Care of your Bagpipe
A well-made and maintained bagpipe can last for a hundred years or more!
Maintaining a stable environment is extremely important.
All of our wood is air dried and seasoned in a controlled atmosphere.We maintain 50 % humidity at all times.It is imperative that new pipes be allowed to adjust gradually to the new conditions.This is especially important if you receive your instrument during Winter months. If the heat is on for long periods, the chances are the atmosphere is drier that you realize. Please ensure you maintain 50% humidity in the room the pipes are stored in as well as the case you keep the pipes in. A small room humidifier is a good investment.
Rapid changes in humidity levels will cause end cracking splitting.
Excess moisture, temperature and humidity swings are the biggest problem. Everyone will benefit from some form of moisture control system.
There are many great water trap systems available, from simple tube traps, to complex silica gel type absorption systems. Empty tube traps often, dry canisters frequently.
Zipper bags allow easy access for cleaning and drying. Check tightness of stocks, re-tie or use clamps if necessary.
When stopped up, the bag should stay tight for at least 20 seconds. Clean inside of bag and water trap with hot water and or mouthwash.
Take pipes apart and look for moisture on reeds or tenon of chanter, pull through drones and brush out stocks regularly.
Reeds should be dry, and hemped to correct position, straight in reed seats. You can use a wind of hemp inside stock to trap reed and hold in place.
Check for tightness after driving; donít let them fall into the bag during a competition!
Hemp joints should be smooth, airtight and firm into stocks. Check and adjust as necessary, this will change depending on weather.
There should be space at end of hemp under projecting mount, make sure this is parallel and not bunching up forming a wedge. This will start cracks at the top of the stock.
Hemp at drone tops should be yellow and waxed for a smooth sliding fit, add soft wax or cork grease to get movement.
Check and adjust as necessary, this will change depending on weather.Do not use Teflon tape, itís too slippery! This forces you to make the joints too tight
When storing pipes in case, take bass apart at mid joint and remove tenor tops completely. You should take the bass top off once a month when oiling and check hemp.
Pull first sections slightly out of stocks; this will release some tension on the joint, but still protect the reeds. Use a case humidifier if your house is less then 50% humidity in the Winter to avoid drying and end cracking.Clean throat of chanter with something soft, e.g. a Q-tip and alcohol. Clean up old tape, remove glue. Clean finger holes in same way. Blackwood chanters can be oiled lightly.
Remove chanter by grasping at the bulb, not twisting from the bottom.
Download a PDF version of these instructions .
What does the Expression "Break in a Bagpipe " Mean?
There are two phenomena that the term "break in" is used to describe when speaking of a bagpipe.
The first is the process by which the actual wood of the instrument is acclimated to fluctuating exposure to water, heat, and vibration. Should too much moisture be allowed to soak into the bore and/or tone holes of the bagpipe while the outside of the bagpipe remains dry, or should the inside of the bagpipe be allowed to be much warmer than the outside, the wood is stressed and may release tension by cracking. Therefore, one would "break in" a bagpipe carefully at first, allowing moisture to soak into the bagpipe, or be dried out of the instrument, a little at a time, while protecting the bagpipe diligently from temperature extremes. The instructions below refer to this meaning of the expression "break in".
The second phenomenon has to do with the way the bagpipe tone develops as a new bagpipe is played. When a chanter is very new, it may feel a little tight, and may need a bit more energy applied to it for it to want to "sing" or "vibrate". As it is played, over a period of perhaps 6 months to a year, the sound becomes fuller, more open and more plush. Knowing that this is part of the process a bagpipe and chanter goes through, will affect a player's criteria for choosing a new bagpipe. A player may select based on good tight sound focus and good harmonics, knowing that the tone and response will develop and become freer over time. This is a hard process to describe, but one, which many players acknowledge, and factor into their choice.
The overall objective of the break-in procedure is to introduce moisture, temperature variances, and vibration to the wood of the bagpipe slowly enough to avoid cracking. Too much moisture inside the bore with too little moisture on the outside of the bagpipe, or too warm a bore in too cold an bagpipe will either one put the instrument at risk. We also believe that intense, unaccustomed vibration may be a contributing factor in cracking.
For new wooden instruments, or for instruments that have not been played regularly in some time, we recommend that you adhere to the following standard break-in procedures to help prevent cracking:
1. Warm up the instrument before playing. Do not blow into the instrument if it is very cold.
2. Play the instrument in a warm room. Try never to play the instrument in a cold room or in a cold draft. Try not to play in hot, dry drafts either, as this will dry the wood.
3. Play the instrument for short periods of time at first; fifteen minutes a day, no more than twice a day for the first week or so, increasing to 20 minutes, then 25 minutes, etc. Regular, steady introduction of moisture and vibrations is the goal, so it is important to play it almost every day during this time, though the argument could well be made that skipping one day every 5-6 days to let it "rest" can't hurt!
4. Play exercises, like long tones, slow scales, and melodies, so that the chanter becomes accustomed to continuous vibration. This is good for your playing anyhow, obviously, but it is also good for the bagpipe! ...and use a tuner. Train yourself and your bagpipe to play at pitch!
5. Thoroughly swab out and dry the instrument after every use.
6. Consider an instrument "barely broken in" in 2-3 months, and "well broken-in" only after about a year. As you can imagine, this timetable is very subjective and depends a lot on how much you as a piper play.
7. Even after a bagpipe is well broken in, continue being careful of extreme temperature and moisture conditions. Keep a "Damp-It" or some moist paper towels in an open Ziploc in the case in very dry weather.
Oiling the bagpipe bore
We recommend pharmaceutical grade almond oil mixed with a drop of Vitamin E oil.
We oil a bagpipe this way: after playing for the day, dry the instrument's bore. Dip a small amount of oil onto the tip of a swab. Look into the bore of the instrument to see how shiny it is and then rotate the slightly oily swab into the bore. With the correct amount of oil on the swab, after the first swipe, the bore should look only streaky with oil. The second swipe should make the bore all shiny. If it soaks in very quickly, do it again. Especially important on Cocobolo bagpipes.
Catastrophic "Do's" and "Don'ts"
Please, never leave your bagpipe where it can get either very cold or very hot; either can be severely damaging. Examples? Leaving your bagpipe in the car in the winter, leaving your bagpipe in the trunk of your car while driving somewhere in the winter, leaving your bagpipe in a closed car in the summer (even for a very short time), leaving your bagpipe where the sun shines on it (or on the case) and can heat it up, leaving your bagpipe out near a heater vent where dry heated air can blow on it... all of these are bad for the bagpipe. Severe cold can encourage cracks. Severe heat can crack a bagpipe, or make the hemp joints leaky. If ferrules or mounts are coming loose, itís a good indicator of the wood changing size. Either of these can require expensive repair. A good rule of thumb is that your bagpipe should be as comfortable as you are. If you'd be comfortable where it is, chances are it's OK. If you would be uncomfortable sitting where it is, reconsider!
Dimensional Change: Non-oiled wood falls victim to dimensional changes in and the subsequent deterioration of the wood. "Breathing" is the instrument's automatic response to changes in temperature and the wood's moisture content. Regardless of degree of care, maintenance and bore treatment, wood will breathe. Our prime concern is to control the rate of "breathing." Dimensional changes caused by "breathing" affect instruments in many ways.
Moisture and saliva damage: Deterioration of wood eventually occurs in response to damage caused by moisture and saliva. A compromised bore is evidence of this deterioration. Eventually, deteriorating wood becomes brittle. As brittleness increases, the probability of warping, cracking, checking, and (tone hole) chipping also increases; brittle wood cannot easily "breathe." In addition, brittle wood contributes significantly to changes in scale, pitch, and resonance.
Resilience: Organic (vegetable) oils do interact with wood, thus allowing the wood to become more resilient. A very large sample of cases indicates that oiling stress-relieves wood, allowing wood to return to manufactured dimensions and an original ó if not improved ó scale. Oiling new instruments will stabilize them; Oiling stabilizes the integrity of wood over time.
Table 1 óRULE OF THUMB Diagnosis and Treatment
% Relative humidity @ 68-72įF, indoors
Consequences of untreated grenadilla wood
Recommended treatment to grenadilla wood
51% and up
Minimal drying or changes in bore sizes
Oil 2-4 times a year.
31 to 50%
Drying with dimensional changes. Wood subject to increased cracking problems.
Oil every 12-16 weeks;
21 to 30%
Oil every 8-12 weeks.
Interesting web sites:
www.doctorsprod.com, Omar Henderson has done research into bore oils, and products for maintaining reeds.
www.blackwoodconservation.org information on Blackwood in Tanzania
Back to top
Telephone704-635-7210 , Postal address 1903 Skyway Dr. Monroe, NC 28110, USA
Send mail to
questions or comments about this web site.