Many pipers and drummers today might not know that it was John K. McAllister and Tom McAllister – the legendary former pipe-majors of the Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band – who helped develop the world’s first synthetic pipe chanter, changing the pipe band world forever.
Made with Andrew Warnock of Northern Ireland, the War-Mac chanter in the mid-1970s was originally made in a mottled grey plastic, and specifically optimized to work with the McAllister chanter reed, the chanter brought the Shotts band rapid success.
Now, nearly 13 years to the day after the death of Tom McAllister, his grandson Greg McAllister has honoured him with the introduction of a line of new pipe chanters, also in plastic, but this time offered in a variety of colours in addition to the standard black.
McAllister said the chanters are turned by hand and made to order, finished by him personally.
“The McAllisters always pushed the boundaries when it came to pipe bands,” Greg McAllister said. “We were the first ever synthetic pipe chanter, and now we’re the first coloured pipe chanter. This is my way of resurrecting the McAllister chanter brand. It’s been gone for over 20 years and I feel it’s time it was back on top.”
Other bagpipe makers have recently introduced multi-coloured practice chanters and projecting mounts for drones, but the McAllister models are believed to be the first coloured pipe chanters widely available.
McAllister has applied his engineering background in conventional turning/milling and Computer Numerical Control to the design and manufacturing process, as well as a stint working with PipeDreams Reedmakers in Glasgow.
The chanter in standard black is priced at £105 and coloured models £175. McAllister said that the chanters are aimed primarily at the pipe band market, but that a wooden model is planned for release later in 2014 for solo pipers.
He added that the instruments will be sold directly from McAllister Piping Ltd., and via distributors around the world, currently being negotiated.
The McAllister family is the most important dynasty in pipe band history. Until Sandy Bell took over the band in 1985, the band had been led by three consecutive McAllisters, beginning with Tom McAllister Sr. in 1929, followed by John K. McAllister in 1954, and then Tom McAllister Jr. in 1968. Tom McAllister Sr. purportedly was the first to adopt and make standard the two three-paced rolls, drones and chanter introduction, modeled after military marching bands.