October 06, 2009

What are you playing?

What an eye-opener the survey of solo pipers was for me. Being around it, you get a general sense of what’s being played, but to do an analysis and find out exactly what’s preferred was not only educational but fun.

Of course, the only real way to do such a survey is to promise that names won’t be used, and that’s why I think the response rate was unexpectedly good. I’m glad that people by-and-large feel confident that their secrets may be shared, but not their name.

Until a reader from North Carolina sent me the brilliantly obvious question via e-mail, I never even thought to check my spreadsheet to see if a piper actually played the exact combined set-up of the most popular makes and models. Amazingly (or not), no one puts together all of the leading items to create some sort of super-pipe. The sum of the parts does not necessarily equal the whole . . . or something.

That’s because the Highland bagpipe is still a very individual instrument. We can harp on about how every pipe sounds the same at the top-level, but it’s obviously not true, since the subtleties between chanters, reeds, drones and so forth are a matter of personal preference and taste.

The variety evidenced in the first-ever instrument survey just goes to show: for all the technology and new materials, the bagpipe and its players, even at the very top level, are as fickle as ever.

I’d be interested to hear from readers about what you’re playing, and whether this sort of survey has changed your mind about your instrument set-up.


  1. I found the article fasciniating reading and would not have imagined that so many different products were being played. And some of the brands that I was sure would in there were not even mentioned once. Perception and reality….

  2. Great article and research and interesting results. It’s heartening to see that far from playing factory produced all-in-one bagpipe sets, players are selecting in a very individual way, what suits them for quality, sound, tone, fit. Of course that’s what top players on instruments do. Why should bagpipes be any different when you think about it? I wonder how many people will go out and buy the super-pipe ingredients, hoping to become a super-piper.

  3. One aspect that may have an impact on the choice of components selected that was not mentioned in the article was the ambient playing environment. It would be interesting to know whether climactic conditions influenced the choice of reeds, bags, and possibly bagpipes. Would someone who always plays their pipes in a hot, dry environment like Arizona choose the same general bag/reed selection as someone who always plays in cool humid conditions. And would an individual who always plays at indoor functions choose something different yet again? If an individual is moving between these different types of venues, are different types of reeds/bags being used depending on the location?

  4. Like Janette, I wonder if some pipers decide (like golfers do with golf clubs and fisherman with lures) to go and buy the 1920’s set of Hendersons hoping it will have them playing 2/4’s like Gordon Walker
    The survey was interesting and I’ll bet it has the highest article hit this month … I might try a few reed combinations from the survey in the hope that I can pipe like Tiger …!!!!
    There’s also the issue of knowledge and experience, Recently PM Joe Wilson (College of Piping) used most of a lesson to strip my pipes and re-set them, he took a great deal of time on the reeds, blowing and springing, bridles this way and that, when he was finished they sounded fantastic … to the point where on my last lesson Joe was taken ill and my alternate tutor was to be Willie Morrisson (not a bad alternative), on hearing my pipe (not my playing) Willie smiled and commented on a fine sounding pipe.
    EEzidrone Bass, Selbie tenors, Shepperd reed, Henderson chanter and Wallace pipes … only problem is you need someone who knows what they’re doing to get them at their best.
    More lessons less equipment for me I think.

  5. OK’ I’ll bite. I have a 1949 set of Robertson drones and a 1960-70? set of Henderson drones.
    1) My set up for the Robertson drones: old Ross black bass drone reed with a cane tongue and eezedrone tenors. The Ross bag and canister system complete with a tube trap completes the ensemble. I find that the lack of harmonics coming from the synthetic tenors is compensated by the overabundance coming from the bass reed (overall blend). This gives the pipe a full rich sound with a little emphasis on a muted deep bass tone. If you are not happy with the sound from your Robertson drones, maybe give this a try and see if it helps. A Crozier cane or carbon fibre tongue bass may also work in place of the old Ross style.
    2) The Henderson drones are another story. Using the same setup (the Ross bass, Eezedrone tenors and Ross bag/canister system + tube trap), but I cannot get the tenors to truly “lock in”. They will tune together, but start to slowly drift after 5-10 minutes (the Robertson will stay locked longer and it is either IN or OUT, if you know what I mean). Also, the sound is somewhat brassier.
    I’m going to try a full set of Crozier Carbon Fibre tongue style reeds shortly to see if this makes a difference. I woudn’t mind hearing from other people who are playing this vintage of Henderson as to what set up they are using.



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