Not all bagpipes are created equal. They may look the same to untrained eyes but there are several differences that distinguishes one bagpipe from another. Fittings, the quality of wood, sound and pitch, and the structural trait of the instrument in general differs from instrument to instrument.
Price does not indicate the quality of a bagpipe either. There’s no guarantee that an expensive imported bagpipe will outperform a cheaper, domestic product. Neither does the location for manufacturing make a difference. Bagpipes made in Scotland may not always be the best ones. Some of the most exceptional ones are made outside the country. New bagpipes are invariably better than older ones either; or vice versa for that matter.
So what are the factors that determine a good bagpipe? How do you choose the best one for yourself? It will help you to know that there are two prime factors that impact the longevity of a bagpipe:
If the bagpipe is made in a climate that is different from where it’s used, the performance of the instrument could be affected. For instance, climatic conditions in the UK are quite different from drier, hotter parts of the U.S.A or colder regions of Canada. If the instrument is made in Scotland and stays there, it may stay in better condition than those imported to other destinations where the weather varies sharply from the place of origin.
This is because wood expands and contracts with humidity and temperature variations. Sharp differences can make it less resilient, shrink the wood and alter the fittings.
How to Keep Your Bagpipe in the Best Shape
Durable Wood: Highland bagpipes in the 1700s were made from bog oak. With the rise of imperialism and trade with Africa and Asia, tropical hardwoods such as ebony, African blackwood became popular for constructing bagpipes.
Towards the turn of the 20th century, bagpipes made with ebony wood were stopped from being exported outside the UK. The reason was simple. Ebony did not hold up well in places with extreme weather. Sharp temperature difference stressed out the wood. Ebony needs a stable climate to stay in the best condition.
Modern bagpipes are made of woods other than dense African Blackwood. Tropical woods are now used that hold up better such as Cocus wood from Jamaica, Brazilian Kingwood, Rosewood, Mopane and Burmese Blackwood. These also create a warm, full sound and exceptional melodies. Ebony remains ideal for the damp climate of Britain but they are not exported to North America anymore.
Round vs Oval Bagpipes: Bagpipes have also changed shape over the years. From round, the circumference is now oval. This is why perfectly round metal bores cannot be placed inside the oval shape anymore. Ill-fitting internal bores affect the tuning of the instrument. When you import a new bagpipe with metal tuning slides, the tuning chambers shrink and are unable to accommodate the circumference of the tuning slides.
Sometimes, it’s hard for the piper to keep the bag inflated. This happens when the round bores of the stocks are not well-fitted on the oval shape so the air escapes, the structure gets distorted and the sound is affected.
Unstable Climate: A bagpipe needs a lot of care to prevent radical changes. It is important to keep the instrument in a climatically stable environment, away from too much heat and humidity. Air-conditioning can ruin new bagpipes for good too. Never keep a bagpipe in the trunk of your car on a hot summer day or it may lose shape.
After-Sales Service: It is important to buy a bagpipe from a trusted source that is known for good after-sales customer service. Look for product guarantee from an outlet that’s close to your home for easy and timely access when the need arises. Do your homework before you invest in your instrument and keep it in stable environmental conditions so that it serves you well for years to come.
Tartantown: Rent the Best Bagpipes in Town
Tartantown has been catering to special occasions that celebrates Scottish themes for over 35 years. For an authentic note, give us a call to rent or buy your bagpipe from us. We offer a complete range of traditional Scottish items and accessories to help you create the most authentic ambience. What’s best is the location right here in Toronto. We also include world-class bagpipers for a special touch. Checkout our website to learn more.