May 07, 2009

Offshore drilling

A few months ago I read an article called “Made in U.S.A.” in my favourite print magazine, The New Yorker. The story discussed the difficulty of finding products that are actually made in America, and to some extent bemoaned the apparent fact that Americans would rather buy cheaper goods manufactured offshore than pay more for stuff like electronics and furniture and many other things made in the United States.

The article prompted me to e-mail the magazine a quick letter-to-the-editor from the Florida beach-chair from which I was reading the article. The piece made me think of the Highland bagpipe market and the fact that over the last few decades numerous bagpipe-making businesses have started in North America, joining Dunbar of St. Catharines, Ontario, which I believe was the first maker to set up business in the colonies. John Walsh has been making fine instruments in Nova Scotia for several years now.

Cushing (New York), Gibson (Ohio), Kron (New York), MacLellan (South Carolina) and, most recently, Atherton (Illinois) are all U.S.-based makers of Highland pipes, and all of them (and Dunbar) are considered at least on par with instruments made in the United Kingdom.

My letter – which the magazine didn’t publish (those damned editors!) – made reference to the fact that all is not lost when it comes to U.S. manufacturing and craftsmanship, that there are reverse examples of North American ingenuity working to improve products and serve the world market.

This isn’t to say for a second that non-UK bagpipe makers are necessarily producing anything better than UK-made instruments, but I wonder if the UK media have ever written about Highland bagpipes being made increasingly more often on other shores.

I suppose there was a time when all pianos were made in Europe, but then that upstart Steinway set up shop in New York and conquered the concert-grand market (even though they seem to be struggling against Yamaha and Boesendorfer and the like these days). I also wonder if Yamaha, which seems to make high quality instruments of every other kind, will one day enter the Highland pipes and pipe band drum market.

Do Highland pipes “Made in Scotland” have cachet today? Do Americans, for example, prefer to buy “authentic” pipes made in the Auld Country, or, in this time of manufacturing losses, is there a preference to purchasing products made at home?


  1. Not to me. Being from the European continent I don’t really care. Next set of pipes (if ever) will be from a MacDougall replica from Atherton. One thing I noticed visiting Fort Niagara many years ago is that you very good at replications.

  2. I recently purchased a new set of pipes from MacLellan based on the quality of his work and the sound not where the manufacturing is done.
    I work for a company that develops software in multiple locations and sells it globally, I assume the companies purchasing it do this based on quality and suitability to their needs, not where it was produced. For me the concept of a local product is long gone, other than locally grown food perhaps. 🙂

  3. I do like to support small local businesses but quality would be the thing, wherever in the world it comes from. I’d have no hisitation buying American made bagpipes esp Athertons with Holly mounts!!

  4. I agree, they do sound good, along with 20 other makers too. Recently came across a 15 year old set of silver Shepherds that sounded surprisingly good concidering we don’t hear much about that maker here. Colin Kyo out of Oregon is putting out a nice pipe too, in this day and age it matters little where the lathe is setup.
    Regardless of all the rave, rage and boasting, it really does pay to shop.

  5. Having said all that, it did feel very good recently to buy a handcrafted Tim Gellaitry set. And I guess I have to admit that part of that was that it was supporting perhaps a dying craft, supporting a local bagpipe maker, as well as liking the sound and look of the pipes. But I would equally support anyone anywhere in the world producing quality bagpipes. The quality’s the thing I think.

  6. Douglas MacPherson’s bagpipes has to be a top class recognized bagpipe – The workmanship and materials are outstanding – The attention to detail and finished product, sound and appearance is second to none,

  7. During the sixties when the Japanese car manufacturers targeted Europe in a price war only the German car manufacturers remained unscathed, their saving grace was their ethos of quality first … price second.
    there will always be some corner of the world where labour costs allow the production of low cost goods.

    Ref the Bagpipe … if north American manufacturers continue to produce quality instruments they will sell, regardless of origin.
    Pakistan produces very low cost bagpipes why haven’t they cornered the market … because people invariably buy the best they can affford (especialy when the item is important to them)

    I made a point of buying my pipes locally (Glasgow) Craig Munro at Wallace bagpipes invited me to his workshop to meet his craftmen … see the process for myself … that told me all I needed to know, he was proud of his product.
    I think we should all support our own local craftsmen as long as their product is a quality one.

  8. It really comes down to craftsmanship. The location of the workshop and the brand name doesn’t matter as much as the quality + treatment of wood used, the fit and finish of the product and of course the design. “Clone” pipes lifted from a proven existing instrument (such as classic Laurie, Henderson, Robertson, MacDougall, etc.) that has a reputation as an excellent sounding instrument seem to be the best bet. The buyer really has to do some research to make sure that they are getting their money’s worth and the sound that they are looking for. But, then again, isn’t that what we all do with any major purchase?

  9. Bagpipe makers today would be very foolish to use anything other than the best of materials. Unfortunately there have been makers of late who get wood in the back door, machine it and get it out the front door. It generally takes two years for good wood to mature but I doubt whether a lot of bagpipe makers can wait that long or could stand the initial investment. The are multiple requirements for success and if the design is right and the materials are perfect and the labor is great, then there should be success but if one of those key ingredients go wrong, then we face a Monday morning day at the car factory. I.D. Dimensions are all fine and dandy but the other two key elements equally dictate a good bagpipe from a piece of rubbish.



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