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It is years since any form of reader participation has taken place through the pages of this Journal. Any useful outcome relies heavily on the interest and good will of all those who received a questionnaire, so many thanks to all who took part. Jock Agnew.

Sifting through the pages of the LBPS membership book, some 40 members were identified who had registered an interest in, or ownership of, Border/Lowland pipes. To all these were sent an explanatory letter and a single page questionnaire. In the covering letter it was sug- gested that “In the past 10 years a number of pipemakers have been developing and improv- ing their Border pipes. A lot of players of Scottish smallpipes (and indeed Highland pipes as well) are watching from the wings, wondering whether they too should take up these pipes. It seems to me that it would be a good moment, through the pages of Common Stock, to dis- cover how players up and down the world are enjoying (or otherwise) their Border pipe”. A request for information was also made on the internet, and from these two sources 38 com- pleted questionnaires were returned.

Are your Border pipes (conical bore chanter, drones from common stock) pitched in:-

G A Bb C D other (specify)

Were they obtained                              new/used?        When were they made?

Are they played                                    very frequently / regularly / seldom / not at all

Are they played (usually)                      indoors / outdoors

What types of tunes preferred              (some example titles / sources)

Do you ever play them along with other instruments    yes / no

If yes, which combination of instruments sounds best Do you also own Scottish smallpipes                   yes / no

If yes, which do you play most frequently smallpipes / Border pipes

Any problems with your Border pipes that has at some time stopped you playing yes / no

If yes, - nature of problem(s)

If yes - has it permanently or temporarily stopped you playing

If temporarily, who fixed it                      you / pipemaker

If you were ordering a new set of Border pipes, would you go to same / different maker

What key would you specify        G A Bb C D other

What drone arrangement  Bass;Tenor:Tenor/Bass;Tenor;Baritone/Bass;Tenor;Alto

What cross finger note options   Cnat Fnat Gsharp Eflat Bflat

What, if any, pitched notes   High B High C sharp

Any other comments, requirements/ (e.g. keys etc, please specify)


As might be expected in such a survey, many of the answers and trends were predicable. For instance the pitch of existing pipes was predominantly in A and Bb; 55 and 30 percent respectively. The remaining 15% were divided equally between C and D. And nearly every- one played their pipes indoors, with just two individuals who braved the elements suffi- ciently often for it to be remarked upon. And almost exactly 75% of those who took part played their pipes either regularly or very frequently, the remainder seldom or not at all - the latter for the most part were those who had experienced problems. More on that below.

Of those who owned Scottish smallpipes as well as Border pipes (and three- quarters of them did), two-thirds played their smallpipes more often than their Border pipes.

When asked what sort of problems had been encountered with the Border pipes, the answers started to become complicated. Over half had had some sort of problem, and less than a third stated categorically that they had experienced no problems at all. Of the problems listed the most common were:- reeds (8), tuning/balancing (6), pressure (3), notes breaking up (3), leaking bags/bellows (2). These (and other) problems prevented 21 pipers playing their pipes temporarily, and 3 permanently. Fixing the problems was carried out more or less in equal numbers between players and makers - with the latter having the edge!

If ordering a new set of Border pipes, two-thirds said they would go back to the same maker, the rest wanted a change. And if given a choice of drone arrangements, most opted for bass/tenor/tenor (53%), bass/tenor/alto attracted 31 %, the remainder preferred the bass/ tenor/baritone option.

It should be noted that not quite everyone completed this section. And rather predictably the great majority preferred the key of A (73%), with 16% showing a yearning towards Bb with G and D being the other two keys chosen.

When looking at cross-fingering requirements the picture started to become confused. How- ever (again rather predictably) the majority who filled in this section wanted to be able to cross-finger C natural, with high B, F natural and G sharp following close behind in popu- larity. Some 6 pipers wanted no cross-fingering or over-blowing ability at all, while 8 would have liked to overblow up to C sharp, and one to high D. There was no great call for keys to be fitted, but 3 would have liked a key for high B, one for high G sharp and one for two keys below low C.

Under the heading ‘any other requirements. there were two who wanted drone switches.

In answer to the question “what types of tunes preferred?”, a third liked playing Border tunes (half of whom mentioned Dixon), and just over a quarter played Highland tunes, with one player mentioning Piobaireachd. Original compositions, dance tunes and foreign (i.e. not Scottish) tunes accounting for the remainder.

Of course many played several genres as the mood took them.


“Do you ever play along with other instruments?” Two thirds of all who filled in this part of the questionnaire said they played their Border pipes alone. Of the remainder, the variety of instruments mentioned, whether in duet or bands, was quite extensive.

In order of apparent popularity they were:- guitars, fiddles, other bagpipes, boxes (melodeons and accordions), citterns, hurdy-gurdies, mandocellos, flutes, tubas, synthesis- ers and “loud ones!!”.

Finally, sorting through the general comments, a few items are worth mentioning. Several had made their own pipes, offering comments such as “chanters hard to tune on the 5th and 6th...” and “bass drone bored with three parallel channels in its first part to extend the bore...” One player solved the problem with chanter reed squealing when he dropped from high to low A by scraping the sides of his reed “which will now make the octave leap 9 times out of 10”. There were a couple of mentions of lignum being a very heavy material, especially when used for the drones.

One piper mentioned that when playing in a group it is important to have very stable pre- tuned pipes that can be picked up and played without delay, while another suggested that when playing in a group his Border pipes were too loud. A set made from Cocks and Bryan drawings was found to have drones that were not easy to reed, and their wide bores made them very loud. However this did make them suitable for playing at weddings and funerals! And where one player remarked that his Border pipes were suitable both for Highland as well as Border tunes (Dixon), another warned that “everyone should know that they will be disappointed if they want to play Highland tunes on the Border pipes.”

If anyone wishes to add their own experiences or comments to the above, please get in touch. If there are enough such additions they will, of course, be given space in a future edition of Common Stock.

Jock Agnew