New products don’t come along very often in the piping world, and this split-stock with an on/off switch looks very different to anything seen before for Highland pipes. But it does much more than simply switch the chanter on and off. It has been designed by reed maker Chris Apps and produced by McCallum Bagpipes, and was developed as solution to prevent over-blowing of reeds.
Chris Apps has been playing pipes since the age of 10, and making reeds for over 30 years. In the 1990s he played with the Champion Grade 2 Clan Sutherland Pipe Band, briefly served as Pipe Major of the Scottish Piping Society of London and was an approved judge with the Joint Committee for judging light music. He moved to the US in the early 2000s and he has judged for the Midwest Pipe Band Association and lectured throughout the States.
His recent involvement in the piping community has been curtailed by his health, but he has moved online to teach lessons and has a weekly channel on YouTube, currently with 49 episodes, called Bagpipes. In the Barn which can be found here.
Bagpipe.news caught up with Chris to ask where the inspiration for his innovation came from. Chris explained: “After I complained about people blowing reeds that were too hard for them to play comfortably, my wife suggested I find a valve that would prevent over-blowing so that pipers could play softer reeds. I told her it wasn’t possible and never pursued the issue.
“Then about three years ago my wife decided to prove me wrong and contacted Prof. Ashok Midha – head of Product Innovation & Creativity at Missouri S&T. His wife is a musician and he was intrigued enough to assign the problem to some of his senior class. Although they weren’t able to give us a working prototype they did prove that it could be done and showed me how.
“So I created a prototype myself and worked with Parallel Tool & Die here in Union, Missouri. Over the course of about 3 months, they helped me create the first PitchGuard™ which went on the market last year. It worked well but fit only with synthetic bags and was a bit fiddly to install. If you got it wrong it leaked. I realised it needed a split-stock and for that I needed a pipe maker. Who else was I going to call but McCallum Bagpipes?
“I have always liked McCallum products (it was a set of McCallum pipes I provided to the senior class to experiment with in the first instance). I also really like that McCallum emphasise sound quality and in all the years I’ve worked with them there has never been any drama. They are honest, straightforward and kind. I knew I could trust them and that whatever they produced would be first rate.
“My target market is all those who play the Highland bagpipe. I started out making something to prevent overblowing and it has blossomed into so much more. Just being able to turn the chanter off at any time gives rise to so many possibilities. It helps students learn to blow tone. It helps competing bands tune and retune more efficiently. It allows an older piper who has reduced lung capacity to remain active because they can play a super soft reed and march with the band – no overblowing and they can turn off when they get tired. It also protects the chanter reed from damage.
“As an older person myself, the one thing I really love, is that it is fully mechanical. I don’t have to charge up, plug in or connect to anything. I don’t have to remember what buttons to push – and in what order – to get the damn thing to work! Install once and it’s done.
“I have had my PitchGuard in my pipes for more than two years. It helps me tune up quickly and more quietly when I am playing for funerals, etc. It is something I didn’t necessarily need but it is so very useful I now consider it vital and never want to be without it.”
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Press Release from McCallum Bagpipes
A McCallum split-stock incorporating the patented PitchGuard™. A fully mechanical, multi-faceted system that cocoons your chanter reed and offers both tonal stability and physical protection.
The split-stock, created by McCallum, protects the chanter reed from harm and allows for easy installation in any pipebag. Once your chanter reed is set inside the stock it need not be removed for days or even weeks. Saving you money and eliminating the need for a reed protector and/or external chanter cap.
The PitchGuard™ unit, patented by Chris Apps Reeds LLC, offers the major musical advantage as it can regulate the air pressure through the chanter. It’s not just a chanter on/off switch – as useful as that is. It will also, if you choose, prevent any overblowing of the chanter reed by regulating the amount of air pressure coming through the chanter.
The PitchGuard Split-Stock System can be used differently in different situations. In this way it is beneficial to all pipers and at all levels.
We have included some links below that will allow you to learn more about the PitchGuard.