Northumbrian pipe making
The making of Northumbrian pipes, a type of instrument using enclosed reeds fed from a constant reservoir of air in the form of a bag (see also bagpipe making).
|Historic area of significance||Northumbria|
|Area currently practised||Northumbria|
|Origin in the UK||18th century|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)|
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
||Around 10 part-time makers, 8 of whom are semi-retired.|
|Current no. of trainees|
|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 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.
Making these pipes is complex and involves working in wood, leather, and brass including making the keys by hand shaping. Plus the making of reeds and the musical skill in tuning and setting-up instruments.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- From the playing perspective, Northumbrian small pipes have never been stronger, both in numbers and quality of musicians. This apparent contradiction is due to the fact that pipes are frequently a lifetime purchase. Buying a new set now is much more difficult than it was a few years ago.
- In the 70s and 80s there were evening classes in pipe making using school craft workshops. These have long gone- no funding, no suitable workshops in schools plus health and safetylegislation make them difficult to revive.
Craftspeople currently known
There is a list of makers on the The Northumbrian Pipers’ Society website.
- Mike Nelson has instructions and plans for making Northumbrian smallpipes on his website.