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Do I (Actually) Want a Blair Digital Chanter?

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Do you have a Digital Chanter on your wish list this year?  Not sure if the Blair Digital Chanter is the right one?  What makes it different from the other electronic chanters out there?  Is it worth it?

Andrew not only explains how the Blair Digital Chanter works, but also shares his experience adjusting the sensitivity to make it even more useful.

See Andrew's Blair Digital Chanter Sensor Settings Spreadsheet here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/14cAkMGiaoS4E3IKwwoZHaPJoo5mxgBCeCBOEHvAZ7-I/edit?usp=sharing

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Video Transcription:

Okay. A lot of people are getting their Blair Chanters for Christmas. This class is not designed to be a sales pitch. The Blair Chanter is really expensive. It is really, really cool. This isn't to try to get you to go out and buy one. I don't think it's totally necessary unless you're a really, really die hard player. It is extremely cool. What it is, is it's an electronic pipe chanter. In my opinion, the quantum leap with this chanter, is that it doesn't use electronic pickups on the holes. In the old school electronic MIDI chanter days, they were all done with electronic pickups. The basically electronic circuitry that it's created when your finger touches the pickup would indicate to the chanter whether or not that hole was supposed to be open or closed.

Then there's a couple of problems with that, right? Technologically, there's a couple of problems. Problem number one is in some cases like particularly on the birl, let's say, where the finger slides down across the hole and comes back, unless your finger completely left the electronic pickup and there was no connection left with the pickup whatsoever, unless the pinky completely left and came back, it wouldn't register that the hole was open.

And that's not necessarily realistic to how a birl works, right? Like maybe our hole, maybe our birl finger only 90% leaves the hole before it swipes back in reality in realville. Right? So the play ability of the electronic pickup chanters was different then the play ability of a regular chanter. It wasn't to say that it was bad. I mean I loved my Deger chanter I still have it. It just finally died on me. I probably spent a ca-trillion hours on those. What's cool about this is I really feel it's a quantum leap forward as far as actually feeling like a real chanter and actually playing like a real device. Because how does this one work? You guys know? Because how this one works is it uses light sensors inside the holes instead of electronic pickups.

Okay. So now ask yourself, how does a light sensor work? And I don't know this... Like I'm not a... I'm not involved with the engineering of this at all. I'm, this is just speculation, but I'm pretty sure I'm right. So how does a light sensor work? Okay. A light sensor works by sensing whether or not it sees light. And if it sees light, the hole is open.   So it basically says, do I see light or don't I. If I don't see light, the whole must be, what? Closed, right? And then if I do see light, the whole must be open. And that is how this works. Right. So then John, that the instant question is, can you play it in a dark room? I don't know. You want to find out? It's going to be kind of tricky because there's still going to be light coming from my monitors. There's still quite a bit of light. Let's see if this affects it at all. Maybe I'll put it under the table down here.

(music playing)

It doesn't seem to make any difference. All right I'll try and turn my monitors off. It's pretty dark in here. There's absolutely no difference in the play ability of the chanter.

So it must be picking up very low levels of light. You can set yours to detect a finger that is still above the hole with no part of the finger on the hole. I'm not sure what's going on with that. Let me turn my lights back on. This is getting weird. Right, so it uses some sort of magic. I mean it must just actually be able to pick up really, really low levels of light. So one of the big things, however, is that an experienced player will find that the settings out of the box don't work properly. All right? And that has to do with the threshold of the sensors that you set in the settings. Does that make sense to everybody? So what I found out in the box, and it's very similar to a... I remember I was hanging with Roddy MacLeod at Kansas city and, he was having the same experience out of the box. Who can tell me what the experience they experienced was?

What was the setback that needed to be adjusted? I just want to see if we had the same experience. Anybody, anybody? Who here has one? John Holcomb has one. Beth I think has one. Maybe, nobody has one. And so this question is kind of open ended, but what I found was that the factory settings... Lou's just didn't work. Okay.

But the factory settings do not pick up gracenotes properly in my experience. All right. The gracenote finger had to be lifted really far off the hole in order to get it to register. All right. Now because... and then... So the issue there is that the whole is requiring too much light in order to register that the hole is open. Okay. That's the way I read into it. Okay. So, and maybe I'm wrong about how this works, but I'm pretty sure I'm right, but I don't know, who knows? I'm pretty sure I'm right. Only because the changes that I made helped a lot. So the sensor is requiring too much light in order to register that the hole is open. All right? So what we need to do in the settings is change them. So in the

Andrew:
(music playing)

Hang on a second. So when the thing is on, we want to go in our menu, we want to go to the advanced settings and then the sensor settings and you can see that each hole has a sensor now, but the factory default is all the sensors are set to zero, got me? And what we want to do is adjust those sensors. So I started with the G gracenote finger, which was not registering properly. Hang on, I just want to turn this off. So it was not registering properly. So I started with the G gracenote finger. Okay. And I adjusted the settings so that, and what I'm going to do is I'm going to share my screen with you. All right. So I started with the high G finger and I tried to see if I could get it to register better by changing the settings on the threshold. And what I found after a variety of trial and error is plus 20 is the setting that got the finger to register correctly. Got that? And then what I've found is basically 20 all the way down.

So any finger that you're going to play a gracenote with, it needs to be set to just about 20. Okay? And then the C and the B holes don't seem to matter. Factory setting seem pretty good. And then the low A hole, which is the one that we're going to do the birl with, I've found just slightly less than 20 to be the number that made sense for me. Everybody got me? And what I can do is I'll get the link and then here's the link to my spreadsheet for those who are interested. So you can, you can set your.. Yeah.. Your practice chanter has trouble with the gracenotes too. Yeah. So what I did is I use trial and error to really set the chanter the way I would like to play it. Now somebody said on the forums like, Oh well the sensors are different for everybody's playing style. The sensors are different, this, that and the other thing.

And just remember, I don't really think that's true, right? I'm 90% sure these settings would work really well for Roddy. Okay. It's the people who have correct gracenotes that need to increase the sensitivity of the light diodes or the light sensors? No, it's plus 20 right. So these are all positive numbers. Negative numbers would make the whole even less sensitive to light. That's how I sort of read it now. Right? So the plus sign means more sensitive to light. Does that make sense? So we want it to be more sensitive to light so it can pick up those infinitely small grace notes. Okay. So the result is...(music playing)

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tags:
Andrew Douglas Andrew is a prolific practitioner of the bagpipe, having been active at the highest level of pipe bands, solo competition, teaching, and creative endeavors for the past 20 years. He's also the founder and creator of Dojo U and of PipersDojo.com

Comment(4)

  1. Good interesting video, particularly the demo of playing in the dark. Also good to see sensitivity adjustment demonstration. Slight concern that you have the adjustment the wrong way around - if you read the accompanying instructions you’ll see that the sensors become more sensitive as the numbers reduce (i.e. from factory zero down in the negative direction). Your adjustment in the positive direction will make the holes less sensitive, not more, but this is consistent with your excellent high fingering; it’s only your explanation of it which is slightly adrift . I believe the US expression is YMMV?

    From a lengthy telephone conversation with Murray Blair, his expectation is that each player will need to adjust his chanter to suit his own fingering style and the reflective nature of the individual’s skin, which is why the comprehensive adjustments are provided.
    My discussions with Murray showed his extremely helpful nature and he is always looking for feedback from users (both positive and negative) to allow him to make future modifications as required, which he will make available online to be uploaded to the chanter as part of his ongoing support for the instrument.
    After initial experimentation and adjustment of my own Blair chanter and my chats with Murray I’m extremely happy to recommend his fine instrument.
    Yes, it’s expensive, but so were my pipes and the quality of build and sound is obvious. You get what you pay for (and ongoing upgrades are included in the online support).

  2. Sorry, I meant to add:
    It’s definitely worth spending some time to work on each sensitivity adjustment.... I started off making changes of 10 or more at a time, but found that it’s better to sneak up on it making single-digit changes at a time....

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