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  • New or Vintage Pipes?

    I am sure there have been variations on this topic before, but something mentioned in another post reminded me of this particular topic regarding pipes for new pipers, like students, returning pipers or others (e.g., those looking for a second or longer-term set).

    When I was an instructor in a junior band, and also had students, there were two schools of thought amongst the instructors when the young players were ready for the pipes. Three instructors recommended new pipes from quality makers; two of us liked finding quality vintage sets. Whether valid or not, some reasons expressed by the former instructors included more standardized, quality manufacturing practices; more options, both in makers and "bling" (e.g., various decorative woods, etc.), etc. Reasons for those of us who liked vintage--again whether valid or not--included more "old growth" wood; proven endurance (i.e., pipes that had been played in multiple situations and have not had any splits or other issues); quality makers from the past; perhaps some marvelous old wood (e.g., cocus); etc. OK; there was one student who never could get through a lesson without knocking his water bottle on the floor or him falling out of his chair. I recommended plastic pipes to his parents! But that was an exception. But I digress....

    Risking some generalized statements or concepts, are you in the school of new pipes or vintage pipes? And for whom? And for what reasons?

  • #2
    From the tiny sample of new pipes I’ve been exposed to from retailers selling manufactured bagpipes, I have seen a lot of green wood.

    So, if they have the dough, they could spring for a new set from a bespoke maker like Gellaitry, Colin Kyo, MacLellan, etc.

    But if they’re on a budget, I’d look for a used set of some vintage as the wood is proven. Gotta be careful, but probably better luck than new manufactured pipes.
    My Piping Blog (recordings, articles, reviews, etc.) - Homepage - Pekaar's Tune Encyclopedia - Convert BMW to ABC

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    • #3
      Greetings to All,

      In my usual--Dumb Luck Manor--my first set--given to me from
      the Old Fellows--in my Old First Band--and dragged out of the
      dusty drawers of Times Past--some years later--turned out to
      be--1916 Lawries!! :-) --and I was quite simply--Blown Away!! :-)

      After a most thorough--and time consuming (painstaking with
      every detail) --proper restoration--(and Thank You!! Dunbar Ltd.!!)--
      I was in awe--of their History--and--their Sound!!

      And thereafter--and almost Providentially--I have again stumbled--
      into two other--very Old--and "Vintage" sets--that I play--and these
      sounds--always linger with me--and long after--they are back in their
      three cases... :-)

      My Old Lawries?? I have taken them through--Thick and Thin--pub
      crawls--terrible weather--hot and cold--cheek by jowl Saint Patrick's
      Day fiascos--and innumerable other--"difficult situations"--and on
      three continents--and many islands--with never--a care--or a worry!!

      And why?? Because they were taken--played through-- WW I--and
      WW II-- and Korea--and their longevity--may well--outlast us all. :-)

      And so--I find myself on the "Vintage" side of this question--those
      sets having been tried--and found True. :-)

      Now--and as we all know--there are some--who could bollix up a
      set--made out of--stainless steel--but that's--for another time... :-)

      Regards--and Happy Choosing!!--and Playing!!--to All,

      Pip01










      Last edited by Pip01; 01-03-2022, 04:36 PM.
      My friends all know,
      With what a brave carouse...

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      • #4
        These days I think it's hard to get a bad set from a reputable maker, and if one does, the maker will make good. I know, for example, that this is true of McCallum, as my band has purchased many sets, and one or two minor problems that developed were attended to at once. Similar things with other makers have been reported on this forum over the years. Good makers do not want unhappy purchasers.

        I had a new set of 1980 Hardies that had a difficult bass drone, but I think Hardies of that period had quality problems. A few years later my uncle, who had given me the pipes, gave me his set of c1900 Centers, and my troubles went away (as did the Hardies). Since than I've had two new sets, Kron Heritage and a copy of an 1890s J&R Glen, without any problems at all.

        What can happen is that some drones do not work well, or as well, with some reeds, and one has to do some checking around of reed brands; sometimes makers suggest reed brands. In 1980 one couldn't have imagined the variety and quality of drone reeds available today. Then it was cane only, and I never did get a reed that worked well in the Hardies.

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        • #5
          I'm firmly in the vintage camp, I have several sets currently and have owned many others in the past. But I'm into history and antiques and I love that the sets have been around for ages and are still going strong with a little TLC.
          I wish they could talk and swap stories with me.
          But, I also teach at a school which creates new pipers every year, and none of them seem fascinated by an old set from WW2.
          They are just as happy to spring for a new McCallum, agonizing over which pattern of engraving to choose.
          And that's fine too, modern pipes are incredibly well made, and decking them out the way you want is part of the fun.
          Now, if we could just make those rose wood ones go away....

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          • #6
            A well kept vintage set for everyone would be great but there is a supply issue to be considered. It's just my impression, but I don't think there are anywhere near enough surviving vintage sets to outfit every new piper that comes along. New sets from a reputable maker with a history of standing behind their product seem necessary to meet that demand. I will add that there have been two sets of McCallum's pipes in my family. Both played well right out of the box. One developed a very small crack on the end of the tuning pin after a few years. It didn't affect the sound but McCallum replaced the part (long after the warranty) no charge and no questions asked. If new players can find a vintage set, and have an instructor available to help them replace the bag, re-hemp and reed everything to get them going, more power to them. If not, most of the pipe shops around here will supply a beginner with a complete, and functional, newly manufactured set, without the need for much fettling.

            Best regards,
            Kevin
            Last edited by Kevin; 01-04-2022, 10:39 AM.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Patrick McLaurin View Post
              From the tiny sample of new pipes I’ve been exposed to from retailers selling manufactured bagpipes, I have seen a lot of green wood.
              I do believe that the supply of "old growth" wood is finite. But I also think about how the wood is cured. Whether true or not, the maker of my pipes (back in 1984) said that the stock he used had sat for 50 years. Whether I believe that or not, the ABW is coal black and very dense feeling (and heavy). I don't know all the ways wood for pipes is cured today; but I'm reasonably certain its prepared differently and more quickly.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Kevin View Post
                A well kept vintage set for everyone would be great but there is a supply issue to be considered. It's just my impression, but I don't thing there are anywhere near enough surviving vintage sets to outfit every new piper that comes along.
                You bring up a good point, Kevin; and one on which I've pondered often. I do wonder what is out there, not being played. Just in thinking of those in our band who have retired from playing, it pains me to think of the beautiful sets that are not being passed along. I know of one former member who has three sets...two vintage and one fairly new...that are not being played. Amongst those individuals, I'm sure the reasons for holding them vary. Perhaps they think they'll get back to it; or they believe a son, daughter or other relative will pick up the pipes.

                My pipes are willed to go to the band (which I hope will be decades from now!). I wish others did the same. Of all former members, we have only received two sets to pass along. Some former members have sold theirs, which is good if they go to someone who plays. I celebrate every time a forum member relates their acquisition of a vintage set. But, again, how many are out there, hidden away and awaiting an adoption?

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                • #9
                  I shudder to think about how many fine sets have ended up at the dump because some well meaning relative found them attached to a moldy old bag. It's a good idea to will them to someone who will actually use them. I keep hoping one of my kids will show some interest but sadly bagpiping seems to skip a generation.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I have an old vintage (Ebony) set and a new (Acetyl) set.
                    My ears tell me a new piper would be very happy and well served with a new set. Pipe makers are excellent now, and there's no reason to sweat not having a vintage set.
                    You just might hear a little more of this or that with the old drones but the new ones are so good that I can't complain about them. Even my new plastic drones sound absolutely fantastic and I can't imagine a new piper feeling let down by them.
                    I think a lot of the vintage pipe lore and history have a lot to do with the desirability of owning an old set, but for sheer musicality new pipes do just as good a job.
                    Just my lowly opinion, thanks for reading.
                    P.S. I plan on willing my vintage set to my most deserving student.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I'm happy that my newbie students purchase poly pipes, or Dunbars or McCallum or Wallace...all pipes I have and play, and great pipes....They're a breeze to sort out if something is out of whack.
                      And if a student does something BRUTALLY stupid to the set (gorilla glue on a pin sleeve) then the needed replacement parts are readily available. You only pay a stupid penalty....and often not even that.....
                      I'd hate to see a vintage set mistreated by accident....so let's save the best sets for those of us who have learned the hard way not to make silly decisions...

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                      • #12
                        I have two sets now, both new this last year. Both made by exceptional makers in my opinion. The athertons are jet black, the other set made by derek marr the wood looks great to my eye as well. I would be very hesitant to get a older set unless I had it my hands to try out, I wouldn’t buy it online, which a lot of pipe sales seem to be these days.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          IMHO....guality new OTS pipes ( e.g. McCallum,Hardie,...) for newbies at ‘entry’ level....which will last and perform very well for many many years into higher grades with benefit of a long term warranty aginst many issues.
                          Key is to have them properly first spec’d out by a knowledgeable piper...eg. Best bag size and type ( Hybrid...not the syn. blown up undershirt ) correct blowstick length,..excellent drone reeds.

                          After gaining ~5+ or more years suitable experience....address the ‘itch’ to own old venerable pipes by learning what to seek ...and avoid,...and ideally see/play/hear them in person....not buying on-line unseen,unheard.






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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by el gaitero View Post
                            Best bag .... type ( Hybrid...not the syn. blown up undershirt ).
                            It's absolutely not neccesary to go with the hybrid type: A few of the top elite pipers use or have used the green Canmore bags and with great success. You can get absolutely great tone and moisture control out of the synth Canmore bag. also the new version! Save the bucks for other stuff!
                            www.selpiper.dk

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by ralph View Post
                              I have two sets now, both new this last year. Both made by exceptional makers in my opinion. The athertons are jet black, the other set made by derek marr the wood looks great to my eye as well. I would be very hesitant to get a older set unless I had it my hands to try out, I wouldn’t buy it online, which a lot of pipe sales seem to be these days.
                              I do agree with you, Ralph. And I want to underscore that I believe that there are a number of outstanding makers today, producing pipes of incredible quality, sound, options, and so forth. I do wonder about what quality of materials, particularly the primary wood (recognizing that other materials are being used), that is left. You remember that in the junior band to which you belonged that almost all the members had new pipes. I can only recall two who had vintage pipes (one was one of my students, and she received my original instructor's '63 Hardies; the other had c1900 Center pipes handed down in his family). You also may recall how many with the new pipes had cracks and other issues (e.g., warping). Yes, the manufacturers, being reputable, did fix all the issues.

                              So, again, I am indeed impressed with the quality of the pipes being produced today. I also question whether I fall into the generalized trap of "older is better"; and I agree with you about the care of selecting and "refurbishing" a vintage set, especially if it has simply sat un-played. I return to what is available today and how the wood is dried and otherwise cured. If that is a valid concern--and perhaps it's not--I cannot but wonder what today's makers would produce with some of the "old growth" wood that was available 40, 70, 90, whatever years ago.

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