9.- Tuning the Pipes. Bass Stops and punteiros
Here we deal with one of the most important jobs for the management of the instrument, one of the most essential things that the worthwhile piper has to conquer. Unfortunately, there are no rules for the tuning of the pipes that can be followed. The only way is to learn by ear. In our classes we always insist on the quality of the tuning for the pipes,if we don't start with this premise, everything that the piper produces will be worthless.
These days there are tuners which are a big help in tuning the pipes, especially the bass stops of the instrument: "ronco" "ronqueta" and "chion". Although these tuning instruments help, nothing can replace the trained ear of the piper. The piper should constantly maintain the sound of the pipes, especially the keeping in tune with his/her own and other pipes. The balance(pressure maintained on the bag) of the pipes is what is looked for in a precisely tuned instrument.
Tuning the bass stops
We understand by bass stops the three pipes which are characteristic of the Galician bagpipes: "ronco" "ronqueta" and "chion". The three bass stops emit a constant sound. The "roncon" or lower bass stop emits a sound two octaves lower in relation to the tonic of the "punteiro" ( D position in the first octave). The "roqueta" or tenor bass stop emits a sound an octave lower than the tonic of the "punteiro". The "chion" or high bass stop will emit a sound in the same pitch as the tonic of the "punteiro".
It must be added that the tenor bass stop, as well as the high bass stop, aren't found in the typical or traditional Galician pipes, in their pure form, because of this, they weren't permitted in the pipe competitions at the end of the nineteenth century, and so their pitch wasn't clearly determined. The "ronqueta" as much as the "chion" were first used to emit a fifth above the tonic of the "punteiro"; using the reed in the "chion".
The incorrect use means that in many cases there isn't any harmony between these three pipes and the "ronco". In our opinion based on the physics of acoustics, and from simply listening, the three bass stop must be appropriately proportioned with the pitch that they have to produce.
When you use the three bass stop together it is advisable that the "punteiro" reed ought to be on the tight side, if not, a light pressure on the bag, could mean that the "bordons" oscilate. Consistent tuning oscilate more than they should. A consistent tuning is made easier, by using metal plated "pallons" thereby reducing oscilation.
How to tune the bass stop of Pipes with "punteiro"
It should be said that the notes of the "punteiro" need to be emmited at their correct pitch, and in proportion with themselves. The tuning of the Galician "punteiro" doesn't completely agree with the "temperada" scale, but instead it is designed to rest with the instrument's bass stop. Especially the third major grade of the "punteiro" scale (sustained F) will be slightly low in relation to the "temperada" scale, as noted above, so that the pipes will be tuned to the best level possible. The tuning of the pipe's bass stop should especially be checked in the grades of the major harmony, especially in the D of both octaves, A and F sustained. The trained ear will also look for, the proportion of the rest of the notes, with the "punteiro", which although it does not have harmony, is essential in achieving a tuning in proportion with the pipes.
If we put together the parts of the bass stops or introduce the "pallons" of the "espigos", we will raise the pitch of the sound; and the other way around will achieve the opposite result.
As a conclusion to this very important element to the tuning of the pipes, we should add that perfectly tuned Galician pipes, with three well tuned bass stops played by a master of the instrument is one of the most evocative instruments in civilisation.