There is so much choice in the marketplace these days that selecting your bagpipe can be a daunting task. Whether a beginner buying your first set or an experienced player wishing to upgrade it can get very confusing.
To make matters more complicated, pipers are notorious for having many different opinions (especially online) and, as well, everyone is an expert! Select trusted and experienced sources for information.
3) New vs. Used
Bagpipe makers have perhaps never been more competitive. There are a lot of good sets being made by very competent individuals and firms. We at Tartantown would like to think that all the makes we carry are quality products and that really a customer cannot make a poor decision. Where possible try and sample (or listen to) different pipers and instruments to try and determine your preferred sound. This will assist in narrowing the field. As well, ask reputable people for opinions and hope that two of them agree!
Consider the history and reputation of various bagpipe-makers and firms. This can be done by speaking with other pipers, searching online and by good old-fashioned investigation. Historically, for decades, some very poor bagpipes were made. Conversely, some newer makers are putting out very good instruments. They are taking great care making one set at a time and the workmanship and finishing is top notch. Be careful not to buy extremely light-weight and cheap bagpipes. Essentially they do not work and are best mounted on the wall – preferably with a large nail right through the bass drone!
New vs. Used:
There are pros and cons to either choice. One major pro to new, is the makers now have very strong warranties supporting their range – some as long as 10 years. For used, it is definitely “buyer beware”. The hardest thing to figure out when buying old pipes is determining exactly how dry the wood is and how it will react to sudden moisture. The stress on wood changing from dry-wet-dry is pretty incredible. Another point to consider is that (with old pipes) most often the bag is poor (or wrong size for you), the blowpipe is the wrong length or restrictive, the chanter is unbalanced and the reeds are poor (or sometimes rotten!). At the end of the day, there are some very good old sets around but, to us, the set needs to be outstanding in condition and sound, and the “deal” needs to be attractive to make this direction beneficial.
Pipes today are so good that price should be one of your lasts considerations. The first instrument you buy could be your last as the quality should be excellent! So buy high – and this is not to say the most expensive – but get what you really want (and can afford) and you will be a happy piper for a long time. Remember piping is a journey and can be forever! The pipes need to last and they will. There are many 100+ year old instruments around the world.