At this year’s Annual Competition, Callum Armstrong won the new composition class with a tune that made demands on the Scottish smallpipe chanter that pushed the instrument into a new dimension. Here Julian Goodacre describes the history of his Scottish smallpipe design and the chanter Callum was playing.

I can’t explain what Callum is doing when he plays my A chanter. We can all hear the results, but how he achieves those high notes is a mystery to me, and I will leave it to him to describe. It appears to me that he is contravening the Laws of Acoustics, which is something I strongly approve of!
It was never my actual intention that any of my smallpipe chanters would play into the upper octave. When my pipes leave my workshop they take on a life of their own which can sometimes surprise and delight me.
What I can do is trace the design history of my A chanter. This goes back to my very early days of bagpipe experience. It must have been in 1982 that my brother John asked me to make him an ‘English’ smallpipe in D with a single drone. This is what we eventually called my ‘Leicestershire smallpipe’. Oddly enough the Leicestershire chanter design was born out of a modern Scottish smallpipe. At the time I was obsessed with All Things Bagpipe and searched everywhere to find information. One place was the Exchange and Mart [for our younger readers, this was a pre-cyberspace newspaper version of eBay], and it was there that I discovered ‘Discount Highland Supplies’, a business in Edinburgh run by one Fred Freeman, which was offering ‘Lowland smallpipes in D’ made by Jimmy Anderson. Jimmy had pioneered making smallpipes for Rab Wallace to play in the band ‘The Whistlebinkies’, as well as playing them himself in the groups ‘Cloutha’ and ‘Kentigern’.  (I need to spin some of my old LPs to see who played smallpipes in which band and in what key.)
I visited Fred’s shop and bought a blackwood chanter in D for £43. Jimmy’s chanter used modified bassoon reeds; he was working before it became general practice to use a Northumbrian-style reed in Scottish smallpipes. I get the impression that in those early days of the revival most Scottish smallpipes, such as there were, were pitched in D, although I think someone plays a B flat set on one of those early LP’s. In those heady days pipemakers seemed to be giving very little attention to copying the original dimensions of surviving 18th century smallpipes.
I began measuring Jimmy’s chanter and found it had a minimum bore of 5/32”, but from about half way down it was very slightly conical. Jon Swayne had written an article in FoHMRI on how to make long drills using silver steel and I went searching for some.  Someone told me to visit Dunn’s of Blair Street off the High Street in Edinburgh. Entering this shop was like walking into the past as it appeared to be unchanged from when it opened in 1849.  Wooden shelves from floor to ceiling and very aged staff. Some of its stock must have been over 100 years old. It closed a few years later and in its closing sale I bought an ancient box of hand-forged coffin nails which I still keep as a memento.
I showed Jimmy Anderson’s chanter to the elderly woman in the shop who inspected it and to my surprise said “This looks like a Breton Biniou chanter”. Nothing about that shop would have surprised me! It turned out that she was a Highland piper and had even played during a Pankhurst suffragette march. Anyway, I bought some silver steel and returned to my caravan in Kirkcudbrightshire and set about making an English smallpipe based on this chanter, by reducing the overall length and repositioning some of the finger holes so that the leading notes played C#.
At this time I knew nothing about the measurements of surviving 18th century Scottish smallpipes. My sole aim was to make an English smallpipe.  My first chanters were made of yew, bored with a drill made from 5/32” silver steel. I made a triangular reamer out of a piece of ¼” steel to replicate the conicity of the bottom half of the bore. Years later I met Jimmy Anderson who told me that he had made his reamer out of a planer blade.
I made my first two sets of Leicestershire smallpipes in 1983; a mouthblown set for me and a bellows blown one for brother John. All my smallpipe chanters used modified bassoon reeds until about 1985 when I developed my design of plastic reeds using yoghurt pots. (I bought 1600 empty pots from Howgate Dairies when they ceased making yoghurt). Bassoon reeds worked well, but they were tricky to modify and I wanted to create a more stable and reliable reed.  I think it was my Leicestershire chanter 56 that was the first one that I supplied to a customer with a plastic reed. Subsequently I have ‘retro-fitted’ them to older chanters for customers who chose to change from bassoon reeds to plastic ones. At some stage, possibly in the late 1980’s, I found, either by chance or design, that chanters in D and C worked better when I widened the minimum bore to 3/16”. The wider bore made them more stable and gave a broader sound.  On a completely cylindrical chanter the bottom hand notes can sound rather weak in comparison to the upper hand. My chanter has a slightly conical bore over the bottom half giving a stronger sound to the bottom and improving the balance.
 Thus was born my Leicestershire smallpipe. In 1984 I moved back to Edinburgh and set up as a professional pipemaker on the Enterprise Allowance in a workshop in Salamander Place, Leith.
Shortly after this I went to my first LBPS meeting on a Saturday afternoon at the School Of Scottish Studies in George Square. A number of pipers were there playing a range of smallpipes and border pipes. I brought my set of bellows-blown Leicestershire smallpipes in D which I played and people seemed interested in them. Within the next two months I made my first Scottish smallpipe chanter, by the reverse process of lengthening the bore of my Leicestershire chanter and once again repositioning the leading notes!  Thus I had gone from a Scottish smallpipe to an ‘English’ one and finally back to a Scottish one. At the next meeting I was able to play along with the other pipers on my Leicestershire smallpipes fitted with my new Scottish chanter (number 32), still using a bassoon reed.

My first set of Scottish smallpipes

The first full set of Scottish smallpipes that I made was my 37th set of pipes and was completed by Easter 1986. I still have it. It is easy for me now to see that its outside appearance leaves a lot to be desired! My brother borrowed it from me to take part in Hamish Moore’s first piping course at The Edinburgh Folk Festival and John was impressed enough by its potential to order a set.
In June that year Hugh Cheape arranged for me to measure up a mouthblown set of smallpipes (LT38) which was then in The Scottish Museum of Antiquities, Queen Street. I tried to base the general outward appearance of my first few sets of Scottish smallpipes on this set.  The original had a chanter of about 8 ¾” long with a 1/8” bore which played higher than D. On my copies I increased the length of the drones to make them play D a d, and I increased the chanter stock dimensions to allow it to accommodate a bassoon reed. By December I completed Brother John’s set, my 47th set of pipes.  He still plays them.
I carried on making Scottish smallpipes with this general outward appearance, but using plastic reeds, until early in 1991. It was then that I measured the Montgomery smallpipes. Since then I have made exact copies of these pipes for pipers interested in exploring the early smallpipe repertoire. The outward appearance of my modern Scottish smallpipes has been influenced by the Montgomery pipes.
It is important to bear in mind that Scottish smallpipes in D, C, B flat & A that are being played today are all modern instruments which have been developed by pipemakers in the last 30 years or so. The surviving 18th century pipes have much smaller bores and play in a higher pitch. My Montgomery smallpipes play in E with a sharpened top leading note and a flatter bottom one. The chanter has an 1/8” bore with only the slightest taper at the very bottom.
Having successfully produced a D set of Scottish smallpipes,  I developed sets in C and B flat. This was straight forward as I had already developed Leicestershire chanters in this pitch, again using a 3/16th bore with a slightly longer conical bore for the bottom half of these chanters. These all worked well with the same design of plastic reed. However I came close to despair in 1990 when designing my first A chanter for Stevie Lawrence. I had assumed that I could lengthen my B flat chanter and use the same design of reed, but the chanter had other ideas. I could not get it stable; it would squeal and jump all over the place. There were some lonely months until I eventually hit on the idea of scaling up my chanter reed by using a wider staple and bigger blades.  I also increased the chanter bore by 1/64th to 13/64th and these discoveries resolved the problems. They also opened up the way to making playable Scottish smallpipes in low G and F#.  Ultimately they led me to designing the Cornish Double-pipe chanters; these cylindrically bored chanters play in D an octave lower than the Scottish smallpipes while still having comfortable finger spacing. I have achieved this by using a ¼” bore and a huge reed.
This is the rather circuitous journey of how I arrived at the design of my standard A chanter; the chanter that Callum was playing at this year’s competition. I have, however, added a number of features on his pipes at his request, which I’ll leave him to describe.
I have very little theoretical knowledge of acoustics; my knowledge has been gained through practice. My suspicion is that Callum can achieve this wizardry because the cylindrical bore of my chanter only extends half way down after which it is very, very slightly conical. There is a potential line of research here, which I am very happy to leave to others!

[Ed: I was delighted to learn that the A chanter I have played for the last 18 years is the first one Julian made. It was made on September 10th 1990. It still has its original plastic chanter reed. ]

Fig. 1 Front view of the top end of the chanter, showing High B and High G# keys

Fig. 2 Back view of the bottom end of the chanter, showing right-hand thumbhole and G# hole with plug removed

Callum Armstrong describes his exploration of the potential for expanding the range of the Scottish smallpipe chanter

I am currently a student at Trinity College in London, playing recorder and baroque oboe, but when I was around 15 years old I was taught highland pipes by an ex-Scots Guards Pipe-Major and won a few competitions in London. My interest in smallpipes blossomed when I met Julian at the 2009 Early Music Festival in Greenwich. When I saw that there were bagpipe makers there I went straight to the stalls and picked up a set of Julian’s A/d combination pipes; by the end of the weekend I had ordered set.
I knew I was going to want to play in several keys and wanted drones to suit, so I worked with Julian to modify the four drones of his A/D pipes [Adad]. This we did by adding plugs along the length of the drones - the A drones have one plug, giving B in addition to the G of the drone tuned down, and the D drones have two plugs, giving C with the drone tuned down and F# and E by removing one or other of the plugs. With the plugs removed the drones can be tuned down giving notes of the same pitch as the standard drones, but with different tonal qualities, something which has its own potential.
For the A chanter I wanted to be able to play a C natural, G#’s and a high B. This involved a number of solutions. The C natural is achieved using a right-hand thumbhole [see fig. 2]; the high B and high G# are attained using keys; [see fig. 1]; the low G# is achieved by removing  a plug near the bottom of the chanter [see fig. 2], effectively shortening its length.
It was cold December when this chanter arrived; I was playing it in my ‘practice’ shed when I found, by chance, that I could get the chanter to jump from the low G to a note in the upper octave by quickly tapping the B key. The note this produced was a high D, and once there I had access to higher notes, right up to an E two octaves above the usual E. I also found that by playing an A and tapping the B key I could jump to the E in the upper octave. The chanter was basically behaving rather like a clarinet, ‘over-blowing’ a 12th above the root note.
I thus had a range of two octaves and a sixth, with the only note missing being the c# above the usual high A. I have just discovered that the C natural, for which I had been using an unorthodox fingering, is available in a surprising way - the fingering is the same as for the low A, but with the B key held down. In this position it is also possible to play a high D by putting down the right-hand pinkie, still keeping the B key down.  
I had at first thought that the upper octaves would only play if I moved from note to note one step at a time, but I have since found that leaps of minor or major thirds and fourths are possible
I have also found that it is possible to get the same effect on a standard A chanter by ‘leaking’ the thumbhole while playing a low G. I have tried this with several different reeds; the reed design does not seem to play any part in this.
The pipes I have play at a fairly low pressure and to tune the upper notes well requires a full bag and very careful pressure control.
I now have a set of smallpipes that will play in almost all the sharp keys [with the current exception of F#] as well as F and Bflat when using a C chanter. I am now experimenting with tuning the drones in intervals other than the standard octaves and fifths.
It’s interesting that there is at present amongst instrumentalists, particularly wind-players, a growing interest in extending the range of techniques and sounds available. I’m excited to see that bagpipes need not be left out of this development.

Callum using the G# key during his competition performance

Ed: If you still don’t think it’s possible, you can hear a recording of Callum playing the full version of his composition as printed in this issue on the LBPS website. You can also view a video of Callum and George Pasca’s winning performance at the LBPS competition this year.