JWT Reedmakers – Home of the renowned McAllister Chanter Reed
With less than a week’s notice, I was approached about attending a conference in “sunny” Victoria BC for work. This was one location in Canada that I had not been to yet, so the prospect of discovering a new city was something that I was looking forward to. I mentioned sunny Victoria because the weather had to be better than the tail end of winter here in Thunder Bay, but I was mistaken. Once I had my room key in hand and was on my way there, I realized the obvious…this was the Pacific Northwest and the rain coming down sideways had turned into hail! After being to Seattle three times, I should have known about this weather.
Having met Jamie Troy Jr. last year during my first trip to the BC Indoor Competition (known as the Annual Gathering), he suggested on Facebook that I visit the workshop If I was able to. Since the band I play in uses the Troy/McAllister reed, it was a great opportunity to purchase some reeds direct from the source.
Due to his teaching schedule, Jamie Jr. was unable to be at the shop, but his father, Pipe Major James Troy was ready to show me how a reed is made, from start to finish. We started out with the raw material, a tube of cane more specifically referred to as arundo donax. This tube was then split in half and then quartered so that the original tube is now in four pieces.
After the quartering, the pieces are then planed down to the required thickness through what I believe is called “gouging”, using a specifically shaped blade that is affixed to a Stanley Planer which rides a set of guide rails to ensure accuracy of this process. It is important to note that this manufacturing process conforms to the original procedure of reed manufacture that the McAllisters of Shotts, Scotland pioneered in the early 1970’s. Mr Troy stressed to me that the reed that they make is THE McAllister reed, following the principles handed down to him and his son when they took over the reed business in 1998. The original equipment, plus some modern innovations in the manufacturing process ensure that the reed they make conforms to the original specifications.
The reeds are made in batches of 110 at a time and once they are completed, they have to be “freed up” so that they produce the required sound prior to leaving the workshop. I was not certain if they had my model of McCallum blackwood band chanter on hand, so I brought mine out to select reeds with. This was one of the biggest collections of pipe chanters that I’ve ever laid my eyes on – McCallum’s in polypenco and in blackwood, various models of Naill’s and Sinclairs too, for which the reed was originally designed. I managed to pick out some good reeds and was pleased with having the opportunity to do so.
After my introduction to the world of chanter reed making, we had a nice discussion about some of Pipe Major Troy’s piping influences over the years. It was a great visit that introduced me to another area of the piping world that remained dormant until my visit to Victoria.
For more information, visit www.jwtreeds.ca