Bagpipe making (Northumbrian pipes, smallpipes and bellows blown pipes)
The making of bagpipes; a musical instrument with a double or single reed pipe operated by finger stops and sometimes keys, and usually with one or more drone pipes, all of them sounded by air forced with the arm from a bag. The bag can be inflated using the mouth or bellows.
This category includes Northumbrian pipes, border pipes, pastoral pipes, Scottish smallpipes and the Uilleann pipe. See also Bagpipes (Highland pipes).
This craft uses products derived from animals and exotic hardwoods – please read our ethical sourcing statement.
|Historic area of significance||There are many different traditions of bagpipes in Europe and the Middle East.
The Bagpipe Society has a listing of countries where bagpipes are found
|Area currently practised||UK|
|Origin in the UK||Unclear, but the first bagpipes in Scotland are recorded in 1400. The first written record in England is 1285.|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)||6-10|
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
(There are around 10 part-time makers of Northumbrian Pipes)
|Current no. of trainees||0|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
||Small number of makers at the top end of the hobby range, making one or two sets a year.|
|Current total no. of leisure makers
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required|
The origin of bagpipe making in the UK is unclear. What is certain, however, is that bagpipes have existed in various forms in Europe and the Middle East. They were known to be widely spread across Europe from the 13th Century and are first recorded in Scotland in 1400. The earliest written reference in England is 1285.
In each country the construction of the basic instrument comprises the same component parts; an air supply, a bag with a chanter and usually with one or more drones. Pipes are inflated with air blown through a pipe (as with the Great Highland Bagpipes) or by the use of bellows as with the Irish uilleann pipes, pastoral pipes, the border or lowland pipes, Scottish smallpipes and Northumbrian smallpipes.
The name bagpipe has now become synonymous with the Great Highland Bagpipe, which has somewhat overshadowed other bagpipes.
The 1980s in Europe saw a significant increase in interest in other regional pipes, particularly bellows blown pipes that are quieter and more suitable to indoor use. This has, in turn, stimulated a revival in makers recreating and relearning bagpipe making skills. From the 1990s in the UK, pipemakers like Jon Swayne and Julian Goodacre have led a revival in recreating historical pipes including English Border pipes, the Cornish double pipe and the Leicestershire smallpipe.
The current form of the pipes was developed by makers in Newcastle-on-Tyne and North Shields towards the end of the 18th century, when the addition of chanter keys extended the melodic range of the chanter beyond an octave. This allowed pipers to explore the fiddle repertoire as well as the older pipe tunes of the region. Playing tunes with different key signatures required a variety of drone tunings which led to: the addition of more drones; stoppers to turn off those which conflicted with the melody; and tuning beads to widen the selection of pitches.
- Reed Making
- Leather work
- Cover making
- Bellows making
There are several types of bagpipe traditional to the UK, including:
- Highland pipes (Great Highland Bagpipes)
- Northumbrian smallpipe
- Northumbrian Half Long Pipes
- Northumbrian Shuttle Pipes
- Uilleann pipe – Irish bellows blown pipes
- Border pipe
- Scottish smallpipe
- Pastoral pipe
A number of regional bagpipes have been recreated from historical texts and illustrations. These include:
- Leicestershire smallpipe
- Cornish double pipe
- Welsh bagpipe
- Bag making
- Reed making
- Bellows making
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- Bagpipes makers, excluding the main Great Highland Pipe making companies, are largely self-taught and there are no opportunities for formal training
- There are a lot of different skills necessary for making bagpipes including wood work, leather work, metal work and reed making. It is challenging to become skilled in all these areas.
- From the playing perspective, these pipes have never been stronger, both in numbers and quality of musicians. However, pipes are frequently a lifetime purchase and buying a new set now is much more difficult than it was a few years ago.
- The Northumbrian Pipers’ Society
- The Bagpipe Society
- National Piping Centre
- The Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society
- The Fellowship of Makers and Researchers of Historic Instruments
Craftspeople currently known
A list of bagpipe makers and suppliers can be found on the Bagpipe Society’s website.
Border pipes, Scottish smallpipes, Lowland pipes, Uilleann pipes and other pipes:
- Jon Swayne
- Mike York (employed by Jon Swayne)
- Julian Goodacre
- Sean Jones
- Hubert Kwisthout
- Hamish and Fin Moore
- Ian Kinnear
- Dave Shaw
- Garvie Bagpipes
- Lochalsh Pipes
- John Burke
- Jim Parr
- Richard Harris
- Terry Mann
- Andy Faden
- Chris Coe
Northumbrian pipe Makers
There are no full time makers of Northumbrian Pipes, making them one of the most endangered forms of bagpipe.
- Andy May
- Kim Bull
- Richard & Anita Evans
- Philip Gruar
- Dave Shaw
- Dave McQuade
- Paul Tabbush
- Ray Sloan
- Andy Lawrenson
- Nigel Barlow
- Andrew Davison
- Mike Nelson has instructions and plans for making Northumbrian smallpipes on his website.