Northumbrian Smallpipes Tutor

John Liestman's Tutor is now available as a PDF download - in return for a donation of at least 12 GBP to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders)

Please contact us if you require more information, or for download instructions if you have already made your donation to the charity.

Looking after your bellows pipes

Bellows-blown bagpipes generally require less maintenance than mouth-blown types.
Check thread wrappings regularly as they may slacken. For joints, add a few turns of sewing cotton rubbed lightly through beeswax. If the sliding wrappings become slack, put a few turns of sewing thread, unwaxed, on top of the existing wrapping. The thread may be left dry or lubricated with petroleum jelly (eg. Vaselene) if necessary.
The bag and bellows should not need frequent attention, and the bags have none of the problems associated with the Highland and other wet-blown pipes.

The chanter reed is seated in a tapered socket in the top of the chanter, fitting into the chanter stock in the neck of the bag. A good chanter reed can last for years, and ideally should be left untouched. If it becomes necessary to remove the chanter, or the reed requires attention and you are new to the instrument, seek advice first. Pulling the chanter straight out of the chanter stock can result in the reed jerking back up and being damaged.
A plug-in, or 'split' stock is recommended for those wishing to exchange chanters regularly, for instance in combination sets with the choice of two chanters in different keys. This type of stock means the chanter reed is always covered by an extra stock which in turn plugs into a socket in the bag.
The drone reeds are generally brass bodied with a vibrating plastic tongue, and again should require very little attention. Trying to play with excessive pressure can cause them to stop sounding temporarily.

The chanter is set up and tuned by the makers, and you should contact us if any problems arise.
Drones are tuned by sliding the top part up and down to the optimum position. Some of the more complex drones have a rotary valve (tuning bead), which extends the range of notes.
Northumbrian and some Scottish Smallpipe drones are fitted with a plunger system for turning the sound on and off. Plainer drones are sometimes fitted with removable stoppers.

Oiling and Polishing
Modern machining methods resulting in a smooth internal finish, and the use of foam as an alternative to leather for key pads means that very little, if any, oiling is required. At most, a few drops now and then if the chanter looks very dry. We use baby oil (Liquid Paraffin). Please ask for further advice.
Plated metalwork will stay bright and can be cleaned with a soft cloth. Plain brass will tarnish quite quickly and can be left this way. If required, a soft cloth and a proprietary metal polish, or wadding, will brighten it up again.

Chanter bore cleaning and reed adjustment
Please contact us for help and advice on this and other maintenance issues

Unless you feel confident with anything but routine maintenance, always seek advice, preferably from the makers where possible.

Richard & Anita Evans

Makers of Northumbrian and Scottish Smallpipes