Scottish Highland Bagpipe

Highland Bagpipe Set-Up: Hints With Reeds Etc.

Assembling and Using Your Bagpipes


1. Remove the tartan bag cover (if fitted). Take off the chanter, GRIPPING IT BY THE BOSS (the end with the hemp whipping). Remove the blow-pipe and drones.

2. SEASONING for the full-size bagpipes. This process seals the bag before use. Plug all the stocks with corks, except the blowpipe. If you don't have corks, use rags or damp newspaper. Then remove the blowpipe and pour the seasoning in. Put the blowpipe back in, blow it up a bit and work the seasoning in, especially in the seams. When fully seasoned, drain all seasoning out. Hang bag up and let drain. Wipe excess from stocks.

3. Replace the bag in its cover. The blow stick is fitted with a leather flap-valve which may be tied down with yellow hemp. Cut the hemp so it can open. On some models the flap is made of synthetic film which needs no attention.

4. Fit the blow pipe, assemble the drones and fit them in the stocks. The tuning slides don't go in the stocks, they point upwards.

5. Fit the cords & tassels over the drones so as to hold them about 15 cm. (6 inches) apart, or half this in a miniature set. The rubber rings provided for this purpose may perish after a year or two. Replace them with stitching.

6. Remove the chanter and fit its reed firmly. Occasionally the hole may be a little too narrow. You can enlarge it slightly with a twist drill. If the fit is too loose, whip the reed with hemp (see sketch).

7. Fit one of the smaller drone reeds into one of the tenor drones. Put the reed in your mouth with the reed tongue free to move. Blow. If the reed doesn't sound, bend it away from the body of the reed and hold it for a bit until it stays slightly open. But it's brittle, so be careful. Some pipers use a head hair jammed at the fixed end of the tongue. When the drone plays properly, replace it in its stock.

8. Repeat this procedure with the other tenor drone.

9. Repeat for the bass drone, which sounds one octave below the tenor drones.

10. Put the bag under your left elbow and the drones over your left shoulder. Support the bag with your left hand but don't squeeze it. Blow into the mouthpiece to inflate the bag under zero pressure whilst covering the top holes (front and back) of the chanter with your left hand. Now thump the bag whilst continuing to blow.

12. When the chanter plays, some drones may also play. Silence them meanwhile by touching the hole at the top with your finger. Adjust the tuning slide till the drone plays in unison with the chanter (but an octave lower in pitch).

13. Tune the second tenor drone to the first one, then repeat for the bass drone.

14. Learners may have difficulty keeping all four reeds playing. If you have this problem, silence one of the tenor drones. If necessary, silence the bass drone too.

15. Wood swells with moisture, so allow your pipes to dry after use to avoid splitting.

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