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How to buy a bagpipe

Text from C.E. Kron & Co.'s VOICE ad

Informative newsgroup posting by Ringo Bowen

How to buy a quality set of bagpipes.

First, you should think of your first set of pipes as your last. When made by a Master Bagpipe Maker, your pipes should be considered an heirloom investment, one that will give you a lifetime of pleasure with proper care and maintenance. Where a set of pipes is made is not nearly as critical as who makes them. You should purchase pipes made by a reputable bagpipe maker skilled in both traditional and modern techniques. If you buy from a dealer, make sure the dealer is reputable: one who will work with you and discuss your requirements

What to look for in a well-made bagpipe.

What to listen for in a well-designed Bagpipe.

About C.E. Kron & Company

At Kron & Co. weíre building our reputation one chanter, one drone at a time. Weíre handcrafting superior quality instruments using traditional and modern methods and the fact that my name is the last thing that goes on keeps me personally focused on quality. It doesnít matter if our customer is an eight-year old piper getting a first set of pipes or an Open Grade medal winner. They will get the same set of quality pipes. In this business you canít hide your brand. Every time a piper strikes up my reputation is on the line.

Charles Kron, Bagpipe Maker

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Subject: How to buy a bagpipe
From: "Ron Bowen" <ron_bowen@sympatico.ca>
Date: 2000/03/24
Newsgroups: rec.music.makers.bagpipe
This post is in response to current NG activity on the topic and the many
emails that I've received recently regarding the purchase of a new bagpipe.
What is written here may or may not be found elsewhere.  I have no
commercial interest in posting this.  My only interest is in helping others.
This post is not intended to be the definitive word on selecting a new
bagpipe.  There are many additional factors to consider.  However, how a
bagpipe stands up under this particular level of scrutiny may provide clues
as to how it will stand up otherwise.
Let's for a minute put tone qualities and preferences aside.  Let's also put
aside the actual performance (ability to lock-in and remain steady) of the
drones.  Let's just talk about what they look like.  When I inspect a
bagpipe, this is what I do:
1) I remove all the drones from the stocks, disassemble the various pieces
and remove the cords.  If possible, I like to inspect the stocks "out of the
bag."  I like to study the wood first.  Is it "close grained" and dark in
color?  Lighter colored "blackwood" may not be...African Blackwood that is.
Is the color of the wood consistent throughout or are there lighter and
darker colored woods.  Hold a piece in your hands.  Does it have the weight
of blackwood or does it feel light?  Look at the finish.  I don't mind an
oil finish, or a wax finish, or even a light, clearcoat finish.  I do mind
those thick plastic finishes that look like an Elvis portrait.  Beware!
2) I closely inspect the stocks.  I view the stock from the top.  Is there a
generous amount of wood between the stock and the ferule?  The less wood,
the more vulnerable the piece.  Is the bore concentric, or is it oval?
Nothing but perfectly concentric will suffice.  Are the walls of the stock
even or can you detect a "thick" side and a "thinner" side?  (this can be
caused by working with improperly seasoned wood)  Are there any cracks
visible from either the top or the bottom?  Even a small crack is a problem.
Is the ferule (either imitation or metal) flush with the wood?  Does the
ferule fit the wood properly, or is it an uneven fit, showing gaps or
distortions?  Next I cradle the piece loosely in one hand and turn it with
the other.  Does it feel concentric or can you detect any out-of-roundness?
Next I insert the matching drone piece into the stock.  Is it a snug fit
evenly, or is there any evidence of a taper to the stock bore?  Compare the
lengths of the stocks.  The tenor stocks should be identical in length.
Check the combing on all stocks.  A quality instrument will be consistent
from piece to piece.
3) I inspect the tenor bottom sections and the bass bottom section.  Are the
bores even and smooth all the way through?  Is there any evidence of
improper boring?  Again, cradle the piece and turn it in your hand.  "Feel"
for roundness.  Then roll the section across a flat surface.  Watch the
tuning pin.  It should be dead steady.  Any wobble probably means there's a
warp in the piece.  It also could mean that the pin was repaired or replaced
inexpertly.  Again inspect the combing.  Compare the thickness of the beads.
Are they uniform from piece to piece?  Note the treatment above the bottom
mount and below the top mount.  Is it consistent?  Stand the two tenor
sections side by side.  Look at them dead on.  Can you see any difference in
thickness, shape, or length?  Now take a section in each hand.  Oppose the
pieces and place them pin to mount.  The pins should both be the same
length.  Each pin top should touch the other's mount.  Now take each piece
into the best light possible.  Catch the light on the piece and turn it
slowly.  .  Look down the length for any cracks.  They may be hard to spot
so take your time.
4) The bass mid section is next.  Roll it in your hand.  Roll it across a
flat surface.  Is it straight or does it wobble?  Is the design and combing
consistent with the other pieces already inspected?  Perform all surface
checks as noted above.  Then insert the bass bottom piece into the tuning
chamber.  It is an even fit, or does it pinch and then go loose?  A
hammered-on metal ferule may have constricted the wood.  Or does it "jam up"
a short way into the chamber?  Both conditions are problematic.
5) Inspect the tenor tops.  Look for consistency throughout.  The tenor tops
should be interchangeable (having the exact same tuning chamber bore).
Check for small cracks under the ferule.  Again, more wood is preferable.  A
thick imitation ferule provides little support.  Is the tuning chamber even,
or is it tapered?  Does the tenor top fit evenly as you insert and remove
the bottom section?  Spend time studying the bell.  Are they both identical
or can you detect inconsistencies.  Again, stand the two sections side by
side and study them.  Thickness, shape, length, should all be the same.
6) The top section of the bass should pass all the same tests as detailed
above.
7) Check all the mounts and fittings to ensure consistency.  Every fitting,
every ferule, every mount should fit properly, flush with the wood and
showing no gaps or unevenness.
8) The blowpipe also must pass inspection.  Check for cracks along the
outside, but also check for cracks where the valve is fitted.  Remove the
mouthpiece and check the threaded end.  No cracks should be visible.
Be careful if you're buying a bagpipe that you haven't personally inspected.
If this is your first bagpipe purchase, buying from a dealer may be a good
option.  This way you can inspect the bagpipe prior to making the purchase.
However if you are buying from a manufacturer, make sure you establish the
ground rules up front.  Provide them with your personal checklist.  Most
manufacturers are reputable and are very eager to satisfy the customer
however nobody likes unpleasant surprises.
As stated above, this is not the definitive word on how to select a bagpipe.
However, it's a good place to start.  Buying a bagpipe should not be an
impulse purchase.  Nor should you rely entirely on someone else's opinion.
I've had lot's of emails recently and the only stupid question I've heard
lately is.... well I haven't heard it!  All questions are good.
Good piping
Ringo


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