Synthetic bags, although relatively new to the piping community, have come a long way in a short period of time.
Originally no more than a synthetic, airtight material, synthetic bags were flimsy under the arm, when not inflated, and were somewhat challenging to strike in and stop. Over the years, bag makers have added a variety of options including hybrid bags that include a thick, hide-like material over the airtight membrane. This gives the bag a solid feel under the arm and provide for better starts and stops.
Part 1 covered the tips to make sure your first steps—the tie-in—created perfect airtightness. In addition to making sure that your synthetic bag is airtight, you will need some way to control the inevitable moisture that you will experience as you play. The task of controlling moisture will depend on a number of variables:
- How wet of a blower you are.
- The ambient temperature.
- The relative humidity.
Generally speaking, if you are new to bagpipes, some trial and error will be needed to determine your moisture control needs. If you have been playing bagpipes for a period of time, you should be aware of how much moisture builds up as you play. This can be different for everyone. If you are a relatively "dry" blower, meaning that not much moisture builds up over a playing session, you may be able to use a simple tube water trap. If you are a relatively "wet" blower, meaning that quite a bit of moisture saturates your instrument over time, you may require more extreme measures such as a canister drying system. Connecting a moisture control system to your pipes will require an adapter of some type. There are number of manufacturers that have introduced tubes that can twist into place, but, for the most part, moisture control systems use either rubber adapters or elbow adapters that attach to the bottoms of your stocks, inside the bag.
Rubber Adapters: Many moisture control systems will use rubber adapters that attach to the base of the stock, inside the bag. The adapter has a lip that will slip into the tie-in groove. While many manufacturers recommend taping the adapters into place, I have found that many can be slipped into place and will hold without tape. It will depend on your make of bagpipes though, and the diameter of your stocks; it is certainly worth testing. If you find that you do need to tape the rubber adapters into place, it is easier to perform the task by removing the stocks from the bag before taping the adapters into place. Make sure that the stocks are dry before applying the tape.
Elbow Adapters: Some tube traps use an elbow adapter that slips into the opening at the base of the stock. The elbow adapter must be hemped for tightness for a good fit into the base of the blowpipe stock. While waxed hemp can be used, the task is much simpler if you use tie-in cord.
Moisture Control: Moisture control is a relatively simple process and can be mastered through trial and error. It is important to reduce the problem to its simplest aspects. There are two ways to control moisture in a synthetic bag:
- Control moisture as it enters the bag through the blowpipe.
- Control moisture as it exits the bag through the drone stocks or chanter stock.
If you consider controlling moisture as it enters the bag through the blowpipe, the first option is…do nothing. Do not use a moisture control system such as a tube trap. Without a tube trap, the chanter reed will receive more moisture and, when moisture in the bag equalizes, moisture will be distributed throughout the bag. If you are using synthetic drone reeds, moisture will build up on the body and tongue of the reed. Eventually, excess moisture can cause the reed to shutdown. If you opt to not use a tube trap, you can use an extra set of reeds and swap them out when the first set becomes waterlogged. Again, trial and error, and observation is needed to determine your needs.
To combat excess moisture build up on the drone reeds and throughout the instrument, you can employ a system that controls the moisture that is distributed to the drone reeds. This will typically be a desiccant-filled canister with individual tubes that attach to each drone stock. Moisture will be removed from the air as is passes across the desiccant. Actually, the desiccant acts as a heat exchanger; you can verify this by feeling the canister after you play, it will be warm, if not hot to the touch.
You can adjust the amount of desiccant in the canister to control the amount of moisture. Use more desiccant if you notice your reeds are too wet, use less desiccant if the reeds are too dry.
To control moisture as it enters the bag, use a plain tube water trap. The trap will attach to the base of the blowpipe stock using either a rubber or elbow connector. A tube trap can control moisture in a number of ways:
- It can employ a sponge to absorb moisture as it leaves your blowstick into the bag. Excess moisture should be squeezed out of the sponge at the end of every session.
- It can employ a chamois or towel to absorb moisture. As with the sponge, excess moisture should be squeezed from the chamois or towel at the end of every session.
- It can employ desiccant to absorb moisture.
- It can be a simple tube that collects condensing moisture before it enters the bag.
A tube trap with a sponge or a chamois can work quite well. If you find that it controls the moisture for you, it can be an ideal solution. At the end of each session, unzip the bag, squeeze out any excess moisture from the sponge or the chamois and set it aside to dry. Store your pipes with the bag unzipped. Replace the sponge or chamois before you start your next practice session.
Desiccant can be recharged or dried by warming on a Pyrex dish in the oven at 220 degrees Fahrenheit (a little over 100 degrees Celsius) for orange/green crystals. It will take approximately fifteen minutes for the crystals to change from green to orange (indicating that they are ready). It may take a little longer for the crystals to change color. Ross-style crystals can be warmed in a Pyrex dish at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for fifteen minutes.