Should I put cork on the drone slides?

Corking a joint (hmmm....) requires a bit of skill, or can be done at any music store.  There are commercial kits available just for bagpipes. If applied properly cork is long-lasting, very robust and doesn't "peel off".  Any half-way decent music shop can cork your joints for you.

I have some evidence that cork on slides was apparently available from Lawrie in the 1930's as an "upgrade" from hemp (hmmm....).

While the ability to do fine adjustments with minimal wear and tear on the receivers (female bits) is excellent, there are a couple downsides to its use:

  1. Drones are held in place by the outward pressure of the material in the gap and its friction between the parts.  This is caused by the compressibility of the wrapping.  If the compression is too little, you can't move anything.  If it is too much, it all slips.  Cork is more compressible than hemp.   So, getting the ideal compression is a bit of a challenge.
  2. If you have a heavy bass drone (i.e., silver mountings), and/or march in parades, insufficient friction/compression may allow the drone to slip downward and you may have an issue with the drone becoming sharper as you play. (This is the voice of experience!)
  3. Cork can become "semi-permanently" compressed if it isn't given the chance to expand back to its original side.  In a clarinet, for example, the cork is compressed only while being played and then it expands during storage.  The lesson here is that, if you use cork on your drone slides, you may want to plan on storing your drones in a disassembled fashion.  If you don't take things apart, the outward friction of the cork on the inside of the receiver will decrease and you might expect the joint to become a bit more loose with time - and eventually need to have the cork augmented/replaced.  (Without disassembly, I found it lasted about a season.)  If your slides tune with hemp showing, expect a "lip" to form which can cause some interesting problems.
  4. Radial compression is also a problem for a different reason on the stocks. In my experience, the best pipe sound occurs when the stock and the lower drone section (or chanter) are well connected and may be considered to be vibrating as one larger mass - i.e., bound tightly by less compressible hemp rather than more casually by compressible cork. This is a fine point, but one known to guitar players where the analogy is the impact of the mass of the tuning head on tonal quality. I cannot recommend cork for holding drones nor chanters in the stocks as it is not as firm as hemp and you may lose that elusive last 5% of the sound quality.

Blowsticks would be a great application, BUT putting a flapper on with cork is a major hassle.  (note: Corking an Airstream would be a great choice, but be aware that you can bugger it up if you need to get to the valve.)

Corking is an excellent approach for practice chanters!!  No more drool on the thumb!  My first wrapping lasted about six years in daily use.

Please contact me for more information on this subject.

Copyright S.K. MacLeod 1996-2016