I am a scientist by training, an engineer by birth and a musician since as long as I can remember. I got interested in making instruments in the early 1990’s when some friends and I started a Tudor/Medieval theatre group called Melford Hys Companie. I soon discovered why loud reed instruments were invented. When you have a hundred plus children in a dance on a windy day a recorder just doesn’t cut it. I visited the early music fair in London and was shocked at the price of instruments. I remember asking a maker what I would need to make my own instruments and what it would cost. When he told me that the lathe and all the bits and pieces would be about the same price as a set of decent pipes I became set on making my own. What he didn’t tell me, of course was that you have to make your own tools to hollow out the bores (the tapered reamers) and this is frequently more involved than the woodwork. I also underestimated the pain of reed making but maybe it is a good job I did.
My first instrument was a copy of a Moulder Rauchfife (effectively an oversized bagpipe chanter). This worked surprisingly well, beginners luck is something I seem to be blessed with. When I finally met Eric Moulder years later he was quite complimentary about my efforts and not at all upset that I had made a copy. He would not be so happy if I offered his designs for sale though. Eric became a mentor and then a good friend and incidentally such a good maker that he doesn’t need a web site to promote himself.
I soon started working on bagpipes, the instrument I am most interested in. I didn’t want to use other people’s plans (and still don’t) for any other purpose than to gain an insight into how the instrument worked. Rather like reading a recipe once, closing the book and then making it up (and hoping its comes out of the oven edible). This, though, quickly led me to a chicken and egg situation. The bore of the instrument, the position/size of the finger holes, and the reed, all interact in a complex way. You have to pin two down and mess with the third otherwise, well, squeaks, grunts and groans are all you get. As a result, for years I have played gigs on a whole variety of reed/bore combinations, some that worked and some that didn’t. Slowly I have developed my reeds and bores from first principles and experimentation. This approach, I believe, has served me well and taught me a lot about the interaction between the three.