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Review: Balance Tone HR USA Drone Reeds

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

A review of the Balance Tone HR (High Resonance) USA Drone Reeds, by Chris Stockton. We ordered them from — Pipeline Bagpipes.

I put these in last night and, in about 20 minutes, I had them up and running--sounding really good, tuning in precisely the right place on the pins, striking-in effortlessly.  REALLY easy setup.

Today I played them for about an hour and a half straight.

Strike in.  None required.  I can blow up the bag and they all start with no ugliness.  Every single time.  5 stars.

Tone.  Pretty good.  I've attached a short recording of the Edge reeds spliced together with one of these reeds.  To me they sound similar.  Both are buzzy and slightly bass-heavy.  Edge sounds better to me, but these are pretty nice.  4.5 stars.

Efficiency.  I don't know how to objectively evaluate this.  Hold a note and see how many times per minute on average I have to breathe?  Dunno.  I did not notice myself working any harder with these drones than I do with the Edges or the Mambos.  I'd say they're Very Satisfactory on that front.  4 stars?  I may try to adjust their cutoff pressure down an inch or two tomorrow.  See if my breathing is actually getting more precise and (perhaps) make them incrementally more efficient.

Stability.  Again, it's tough to measure objectively.  After 20 minutes of playing I retuned as precisely as I could do it.  I did find myself needing to adjust them a few more times in the ensuing 70 minutes I played them.  Perhaps a little more frequently than I do with the Edge.  So 4 stars.  They never got hugely off, just discernibly off.

Moisture.  These seemed to be much dryer than both the Edge reeds and the Mambos.  No discernible moisture on any but the middle tenor.  Moreover, there was no discernible moisture in my bores after playing.  Hugely different from my Edge experience.  Furthermore, the designer has designed in a couple neat moisture-fighting features:  a couple horizontal grooves on the reedbed channel moisture away and discourage forming the sticky "film" which begins the shutdown process.  Plus, you can quickly and easily dismantle the reed and blow off/dry off the parts and reassemble.  Easy.  5 stars.  

Additional miscelania:

  • He touts his bridle as much easier to adjust than normal O rings.  And it is.  In fact, it's SO easy to move that it's actually kind of tough to make little teeny adjustments.

  • The reed is happiest when firmly and deeply seated in the drone.  If you're like me, and disassemble your pipes completely each time after playing, this is kind of a pain.  Because of the way the reed is designed, you essentially have to pull the reed off its tuning pin so that you can get a reasonably good grip on the reed seat.  Then you have to kind of guess where it should sit upon reassembly.  I may put a small mark on the tuning slide of the reed to make this easier.  If, however, you don't disassemble your pipes, this is a complete non-issue.

  • Due, again, to the same issue of how the reed is constructed, while it's possible to use the standard method to make a "leash" to keep the reed from falling into the bag if it came out of the drone base, it's not possible to save the drone body if it were to slide off its pin.  I can see how it could be done, but I suspect that tying a string around the body of the reed (near the base of the tongue) might affect how it all vibrates.  Maybe it won't, in which case this is easily solvable.

  • For what it's worth, the manufacturer also included the ability to independently close off the aperture partially or completely.  This might act to reduce volume, he says, but then he recommends you not use it for that.  It also allows you to quickly and easily "cork off" a drone (or 2 or 3) if necessary.  Pull the drone from its stock, and turn the bottom plug 180.  That rotates a plastic "flap" in front of the aperture under the tongue and closes the reed completely off.  Might be useful for some people at some times.

  • If you register the serial number, you get a two year warranty.

I really like these.  Although I have picked out several more combos to try from your Grab Bag o' Drone Reeds, I may very well end up buying a set of these.

The audio file is below.  The Edge drones are first, then the Balance Tone HR reeds. Reeds in Atherton Legacy drones.

I hope this is useful.

And now, football and beer!

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