baroque oboe to bag and bellows, known from the musette de cour and its descendents, the bellows – blown pipes around the Scottish border, so to have two octaves at hand, easily achievable by overblowing. They called it “New pastoral pipes”, a term which came from the art musician’s sight, in continuance to the French court music of Louis XIV. Still a better achievement  was finding ways to play pauses by stopping the chanter on the knee, enabling the player to put modest dynamics into the melody at the same time. Maybe it was the Germans who contributed the common drone stock with its drones side by side (“in union” as opposed to the single stocks of the Great Highland Pipe) in the shape of their “Hümmelchen”, which influenced the shaping of the Northumbrian Pipes. And there were some kind of regulators to be found on the Italian sourdellina. But it seems that it was an Irishman who put all parts together to create this ingenious wonderful bagpipe.

It was an instrument designed for Irish and Scottish airs and composed melodies of similar pattern, to be played in concert or at home by and for the well-to do, who had interest in the revival of Irish and Scottish music, and  who could afford such an instrument. (It cost the amount of money you might have payed for a house, then.) And the old sources like the Millar Collection show that the arrangements, embellishments and articulation of tunes followed the patterns of art music rather than those of the the traditional styles which we are accustomed to nowadays  pipers.

So I feel much better now, being in good company with the players and listeners of the “first life” of these pipes, using the pipes as an instrument apt for playing all kinds of tunes and melodies which the chanter and accompanying pipes may render convincingly, be it Bach or jazz. But be sure that the Irish traditional material still forms the very core of my repertoire (around 700 pieces by now), which enlarges all the time by the sessions I take part in, by listening to media and by browsing the printed collections.

I like playing concerts, displaying the impressive musical potentials to an audience which, here in Germany, is used to the simply – constructed „Dudelsäcke“ (the word literally means „tootling bags“ ). The core of my repertoire surely is the Irish traditional music proper, the reels, jigs, hornpipes, studied thoroughly by means of all the fine publications of Na PÍobairí Uilleann.  The playing of Séamus Ennis, Willie Clancy, Paddy Moloney and Robbie Hannan are only a selection of the stylistic inspirations which are guiding me. My own hallmarks in my piping style is the extensive use of staccato articulation and vibrato, this also inside of dance music, well – understood slow air phrasing on the grounds of being fluent in Irish, and no reluctance to use the regulators, including the self – constructed keys for e’. On three of my full sets I have set-up for changeable drones at hand, to be changed to pitches d, e, g, a b during playing, the “multidrone setup” which I have constructed during the last five years. For details see below.


Having learnt the vocabulary and language of the piping art, I am open-minded enough as to use the pipes in music different from Irish traditional music. So, over the decades,  I have put a number of programs on stage in which I try to find  new insights into old music styles:


Music by Tourlough O’Carolan,

Playing melodies by J.S. Bach and his contemporaries on the pipes,

Improvisation in the style of Jazz and world music,

Enhancing the lecture of poetry or storytelling with carefully selected traditional airs and tunes

Exploring the earliest collections, published for pipers, to find out about the repertoire and style of playing in the period of its first appearance…



Finding the best posture and dimensions


Playing a number of different sets, and changing between them according to the different musical projects to be faced, I came across the fact that the many dimensions of a given set of pipes is very crucial for the relaxed, supple movements demanded while playing the entire full set with its many simultaneous moving procedures: Moving the bellows, keeping and regulating the bag pressure, fingering the chanter, lifting and lowering it, moving from key to key on the regulators, from the lowest to the top … Each set show different aptness for different movements. So I am studying thoroughly how to guide the students to a posture which is a good basis for developing a technique which would not cause stress, cramp or pain after longer periods of playing.


For myself, besides others,  I found a solution which gives me a good chance for holding the chanter as supple as possible: To mount a support onto the chanter top which rests on the left hand upper palm edge, carrying the chanter and taking the task of carrying it while fingering it at the same time. It gives a feeling of security to the playing hands, resulting in much more relaxed finger movements, thus better timing and more precise embellishments.

It is a solution analogous to the shoulder rest which the violin players use, to free the left hand fingers from holding the violin, enabling him to change positions.

I have described these issues in The Piper's Review, Iris na bPíobairí, Vol. XXVI No. 1 Winter 2007: Searching for the proper playing position.... Zu bekommen über


My Ways of  Augmentation of drones and regulators in Uilleann Piping


My personal solutions for just accompaniment of tunes in keys other than D  on the pipes



Since I have started playing the Uilleann Pipes in 1976, I have been searching for ways to build drones and regulators which would accompany not only the tunes in d and g to best effect, but also the ones in e, a or b in adequate quality.


I want to describe here in short the experimental steps I have gone through during the last 22 years to find my personal  solution. Now, after having used this setup for some years, playing in concerts and sessions, I have the  impression that  it doesn’t leave anything essential  to be desired, at least for my personal style.




The e’ in the regulator compass


The beginning of the process was when I got my first full set in 1977 and  wondered about the missing e’ on the standard regulator setup. I made a ring – shaped key between the baritone d and f sharp, opening the tone hole underneath the pipe. It only could be played with the right hand taken from the chanter. I have seen prolonged tenor regulators for e’, but this e’ cannot be played along with the other regulator notes with the right hand on the chanter. And even then it only may go with the bass regulator notes; the baritone notes are discordant except the a’. So it appeared to me that I found the best position for it.


Then  I  found  a better solution on the Willie Rowsome set in Francis O’Neill’s “Irish Minstrels and Musicians”: a forth regulator besides the bass (not easy to recognize as such on the photo), with a long key besides the b and c bass keys. Why only  b and c ?  Around 1990 I built a set of regulators to complete a Kiernan half set, containing a forth regulator for e’ with a key long enough to play all bass keys along with it. The explanation for Willie Rowsome’s reluctance to find this solution might have been the fact that an e’ justly tuned  to the bass a – note  give waverings against the b because of the non – tempered just tuning. Still I use these chords, as with my  soft reeds normally the notes may be intoned  by pressure to an acceptable tuning.  There has been described the refurbishment by Geoff Woof of a Coyne set  with a forth regulator of that kind. (An Píobaire, Vol. 4, Issue 8, p. 10.) Geoff didn’t  restore the e’ regulator, amongst other reasons because  “it would get  in a way for most people playing the set.”




Picture 1 shows  the c sharp set with home built regulators and the e’ regulator,  added to a Matt Kiernan set of drones.




This e’ note almost doubles the possibilities of chordal functions. The double stops:


 ae’ allow an a minor and a major triad chord,  with the appropriate chanter note along with it.


ge’ : e minor and c major


be’: e minor, e major


ce’: c major and a minor




Later on, instead of a complete e’ regulator,  I built a key only, hinged on the main stock and opening a tone hole underneath the baritone regulator,  just in the middle between the d’ and f’ sharp.  I tuned it carefully by stepwise opening the tone hole.  




Picture 2 shows this kind of key mounted on a C set by Robby Hughes from below, with the bass drone removed.




I built another version of this e’ – key  for another set. As this has a detachable bass regulator,  I found it better to set it alongside the tenor regulator. So the key may be used on three quarter sets as well. In any case it is important to find enough space between the  tenor regulator pipe and bass drone parts for the key plate to be opened wide enough.




Picture 3 shows this key, mounted on a Podworny three – quarter set in D.






(Part two)




More drones for keys and modes other than d and g. Changing tonic drones while playing




Strictly judged, only the tunes with the tonic d are appropriately accompanied by the classical drones, and this is the reason why these tunes form  the core of the uilleann pipes repertoire. In some tunes it seems that the drone has had an impact on the melody structure. Many fiddle tunes in d, played on the pipes, lack this close relationship to the drones and thus are not really considered being part of the repertoire.


I was wondering how the many tunes in our repertoire with tonic g,  a, b and e would sound if they had a tonic drone group under them as well. I expected them to sound much better that way.




Hans – Jörg Podworny had made his set with two additional drones for e and e’ in the late eighties, and I often heard them on the German tionóil. Each drone group (Ddd’ and ee’)  had its own switch. The effect of changing the just tonic drone while changing tunes from d to e was absolutely surprising and convincing.  I had a long – term loan of this set after he fell ill, so I played this set a lot. I added a forth  e’ regulator of the W. Rowsome pattern and improved the two regulator levers for working it with the right thumb alone.  As a result, tunes in e’, with tonic drone, could be followed by tunes in d or g with the drones switched to the new tonic. The musical benefit really is worth while the effort, taken for granted that the piper is inclined to take regulator playing in esteem at all. I have included tunes accompanied this way in the accompanying CD to my Uilleann pipes tutor.




I was thinking over ways to have one of my standard sets furnished with two drone groups as well. They all have stocks which leave no space for additions. So I had to be content with three drones, but I wanted to split up the group: The baritone drone for e, the others for Dd’.


So there remained the question how to modify the lever. Fortunately the lever on the sets in question was of the simple kind: It moves left and right for stopping and starting the drones, but also to and fro, rotating around the rod.


 So there was another closing – opening movement at hand, independently from the classical one. First of all, I stopped up the usual air supply between the switch plate and  the baritone  reed channel and I removed the closing cork from this channel. Now I set a brass tube, wrapped to diameter, in its place. This tube has a small inlet hole bored into the side of it, and this filed flat. Now  under the screw holding the closing plate of the drone switch I fixed  a “finger” of aluminium (could be brass as well). Its  pad closes the inlet hole of the baritone inlet tube once the lever is moved towards the player.  Being shut, it may glide along the tube while the lever is moved left – right as usual. At the same time  it allows to act as switch for the baritone while keeping the other drones shut or open.




Picture 4 shows this mechanism with the padded closing “finger”,  opening the air supply hole at the side of the tube.




Thus the drone lever now may be moved into   four positions:




-All drones silent (lever to the right and to the piper, pushing the “finger” onto baritone tube hole)


-All drones playing (lever to the left and off  the piper, moving the “finger” off baritone tube hole)


-Only Dd’  drones playing (lever to the left and to the piper)


-Only baritone , now tuned to e (lever to the right and off  the piper)




I found it very desirable to still having access to the classical Ddd’ drone set, which was possible by tuning the baritone to d as usual. Because there was the tuning problem of  “a to e’ and b to e’ “, already watched with the e’ regulator,  I was not really satisfied with the tuning result. Chanters tend to overblow the b’’ sharply, so the b’’ and e’’ sounded well to the e’ drone, but the b’ was flat and the e’ sharp, as often is on many chanters. So I often came back to the traditional Ddd’ drone tuning while playing in the e – modes, especially when the e’ occurred often in the melody line.




(Part three)




Later – around 2006 - I was searching for a solution to have more drones for the remaining mode tonics other than d and e.




I had some parts of Podworny drones in the drawer, so I constructed a three – part drone, sounding a or b, dependent on the grade of slide lengthening  (I added a tone ring to the one on the C set). I mounted it aside the mainstock in the way the bass regulator is arranged, with a switch  to shut it up if the traditional Ddd’ tuning would be desired. This new drone is fed from the baritone drone channel. Now there were two drone groups to be switched on and off by desire: Dd’ and be (for tunes in e minor) or ae (a mixolydian and a dorian).




To improve the drone for the a – modes, I prolonged the baritone with a middle piece and achieved a quiet but stable drone sounding A or B, an octave below the new drone described above.  And now  I found that if a B + b – drone is going under the e – mode – tunes, the result is much more convincing.  However, it is not a tonic drone but a drone a forth below tonic, as is the familiar Ddd’ drone in g tunes.




Picture 5 shows the new drone and the prolonged baritone drone on the Robby Hughes set.




The last step, built last year,  was to have a ring mounted onto the bass drone at the base of the slide part, to give G, after the pattern of Northumbrian pipes drones . This, along with the tenor d’, offers a just tonic drone group for the tunes in g. It was mere luck that the position of this tone hole allows both the D and G to be in tune when the ring is turned during playing. It took some reed adjusting, however.




Picture 6 shows the tone hole ring on the Robby Hughes bass drone.


Picture 7 shows  it on the Kiernan bass drone, mounted onto to a replacement piece which makes it possible to tune the d – drone  down to c sharp.




To sum up: Today I have two sets of pipes at hand having been rebuilt  as described, offering the following drone  accompaniments:




Both groups, the new  drone being  stopped up, the middle piece of the baritone removed: Traditional Ddd’


Group one:  the classical bass and tenor: Dd’ or Gd’ (with bass  ring hole open)


Group two: the prolonged baritone and the newly attached drone: Aa or B,b


If the middle piece of the baritone is removed: da (for d tunes) or eb  (for  e  minor).




Following tonic drone changes while playing sets of tunes of different keys may be done :


D (Dd’)  to a (Aa)


D(da) to g (Gd’)


D(Ddd’) to g (Gdd’) (Turning tone ring)


D (Dd’) to e (eb or B,b)


G(Gd’) to e (eb or B,b)


G to b (B,b)


D to b


G to a (A,a)


If well – practiced and prepared, one even may add a third  new drone setting, by moving the bass drone ring while changing to a new tune, or while a tune is played  with the right hand off the chanter (airs).




Additionally to this, there is at hand the regulator e’ and the resulting enlarged chord variety.




The only invasive changes on the sets were:


Five screw holes to hold a flange , a tone hole for the e’ on the baritone regulator and the ring on the bass drone with its hole.  So these sets of pipes might be easily set into the former status for a purist piper inheriting them some day.  The look of these sets is to my taste  not distorted by ugly  additions.




These improvements have been made by an amateur  pipemaker.  A professional maker planning to follow my patterns could design a somewhat bigger stock which would take up a further classical d baritone to it, thus having a complete Ddd’ drone group instead of my meagre  Dd’ group (which still sounds quite good, and sometimes is preferred by classical pipers.).  Also he might include the new drone into the stock, it being shut with a piston stopper on the tip  after the pattern of Northumbrian Pipes drones.


The middle piece additions on the drones are somewhat difficult to construct, because the stepwise widening of the drone  towards the mouth is not as favourable with them as before, so the reeds tend to close with pressure. A pipemaker would find a better bore conception. In my case, these drones come a bit quiet but stable and sounding fine at the same time.




Talking about the music itself, first of all, the tunes in modes other than D sometimes sound completely different with their just tonic drones. Sometimes old familiar favourites are only recognized after some listening ! Some accompaniment, especially the Gd’ – drone, remind on Northumbrian piping.  There are tunes with changing modes , like “Johnny Cope”,  in which  the changing tonics can easily  be  made clear with the appropriate drones. But I quite often stick to the old “wrong” drones, if the tune in question  has got its special character with it. Many tunes in a – modes  sound  wonderful with the Ddd’ drone under them.  So, to have all the new tonic drones at hand does not mean to use them slavishly following the tonic of the tune. The great benefit to me is the much bigger variety of multipart piping, especially in solo recitals, not only because of  these drone combinations, but also because of the regulator chords with the e’ included. They make the pipes  still more attractive to listeners used to “common” music,  and these are the ones I have to face all the time in Germany.




My friend Frank Rittwagen, who was uilleann piper until he stopped playing 30 years ago, but has been given a set to start again recently, listened to my set and asked: “Why hasn’t this setup become standard ? It should, shouldn’t it ?“ To my personal style, it already has.  And I wonder if all the other additions that can be observed,  like  double bass regulator, Ddd’a’ – drones, C foot joint and so on add more to the musical scope of the instrument then my comparably modest additions.




These descriptions may have been quite tedious to read, not to be compared to listening to the resulting sound. I hope I soon shall equally succeed in the use of YouTube, to give you an example of the music played on these sets of pipes.




Thomas Kannmacher



Exploring The Missing Link: The e in  Uilleann Pipes Harmonies


Tom Kannmacher


My Problem:


 I collected my first full D set in 1977 from John Addison in South Somercotes near Grimsby in East Anglia, England. I wandered about in this weird system and discovered that the setup of regulators missed the note e, and other notes were doubled. I soon found out the logic of the parallel sixths and thirds, providing the well known ever repeating patterns of accompaniment, but from the very beginning, I was convinced that this setup was only a step in regulator development, which could by no means be considered finished. I had to learn that this half-ready solution had become standard some 150 years ago.


I started playing the set and struggled my way through the vast problems a beginner had to face. It was during the time when the younger pipemakers were trying to find out how to make pipes as well as the few remaining old makers who often withheld their knowledge. I had no teacher nor pipemaker at hand here in Western Germany, and I had to learn on my very own to handle these problems: make reeds, sew a bag, build a new bellows, widen the blowpipe, close up finger holes and open them again on the correct position... anyway, I still play this set, and although the regs are a bit loud for the chanter due to wide bores, the whole set is perfectly tuned, gives all notes as desired, and I shall play them as long as I shall be able to. Indeed, I play them daily, and they have become very reliably tuned and adjusted.


Having gained some experience by doing all these jobs, in 1990 I started thinking about the missing e on the regulators. Being a guitarist since my teens, and having studied music to become a professional guitar teacher, I know about chords and accompaniments of modal, major, and minor melodies. I soon learned that only a  part of the traditional Irish tunes, however, a big part, are in  modes or keys, for which the regs are set up basically, i.e. those demanding a c natural in their scale. How could it be that the Irish tradition didn’t adapt this setup in favour of the other modes: D major, (d mixolydian to be erased), e dorian, a mixolydian, a dorian, or B minor? Besides, I found it weird how these old master pipers could stand a d drone going along with tunes with a tonic of a or even e. On the other hand, I found that these ways of accompaniment carried their own particular code of feeling and expression, so I made extensive use of it in my own playing. I acknowledge it as an element of the very particular style of traditional uilleann piping accompaniment.


As long as the tunes I played were of that modal character and with a d tonic, like, say, Cailleach an Airgid or An Phis Fhliuch, I would have been satisfied with the (concords to be erased) two - note - chords that the regs offered. But when it came to play tunes of the major or minor style, often with chords built into the melody line, like, say, The Derry Hornpipe or Madame Bonaparte, I started suffering when I found that one of the three most important chords of the given key was lacking: the dominant in D major (The A major triad: a-c#-e) and the subdominant in G major (the C major triad, c-e- g). Still worse was the problem if tunes in a-mixolydian (Farewell to Ireland, Langstern Pony) were to be accompanied for there is no way to give an appropriate tonic chord to these lovely tunes. It was the missing e note which was the problem!


Why did the pipers and pipemakers avoid this note? The reason for this became apparent when I found out that the pipes are not to be tuned in the evenly tempered scale (like the electronic tuner shows), but after the just scale, which provides intervals to the drone without waverings throughout, thus demanding a third above tonic being 14 cents below what the electronic tuner shows—the sixth above the tonic being 16 cents flat. So, using an e in just scale would mean: no waverings in the concords e-b and the e-a! But the a is 2 cents flat, and the b is 16 cents flat against the electronic tuner. So you have the choice to which note the e is being tuned just. The other note will be inevitably out of tune to it. This maybe the reason the old pipemaking pioneers didn’t want, or simply didn’t understand,  managing this note.


 In a previous article about regulator extensions,(The Pipers’ Review, Vol XXII No. 4, Autumn 2003) there was always a small number of sets with an e included. The first one I came across was the set Willie Rowsome is depicted with in Irish Minstrels and Musicians (page 163). Although hard to recognize, it does show a fourth regulator, fed from the bass bar, with a long key enabling a note to be played along with the bass a, b, and c. Besides that, there seems to be a set of e drones included in this set of pipes More about this subject later.


Many of the double bass regulators described in the Piper’s Review included e notes, which could be used as melody notes played an octave below the chanter rather than used in concords. At least I personally believe so (to be heard on the rare recordings of  O’Mealy).


Picture 1


Adding the e:


I started thinking about how I might build a device for my full set to play an e on the regs without having to change the original construction. I wanted it to be: cheap and easy to make, nice looking, reliable, and offering as much musical benefit as possible.


The first question was, where to place the note? It was clear that the baritone was the only choice. I had seen tenors with extensions for e before (cover photo set of The Drones and the Chanters, vinyl record), but this key would be too far from the playing hands, and I was not able to turn out such an extension on John Addison’s elaborate design. Besides, an e on the tenor would find less interesting notes on the other regs to concord with—only the bass notes and the far distant g and a on the baritone.


The e should be placed on the baritone, thus going along with the tenor notes g–a–b and c (f# being discordant anyway). The e hole would be about in the middle between the f# and the d hole, and it would be tuned by widening it until the note was just against the a of the bass.


Clearly there was no space to set a another key on the baritone reg. I thought over this question for quite a while, but then I found the solution. I would set the hole into the bottom of the regulator with a ring–shaped key, and open it by pressure from above.


I soldered a square shaped ring out of brass rod and sheet with a flat plate on the bottom to carry the sealing pad, and then added a key in Addison’s design onto the top. The ring has to be hinged by long rods in common with the f # key, outside of its shoulders. A spiral spring between ring and the d key at its hinge region (thus not interfering with its function) presses the e key upwards, thus pressing the bottom plate with its pad against the hole. Years later I replaced this somewhat unreliable spring with a long brass wire.






Better turn this picture upside down ?




This arrangement worked very well without further corrections. I was lucky tuning the e as I hit the pitch after a few opening steps, and the other notes were easily re–tuned by rushing and all the other tricks. I started experimenting musically and found ways to use it in the tunes. Clearly it could only be used in single line playing when both hands were on the chanter. The range of new chords were accessible only when the right hand left the chanter. So I used this device mostly in airs and slower tunes in the beginning. I discovered that the 9 double stops on the standard regulator settings were now enriched by 8 further double stops. The b pitch on the bass tended to be a bit unstable anyway, rising in pitch with increasing bag pressure more than the e, so it was possible to tune it to some extent while playing the b-e chord to avoid waverings.


I thought about improvements for making the e playable in chords with both hands on the chanter. In my head all the tunes of my repertoire started getting reg accompaniments with the e included. I now had to find a way to construct a regulator that would enable me to play like that.


The Fourth Regulator in e:


In 1993 I decided to set sail for another shore altogether concerning the e. I had a C# sharp chanter from the 19th century, which turned out to be the best in my collection after its throat was re-bored by Robbie Hughes. The problem was due to shrinkage of the bone mount around the throat. I also had a half set body by Matt Kiernan, so I fit both together and completed this set to a full set by making my own regulators. I was helped very effectively by my friends Hans Reusch and Charley Herbst, who had reamers from their own efforts to make pipes. I added a fourth regulator as seen on Willie Rowsome’s set, with a long key that reached all the way along the bass regulator keys. Lucky again, I managed to get this set going wonderfully, in splendid tuning and balance, and began to exploit the e key at its very best. Again the bass b turned out to be tunable by pressure, so the e-b interval can be used on this set in many ways. The chanter demands very little additional bag pressure to be overblown, so the control over these notes is quite independent from the chanter playing.


Picture 3


Playing on this setup demanded practice. The field of keys had become wider, so I had to very carefully construct the sling that supports the main stock when it hangs from the left shoulder. Care had to be taken for the length and the point where it was fastened to the stock. The body of the pipes had to be turned inside the stock cup exactly the right way to have all the keys accessible while playing the chanter with both hands and still reaching those four more chords from the bass and the e regulator. To combine the e with the tenor was only possible with the right hand free. Playing the conventional tenor and baritone chords became more difficult because the chanter was touching the fourth regulator. The system had reached its limits concerning space.


Eventually I learnt to play all the chords and enjoyed the widening scope of harmonies. I also enjoyed impressing listeners at tionóls as well. People who are not familiar with the pipe’s peculiarities do not take notice of this, nor do they take notice of the e, which is lacking on standard sets.


From that time on I included these chords with the e into my technique and repertoire, so, by now, I would feel a severe setback if I had to play certain tunes without the e. As mentioned before, these new chords are not used much within the vast class of modal tunes in D, and here I keep to the traditional piping style. I believe there is nothing non–traditional about the e note described, as long as the tunes being accompanied are traditional, and we know the e has been in use since olden times.


The e Key Along the Bass Keys Without an Extra Regulator:


On the grounds of these experiences I started thinking how the e key on my first set in D could be modified to have it play along with the bass with the right hand on the chanter.


The key of the fourth regulator was ideally placed along the bass. If it was to remain there, without its regulator, it would have to be connected with the ring shaped e key on the baritone.


First, I attached a key, similar in shape to the one on the fourth reg, to a long rod. At the end of this rod I built a joint, or hinge, which was screwed onto the the bass regulator flange. The screw holding it was of the flange itself, but of a longer dimension to solidly hold it in the main stock wood. On the other end of the rod I soldered a wire, and bent a hook at its end, which hooks inside a hole on the e key on the baritone regulator.


This setup worked very well, and I could use the same style in session playing and in the bands I play in, using my concert pitch pipes. I had hoped to share my newly dug treasure with the readers of An Píobaire, but the manuscript of the article disappeared in some drawer there, and was never published. On my few trips to Miltown Malbay and other musical places of interest in Ireland, the fellow pipers wondered about those lovely chords from my set in the sessions. I had to explain the setup many times yet some pipers confused it with a double bass regulator.


Picture 4


The Cheap and Easy Method:


There is a full set in C in my possession by Robby Hughes, and I love its sound and purity of tuning. As soon as I found my experiments successful, I thought of fitting an e key to it as well. It was easier than the rebuilding on the D set. I fitted a roundbent plate directly to the rod hinged at the bass flange with a stiff wire. This plate, which holds a pad, is pressed from below against the bottom wall of the baritone regulator. It fits smoothly onto the surface of the round pipe, which  may even be turned in its socket without losing the seal.  Two wire sticks projecting from the  outer edges of the pad plate upwards and along the pipe flanks guide the movement of the pad plate to exactly the correct position while stopping the hole. A long piece of bent wire around the hinge serves as spring. This device only took three hours to build and I recommend it to anyone who wants to try this experiment. Be sure the set offers enough space between the bass drone and the baritone regulator to allow the key to to open, thus giving a stable, just tuned note. I included a drawing of this setup in the appendix of my tutor.


Picture 5a


Picture 5b


Picture 5c


Changable Drones Between d and e:


In 1998 I got a super full set on loan from a friend of mine, Hans Jörg Podworny, a piper and pipemaker who, along with Andreas Rogge, made pipes for the German piping scene. In 1990 he was struck by a virus infection which almost destroyed the part of his brain responsible for moving reflexively. He had to relearn walking and all the little, important, movements that we take for granted. Piping was far from being thought of from then on, but he struggles along heroically and has regained many of his lost abilities. This set, of his own make, was furnished with an extra set of two drones in e with a separate switch. I connected these drone levers so that with one single movement one can change from e to d and back, while playing.


With the aid of Hans Reusch, I added the forth e regulator after the design made for the C # set. With these pipes I recorded the CD accompanying the tutor I had written some years previously.


Picture 6


Now the e tunes received a completely new quality, while being accompanied with the appropriate tonic drone and regulator notes, but there were limits. The fifth e, b on the chanter, with its flat b against the tuner ( it being just against the tonic d) and with its habitually sharp low e, it was extremely difficult to sound any of these wavering notes correctly. It became clear that only very special chanters would sound satisfactory with this setup, and only special pipers would use it.


I had to return this set, so I thought about how to make a standard set of drones switchable in the same way, without changing the original drone construction of the given set.


The C# set was the victim of this experiment. I thought about the possibilities: lying in bed without sleep at night or while sitting in a dull lecture in my music school, until I discovered a way to modify the drone switch of a standard set:


I decided to separate the air supply for the baritone drone from the air supply for the other two drones, while still forming a unit. I did this by plugging the small channel going from the drone switch valve to the baritone drone. The switch now gave air to the bass and the tenor only. I then set a brass tube into the channel of the baritone after the removal of its cork stopping, projecting into the space between the main stock and main stock cup. This tube was closed up at the end and a hole was bored into its side and the wall area. The part of the wall with the hole was filed down to make a flat valve seat. The rod of the drone switch is turnable in its channel, so the lever can be moved sideways as well. I mounted a brass piece onto this drone switch rod, held by the screw which holds the drone valve plate. This brass piece closes the hole in the baritone regulator air supply tube if the lever is moved towards  the piper.


By the usual movement of the lever the tenor and bass is opened and shut, as before. To open and shut the baritone, the lever has to turn the axle rod, thus moving the brass piece to and from the air supply tube of the baritone.


Picture 7


Thus, there are now four positions for the lever:


1)      Towards the piper—to the right: All shut. Drones silent.


2)      Away from the piper—to the right: Only the baritone drone sounding e (if tuned like that)


3)      Towards the piper—to the left: Only bass and tenor drone sounding d


4)      Away from the piper—to the left: All drones sounding d (if baritone tuned d)


Now it is possible to play the set changing the baritone tuned in e, against the bass and tenor, tuned in d, if the tune or the set of tunes demand it harmonically. (moving the lever diagonally from the position 2 to 3). At the same time, the set may be played in the strictly traditional way, the baritone tuned in d (moving from position 1 to 4).


The only severe change that had to be made in the original construction of the given set was that I had to remove some wood from inside the main stock cup to make room for the newly added air supply tube for the baritone. It didn’t spoil anything of the set if the whole thing failed or proved unsatisfactory. Luckily the C# chanter is so well tuned that the e’s blend reasonably with the drone and the already added e regulator. The tuning problem between b and e remains, of course, and here the decision has to be faced whether the gaining of harmonical variety is a reasonable price paid for by the waverings of the middling tuning to chanter—the e and b. I found the benefits of the new idea to be worth the price. It makes a grand effect to start a set of tunes in e, the chanter sounding somewhat shady with its imperfect tuning, and then changing to the d tune while playing in full flight.


There was no reason why I shouldn’t mount this setup onto my C pipes too, and it works well. Due to a too short baritone drone slide, my D pipes have been left in their original state. The slide has to be quite long to give d and e without changing the quill, and this would make the whole thing quite useless.


Task completed:






Picture 8


There was one last question to be solved. Could there be a way to lay out the e key so that it might be combined with the tenor notes as well? Clearly I could have mounted the key on the tenor side, but how  could I combine it with the bass notes? The key field is already so big that moving the wrist and the side of the hand from key group to key group goes to the limit of space and playing technique. But I wanted at least to find out the definitive proof of the impossibility of playing bass and tenor together with the e.


I got my brain working again, and I came up with  a plan to build a frame of brass rods surrounding the keys of the three traditional regulators. This frame would be hinged to the main stock and have the same kind of pad carrying plate below the bariton regulator as the key carrying rod besides the bass regulator bar of the C pipes.


Picture 8 better to be placed here ?


I built this frame and mounted it and it worked reasonably, but it was extremely ugly looking and difficult to play so I decided to remove it. Besides, over the years, I found ways to play tenor and bass along with the e key. I started, by habit, to depress the e key with the little finger ( on or off the chanter while fingering tunes) and press the tenor with the wrist at the same time. The hand forms a kind of arched bridge spanning over the baritone and bass keys. If the open fingering scale is employed on the chanter, there is no problem playing (e to be erased) on the chanter and use these regulator stops. This seems to be a practical way to use chords combined from the e and the tenor notes, and I practiced playing that way from then on. The e keys had to be lengthened a bit to allow the little finger to press them when the wrist touches the tenor g. By now, this technique has become part of my playing, and I consider the subject on the missing link e being  managed to my personal satisfaction.




As a conclusion, I find the result of my efforts a useful and practicable way to widen the scope of regulator accompaniment. One single diatonical scale note has been added, which completes the compass of the instrument in a place where there has been a gap. The regulators are no longer a crippled organ, starting with a show off effect on the listener, but not fulfilling the expectations aroused when proceeding to parts of the tune where the e is required for complete chord settings. By adding the e, the player is not forced to change his playing style and taste, but he is offered additional material for rendering certain tunes more just in the sense of their particular composition: the tunes in the e and a modes, and the tunes with a melody following broken triads. Facing the problem of waverings between e and b and e and a, it can be said that this problem was faced and managed by the early keyboard instrument tuners and composers as well when they started using the mitteltönige Stimmung (I don’t know the English term. Literally translated: middle toned tuning a way of tuning on keyboard instruments up till the time of around 1600–1650, corresponding exactly with the tuning described here. But these tuners set the e in a frequency which lies in the middle between the just one to a and b. Thus there were the same amount of waverings in both these intervals.) So, using the regulator e, we are in  good company with some great musicians and composers striving for the best harmonious results in modal composition. They didn’t avoid this problem, and they went forward in its development. This led to passing many intermediate steps of development in tuning, which we should study, to the even tempered scale in the end, and to this destination we decidedly will not follow because we play a drone instrument, which will never be able to play outside the modal system, as long as a drone is kept sounding to it.


These are the new chords playable with the e included.


1)      For the chord g-b in the function of e minor, there are additional alternative chords : e-b (waverings!) e-g


2)      For the chord a-c in the function of a minor, there are additional alternative chords : e-c, and e-a


3)      e-a, forming a perfect fifth, acts as a major or  minor chord (dominant in D major)


4)      e-b (waverings!), a fourth, may act as e major or minor chord (a double dominant in D major)


5)      e-c and e-g act as a c major chord: a subdominant in G major, and a one-step- down – chord below the tonic in d – milolydian tunes


6)      These options are doubled by the fact that the partner notes, to the e mentioned before are at hand in two octaves: on the tenor and on the bass.


Now the cadential chords are completed for all the modes of the pipes. There are lovely mediant chords playable in the major keys. To sum up, the harmonious scope of the regulators is almost doubled by the addition of one single note, and still, the orthodox traditionalist is not kept away from playing as before.


This key layout ( especially the simple one that I mounted onto the C set) proved to be cheap and easy to make. Any piper who is handy with tools should be able to make it.


The e has added to my piping style, and I cannot imagine a good part of my repertoire to be without it. I believe that it could become a part of the standard regulator layout in the future. I certainly find it much more interesting musically (and much easier to make or have made) than the double bass regulator conceptions.


I was considering getting some of my ideas patented, but possibly there are too few customers to make this effort in time and expence worth while.  A kind of supplementary kit for full sets could be thought of, but, as we know, sets are too individualistically made to serve all the varieties of construction satisfactorily and at the same time ecomomically promising. I have decided to leave this idea to the pipers and pipemakers. They are welcome to copy it as long as they don’t forget who invented it, and include my name into their lore. As far as I know, Andreas Rogge has built the only two sets on which the ring shaped e key of my D set has been mounted. Both are owned by German pipers, and both used my pattern.


Tom Kannmacher,



Examples  of my  multidrone piping :



The geese in the Bog / Chicago Reel


Multidrone Uilleann Pipes: Coinleach glas an fhómhair / The Butcher's March


the Fairy Boy, Scotch Mary, on Multidrone Uilleann Pipes


The Longford Tinker / Tom Busby's, on Multidrone Uilleann Pipes


The Fairy Girl / Wallop the Spot (Spot the Wallop) on Multidrone Uilleann Pipes


Man of Aran and Toormore Slide on his multidrone Uilleann Pipes


Multidrone Uilleann Pipes: Poll Ha`penny, Cutting Bracken


Multidrone Pipes: The Banks of Lough Gowna, McGoldrick`s, The Cock and the Hen


The Kid on the Mountain, on Multidrone Uilleann Pipes


Johnny Cope, on Multidrone Uilleann Pipes


The Goblet of Wine, on Multidrone Uilleann Pipes


Fermoy Lasses Hunter`s Purse on Kannmacher Multidrone Uilleann Pipes


The Lament for Staker Wallace, Multidrone Uilleann Pipes


DUPG Tionol 69 roitzer Mühle