Hear various Highland bagpipe chanter tunings

Here are some WAV files (11 kHz, 8 bits, 130KB each) demonstrating the effect of different chanter tunings on the sound of the drone/chanter combination. The sound files were re-synthesized from anechoic recordings of my not-too-carefully-set-up pipes (last-legs MacLellan reed in Naill chanter, plastic Shepherd reeds in Naill drones). The synthesis isn't hi-fi, but the frequency ratios are quite precise.

The three tunings are:

Each sound file consists of the following tuning phrase played in the tuning indicated.

Click on the tuning name in the table to hear it.

Equal Temperament MacNeill Harmonic
Note name cents above
Low A
ratio above
Low A
deviation from
ET (cents) 
ratio above
Low A
deviation from
ET (cents)
High A 1200 2:1 0.0 2:1 0.0
High G 1000 9:5 +17.6 7:4 -31.2
F(#) 900 5:3 -15.6 5:3 -15.6
E 700 3:2 +2.0 3:2 +2.0
D 500 27:20 +19.6 4:3 -2.0
C(#) 400 5:4 -13.7 5:4 -13.7
B 200 9:8 +3.9 9:8 +3.9
Low A 0 1:1 0.0 1:1 0.0
Low G -200 8:9 -3.9 7:8 -31.2

To my ears, C and F seem particularly wretched in ET, high and low G seem smoothest in Harmonic. Other differences might be more noticable if a wider bandwidth were used.

Dave Keenan, a fellow member of the The Alternate Tuning Internet Mailing List, was interested to know if pipers had ever tried a purely harmonic tuning scheme, in which each chanter note corresponds to a harmonic of a hypothetical "contrabass" drone, three octaves below low A.  The scale which I have called Harmonic above has this property if the D is sharpened to 11/8, and the F(#) flattened to 13/8.  These ratios sound good with the drones, but the scale is clearly not the one we pipers use.

Other pages of potential interest:

Ewan Macpherson, Nov 1998