About Bagpipes

When mention is made of the bagpipe it seems that the majority of people immediately think of Scotland and the well known Great Highland Pipe which has been carried to all parts of the World by mostly the British Army. It often therefore comes as a surprise to learn that the bagpipe is far from indigenous to Scotland and is found in many shapes and forms throughout Eastern and Western Europe and parts of Asia. It's history can be traced back to the Romans and it may well have made an appearance even earlier. When one looks at the physical position of Scotland with regard to the rest of the World it seems more than likely that the instrument appeared here after traveling through just about every other European country and as a point of interest Scotland has around ten different varieties of Bagpipe !

This site apart from being a catalogue of the instruments that I make seeks to address the balance and show just what a profusion exist (and did exist) in both Europe as well as parts of Asia and Africa. It is not exhaustive and there are other regional types that will added as details are discovered.

One classic quote describing the sound of the bagpipe is "the perpetual peddle of the drone completely un-nerves the haters but soothes the lovers"

A standard witticism is : "why to pipers always walk around when they are playing? The reason being : "It's harder to hit a moving target"



What is a Bagpipe?

A bagpipe is a wind instrument where the sound is made from reeds. Except in a few special cases it consists of at least two sounding pipes tied into an airtight bag with a further pipe (blowpipe) to allow it to be filled with air. The air may be supplied either by mouth or from a bellows strapped under the opposite arm to the bag. To make the instrument play pressure is applied to the bag using the arm causing the reeds to vibrate and sound.

In the most basic and earliest form the bagpipe comprises of a chanter to play the melody, a bag to act as a reservoir for the air and a blowpipe to enable the player to keep the bag supplied with air. More commonly a drone is added to give a constant background harmony this being often a bass sounding two octaves below the chanter's keynote. Other drones may be present to give a full chord sounding in octaves or with fourths and fifths and in a few types such as the Union Pipe, keyed pipes or regulators are used to provide a counter melody or chordal accompaniment.



The components

The most important part is the bag - without a good quality completely airtight reservoir for the air supply the instrument is useless. It has melody pipe, the Chanter, for playing the tune and usually at least one accompanying pipe, Drone, which gives a background note or chord.

Stocks are used to join the various parts to the bag and protect the delicate reeds and to facilitate removal from the bag. In the example shown below which is based on an illustration in the Luttrell Psalter the chanter stock is carved in the form of a Kings Head - a feature of several mediaeval illustrations of bagpipes and also found on some other bagpipes such as the Cabrette.

The weakest parts of the instrument (where joints come together) are reinforced with mounts of Horn, Bone, Ivory or Metal.

Image of Luttrell Psalter Bagpipe

Pictured:
Reconstructed Luttrell Psalter Bagpipe


  1. The bag
  2. Chanter
  3. Chanter Reed
  4. Stock (Optional)
  5. Stock
  6. Blowpipe
  7. Valve
  8. Drone Reed
  9. Drone
  10. Wrapping
  11. Tuning Slide
  12. Mount



Materials

Traditionally Bagpipes have been made from whatever was available locally to imported exotic hardwoods, Ivory, Horn and precious metals. The style of turning and decoration also varies from the simple ascetic to intricate turning and inlay work to the truly bizarre where the maker was interested in showing off his skills to the limit.

Go to "Materials"