What the world’s best pipers are playing: a pipes|drums Survey

Published: February 29, 2012
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We sent out 31 surveys to B-Grade pipers who we identified with an e-mail address, and we received 22 responses – a 71% response rate.

Pipe Chanter


While Naill blackwood once again was most played (six, 29%), there was a wide variety of responses with this group when it came to chanters. McCallum blackwood and Strathmore blackwood each were played by four (19%), and the rest that were selected were with either two (Shepherd blackwood) or one (several).



Interestingly, with the B-Grade pipers we see a drop in popularity of vintage drones. The leader in this category was Naill (six, 29%). Vintage Lawries (four, 19%) or Hendersons (three, 14%) came in second and third. Under “Other,” Fanch Gourves and MacLeod of Edinburgh were listed once. Overall, only 36% of B-Grade competitors who responded said that they play vintage drones. Could it be that modern pipe-makers are making strong sales with younger pipers? Or perhaps many in this group are still searching for their dream set of vintage drones.

Chanter Reed


Again, responses with this group were more scattered than elsewhere. Shepherd came out on top (four, 19%), while Andy Ross’s reeds were second, played by three (14%). MacLellan and MacPhee were named two times each. Under “Other,” Duncan Watson was listed twice, and Greg Wilson once.

Drone Reed Setup


Unlike the previous groups, more B-Grade pipers (three, 14%) went with an all-cane drone reed setup. But the majority (12, 54%) competed with pipes with all-synthetic drone reeds. Six (27%) went with a cane bass and synthetic tenors combination.

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  1. Doc

    For the future, it would be interesting to know if anyone has changed their set up in the past year, or even how many times they’ve changed their setup in the past 5 years, for example. Also, what is being changed. This would give us all an idea of the most volatile” areas that need watching

  2. Bagpipermann

    Perhaps the reason for a greater percentage of vintage pipes in the premier grade and newer pipes on the B grade is a reflection on the age/longevity of the players and their respective accessability to (at the appropriate age) reasonably priced instruments? EG, a 16 year old us not too likely to cough up 10K for a set of now rare Silver & Ivory vintage pipes compared to 2K? for an abundant new set of equal or better quality sound? Maybe? As far as bags and reeds, it’s interesting to see that the Old Dogs” have a preference for modern technology while the “Young Pups” are slanted more towards the old…hmmm…perhaps pups have more patience or energy for the persnicketiness of the old ways? Well. I’m stayin’ with my old pipes and new bags/reeds…I just don’t have the patience for the protracted battle of attrition for a negligibly better or worse sound at the end of it…gimme instant sound anytime!… Cheers

  3. AndrewBerthoff

    @Lawrie – thanks for the comment. I’m sure many of the respondents don’t care about revealing their identity, but keeping everyone anonymous gets many more responses, which is most important. @Doc – good idea. Perhaps we will add a question or two along those lines next time.

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There are a myriad of ways to manipulate reeds. Unless a reed scores favourably to start with there’s probably not a lot that can be done however. Be fussy with reed selection and get lots of them to choose from.
Stewart MacKenzie, P-M, Manawatu Scottish