Dear Ray & Belinda,
First of all I thank you very much for your hospitality during my 5 days "pipe making holiday" with you. I really felt at home at your cottage with this gorgeous view over the bay. I expected the photo on your website to be a fake - shame on me - it is reality! During the five days working in your workshop I learned more than expected and was deeply impressed of your excellent craftsmanship and your sense for beauty! After the week I went home with a book full of notices I made of your priceless information and the following stuff in my suitcase: - Two (working) chanter reeds I made according your instruction for my chanter (The despair has come to an end :) - 5 stunning looking keys I made under your advice fitted to my premade tenor regulator - A flat C# chanter made to your specification.
As a hobby pipe maker I know how much time I spend for such work and I never expected to come so far within five days! It was my greatest pleasure and honour to be your first pipe-making- holiday- customer. In my opinion (as a Swiss precision engineer) you incorporate the unbeatable combination of an excellent craftsman and an artist.
Belinda made yummy sandwiches, Burgers and Omelettes for lunch and is an excellent cook! This holiday was worth every single cent I spend and an unforgettable experience. Feel free to use this text and the photos you made for your website. Thanks for all that.
Yours: Philipp Muheim - Reigoldswil Switzerland
Thank you very much for the two hugely entertaining days in your workshop during which, among all the questioning and chat, at more or less your insistence a chanter was produced. I would have happily spent all of the time tapping into your experience and store of knowledge. Such a range of subtleties, nuances, tips and tweaks to be gone into and explored. And only the surface of that knowledge got scratched during the two days. But at the end of it I came away with a new chanter, and an associated large grin which still shows no signs of going away.
The chanter is such an elegant design. A classic case of "less is more" allied to the dictum of "simplify and add a little lightness". And in the black art of pipe-making, it is probably one of the reasons it plays so well. Remarkably, to someone with little more than six-months of learning on a practice-set under his bellows-belt, in less than a week it feels like I never played with anything else.
You remarked in your workshop when you were tuning it that it was coming "alive" in your hands as you were sounding it. And so indeed it does. That Friday evening I went down to St. John's Point, sat in the car overlooking the coral beach, and tried it out on my own for the first time. The "buzz" it made in my hands was quite extraordinary to feel. The setting sun was lighting up the face of Slieve League to the west, Nephin in County Mayo to the south, and Ben Bulben in County Sligo to the south east. I sat there on the shores of Donegal Bay and ran through my repertoire of half-learned tunes played on "my" new chanter, but made with your equipment, guidance and tuition.
Holidays just don't come better than that. Very hard to top spending the first part of the day making a chanter in your workshop and the second part exploring the wider Killybegs area of south-west Donegal.
Again many thanks to Belinda and yourself for your hospitality and education over the two days. Thanks also for the opportunity to spend a truly unique holiday in your part of County Donegal. The saying goes that "you can never go back". In this particular instance I most certainly will.
I was away in Wexford for the weekend and only got back last night late.
I really enjoyed my three day workshop with you. On day one, you sorted out my own chanters and then we made a new chanter in blackwood, using your reamers. I was delighted with the results. On the second day we started on my set of regulators. the first thing was to get them in tune. This you did, showing me how it was done. I was amazed how much work had to be done,before we even started making the keys. This was the main reason I took on the workshop, just to see how keys were made. You really showed me everything I needed to know to make keys. After making and fitting the keys you then tested them in your own set. I was delighted the way they performed and how easy it was to do everything.
I thoroughtly enjoyed my three days with you and your wife Belinda. She is an excellent cook and served us with lovely lunches. Please thank her for me.
Finally I would recommend your workshops very strongly. Marks out of ten,9.9. IF I said ten out of ten people might not believe me! Your tution is first class.
P.S.( not the film star)
Just a liitle note to say thank you for your time and patience during the three days we spent together, not only was it "one of the best holidays I ever had" it was very entertaining and enlightening.
The chanter I made with you is working great and I hope I will improve my playing to deserve it! I am really looking forward to coming back to make keys and fit them and I hope this is the start to a long collaboration and friendship with you and yours.
I really enjoyed your non stress precision work with millimetres - inches - and other high precision units that I have now added to my technical repertoire like "bees wings" and gnats 'wotsits'....etc etc !" I would encourage anyone who has a dream to try pipe-making or reed-making to go on a pipe-making holiday with you Ray.
Maith agut a chara
Dear Ray and Belinda ,
Thank you so much for the hospitality, humour and great food. The week I spent learning how to make reeds and turning my own Uillean pipe chanter was a dream come true.
I had purchased an inexpensive wood lathe several years ago and tried to teach myself some basic wood turning techniques in order to repair some of the old bagpipes I have been collecting over the past 30 years. Well as I tried turning and ruining small pieces of scrap wood, several questions about technique, boring etc, arose which quickly put an end to this passing fancy.
When I heard about your bagpipe making holiday I was once again bitten with the "turning Bug". I signed up as quickly as possible and I was not disappointed. You are an excellent teacher, and very generous with your knowledge, and a great guy. I came away from the experience with a lovely Uillean pipe chanter and reed and enhanced knowledge of how to make and adjust both drone and chanter reeds for my Scottish smallpipes.
Your patience with my rudimentary turning skills, and occasional chipped beads, gave me the confidence to try hobby turning again and I am looking forward to embracing this new pastime with renewed vigour in the new year. While I do not as yet play the Uillean pipes, I have a wonderful chanter on which to learn over the winter.
I had so much fun and learned so much that I am already trying to figure out an excuse to visit you and Belinda in 2013. Maybe a split stock for my SSps? Maybe a C chanter? So many things to try and so little time.
Thank you very much for exceeding my expectations.
Dear Ray and Belinda,
Ever since I started playing, over forty years ago, I have wanted to make a bagpipe. Of course, I had no idea what that meant, not until you offered a pipe-making holiday. Ray, you are one of a kind, a great pipe-maker who has the forethought and patience of a great teacher.
Your skill as pipe-maker is, in my humble opinion, unsurpassed, so it would have been a thrill to just watch you work. Somehow, you took me, not even a novice wood turner, through the multitude of steps of making a chanter, going from a block of wood to a highly polished, beautifully sounding instrument. Everyone who sees the chanter, who plays it and hears it can't believe it. I had never worked on a lathe before. I had never made a reed before, by which I mean I have never before made a reed that works. Really, we made them together, which makes it all the more valuable. Picking it up brings back all the memories of you, Belinda, Flynn, Barry, Donegal, the sessions in Ardara and Dunkineely, the Guinness, Belinda's delicious lunches and magically appearing cups of tea, the smell of freshly turned wood, the translucent gem like quality of black-wood after buffing, your hard won secrets of the craft, the dinners, the tour of the Glen.
Thank you both so much for a wonderful time. Your generosity and hospitality are beyond compare. Thanks for being so understanding when I was clearly out of my depth in the workshop. Thanks for helping with arrangements at the B&B, for opening your splendid house to us, the beautiful view of the bay, Flynn's perpetual wag. If someone had told me the experience would be this great before I left I wouldn't have believed them. It far exceeded my expectations. I'll never look at a set of pipes, or play them, without a new appreciation for the intelligence and craft that goes into making them. It was the experience of a lifetime.
(Flynn is our Dog)
I bought a half set from ebay, and soon discovered I was a victim of the sets made in Pakistan, which can be bought online, and found that I had bought rubbish.I decided I needed a good quality chanter, so I went to visit Ray for two days to make a D chanter.
It is really quite something seeing a block of wood slowly turn into a top quality instrument, and I acquired a lot of knowledge in those two days, Everything I could think of asking Ray about the pipes, he had an answer for. In fact it was a valuable experience just for the knowledge itself, but on top of that, I acquired a quality chanter, and a nice bowl of home-made soup and sandwiches every lunchtime.
The long journey there and back certainly paid off when I returned with a lovely looking, and sounding chanter. I can't play it yet, but the few notes I can play sound really good.
I would recommend visiting Ray to anyone with an interest in the pipes, it really is worth it.
Thank you Ray for the great week of pipe making! Also for enduring my slow pace, I was on holidays!
When it comes to pipe making it's very difficult to find a teacher. And then find one that will explain the sublet points and the how and why's. Ray was very helpful in all these aspects, furthering my understanding of this instrument. Being employed as an instrument key maker myself, it was nice to enjoy the company of a fellow maker with such experience in the pipes. Snug in the workshop, we explored the many facets of chanters and design.
I enjoyed our week. It was very much like a week in my own shop. Relaxing and familiar. Except at home I don't have Belinda cooking wondrous meals for me! After such a lunch, heading into the shop while the rain pelted down. Pipe music wafting thru the air mingling with the smell of wood and sea. Hot tea and biscuits ever at the ready and Ray's quick wit to lighten the toil. Yes. I enjoyed our time very much!
Our last day, after a bout of outrageous luck with reed making. Sitting down and hearing the voice of my chanter for the first time was thrilling. It will be a day I will remember.
I wish you could have seen the look on the faces of the various pipers I ran into when I told them I made this beautiful chanter! The best was piper maker at Willie Clancy week that exclaimed "You made this!?". At that point I threw in: "Yes, with Ray Sloan in Donegal."
I have wanted my own pipes for long time. But to finally have them and say: "Yes I made this chanter" is a great deal better than imagined!
Thank you for you patience and hospitality during my 3 day stay in Donegal. I arrived with some basic pipe making knowledge and left significantly wiser with an 'A' Border-Pipe chanter, 'C' Scottish Smallpipe chanter, stock and reeds.
Thanks also to Belinda for the tasty fare and plentiful hot drinks and Flynn for the warm welcome. It was a pleasure to meet you all. I was impressed with the way you freely shared decades of pipe-making knowledge and were ready to patiently answer each question in detail. I was also extremely impressed with the machines, tools, jigs and workshop layout and your systematic yet creative way of working and teaching. It must surely be every pipers dream to be surrounded by instruments of various types in various stages of creation. Hearing the first notes from a chanter that started the morning as a block of wood and a reed that began as raw cane and piece of brass tubing is a truly magical experience. I return motivated, inspired and keen to develop my pipe making skills. The sound and smell of turning Blackwood and the background music of wild Uilleann piping all set in the beautiful scenery of Donegal are memories that will stay with me forever.
I hope that you will forgive the indulgence but whilst in Donegal I put together this jig to remind me of the experience. Hope you enjoy…...,
PS Enjoying your CD!
Dear Ray and Belinda,
First of all I will say "thank you" for the great and friendly response at your home and workshop and the excellent food for lunch. This holidays was a great experience for me.
As a Scottish smallpipe player I was interested to play the Uilleann pipe too. A practice set has a delivery time in Germany at a half year or so and I am an impatient man. At this time I surfed in the web and find the homepage of Ray Sloan. A short E - Mail communication and my holidays was reserved. Within five days I had my musical instrument and it was made by myself, which was a fantastic experience for me!
I had heard that you were a very fine craftsman, this is true, but you are also an excelent teacher Ray, to help me make such a instrument. Step by step you showed me how is made a chanter and espcially the reeds, and this with my moderate knowlidge of the English language. In a frinedly way Ray you helps me to balance my deficite at the English language. At the end of the week I had learned how to make reed and chanter and I understand why they are made on this way.
In summary I must say that to make holidays at this way could not have been better! For me, is that way much more interesting and informative than to lie on the beach. Unique landscapes and nice Irish people you get as bonus.
I wish you Ray all the best with this business concept and much success in future.
With best wishes
P.S. See you next year to making the drones !
Thank you again for the great four days I spent with you making my practice set!
Having played different kinds of bagpipes for about 8 years now, I had always wished to make my own set and to learn more about how pipes are made. At first I was worried that I may not be suitable to make my own set of pipes because I have had no practical knowledge or experience of any kind before. I have always had a certain respect or fear of contact when handling my own pipes, since I did not want to cause any damage. But these worries were totally unjustified since you have supervised me so carefully there and gave me good explanations about what to do next and why we did it that way. Starting with not even knowing what a lathe is I quickly learned more about all the tools and processes involved in turning a simple block of African blackwood into a fine musical instrument. During the four days I spent at your workshop I obtained a much better understanding of how pipes work. So thanks a lot for your kindness and for sharing 30 years of professional experience with me.
Overall it was a great experience. I really enjoyed the atmosphere in your workshop, the scenic view from the window, the music we listened to and the smell of turned blackwood. Even though we were always very concentrated at work - just bothered by the occasional bumble bee ;-) - there was always time for a chat and a cup of tea. Another special thanks to your wife Belinda for her hospitality and for her cooking great lunches for us.
The steps of creating a wonderful chanter out of a block of wood are really fascinating and I would highly recommend it to anybody interested in playing and making pipes. The feeling you get from a chanter that you "just" bought is nothing compared to the feeling that you actually made this instrument yourself.
Hope to meet you again in the future,
I've been interested in instrument making for a short while before I had the pleasure to meet Ray, and I have learned more in a day with him than I had learned at a course centre, and teaching myself,in six months!
I was very lucky to be booked into this holiday as a birthday present, and I was extremely excited! I have a soft spot for Donegal as it is, but no one can resist the beauty of the surroundings of where Ray lives. I was very lucky with the weather (anyone who knows Donegal in the slightest knows exactly what I'm talking about here), but it's still a fantastic environment to work in. Quiet, tranquil, and some nice pipe music in the background to get things rolling. Ray and his wife Belinda were extremely accommodating, not just in the kitchen (nice sandwiches and some lovely home-made soup to boot!) but in the workshop as well - it was a very productive day, we got a lot done and we had a great time doing it too!
Ray has a good eye for the aesthetic - which is quite nice when you're crafting something you care deeply about; it feels like you're giving more life to the instrument. Ray's intuition has clearly served him well, looking around his workshop you can see sets of pipes, chanters, and the like that not only look functional, but are extremely pleasing to the eye as well. His use of Blackwood and his justification for it made perfect sense to me (I will admit, I was one of those in the "all for ebony and ebony for all" crowds). I would sincerely recommend his pipe making holidays for anyone; if you're interested in developing a chanter or part of any of the variety of pipes he can make as a one-off, or if you're seriously considering Pipemaking as a part time hobby - they're invaluable.
The advice and constant mentoring I got from Ray in a day has really allowed me to understand how Pipes work better and how to operate relevant machinery, some 30 odd years (I hope that's right Ray?) of knowledge at my full disposal - and I have a realistic expectation of my ability as a result. Oh, and you should have absolutely no problems getting here - Ray's directions were perfect. All in all, I had a fantastic time, and not only do I feel now I've gained someone I can call upon for advice and help in future Pipemaking quests, but I feel like I've made a friend too. Good luck all!