I’m addicted to bagpipes. This website is an attempt to document my investigations into various aspects of the ‘sport’ of piping. Much of this is related to my trials and tribulations of working with the pipes. I examine a number of topics including bagpipe identification, moisture control, oiling pipes, the debate between plastic and wood, and other topics. In most cases I try to introduce a scientific angle to the topic, including some rigorous reviews of products. My quest to bring the harmonious to the instrument.
The Bagpipe Ecosystem is Complex
Bagpipes: The pipes themselves are a deceptively complex instrument, from the design to function. There are 14 principle pieces, with at least 14 different bore diameters, 13 different lengths, and various changes to width and length internally. There are four or five principle materials, including wood (cocus wood, ebony, African blackwood, and a few other lesser known woods) and plastic (more properly, polypenco/delrin and acetyl). Some pipes have been made from various metals, like aluminum; my friend has a set made to late 1940s Robertson specs! Most bagpipes have no maker’s mark. The chanter is a work of art unto itself, with many factors that lead to its unique tonal and other qualities. Chanter reeds and drone reeds round out the complexity, and we have not yet accounted for the piper.
Man: Learning to play the Great Highland Bagpipe is no small feat. A piper must learn a plethora of quite rigorously adhered to embellishments. Training is generally quite formal and planned: proficiency on a practice chanter, music theory, and finally playing the pipes themselves. There is the Light Music (Ceol Beag) and Piobaireachd, pibroch (Ceol Mhor). Ceol Beag is the music most of us think of as bagpipe music: marches, strathspeys, reels, jigs, hornpipes, waltzes, and airs. Ceol Mhor is the ‘classical’ music of the bagpipe: expressive and thoughtful phrasing repeated with no steady rhythm, and comparatively long. Each has specific embellishments. How about tuning? Three drones and chanter that all need to be individually tuned to each other and whose related properties mean that the tuning will deviate down or up with changes in temperature and moisture. Becoming proficient takes years.
Bagpipes and Man
If one can tame the bagpipes to some manageable level the rewards are great. The sound of tuned drones and a chanter are mesmerizing and hypnotic. The sense of accomplishment at playing a well-executed set is satisfying. Learning about the history of and mechanics around bagpipes is fascinating. Please peruse these pages to see what interests me about bagpipes.
And don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss any of this or to just say hello.