September 30, 1999

Are UK Pipers Late Adopters?

Synthetic bags. Plastic drones reeds. Pipe bag dehumidifiers.

Each of these innovations for the Highland bagpipe has been embraced first outside of the UK rather than in the home of piping.

Despite the fact that the Ross Canister Bag system was invented by Australian Geoff Ross, the product was on the market and available for the four years the Victoria Police Pipe Band used it as their secret weapon en route to winning the 1998 World Pipe Band Championship.

Similarly, the first semi-synthetic drone reeds debuted in the mid-1980s when the same Geoff Ross introduced his product. In 1993, RT Shepherd & Son of Scotland came out with the all-plastic drone reed.

Shortly thereafter, Mark Wygent of Pennsylvania improved on the concept with his Synthe-Drone product, inspiring numerous reedmakers to allegedly emulate the unpatented design.

The revolutionary Canmore Gore-Tex pipe bag came out around 1987, and the company recruited many prominent Scottish pipers to endorse the product. But despite the likes of Vale of Atholl, Alasdair Gillies and Andrew Wright playing their product, the vast majority of Canmore bag sales appear to be in the North American market.

While these products are now almost ubiquitous in North America, New Zealand and Australia, UK pipers using them are in the minority.

Looking around the Northern Meeting at Inverness this year, one couldn’t help but notice the many sheepskin bags combined with what sounded very much like cane drone reeds being played by Scottish pipers.

The North American competitors, nearly to a person, went with the synthetic bag and drone reeds combination, with the telltale Ross Canister bag silver clamp giving away their preference.

In speaking with several Scottish pipers, many insist that the tried-and-trusted sheepskin bag / cane drone reed blend is still the way to go.

“The great Highland bagpipe did not change for 150 years,” one prominent Scottish piper said. “So why alter a good thing?”

But, just as many band were inspired to purchase the Ross Canister system after the formidable win by the Victoria Police, Scottish pipers may also take a close look at their traditional set-up after the success of pipers at Inverness – like John Cairns, Bruce Gandy, and James Murray – who won using new technology.


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