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PIPE-MAKERS SURVEY... A questionnaire was sent to a number of pipe-makers totry and establish a feel for the status quo and likely trends. It is hoped the findings will give food for thought and maybe prompt some useful action .
  Jock Agnew

The making of Small pipes and Lowland pipes is a “cottage industry”. Few earn their living by it: for many it is a hobby: and for others any pipe-making revenue: is considered a     contribution to earnings from other sources.

No formal organisation exists to bring these pipe-makers together. Each tends to be his (or her) own design, research and development centre. And generally there is limited communication between them: although they have a reputation for being willing to pass on technical and other information freely and cheerfully even though it may be to a competitor.

Because of the above there is a growing variety of standards developing in dimensions, material, finish and even interpretation of what the pipes should (or could) do.

With this background, a Questionnaire (see annex 1) was sent to some 34 pipe-makers. 24 responded, and 18 completed the Questionnaires (see annex 2). (For the most part, those who responded without completing a Questionnaire were not makers of Scottish Lowland or Small pipes). Since a stamped-addressed envelope was included with each (UK) Questionnaire, it is tempting to suppose that some pipe-makers count stamp collecting amongst their hobbies!

From the remarks written on many of the forms it is evident that there is a fair amount of experimental work going on with regard to pitch, wood, bore, drone-end-cavities and chanter design.

All but three makers asked thal the information remain confidential with regard to detail, though available of course for an overall survey.

So, some figures:

From the 18 completed Questionnaires, 16 were makers of Scottish Small pipes. 13 makers of Lowland pipes (Border/Half longs - see Ray Sloan's article on the naming of these pipes elsewhere in this issue).

The lead time between placing an order and receiving the finished article (pipe-makers   usually err on the side of over-optimism when assessing this lead time!) varied from 2 to 15 months, with the majority suggesting one year.

Prices (from the sample who completed this section) for Small pipes varied 25% above and below the average. and 37% above and below the average for Lowland pipes.

Only one maker took orders without requiring a deposit. while the others asked for deposits that varied from 3% to 25% (most usual was 10%) of the final cost.

With one emphatic exception. all seemed to offer an after sales service, though there was more than one maker who suggested that this facility would be modified or withdrawn if the customer insisted on tampering with the reeds!

We had been hoped that a rough indication might be discovered of the number of pipes made to date. However this was not possible. as some makers had little idea of the numbers made, and others were unable to complete that section of the Questionnaire at all. However, with the figures that were provided or suggested it seems that about 90% of cauld-wind pipes made in recent years have a parallel bore chanter (ie. are Small pipes) and 10% have a conical bore chanter (Lowland, Border or Half long).

Of the 13 who declared that they made Lowland pipes, 9 claimed the chanter could be pinched up to high “b’, 6 that C nat, F nat and G# could be cross-fingered, and 4 that Bb and Eb could also be cross-fingered. One maker declared that there was no call for the facility of being able to pinch up that extra note to high “b’, and another that tradition gave no precedent for any cross-fingering of notes.

Pipes were being made in pitches with the following batting order of popularity:

                           Small                                                      Lowland

  • D.                                                            A.G
  • Bb                                                           Bb
  • C                                                             D
  • Eb                                                            C. Eb.


  • F
  • G

Woods used (first in order of popularity, remainder listed alphabetically):                                          

                           Small                                                     Lowland

  • African Blackwood                                Boxwood
  • Cocobolo                                                 Ebony
  • Boxwood                                                 African Blackwood
  • Ebony                                                       Cocobolo            

Almond. Apple. Apricot. Aust Mulga. Celery Pin. Cherry. Coromandel. Holly. Horizontal Scrub. Hornbeam. Kingwood. Laburniam, Lignum Vitae. Maple. Myrtle. Pear. Plum.     Sassafras. Tasmanian Blackwood. Thorn. Yew. Zeracote.

Mounts fitted (in order of popularity for first 3)

                           Small                                                     Lowland

  • Imitation Ivory                                     Imitation Ivory                                              
  • Wood                                                     Wood
  • Ivory, Bone                                           Horn

Ferrules fitted (in order of popularity for first 3)

                           Small                                                    Lowland

  • Brass                                                     Brass
  • Nickel Plate                                           Nickel Plate
  • Silver                                                     Silver, Silver Plate, Bone

As might be expected (for most pipers have experienced a degree of irritation and frustration in this area) there was a wide range of systems used tor connecting the bellows to the bag. and a large variety of diameters chosen for the neck of the chanter into the stock. Not all used a standard diameter, but the 16 who said they did gave diameters that varied through a relatively wide range.

In order of popularity these diameters were:

                           Small                                                    Lowland

  • 9/16in                                         5/8in
  • 5mm.5/8in                                       15mm
  • 5 14. 3/4. 13/16in.               17mm. 3/4. 13/16in.

Conversions in accordance with BS 350: 9/16" =14.288mm

                            5/8" = 15.875mm

                            3/4" = 19.03mm

                            13/16" = 20.638mm

Some makers, one suspects, will have selected the appropriate diameter after careful consideration and for very valid reasons, Others may have chose the chanter neck diameter arbitrarily. And although there was no one overall favoured size, one maker did suggest that if a standard were developed he would be happy to conform to it.

If no real surprises were discovered by this Questionnaire, at least some of the suspected variances have now been documented. And surely there is a case for Pipe-makers to pool their expertise - perhaps through the columns of this Journal -to offer to the buying public some semblance of uniformity. Starting, dare I suggest, with chanter fitting and bellows “umbilical cord” arrangements.

For the piper who wants to order a set, it is clear that there can be advantages in shopping around - price, quality, lead time, deposit, after sales service are some of the considerations. And having decided pitch, wood, mounts and ferules, there is the matter of ensuring that the maker can deliver the sort of pipes the player wants. For instance can the baritone drone be tuned up a whole tone from 5th to 4h (‘E’ to ‘D’, useful when playing tunes pitched in ‘D’): or, in the case of Lowland pipes, can high “b” be pinched. and will cross-fingering produce some of those useful Accidentals.

Notwithstanding the above findings, unless the pipes are being bought purely to hang on the Living-room wall, their sound must be the strongest important consideration, And as no amount of documentation can ever deseribe the timbre or tone of a musical instrument, the potential buyer can hardly do better than listen to a variety of sets being played, before   deciding which is most suited to his own requirements. And where better to do this than at the annual Lowland and Border Piping Competitions (on which there is a report elsewhere in this Journal!).



ANNEX 1.   Summary of Questionnaire:

Do you make Scottish Small pipes?

               Fingering syle?

               Drone types?

               Double Chanter?

Do you make Border/Half long pipes?

               Can they pinch up to high "b"?

               What accidentals can be cross fingered?

               Is the chanter reed specially made?

               Can the baritone drone be tuned from 5th to 4th?   (Small/Lowland) 

              Is the lead note a flattened 7th?

               Typical time from order to delivery

               Approx current cost?

               Deposit required?

               After-sales service included?

               Total number of sets made to date?

               What pitches are the sets made in?

               Do you make a mouth-blown variety?

               What woods do you use?

               What mounts have you fitted?                

               What material for ferrules?

               Standard size fitting for chapter neck?

               System of “umbilical” between bellows and bag?

               Do you make your own reeds?

               What particular expertise do you consider you provide?

ANNEX 1.   Pipe-makers who completed the Questionnaire

Robin Addison                                                       Rod Mackenzie

Jimmy Anderson                                                  Colin Ross

Christopher Bayley                                               John Rutzen

Richard and Anita Evans                                       Dave Shaw

Julian Goodacre                                                    Ray Sloan

Philip Gruat                                                           Jon Swayne

Heriot & Allan                                                       Mike Swindells

Hamish Moore                                                       Malcolm McLaren

Michael McHarg                                                   Kees van Gils