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In 1992 a survey was made of the (then known) makers of Scottish Bellows pipes (Common Stock Vol 7 No. June 1992). To help complete the picture a questionnaire was sent to all LBPS Pipers the following year. The results - Processed and interpreted by Jock Agnew - are given here.


It has to be said that the response was not overwhelming. Some 38% of the (then) total

Membership sent in completed Questionnaires, Roughly 34% of the Members living in Scotland replied, 35% of those living in Great Britain (outside Scotland) replied; and 51% of all those living abroad replied,


It was hoped that the following would be indicated:- The level of interest in Lowland/ Border pipes as compared with Scottish small pipes; The most popular keys favoured by Pipers; What Pipers might look for in future sets.


Accepting the level of response, some of the trends in these areas were indeed discernable; and there was a bonus. Several members wrote comments concerning COMMON STOCK and associated matters, some of which have been published in the Letters Columns. Feedback of any sort is always useful and, even if not published, helps the Editor plan ahead.


A sample of the types of questions being asked are included as an appendix.




Predictably, the small pipes were the most widely used and owned (73%); Lowland/Border 20%; and Northumberland Drones with Scottish chanters 7%.


57% of those members returning Questionnaires had only small pipes. 11% had only Lowland/Border pipes. 3% had only Northumberland small pipe drones, Scottish chanter, and 2% had no pipes at all - at least one of those was actively planning to obtain some. This left the remainder - some 27% - who had both Lowland/Border pipes and Scottish small pipes.




Lowland/Border pipes were represented in the keys of G; A; Bb; C; D; F. The most popular were A (40%); Bb (40%); G (9%).


Scottish small pipes were represented in the keys of G; A; Bb; C; D; E; Eb; F. The most popular were A (28%); D (28%); Bb (27%); C (10%).

Northumberland Small pipes with Scottish (open ended) chanters were represented in the keys of A; C; D and F. The most popular key for these pipes was D (58%).


The greater proportion (89%) of Lowland/Border pipes were owned by those resident in the United Kingdom, heavily weighted towards those living outside Scotland. And none of the members living abroad admitted to owning only the Lowland/Border variety of pipes.




(For ease of description, keyed notes are described as if every chanter were pitched in “A”),


Small pipes had keys to produce the following notes: C natural, D sharp, F natural, G sharp, High B, High C natural. The most popular (55%) was high B; followed by C natural (21%).


Lowland/Border pipes had keys to achieve: Low E, Low F sharp, Low G sharp, C natural, G sharp, High B. The examples of these keys were so limited that no trend could be determined.




With the second-hand market in Scottish Bellows pipes hardly having started, it is not surprising that the survey showed the majority were ordered new from pipe-makers - 78%.

13% were home made, and 9% bought second-hand, 1 set came from a shop.




Very often it isn’t until a set has been playing for some time that the owner realises he might have asked for something additional or something different. Here is a sample of the answers given;


A quieter A set to sing to.

Greater volume on the smallpipes.

Would have preferred a set in A or D (to one in Bb)

Extra holes in the smallpipe chanter that could be taped over when not in use, allowing a sharpened 7th, back holes for C natural and D sharp.

D sharp, C natural and G sharp keys for the smallpipes Add a high B Facility for chanter key change.

Outside diameter of the smallpipe chanter increased.

Sloping holes to fit small hands.

Better balance between drones and chanter (Lowland pipes) Drones to lie horizontal instead of vertical.

2 tenor drones rather than one tenor and one treble (Lowland pipes).

4 or 5 drones; all chanters interchangeable; drone switch; tuning beads on drones.

Instructions on reed maintenance for North American conditions. Extra reeds supplied with the new set. Also maintenance instructions, Bigger bellows - for Lowland pipes.

Better bellows connection.

Longer neck on bag for Lowland pipes.


Which just goes to show that you can’t please all of the people all of the time!




Except for those who set out to make everything from scratch, most of those new to piping tend to think of reed making and adjusting as a black art. The survey showed that over 25% did (or could) make their own chanter reeds (smallpipes), and almost the same number (though not always the same individuals) made drone reeds.

Some had strong preferences for the materials that the reeds were made from, while many had no experience of using or, apparently, listening to reeds made from alternative materials; they accepted what the pipe-maker had provided.

Chanter reeds. The vast majority cither preferred or used canc (77%), while some 6% used plastic chanter reeds.

Drone reeds, Almost equal numbers used cane or composite (usually brass body with cane or plastic tongue). A few (5%) gave plastic as the drone reed material, although the way the question was worded might have meant the plastic referred to was the tongue in a metal body. (Most pipers seemed to keep whatever the pipemaker had originally supplied).


Reasons for any such preference were:-


Cane chanter reeds, it was suggested, gave a more refined sound. Plastic chanter reeds, on the other hand, were said to be maintenance free.


Cane drone reeds; some said they were smooth and mellow, bright, with full harmonies in tune; more traditional; more resonant; quieter.


Composite drone reeds; gave little trouble; easier to adjust and tune; good volume; easy to make; less maintenance: best tone.




Again, because of the way the question was put, there was some confusion in the answers, However there was a strong bias in favour of one drone being tenor.



More than two thirds of those replying to the questionnaire played their pipes along with other instruments. The four most popular were: Whistle, Guitar, Recorder and Piano - in that order.


Other instruments listed were: Fiddle, Concertina, Keyboard, Flute, Hurdy Gurdy, Melodeon, Accordion, Banjo, Bowed Psaltry, Mandolin, Oboe, Trumpet, Bassoon, Harmonica, Dulcimer, Sitar, Barrel Organ, Curta, Bombarde, Bandurria etc,




“D” found to be a most satisfying pitch/key for playing with others. “A” smallpipes terribly low.


Gortex bag is proving a success.


An Alexander non-return valve should replace the usual blow-pipe valve.


Bellows pipers are free of unthinking tradition.


A comment on the high cost of chanter reeds compared with Highland pipe chanter reeds.


A wish that he/she had been better informed about different chanter keys before ordering pipes. [Perhaps CS Supplement No.3 will now fill this gap].




With an instrument that is both Scottish and requires (usually) Highland pipe “half open” fingering, it is not surprising that the majority (about 61%) came from a Highland piping background (this was weighted heavily towards those living abroad). About one third came from a Northumbrian piping background, a fifth from some other sort of musical background, while just under 4% claimed to have had no musical background at all prior to strapping on a set of Scottish Bellows pipes.




Since the highest proportion of those completing the Questionnaire came from a Highland piping background, it follows that the highest proportion were comfortable with music written in Highland pipe notation (i.e whether playing in A, B minor or D, the music is still notated without any signature key). Almost half read “conventional” music, while half a handful said they were unable to read music at all. It should be mentioned that a large number (almost half) read music in both Highland pipe notation and “conventional”.




No real surprises in the survey. Most members favour the Scottish small pipes, with A, Bb and D being the most popular pitches. However there is an encouraging number who own (and play?) Lowland or Border pipes, and the annual piping competition seems to suggest that this number is growing.


There also seemed to be a message that quite a few pipers who had bought pipes in Bb to keep as close to Highland chanter spacing as possible, subsequently regretted it when trying to play along with other instruments,



A summary of the questions asked:-


1. Do you own/play Scottish smallpipes - what key(s)

2. Do you own/play Lowland pipes (conical bore) - what key(s)

3. Do you own/play Northumberland smallpipes with Scottish chanter - what key(s)

4. Do any of your Scottish chanters have keys

5. Were your pipes bought new/secondhand/shop/pipemaker

6. What changes would you specify if ordering new set today

7.Drone arrangements

8. Preference for Chanter & Drone reed materials

9. Do you make your own reeds

10. Do you play along with other pipers/instruments

11. Do you play any other types of bagpipe or musical instrument

12. Musical background (if any); Highland/Northumberland pipes/other

13. Do you read music

14. Other comments