The Scottish Small Pipes are the quietest of the Scottish 'cauld wind' bellows pipes.
The current dramatic growth in interest in playing these pipes has been largely the result of the activities of the Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society, of which I have been an active member for more than thirty years, over half of which as a committee member, chairman and later as president.
The many early examples that have survived are delicate and restrained in appearance. I have taken my inspiration from them, particularly from sets that I have examined and measured in the collections of The Royal Museum of Scotland. These early sets are in higher pitches, but I have developed my pipes in a range of modern pitches while retaining the feeling of the original instruments. The design of the chanters, drones and reeds produce a warm rich tone and the result is a beautiful-looking, sweet-sounding parlour pipe.
The chanter has a slightly tapered bore which helps to broaden and amplify the lower notes. This is a unique feature of my smallpipes. The most popular pitch is A, but my full range includes pipes in D, C, B flat, low G and low F#. Each pitch has its own characteristics and I’m happy to discuss your requirements.< /br> The A set chanter plays a 'Scottish' scale of A, with flattened leading notes of G natural.
The three drones share a common stock. On an A set the usual drone configuration is a bass drone sounding low A, a tenor sounding A’ an octave above and a baritone sounding E. which can be tuned down to D. This provides another drone combination to suit different keys or modes. The Highland configuration of one bass and two identical tenors is also available.
The chanter and drones use plastic reeds. Not only are these very stable but they combine perfectly with the woods I use to give a great tone. The chanter reeds have been designed in combination with the chanters to produce the optimum quality of tone. /p>
My personal preference is for using covered fingering on the chanter, but I can provide chanters tuned for Highland fingering or open fingering. Your choice of fingering system will ultimately depend on your chosen playing style.
Although I usually make the pipes of British yew or plum for its richness of tone, other woods are also available. The chanter and drones usually have boxwood ends and the drones each have delicate boxwood plugs. The drone and stock ferrules are brass. Horn ends and ferrules can be fitted as extras if required. The bag is hand-sewn leather, with the traditional green baize woollen cover.
I have put a great deal of care and attention into the design and construction of the bellows, based on many of the better Scottish bellows I have measured in the collections. The leather is handsewn to the clapper boards which are finely made from walnut tree planted by my father in the 1940’s. The boards have a solid- drawn hinge, which gives a much more positive action than the simpler and more commonly employed system of using leather as a hinge. For more information, visit my bellows page
The two most popular keys for chanters are A and D. The combination pipes are a practical and economic way of having both. Two interchangeable chanters fitted with split stocks, combine with four drones, including a high d along with the standard A, D/E, A’, to enable you to play in either pitch. The chanters are, one of the four drones being plugged.
|With A drone tuned down to G|
Double Scottish Small Pipes
These are the same as the Scottish Small Pipes, except that they are fitted with a double chanter. The chanter is made from one piece of wood, with two bores, two reeds and two sound holes for each note. This gives an extraordinary and distinctive tone as each note can be tuned to give a slight beat. The problems of instability often associated with double chanters fitted with cane reeds are overcome by the use of my plastic reeds which are very stable.
Usually a double chanter is fingered exactly like the single chanter, placing each finger over a pair of holes; however, there are possibilities of introducing harmonies by fingering individual holes, as Callum Armstrong spectacularly demonstrates on a C double chanter:
The C chanter has comfortable finger-spacing and gives a sprightly, cheerful sound; I also make an A chanter, with wider finger-spacing and a rich and mellow tone.
Another possibility is to fit an English Double Pipe chanter whose harmonies sound even richer and more wonderful when played with three drones as in the Scottish Small Pipe.
I enjoy incorporating a customer’s suggestions whenever practical; you can see some of the possibilities on the Latest Developments page, which describes the features Callum and I have evolved. If you have any other ideas for drone/chanter arrangements I am happy to discuss them.
Mouthblown Scottish Small Pipes
Many of the early surviving examples of Scottish Small Pipes are mouthblown. It has been assumed that they were later converted from being bellows-blown. Mouthblown small pipes when fitted with cane reeds have a reputation for being hopelessly unstable and difficult to keep in tune as a result of the warm, moist breath of the player affecting the very small drone reeds and finely scraped chanter reed. All my Scottish Small Pipes are fitted with chanter and drone reeds made of plastic. As these reeds are not affected by moisture it makes mouthblown small pipes very practical. Mouthblown smallpipes are also much more compact and are appreciated by pipers who do not wish to learn to use the bellows.
Double Scottish smallpipes (top) and mouth-blown smallpipes (bottom)