I'm interested in learning to play the Scottish bagpipes... I'm after something fairly quiet... I've heard that there are such things as "Fireside Pipes," "Kitchen pipes" and "Smallpipes." Are these all names for the same thing?
Yes for whatever strange reason, just about every maker who makes Scottish Smallpipes (SSPs for short) feels compelled to invent a new name for their product, rather than calling them SSPs.
It's absurd when you think about it, and leads the uninformed astray. I run into people all the time who think that "Fireside Pipes" is a species of bagpipe.
Here are some of the makers of SSPs and their trade names:
Highland Musette (Shepherd)
Fireside Pipes, Ceilidh Pipes (Gibson)
Session Pipes (Garvie)
Studio Pipes (can't remember)
They're all Scottish Smallpipes, that is, their chanter's reed and bore design is more or less like that of the Northumbrian Smallpipes, but the chanter is open-ended and the fingerholes are reconfigured to produce a Highland Bagpipe scale.
These vary in volume somewhat from instrument to instrument and from reed to reed. They can be quite low in volume, able to blend with a single soft-playing fiddler.
BTW "Scottish Smallpipes" seems to be a fairly recent term, derived from the term "Northumbrian Smallpipes". In the 19th century most Highland pipemakers made Scottish Smallpipes but called them "Miniature Highland pipes or Chamber pipes".
SSPs were, and are, made mouthblown or bellows blown, with the drones in seperate stocks or a common stock. These things don't necessarily have an effect on the tone (you can have a mouthblown set with seperate drones which sounds identical to a bellowsblown set with common-stock drones).
Anyhow a great value in SSPs are the John Walsh "Smallpipes in A 2000". They are troublefree and have a nice tone.
Or if you want something a bit louder and more "woody" in tone you can get some lovely Ian Kinnear smallpipes.
Anyhow here, side-by-side, are the instruments the 19th century Scottish pipemakers called (from L-R) the "Great Highland or Military Bagpipe", the "Half-size or Reel Pipe", and the "Miniature Highland Pipe or Chamber Pipe".
The Miniature/Chamber Pipe is around 100 years old, cocus and real ivory, with the original horn mouthpiece