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I was playing your Border pipes just now, and found them very sweet and easy to sound - in fact you had to tell me to use less pressure. What is your philosophy on this subject of pres- sure?


The question of pressure is a good one. Over the years there has been a

change. My Border pipes originally used to play at a fairly high pressure, but that’s going back ten years. Now they are at a moderate pressure. It’s not simply that the lower the pres- sure the better. There comes a point at which, if you make the pressure low, you find that


There comes a point at which, if you make the pressure really low, you find that very slight adjustments in [arm] pressure affect the pitch


very slight adjustments in pressure affect the pitch. On the other hand if the pressure is too high, it becomes too much work. You may actu- ally have more steadiness of pitch at a higher pres- sure, and I have had one or two professional play- ers ask for it. And it was because they were get- ting up on stage and starting playing and stopping playing and starting playing and stopping playing and they wanted to be either definitely on or defi- nitely off. They didn’t want to have to nurse the


thing. I think that probably there is a there is a broad feeling in the market now as to what a sensible pressure is. Some makers of pipes are lower than others, but the people who had high pressure a long time ago (like myself) have come down, and maybe some of the ones that were very low pressure have realised it is necessary to come up a bit in order to give that bit more definition. In my opinion, if you drop the pressure too much you begin to lose the clarity of some of the grace notes.

What about matching the chanter pressure to the drone reeds or visa versa?

Well when you are looking at drone reeds, you’ve got three considerations. Putting pitch aside - you’ve got the tone, you’ve got the pressure, and you’ve got the amount of air they take. Now you might imagine that pressure and the volume of air is actually going to be totally interdependent. But in fact you can have drone reeds that operate at high pressure but


don’t let a lot of air through. And conversely you can have the opposite. Ideally you want drone reeds that don’t use too much air, it just makes too much work. So you want to let a modest amount of air through and they need to produce the right volume and the pressure has to match the pressure of the chanter reed. The drones start that little bit before the chanter, so it is just natural to set the drones up to match the chanter - you should never do it the other way round.

Of course another thing that pressure relates to is volume. And some smallpipe makers have the lips of the reed well open, so you get a louder sound. It’s not an absolute correlation because you can get low pressure smallpipes that sound quite loud, and you can get high pressure smallpipes that don’t sound as loud as you might expect them to. The middle way seems best - you want smallpipes that play at moderate pressure and produce a good volume. Certainly ‘A’ sets of smallpipes now are much louder than they used to be. Which is necessary because they are basically a fairly quiet animal.

Particularly in a carpeted room, they are very difficult to hear sometimes.



Yes. It’s a pitch problem, because our perception of pitch is not linear. We hear stuff basically in the treble clef, which is where we talk and sing, more acutely than we hear stuff in the bass clef. The ‘A’ smallpipes sound even more quiet to our ears than they in fact are, and so there has been a challenge for the makers of smallpipes to bring the volume of the lower smallpipes up. Of course the high smallpipes are quite chirpy - sometimes too chirpy, and you’re kind of trying to tame that chirpiness.

Border pipes seem to have a natural volume that belongs to the chanter and the reed. But you can make the reed too soft- what you want is a reed that is giving you a reasonable volume at a moderate pressure. The thing with Border pipes has always been to bring the volume down, but there is no point in my mind to bringing the volume down to a point where it no longer works properly as an instrument. This is the challenge to the maker - Border pipes that are not too loud and smallpipes that are loud enough, and have both of them playing at a moderate pressure that is not too physically demanding or need coaxing because it is too weak.

I notice you use a closed ‘C ’ on you Border chanter. Is this because you are copying the Highland style? Or are there other reasons?



Basically I like to have a chanter which has exactly the same fingering as Highland pipes because quite simply that was how I learned to play. I learned from a Highland piper. And since the majority of players are people who learned that way, then I think it is better to have that fingering - also the little finger on the chanter at the bottom is acting as a pivot point. There are many movements that only work properly if you’ve got it there. Open fin- gering has quite a lot going for it in terms of fluency in certain sort of passages, but it’s not as appropriate for the Highland pipe style of playing, so I will always stick with standard Highland fingering myself.

On your Border pipes you’ve got bass and two tenor drones. Do you ever put in a baritone? of the harmonics of the baritone drone clashes with one of the upper notes of the pipe scale.


I’m not in principle against the idea of using a baritone E or an alto E with Border pipes. Jon Swayne mentioned a number of years ago at one of our talks, that one of the harmonics on the baritone drone clashes with one of the upper notes of the pipe scale. This isn’t really notice-


able on small pipes because relatively speaking the baritone drone is an octave higher against the chanter so that the clash isn’t really audible. If you use an alto drone on Border pipes, it isn’t so audible as well, because then you’ve got the same relationship in terms of pitch. However, unless the alto drone is very quiet, it can become a rather insistent sound and of course the moment you go into the key of ‘D’ you don’t want your ‘E’ drone sound- ing. And the other factor is that the bass drone, if it’s reasonably well made, is going to produce the third harmonic - the ‘E’ - that is the same as the alto drone, and so you are to an extent doubling up what is already there. However I think if it is quiet you are just reinforc- ing that harmonic and it does give an extra richness particularly when you are playing a ‘C’

- you’re getting this one-three-five chord reinforced. It’s one of these things where there are pluses and minuses.

As far as the baritone goes another use is tuning it to the fourth (‘D’). Now if you tune it to ‘D’ and turn the bass drone off, you’ve then actually got your tonic pivot point - a ‘D’ - and it makes tunes in ‘D’ sound quite rich. So it’s a sort of special effects thing. If you make the ‘A’ tenor drone tenon long enough to allow you to tune up to ‘B’, and bring the baritone up to ‘E’, then you’ve got a pivotal fifth, and it can sound very attractive with tunes in ‘E’ minor, but there aren’t very many of those.


...if you’ve made your chanter properly, you’ve made your ‘F#’ flat of equal temperament1, so that it’s properly in the harmonic series, and is in tune with you’re ‘A’


If, say, you have your lowest drone tunes to ‘D’, then you can play on a Border pipe chanter tunes in ‘D’ major and ‘B’ minor.

There are a lot of tunes for example in ‘B’ minor played on the Highland pipes against an ‘A’ drone, and they sound perfectly all right. But if you actually can tune all you’re ‘A’ drones up to ‘B’ and you play them against ‘B’ minor tunes, you get a very rich sound in certain parts of the scale. But unfor-


tunately, if you’ve made your chanter properly, you’ve made your F# flat of equal tempera- ment1, so that it’s properly in the harmonic series, and is in tune with your ‘A’ drones. So that if you then tune your drones up to ‘B‘ and start playing a ‘B’ minor tune, the fifth - the F# - begins to leap out at you in a very angry sort of manner - horribly flat as a fifth, though as a sixth it’s perfectly pitched for playing against ‘A’. Yes there are a lot of problems.

For the smallpipes do you have the same very precise requirement for the tuning of that F#?





1 Tuning of a scale in which every semitone within an octave is exactly equal.


I do as well in the smallpipes. Essentially what I tune to is a ‘just intonation’ scale which is based on frequency ratios. I think that most pipe makers go for these slightly flat F#s and C#s. You’re talking about 14, 15, 16 cents - that sort of amount. You’re maybe not hearing it in itself, the change in pitch, but when you’re mixing it with other notes - when you are listening to the drones - you can hear when it’s just spot on (apparently the human ear stops distinguishing things below about 3 cents). Of course this creates potential problems with other instruments. My experience in pub sessions is that fiddlers have a tendency to flatten their 3rds and 6ths, and they’ve a tendency to verge towards ‘just intonation’ in their playing.

Is that because they are hearing the pipes, or is it because.... ?

....If you’re playing music that modulates all over the place like jazz then you tend to go towards equal temperament. But if you’re playing traditional tunes being fixed in one key, they may be in ‘A’ or ‘D’, then the fiddle players tend, quite unconsciously, to respond to the pipe pitch of the 3rd and 6th. It’s not a problem - it’s a problem the moment you start mixing with things like accordions and guitars and fixed pitch instruments. Essentially in looking at a lot of simple traditional jigs and reels and melodies that don’t modulate, you’re looking at drone music. You hear fiddlers playing tunes where they keep on putting in a bottom note and using it as a drone,. And with a lot of fiddle styles, you almost sense that the fiddler wants to hear a drone. But when you bring in an equal temperament1 instrument, little red flags begin to wave - certainly for me. In sessions, I become aware that things are not quite as comfortable as they might be.

At Collogue 2000 you took us through some fascinating examples of chanters being played in different modes and keys. But my problem, and I suspect the problem of a lot of other people, was that you didn ’t spend long enough on each one for us to absorb the sounds we were hearing and the explanations you were giving. I know you had a fixed time and a cer- tain amount of material to get through. But I wondered if you could take time now to give a few explanations.

The essence of the thing is having chanters where people don't have to change the fingering, so that they can play exactly the same fingering and a different scale comes out. The four different scales that I illustrated were Aeolian, so you’ve got a minor 3rd and a minor 6th; the harmonic minor scale (which again has got a minor third but has a sharpened 7th); then the Lydian mode where you’ve got a sharpened 4th and sharpened 7th - of course being pipers we talk about sharpened 7ths, but nobody else does - they ail talk about a flattened 7th. The Lydian’s an absolutely fascinating mode. Balax who played at our concert a couple of years ago played a few tunes in that mode, and he said it was quite a common traditional mode for Croatia and that area. And the last scale was one with a minor 2nd and major 3rd, so again you’ve got this tone-and-a-half gap at the bottom of the scale, which in a way is a mirror image of the harmonic minor. And this particular scale had minor second, major third minor 6th and minor 7th. It’s a scale you wouldn’t find outside the Arabic world or Indian music - I mean not a scale in use certainly in Northern Europe. You’d find it in the south of Spain, because it was brought over by the Moors from North Africa.


Would I be right in saying that on the standard smallpipe ‘A’ chanter, if one played a tune in G, using all the notes including ‘C#’ you’d be playing in Lydian?

Yes. Absolutely. Again you’re temperament problem would come in there and your ‘C#’, instead of being the 3rd note of the scale, now becomes the 4th note in the scale, and if you tuned it flat of equal temperament you now have a flat augmented 4th, and these are not very comfortable. The Indians use two different augmented fourths, but they’re both fairly close to the equal temperament1 one. I prefer the one that is just slightly sharp of equal tempera- ment. Coming to the top of the scale the relationship between the ‘F#’ and the ‘G’ is again one where the ‘F#’ becomes a slightly flat major 7th. It all becomes rather technical. Another subject is the tuning of the ‘flattened’ 7th in the standard scale (‘G’). I wouldn’t say it was a

can of worms, but people have an awful lot


Most pipe makers appear to tune

their Gs more or less as an equal temperament note.


of different opinions. ‘G’ is actually in tune

- or the flattened 7thof the scale - is in tune in terms of the harmonic series if it’s slightly flat of equal temperament, or slightly sharp. And interestingly this coin-


cides with how Highland pipers tune their 7th of the scale. The ordinary fingering is giving you a ‘G’ that is slightly sharp which is what many tend to use for marches and jigs and reels, and the Piobaireachd fingering is flattening that ‘G’ down. I’ve noticed with the Pio- baireachd ‘G’ that it is gloriously harmonically in tune. However I think that most pipe- makers go for more or less equal temperament. If I were to choose a tuning for ‘G’ that was the most harmonically rewarding, I would choose the ‘G’ that was actually flat - in other words the equivalent of the Piobreachd ‘G’.

Do you still make keyed chanters?



Yes. Not as much as I used to, but I made one just a few months ago that was absolutely covered with keys. I had a special request for a high ‘A#’, and there seemed to be hardly any room left on the chanter to put it there, but we did manage and it worked very well. It’s certainly a minority desire to play a minor 2nd at the top of the scale - as we mentioned previously it’s the sort of thing you would only find in Arabic music.

And was this an Arab?



No, he was a German!

I still find I often get asked for high ‘B’ keys. It is well and away the most popular first addition. Over the last 20 years, and even more so the last ten years, the Border chanter has developed to the point where I was getting all the accidentals nicely in tune by cross- fingering within the scale. So the real purpose for having key-work now, as far as the Bor- der pipes are concerned, is really to extend the range at each end of the scale rather than put keys for accidentals in the middle. After high ‘B’ the low ‘F#’ and ‘E’ are the next most popular keys. The low ‘F#’ and ‘E’ have got a very rich tone against the drones. If you look at the harmonic spectrum of notes in a conical bore chanter, the notes become richer the


farther down the chanter you go, because they are being supported by a longer column of air. Well that’s the way I see it. And if you look - there’s been a lot of work done on High- land pipes on this thing - if you look at the harmonic spectrum of a high ‘A’ or ‘Bb’ on Highland pipes - you’re getting the first two harmonics and very little else, which is why the note sounds thin. When you go down to the low ‘A’ - or low ‘G’ - you are getting 6, 7, 8 harmonics, all definitely there. And when you go down to the low E on these Border pipe chanters you’re getting a good range of harmonics on the 5th against an A drone, and this can give a very rich sound.

Is there any cross-fingering possible on your smallpipes?



No - I’d be incredibly surprised to hear, certainly on cane reeded small pipes, that there was any significant cross-fingering on any smallpipes. You’re never going to flatten a note by a semi-tone by closing up holes one down on the smallpipes. It’s just part of the fundamental acoustic laws of that sort of chamber. In order to produce that effect you’d probably have to make the holes incredibly small and restrict the sound.

You have your own design of Border pipe reeds. Are they the same for your keyed chanters as for your un-keyed?



Yes. Well, they are aren’t exactly the same, it’s just that if you are wanting a reed that is go- ing to produce the goods from low ‘E’ to high ‘B’ - or in the case of some of my keyed chanters, to high ‘C#’, you’re looking for a reed that has got that little bit extra. So you have to go through a larger number of reeds to find one that is satisfactory for the extra burden.

The drone reeds, you were telling me earlier, are composite reeds with cane tongue and brass bodies, but you 're also using pure cane for some of the tenor drones?



I’ve used all cane drone reeds from time to time over the years although I have mainly use brass bodied ones with cane tongues. The sound of all cane drone reeds as used in Scotland by Hamish and Ian can be excellent and difficult to match with other materials, but I’ve heard some very good ones which are all plastic as made by Julian and John. However the most important tool in the bagpipe makers workshop is an open mind, and I’m happy to admit that I’ve changed mine recently and gone over to the fibre body carbon fibre tongue style that has become so popular with Highland pipers. Apparently a high proportion of the top competition winners are using them. They have been scientifically designed to have the same sound as cane but I've found them more stable, and if anything they have a slightly rounder tone that particularly suits Border pipes, although its early days I think the sound is at least as good as anything I've heard. You never know some new discovery may be made in a few years time and we’ll have to be ready to change again if it really is better.


... there are still a number of sets around that have been made by people whose turning is perfectly reasonable, but have not given the care and attention to the setting up that ought to be done.


To me one of the fundamentals of being able to make reasonable bagpipes - and I don’t want to be discouraging to those wanting to take it up - is to be able to do your woodwork and the actual physical making of the pipes in a reasonably short amount of time. You’ve got to produce good craftsmanship but leave your- self time for tuning and setting up which is absolutely critical. And I feel that there are still a number of sets around that have been


made by people whose turning is perfectly reasonable, but have not given the care and attention to the setting up that ought to be done. At the instrument repair College we were taught that setting up was just as important as making the fiddle in the first place. It might a Stradivarius, but if the sound post is in the wrong place then it’s a crap sounding Stradivar- ius. And so setting up is very important.

So materials -you’ve mentioned different things - what woods do you favour at the moment for making smallpipes and Border pipes. ?



Well I use three woods, blackwood, mainly; mopane which I’ve been using for many years, which I think is an excellent tone wood and takes a beautiful finish and is almost as dense as blackwood. I also have some rosewood a glorious dark red rosewood from SE Asia, but unfortunately have only got a very limited supply of that now. So it’s mainly blackwood and mopane.

And the mounts?



I use either artificial ivory or boxwood.

Does your boxwood tend to darken up a bit?



I’ve been using boxwood off and on for many years, but almost entirely for mounts rather than chanters for which I prefer a denser wood. But I’ve been using it more often recently because it goes very well - the colour of it goes very well - with mopane. And I seal the boxwood - after I’ve turned it I polish it and seal it, because boxwood is quite hygroscope; it has a tendency to take on water and then dull down, so this protects it from happening.

Although I’m looking at the moment to one or two alternatives to boxwood which are a similar colour, I haven’t yet determined their physical characteristics as to whether they’ll be more resistant. Different makers who use boxwood treat it in a number of different ways according to their personal beliefs as to what’s effective. But everybody who uses it is going to have to do something with it because it needs a bit of protecting.

And the ferrules?


Well I basically use brass ferrules which I nickel plate as standard, but I also use silver plat- ing and gold plating . Nobody has yet asked me for platinum plating, but you know, if the price is right as they say.. And occasionally I have used solid silver. If the customer requests that they can have it, but it makes the thing more expensive.

Why do you call yourself Garvie bagpipes?



It is a family name - my Grandmother’s name. The family were originally MacLeans who left Coll after the 1745 rebellion and settled in Perthshire. And then like many many Scots emigrated to Poland and were there for a few generations. In the normal course of events when she married my Grandfather she became Mrs MacLeod, so the Garvie name was lost. I just felt it was something I wanted to keep going.

And these premises you’ve got now, how long have you been here?



I’ve been here for 3 years, and I’m very happy with them

You certainly seem to have plenty of space.



Yes, it’s good to have a separate room for the dirty work and clean work - a separate room that’s full of blackwood dust, where the lathes are and a room where you can do work on reeds and paper work and things like this without getting everything dirty. Having worked from home for a number of years I have to say it is great on a Friday evening at half past five to put the padlock on the door and say that’s it for the weekend and you’re not taking your work home with you.

And you’ve been instrument making of various sorts for quite some time now?



Yes. In fact I made my first musical instrument which is a bit of a disaster when I was a teenager, but I made my first serious instrument before going to the musical instrument repair course, in the early 80s. That was a string instrument. I started making bagpipe chant- ers I suppose around 1986, so I’ve been doing this now for quite a long time - in fact I’ve forgotten how to do anything else, so it is just as well if I manage to stay in business.

Are you on your own, or do you have assistance?



I’ve got an assistant who will shortly be full time He’s very good at what he does. It’s going to be a great help to me because I’ll be able to concentrate on finishing instruments and not do so much of the starting work. It’s only when you are teaching someone else what to do that you realise what an incredible amount of time it takes to learn to make decent sets of bellows blown pipes. It may have taken a couple of years to learn how to do something properly, but you can teach it - hopefully - in a much shorter period of time. There are a number of aspects of pipe-making such as the finishing where it just takes an amount of


time to develop the physical skill to do the craft work side of things, the actual finishing. I’m playing in a group called A Bag o’ Cats and we’re getting a modest amount of work at the moment. So it’s important for me to have support in the workshop so that if I get more bookings I won’t be in a position of letting down customers because I’m not getting through the work.

Or letting down the group because you cannot leave the workshop!



Exactly. I enjoy making bagpipes. It’s a fulfilling occupation. But when you’ve made your one thousandth drone piece it’s no more exciting than the previous one. I got involved in instrument making because I wanted to be able to create physically an instrument that would produce a particular sound that I could then play. Unfortunately my piping, I feel, is not quite as good as my pipe making, since I tend to concentrate on playing stringed instru- ments. But I feel all the same that whatever I do I wouldn’t want to stop instrument making. Playing music and making instruments is a great balance. The life of a full time musician can be very frenetic, and I think that there are moments of calm in the workshops when you’re just standing at the lathe getting covered in dust which are very valuable - it gives you a balance. So I like to keep the two things going side by side.

Some years ago when I started getting involved with bellows pipes - and I’m going back to the early eighties 1 suppose, there seemed to be a free and easy exchange of information between pipe makers - on measurements, methods techniques and so forth. I get the impres- sion this has now rather changed. Are pipe-makers keeping their hard-won information more under wraps these days?



Well I got quite a bit of help when I first started pipe making, like information about gun drills and things from Julian Goodacre, and people like that. Because I don’t really have to ask other pipe makers for information about how to do things nowadays, I’m not aware of being in a situation of people refusing to give me information. I do still exchange little bits of information with my fellow pipe makers - where to get certain materials, things like that, and maybe some little aspects of information about technique. So if it is becoming a sort of more closed thing I’m probably not aware of it.

If I was going to start pipe making next week, and go into competition with you, could I ring you up and get measurements of bores and finger hole spacing and so forth?



I think that most pipe makers including myself, would answer that by saying they’d be pre- pared to give a modest amount of help to anybody. If you’re a good engineer, you should be able to copy anything, but if you are going to end up with a set of pipes that sound really good you will discover that there is one hell of a lot of other things you are going to have to learn, - about the setting up and the reeding and everything.


You’ve designed your own Border chanter reeds which you have made up for you. Now if I was to have a set of your Border pipes, for instance, and I was to break the chanter reed I would then have to come to you to get another reed - because it is a unique reed, it’s not one I could cut down from, say, a Highland reed?


So do you get over that by giving people who buy your pipes information on how to make a new chanter reed? Or the dimensions or anything of that sort?




Would you?



Probably not. There is a reason for this - it’s not that I’m trying to be secretive about it. If somebody buys a set of Border pipes from me and they want another reed, I prefer to have the chanter back in the workshop so I can match the reed to the chanter. This isn’t always possible. However identical you may imagine you’ve made a chanter - and I’m sure Highland pipers know this - there are tiny differences, which can mean that one reed works in one chanter and doesn’t work in another. So that I prefer to match one to the other - and actually have the chanter back.

The internal dimensions of a chanter will change over time, wont they?



That’s right. We’re dealing with natural materials. And it can be the same with reeds. You can very occasionally have a reed which sounds brilliant in a set of pipes, and sounds brilliant for a couple of months, and suddenly it just sounds rubbish and nobody knows quite why. And other reeds which don’t sound so good so you put them aside and then you try them a month later and they sound brilliant.

Most reeds will last and last. I’ve had the same reed in my Border pipes for a long time. But I had one disaster a number of years ago, when I had a reed that was an absolute favourite and I took it out and it fell on the floor, and the dog got hold of it and ran away and chewed it.

I was wondering at that point which part of the dog’s anatomy I’d use for making bagpipes!