Oliver Seeler's
~ Universe of Bagpipes ~





Options and Enhancements for:

J. Dunbar Ltd. and other Great Highland Bagpipes

~ Updated November, 2014 ~


For centuries pipers all over the world made do with local materials in constructing and maintaining their instruments and did so without any of helpful devices available today. While there is a certain magical charm in following old ways of building, maintaining and playing any instrument, there are also the modern practical considerations of limited time, demanding audiences, sudden and extreme temperature changes between indoors and outdoors and so on. Some of these issues are addressed by modern materials, for example Delrin (polypenco) of which many bagpipe parts are made (and even entire instruments, as with Dunbar P-Series pipes). Below are some options and enhancements available for the pipes we supply that carry the concepts of freedom from maintenance and increased reliability a few steps further.

Bags:

Once upon a time all bagpipes had bags made of un-sewn whole animal skins (typically goat). Constructed leather bags are a more modern invention. Just as with leather clothing, there is a wide range of quality and price, from the leaking, stinking, greasy, urine-tanned camel-leather bags found on Pakistani-made "bagpipes" hawked on eBay, to the very fine offerings of expert leatherworkers such as Gannaway of New Zealand. While leather (also called "hide") has long been the standard bag material, in recent years highly developed synthetics, in particular Gore-Tex, have become more and more popular. Synthetic bags have several advantages over leather, including zero maintenance, light weight and moisture control. The only real disadvantage has been higher cost, and that is now changing rapidly. Following are some specifics about the bags we offer; as always, feel free to contact us with any questions.

Standard Bag: Synthetic: All bagpipes are now supplied by us at no extra cost with a synthetic bag, made by Bannatyne, the leader in this field, instead of the heretofor standard leather (usually L&M brand) bags. This standard synthetic bag has flexible collars that retain the drone and blowpipe stocks ("stocks" are the short pipes that are semi-permanently attached to the bag and that accept the drones, blowpipe and chanter). The chanter stock is "tied in" with a simple clamp and O-ring system . This standard bag does not have a zipper for internal access (see below). These bags require no maintenance and have a lifetime measured in years. To change from leather to synthetic was until recently an upgrade costing over $100; this changed because of a combination of market factors including competition and a decline in the quality and availability of suitable mid-priced leather bags.)

Optional Bag: As above, with zipper: About three quarters of the pipe bags we provide are equipped with an airtight zipper that allows easy access into the interior of the bag. This allows the use of various devices, such as water traps, air drying systems, "tone enhancers" (drone pressure regulators) and so on. It also makes for easy retrieval of reeds that have fallen out of their sockets, and it makes it possible to give the bag interior a good cleaning now and then (if something starts growing in there...). These zippers come from the diving industry and are extremely reliable. The zippered version of the Bannatyne synthetic bag adds $50 to the cost of the pipe.

Optional Bag: Bannatyne Hybrid: This remarkable bag, described in detail in our catalog, has a leather exterior bonded to a synthetic interior, providing the feel (and exterior toughness) of traditional leather while having all of the advantages of a synthetic (including a zipper). These bags are especially popular with pipers who have gotten used to the feel of a leather bag and don't want to adjust to a straight synthetic. The Bannatyne leather/synthetic hybrid bag adds $90 to the price of the pipe.

Optional Bag: Ross Cannister System Bag: The Ross air-drying system, which is the heavyweight in more ways than one among drying systems, resembles a small factory and does not fit into a standard bag. While the system is very effective, it is not necessary for most piping situations. But if you want it, we'll oblige. Please enquire for details.
UPDATE: Ross, apparently in reaction to new competition, has redesigned their system, streamlining it and making it usable with most any zippered bag. It's not too pricey, at under a hundred dollars, and easy to install. However, though we will happily sell you performance-altering devices such as this, we recommend that you first get familiar with how your pipe performs without any such things; then you'll be able to better judge if you need them, and you'll have a baseline from which to analyze their effects.
Optional Bag: Traditional Leather ("Hide"): For those who wish to stick with a traditional leather bag, we can provide a range of makes and models by various makers. Prices vary but all cost more than basic synthetics. There are some interesting bags available in leather, including some that incorporate a zipper and/or rubber grommet type stock-mounts. But with the exception of the Bannatyne Hybrid described above, all leather bags require regular maintenance (messy!) and all are prone to a variety of maladies resulting from being constantly subjected to warm moist air, laden with pizza fumes, beer vapor, and who knows what else... Again, please enquire for specifics.

Optional Bag Sizes: Normally, bags are provided in "medium" (also called "regular") size. Large and small size bags are available, usually at no extra charge, but unless you have a specific reason for one of these, you should probably stick to the medium size. Very small persons (including children) may need the small size. There are further size variations available from some bag makers, such as "extended small." Please discuss bag size with us if you have any questions about what's right for you.


Canmore Gortex bag
A Gore-Tex pipe bag, medium size,
shown here with P3 stocks installed.

Bag Covers & Drone Cords:

All of the bagpipes we provide are supplied with a velvet bag cover, available in a variety of solid colors. The covers' trim may be the same or a different color.
Drone cord colors are usually chosen to match the trim colors.

Colors are of course a matter of personal taste (unless you need to match those of a band, etc.). But you might keep in mind that a typical bagpipe has a lot of busy visual detail, and can get to looking a bit garish if bright contrasting colors are tossed into the mix. It may not sound very exciting, but a very plain cover (say deep green or black with matching trim and cords) can look really sharp and emphasizes the beauty of the pipes rather than distrcting from it. (That, fellows, is how the "little black dress" works...).

Should you wish a bag with a specific clan tartan, a Canadian firm makes very nice ones. The photo below shows such a custom cover, in this instance an antique McNeil pattern. Be aware that these can take a bit of time to get and that they're not cheap (around $100). We suggest that you hunt up the fabric you want yourself, and use the provided cover as a pattern; bag covers are quite simple and anyone handy with a sewing machine can whip one up in jig time. (I've even made some myself, using needle and thread, and only stabbed myself a few times...)



custom tartan bag cover
A custom tartan bag cover

Pipe Decorative Trim and Turning

The typical Great Highland Bagpipe is fitted with bits and pieces of decorative trim (some of which is also functional, not just decorative), made of all sorts of synthetic and natural materials from ivory through stainless steel. These may or may not be engraved or etched by hand or machine with a pattern. There are six basic items - we've found that there's often confusion about the names of these, so here's a list of definitions:

Ferrule: A soup-can shape, used on the female side of a joint to reinforce the thin walls of the pipe at those points. A "beaded ferrule" has a low raised ring around it at one (or rarely each) end. A "closed ferrule" has a washer-like lid on one end and is used at joints where pieces of different diameters meet. The ferrules on P-Series Dunbar pipes are either imitation ivory or nickle, with other metals available as well, and may be ordered machine or hand engraved.

Mount: An odd and confusing name for the convoluted drone trim pieces that are positioned wherever there is a stepped reduction in diameter. The familiar, large mushroom-shaped style mounts are called "projecting mounts" while a smaller more streamlined variety are "button mounts." Mounts have compound-curve surfaces and thus do not lend themselves well to machine engraving. The mounts of P-Series Dunbar pipes (and many others) are available in a variety of materials, with imitation ivory being standard on most models.

Ring Cap: Encircles and sometime covers much or even all of the very top flat surface of the drones. Often engraved.

Bushing: A small insert lining the very top opening of a drone.

P2 in brass, detail
Detail of a P2 in brass with Celtic pattern engraving

Sleeve: A tubular metal cover over each drone tuning pin that serves as reinforcment for these vulnerable points. Often engraved.

Sole: A large flat disk mounted at the very bottom of the chanter. Once found on just about all chanters, it is not so common today. Often engraved.

Miscellaneous: Blowpipe mouthpieces sometimes incorporate a tapered metal sleeve. Small shields or plaques with an engraved name, etc. are sometimes affixed to one or another of the pipe's stocks.

The means by which items such as these are attached to the pipe varies from maker to maker. As already discussed, bagpipes tend to take a beating in the long run and poorly attached trim parts often end up loose or lost altogether. On the other hand if the trim parts are attached too aggressively, replacing a damaged piece or salvaging trim from a broken pipe section becomes overly difficult. The excellent and uncommon solution used by Dunbar is to use screw threads on such parts.

In addition to the above attached items, the pipes themselves often incorporate decoration and shapes that are lathe-turned directly into the various major parts, including:

Beading: A bead is a half-round ring that stands out from the pipe's surface as a result of surrounding material being turned away on the lathe.

Combing: Fine, closely spaced grooves turned into areas of the drones.

The location, amount, width, depth and height of beading and combing varies from maker to maker, and is often a sort of trademark. A pipe's maker can often be identified by the particular arrangement. Crisp, symmetrical beading and combing is difficult to achieve, and when well done indicates at a glance that the pipe is likely to be a quality instrument in other regards as well. A recent phenomenon is the appearance of beading and combing done on computer-controlled machining stations using rotating cutting tools, rather than traditional fixed-edge tools. The resulting beading and combing has a mushy, undefined look that instantly tells the practiced eye that the pipe is likely a second-tier instrument. Mass produced pipes, for example such as made by McCallum, can give such an impression, fair or not.
Reeds:

Returning to more practical matters we arrive at the heart and soul of the bagpipe, its reeds. This is a huge (endless) subject but the most relevant thing for the moment is that the reeds are the most difficult thing to deal with for both the novice and experienced piper.

Reeds are challenging for several reasons. Bagpipes have two or more reeds (four, in the GHB), not just one like other woodwinds. Buried out of sight and out of touch inside the bagpipe, the reeds must operate properly and predictably on their own, without help from the player's lips, often under nasty environmental conditions. Traditionally, GHB (and many other) bagpipe reeds are made of cane (similar to, but not, bamboo), which, as it is an organic material, is subject to all sorts of instability caused by moisture absorbtion, temperature changes, the whims of leprechauns and who knows what else. A not particularly funny joke has it that for every hour of playing, two hours are spent fussing with the reeds. It was largely due to this that bagpipes disappeared rapidly from many cultures as other instruments evolved (notably the modern violin and that awful harmonica/piano mutation called the accor***an (this is a family-safe website, so we can't spell out that nasty word).

The substitution of synthetic materials for cane, and in the case of drone reeds a mechanical design that allows certain adjustments to be made, dramatically increases the consistency, reliability and longevity of bagpipe reeds. The downside includes initial cost (which however is more than made up for in the long run by longevity) and - a very controversial subject - possible differences in sound. Regarding the latter, it is generally accepted that tonal differences between cane and synthetics are present but subtle, and lesser with drone reeds than with chanter reeds. Whether any such differences are good or bad is debatable. To some extent there is no real solution to the argument, because no two sets of cane reeds sound exactly the same. My opinion (worth what it costs) is that eventually every piper should experiment with both cane and synthetics. From that view, it makes sense to start on synthetics because it's simply less trouble at a time when much else is being learned and causing struggles. Later, even if a piper chooses to use cane routinely, it's very nice to have a set of synthetic reeds on hand that can be popped into service at a moment's notice if a cane reed throws a fit at an inconvenient time (as is inevitable).

Below is pictured an EzeeDrone brand synthetic drone reed. These are made in Scotland and are for all practical purposes copies of the (sadly) no longer available reeds designed and made by Mark Wygent, one of the pioneers of synthetic reeds. They are recommended by Dunbar. If you are an established piper and have a different preference in drone reeds, we can also provide many other makers' reeds.

A set of EzeeDrone drone reeds adds $90 to the price of a Dunbar bagpipe.



EzeeDrone synthetic drone reed
An EzeeDrone synthetic GHB tenor drone reed

That leaves the chanter reed. Each bagpipe is issued with a high-quality cane chanter reed made by a known firm (Apps, Warnock, Abedour, etc.) We will discuss the appropriate reed and its strength with you when you place your order. Extra reeds are of course available, with prices varying by maker - an average is $15. (Old-timers will be shocked by that figure as they take a bite of a $7 hamburger while putting $20 worth of gas in the lawnmower.) We offer Clanrye brand synthetic GHB chanter reeds, pictured below and discussed on their own page on this site.

A Clanrye synthetic chanter reed adds U.S. $55 to the price of a Dunbar bagpipe.

A Clanrye synthetic GHB reed
A Clanrye synthetic GHB reed


Mouthpiece:

The P-model J. Dunbar bagpipes are equipped with a mouthpiece that threads onto the blowpipe. The tip of the mouthpiece is several inches long, and is cylindrical (as opposed to tapered). This makes it easy to cut down to a specific length, using a simple little tubing cutter or even just a saw. When playing, the end of the tip should be a bit past the teeth, without having to move the head forward or back from a position of comfort. We recommend taking some time to get settled in with the overall position of the pipe, and then making a cut if needed.

If a pipe is intended for a child or small adult, we can provide a blowpipe that is shorter than standard, at no charge if ordered with a pipe.

We carry oval mouthpieces by Airstream, please contact us for prices and sizing.


O-Rings & Hemp

At this time we (and Dunbar) recommend sticking with traditional hemped joints. Hemp is ultimately more adjustable than O-rings, which are very sensitive to the amount of lubrication. Just about all of the problems long associated with hemp disappear on a synthetic pipe - jammed joints in particular aren't an issue.

O-rings remain attractive for certain uncommon situations, such as a constantly wet environment, or perhaps for a pipe that lies in storage for months at a time. O-ring joints add $120 to the price of a P-Series Dunbar pipe.

Carrying Case:

The P-model J. Dunbar bagpipes are so tough that they don't really need a case - still, it's nice to have one, if only to avoid frightening people in airports, etc. (That was written pre-nine-eleven ... these days, you do not want to wander into an airport with a naked bagpipe under your arm ....) We offer a variety of cases. Two are pictured below, a classic rectangular hardshell case and a newly designed and very practical semi-rigid soft case.

The hard case features stout hardware including corner irons, a plush interior, lockable latches and a carrying handle. While this type of classic case is handsome in a traditional sort of way and is a fine and handy way to keep your pipes at home, it may not be the most practical thing to haul around if that involves much walking. Most pipers today use a semi-rigid soft case of one sort or another. Very valuable pipes should go into something much stronger and weatherproof, for example a Pelican-type rifle case that can literally be run over without harm to the contents.

classic hard bagpipe case

This newly designed soft case is one of the best we've found. It's very well made, of heavy black and dark blue nylon with padding and internal stiffening. The top opens fully via a zipper, and there are two small external zippered pouches for supplies. Inside there is a Velcro-type cross-strap to keep the pipe from banging about. It is compact but will accomodate a pipe with any type and size of bag. This case can be carried by either of its grips or as a backpack. The backpack straps are shown here deployed, but they can be stowed completely out of the way behind a cover that extends along the back. While we will happily sell you various larger, more elaborate and more expensive soft cases, our experience is that most of the time the awkwardness of large lumpy outside pouches and overall larger size just isn't worth putting up with for the sake of what is often unneeded storage space.

semi-rigid case

The soft case is $110, the hard case is $150.
Note: A case adds $20 to a pipe's shipping cost.
Shipping cost for a case sent alone is $35.

Miscellaneous:

There is an ever-increasing variety of watchamacallits and thingamajigs available to make one or another aspect of piping easier and/or more convenient. Such items range from water-traps and air-drying systems through drone air-pressure regulators, reed protectors, tuning aids, adjustable blowpipes, and so on. We keep the following items, which we hold in high regard, in inventory. (Some of these items have their own page linked from our cataloge, as indicated.) And we can get you most anything else you've heard of if it's used in, on or around a bagpipe - give us a call.

Goose adapter: This inexpensive little fitting allows you to replace the chanter of your GHB with a practice chanter (PC). With that done, and the drones stopped off (or removed), you have a "goose"- a bag, blowpipe, and practice chanter. A goose provides the traditional way to transition from PC to GHB. So, If you already have your GHB, there is no reason to spend money on a dedicated goose. $10, for either a Dunbar-specific or generic version. Please specify; if you have a Dunbar PC with o-rings, you'll need the former, if any hemped PC, the latter).

Reed Protector Cap: This is a Delrin cap that covers your reed when the chanter is removed from the pipe. $15

K-Valves:An updated version of the "Ashe Plugs," these pressure cutoff valves fit into the bottom of the drone stocks, making strike-in and cutoff more consistent and otherwise smoothing airflow to the reeds. Require a zippered bag. Set of three, $28

Tone Enhancers (by Shepherd): Same effect as above, different mechanics. Set of three, $28

Flexible Blowsticks: After several happy years of providing the versatile "Flexistik" we have had to suspend sales due to unaddressed quality-control issues. We have left our extensive description of this product on line in the catalog, because much of it applies to alternative products (see below) (and because we hope the makers will eventually put down the Guiness and address their lame manufacturing problems).

Swivel-Stock: What? Yes, this unique Canadian product is a swiveling blowpipe stock! This Delrin (polypenco) stock (see its own page in our catalog) has a wide range of angular adjustment, with the solidly constructed ball and lock-ring concealed in the stock-collar of your bag cover. It allows the use of your own blowstick and mouthpiece. It thus does not much alter the appearance of your pipe, unlike swiveling blowsticks which all have an ugly joint a few inches below your chin. At its upper end the Swivel-Stock is fitted with a beaded ferrule, in imitation ivory, nickle, or to your specification (at possible extra cost). It's also available in plain black, with no ferrule. The only down-side is that your existing blowpipe stock must be removed from your bag and the Swivel-Stock must be installed in its place, either by conventional tying-in or via the rubber grommets on synthetic bags. But that's a one-time inconvenience and something that every piper should learn to do. $75.

Third Hand: This is a great little tuning aid, produced by the same Canadian consortium that created the popular "Little Mac" blowpipe valve and "Airstream" blowpipes. Consisting of a heavy yet flexible rubber cone with a lengthwise split, the Third Hand slips onto a GHB or smallpipe chanter and covers the three fingerholes that the lower (right) hand would otherwise close when playing both the High A and the Low A chanter keynotes, to which the drones are tuned. This frees the right hand to tune the drones to the chanter while the note is sounding, which makes tuning, especially for the beginning piper, much easier. So rather than having to guess repeatedly at the necessary amount of drone movement to achieve harmony, while awkwardly switching the hand back and forth between a drone and the chanter (which can cause non-piping observers to think you're shooing away flies) a drone can be dialed into tune directly in a single smooth operation. Once the pipe is in tune the Third Hand can be removed instantly with one hand. A very sound investment at only $10.


Recap of Common Options:

(Prices in U.S. Dollars)

Synthetic Bannatyne bag: Small, Mediun (regular), Large: No Extra Cost;

Bag as above, but with zipper: Add $50;

Bannatyne Hybrid bag: Add $90;

Leather (Hide) bag: prices vary by maker and features, enquire;

Bag covers, velvet, various colors: no charge;

Silk cords, various colors: no charge;

Synthetic drone reeds (EzeeDrone): $90 (others available at varying prices);

Cane drone reed set: Included unless synthetics are specified, $20 if purchased alone;

Clanrye synthetic chanter reed: $55;

Extra cane chanter reed, most makes: $15;

Semi-soft carrying case: $110 + $20 additional shipping;

Classic hard case: $150 + $35 additional shipping; Roll of hemp, included at no cost with any pipe, $6 otherwise;

Set of rubber plugs for stocks and drone ends (7): Included, $8 otherwise;

Goose adapter: $10 (specify if for Dunbar practice chanter or other make);

Reed protector cap: $15;

O-Ring joint seals: $120 (see text);

Engraving, non-standard trim materials, etc.: inquire.

Feel free to contact us by email or telephone, at (707) 937-1626, 8am to 10pm Pacific Coast time (GMT minus 7-8 hours) any day, with questions about these options and enhancements, or about any related matters. We enjoy working with both novice and experienced pipers and will be happy to talk about bagpipes with you.

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