Chiff and Fipple Forums

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Author:  Dale [ Thu Sep 25, 2003 5:59 am ]
Post subject:  FAQ FAQ FAQ, READ READ READ!!!

Thanks to Gary White for putting this FAQ together and thanks to everyone whose responses on this board ended up, in one form or another, in this FAQ.

#1) What are Uilleann Pipes (UP)?

The Uilleann pipes, also known as the Union pipes, are a type of bagpipe native to Ireland, although they may have not been developed there originally. Most people know only of the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipe, but in fact bagpipes of various kinds are played in almost every country in Europe, and much of North Africa and Asia as well, as far east as India.

A full set consists of a bellows, a bag, a chanter, three drones and three regulators. The bellows supplies air to the bag, and the bag is used to maintain the air flow to the chanter, drones and regulators.

The chanter is used to play the main melody. It has a range of two octaves, and keys which enable the playing of semitones in the scale as well. The drones supply continuous tones for accompaniment, the smallest drone, usually called the tenor drone, playing the bottom note of the chanter, the next largest, usually called the baritone drone, playing an octave below that, and the largest, usually called the bass drone, playing an octave below the baritone drone.

The regulators are built like chanters, but with keys which only sound a note when pressed by the piper with the heel of the hand, or with the fingers of the hand lowest on the chanter (right for right handers and left for left handers) when it is not needed to play the chanter (usually in slower music). The keys of the regulators are arranged in rows to provide a simple chordal accompaniment to the chanter's music. The regulators, like the drones, are usually labeled, in increasing order of size, tenor, baritone, and bass regulator. The drones and regulators are fitted into a large cylinder, the mainstock, which is tied into the bag.

A practice (or starter) set consists of a bag, bellows and chanter.
A half set is a bag, bellows, a chanter and three drones.
A three quarter set is a bag, bellows, a chanter, three drones and two regulators.

For a more complete explaination with photos, please follow these links...

If you want to know more about the origins of UPs check out this link....

#2) How are UPs different from Great Highland pipes?

Uilleann Pipes (UPs) are bellows blown where as the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipes (GHBs) are mouth blown.
UPs also play two full octaves. The GHBs only play a single octave and a note.
GHBs are usually played standing up, outdoors with drums in pipe bands at Highland games or played alone for solo competitions and recitals. GHB performances often require Highland dress.
UPs are well suited for playing with other melody instruments (contrary to the opinions of most fiddle players) and are often played sitting down, inside, preferably in a pub.

Most people don't know that there are many types of bagpipes from all over the world. Checkout this link....

#3) How do I get started?

The first step is to find another piper near you and talk to them. See if you can make arrangements to hear their pipes. Also, try to attend a TionĂ³l (pronounced chunnole) or piper gathering and listen to as many different pipes as you can. Decide what you like/don't like.

If you can't do either of these things, then try to amass as much piping music as you can and spend a lot of time listening to it. The videos from NPU , while no subsitute for one-on-one teaching, are a good start.

As well, try finding Irish clubs or Celtic music societies in your community and play penny-whistle with them. Playing whistle will give you a grounding in the music in general and will also help to prepare you for playing the pipes.

When you finally decide to purchase a practice set (take a deep financial breath, they're expensive), try to remember that these pipes are stupidly complicated and frustrating anywhere in the world, and in isolation it's a touch harder because there's nobody you can complain to who's got a chance of understanding what you're going on about.

The conventional wisdom is to start with a practice or starter set (bag, bellows, and chanter). Then add drones when you are comfortable with the chanter. Once you are comfortable with chanter and drones, then add the regulators. This allows you to grow your set as your skills increase, and also to spread the cost over a number of years. By only investing in a starter set at the beginning, you also limit the expense if you find this instrument is not for you. Do not buy one of the practice chanters that are mouth blown, and see the section below on finding a maker for other things to avoid.

Modification to the conventional wisdom would be to start with a half set. After getting proficient on a starter set, it can feel like you are starting all over again when you add drones and regulators. Also, when you add the other bits to your set, you will have to send it back to the maker and be without your set for a period of time.

How you get started is a decision you need to make based on your situation, financial as well as learning style and dedication.

#4) I'm ready to buy a set of pipes, where do I find a list of makers?

Uilleann Pipes are hand made and generally a maker only builds to order..or on rare occasions, may have some extra time to build a few sets for stock. As a result, the wait time is usually 3 months for a practice set, 6 months or longer for a half set.

While everyone has a different opinion about who makes the best pipes, UPs generally fall into four categories:
a) Rubbish. Don't waste your time or money.
b) Budget pipes. Low cost pipes which are intended for the beginning player.
c) Standard pipes. Well crafted pipes that don't have a lot of decoration.
d) Fully mounted or deluxe. Same pipes as the standard pipes, but have more decoration, keys, etc.

As for which pipes fall into each of the above categories, you will need to form your own opinions. Here are some thoughts on what you might want to avoid...

Regarding budget pipes, several makers offer a low cost way to get started. Some of the more popular options are the following:

Some thoughts on inexpensive pipes...

Here are some pipe maker lists...

Many of these makers produce pipes that range in price from budget through deluxe. It is best to find a maker who is as close to you as possible. This makes it much easier to resolve any problems that may develop with your pipes.

Know that most people do not want to say anything negative in a public forum, and the Chiff and Fipple has rules about how you go about reporting bad experiences (i.e. be specific). Therefore, if you post a question along the lines of "tell me about so-and-so" you may get a set of answers which are generally positive and won't tell you everything you want (or need) to know.

Listen to as many sets of pipes as possible, ask questions, search this site for past comments about a maker you are interested in, call them and talk about options, ask more questions....then form your own opinions about what you like/don't like and make an informed decision.

#5) What tutor book/CD should I get?

Four tutors that are the most popular, none of which are complete, but taken together will help you cover a lot of ground:

1) HJ Clarke's Tutor "The New Approach to Uilleann Piping" - book & companion CD
2) Denis Brook's "The Union Pipes: A Workbook" - book from Irish Piper's Club-Seattle
3) Mad4Trad - Uiilleann Pipes Tutorial - CD-ROM with video clips
4) NPU - 3 videos

The books will give you the dots and the cross-fingerings. The CDs and videos will let you see/hear what its supposed to look/sound like.

What none of these sources helps with is the physical reality of wrestling with the octopus. That's where an articulate instructor can be of the most assistance.

Once you have the basics down you can branch out into some of the NPU books of transcripts of the masters like Patsy Tuohey, and Willy Clancy. Also, Ennis' own tutor book 'The Masters Touch' available from NPU. Quirky terminology, but useful and entertaining.

For a complete list of all known tutors...

For a "required" reading/listing list...

Discussion of Mad4Trad, NPU and Clarke tutor...

Sources for tutors, etc...

#6) I'm travelling with my pipes, can I carry them on the plane?

Yes, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) has negotiated with the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) to secure the right for any musicians to carry on their instruments on airline flights.

You also need a case which is appropriate for carry on luggage (see next topic).

The AFM recommend that you print a copy of the letter of agreement and carry it with you, being prepared to show it to security personnel should there be a problem. Below is a link to the AFM website. Go to that page, and click on "AFM wins right to carry on instruments" to download a copy of the agreement in Adobe Acrobat Format.

See this thread for details...

#7) Where can I find a good case for my pipes?

#8) I have small hands. Will I be able to span a flat chanter?

A: It depends on the maker. Some flat chanters require a wider reach, especially on the right hand, but some do not. It has been reported on this forum that many of the historic flat chanters have spans no wider than concert pitch.

A concert D... right
A C chanter... left


Author:  JoeKrepps [ Thu Oct 16, 2003 10:26 am ]
Post subject: 

What is it about the mouthblown practice chanters that UP pipers don't like? Is it a completely different experience from what 'real' UP are like (such that it effectively 'ruins/spoils' playing)?

Joe <-a tin whistler out for a look around

Author:  Calum [ Thu Oct 16, 2003 2:47 pm ]
Post subject: 

As for Uilleann practice chanters, the short answer is that it's impossible to have a decent mouth blown Uilleann reed. The long answer is that it's totally impossible to have a decent mouth blown Uilleann reed. The cane just can't stand warm moist air. The whistle's a perfectly good practice chanter.


Author:  Pat Cannady [ Wed Oct 22, 2003 9:47 am ]
Post subject: 

I would like to add the following to the UP practice chanter vs. UP practice discussion:

Uilleann pipes are a BELLOWS BLOWN instrument.

A practice UP chanter can not teach a beginner the most important part of playing the UP: controlling the bag and the bellows.

If you just want to learn scales, tunes, and ornaments while awaiting the delivery of a practice set, the whistle is a much more economical way to tackle the problem. Much of what you learn on a whistle will transfer to the pipe chanter.

Author:  Pat Cannady [ Wed Oct 22, 2003 11:29 am ]
Post subject: 

The point is that a UP practice chanter can not teach you to play the UP. The coordination of the bag and bellows is so fundamentally different from playing a mouthblown instrument that to treat it lightly is to invite defeat. Every UP teacher I have ever had, every accomplished piper I've talked to on the matter, every accomplished piper who had anything to say on the matter and every pipe tutor I've ever read/watched/listened to all agree on the primary importance of controlling the bag and the bellows while blowing and stopping the chanter.

If you just want to be a dabbler, then get a practice chanter. If you want to be a piper, then get a practice set.

Even if you "master" the UP practice chanter, you're still going to sound terrible and have to work hard at controlling a practice set. At least a whistle is an instrument that can be played with other trad instruments. I doubt that a UP practice chanter can teach you much more than practice chanters are unnecessary.

That's the pipes. There's no magic formula, no secrets, no shortcuts. They're expensive and hard to acquire. Be patient, save your money, and get the best instrument you can.

Author:  Tony [ Sat Nov 01, 2003 8:44 am ]
Post subject: 

Bagpipe glossary:

Author:  Tony [ Tue Dec 02, 2003 2:12 pm ]
Post subject: 

When ordering pipes from a maker... ANY MAKER.
Inquire if a spare chanter reed comes with your order.

Perfectly good reeds have been known to fail without warning. Unless you want your pipes to sit for a few weeks waiting for a working reed reed to arrive in the mail (warrantee or not) I SUGGEST YOU ORDER AT LEAST ONE SPARE REED just to keep you going.

If you decide to make reeds on your own, it will take you many tries to become successful... even with expert advice. You'll want a working reed (preferably from the person who made your chanter) along with the makers recommended dimensions to give you some indication what your chanter requires.

Author:  alleycat [ Sun Dec 19, 2004 4:58 pm ]
Post subject:  how similar pennywhistle and Union Pipes?

I am a seasoned closely matched are the whistle & pipe fingerings? Thanks.


Author:  fancypiper [ Sun Dec 19, 2004 5:52 pm ]
Post subject: 

Didn't you know that the pennywhistle leads to the dark side????? :twisted:

Think sort of upside down, but essentially the same, as far as the top fingers lifted are concerned, plus some extras.

You have a thumb hole on the pipes to get octave d.
Pennywhistles, you raise as many fingers as possible, pipes usually only one or two fingers are off the chanter at any time, but the top hole of each fingering is at the same position on both instruments.

Pipes also have the "ghost D" hole that uses the pinkie of the bottom hand to cover.

Search the board and you will find some threads on fingerings for the pipes.

Author:  Chris Bayley [ Wed Mar 16, 2005 5:03 pm ]
Post subject: 

Warning about the use of liquid latex (copydex and water) to seal a leaking bag or bellows. If used in the wrong situation it will cause more problems than it cures.

My own bags and several other makes are stitched with the shiny side inside and do not require dressings at least for several years.

Unfortunately people will take advice from forums such as this one and other pipers without checking with either the instrument maker or the bag manufacture to see if it is a) recomended and b) suitable and because of this, problems occur such as those shown in the photo's below. Before giving advice the advisor needs to know how the bag has been constructed

The pictures below show the effect of adding this mixture to one of this style of bag. You will note there is nothing for it to adhere to other than the wooden parts and that it is all flaking off.

Image Image Image
Image Image Image

The pictures show the blowpipe stock almost completely blocked by the wretched mixture. There is also a very nice clot acting as a clack valve in the neck of the bag giving airflow problems (bottom picture).

For those who do use and advise this mixture think carefully - should you really be pouring water into your expensive pipes and then to stop it sticking to itself fill the bag with french chalk or talc which blows out through reeds giving them a nice dusty coating.

I have used liquid latex thinned with ammonia solution in sealing whole animal (goat) skins on the rare occasions that I make 'foreign' bagpipes but it is applied with a brush prior to stitching.

Always contact your maker first for advice but if this is not possible then use tried and trusted methods based on wax and oil mixtures obtainable from a saddlers and check that the various mixtures will not rot stitching.

Have recently come across a product that is of the right consistancy straight from the tin and is sold in the Saddlery shops in the UK. It is called by the name 'Ko-cao-line' leather dressing and is manufactured by Carr & Day & Martin who also produce a range of saddle soaps and oils. It is guarenteed not to rot stitching. This is not a recommendation as I have yet to try it on a leaky bag to see how well it performs.

Author:  Pat Cannady [ Fri Sep 02, 2005 11:42 am ]
Post subject:  Right hand or left hand on top of the chanter?

See Subject.

In response to a recent thread posted by a beginner with this question, the thumb and first three fingers of the hand attached to the BAG arm are always used to cover the back d and top three holes on the front of the chanter. All four fingers of the hand attached to the BELLOWS arm are always used to cover the bottom four holes. This is regardless of whether the piper is right hand dominant or left hand dominant, no exceptions.

Why? Placing the bellows side hand on top inhibits access to the drone switch and regulator keys when the player progresses to a point where they might be added to the set.

See any of the numerous photos of pipers in action on for an illustration of this point.

Author:  Pat Cannady [ Thu Sep 15, 2005 9:09 am ]
Post subject:  Save your money - a missive to the curious

Do not buy Indian, Pakistani, or "budget" practice sets from highland pipe outfitters or specialty import retailers. The prices of quality UPs may be daunting, but these are not a cheap alternative. They will still cost you some money, and worse, they will waste your time if you're at all serious about piping.

Some of these instruments can be nice looking, and their level of workmanship is variable, but they all suffer from the same basic problem:

They were made with by people of varying skills who had and continue to have a poor understanding of how uilleann pipe bores and reeds work. Many of the Indian or Pakistani manufacturers make Highland pipes of varying quality and appear to believe that qualifies them to build uilleann pipes. It doesn't.

The UP chanter is a very complex creature, much more like an early oboe than like a typical conical bore west european bagpipe chanter. It plays two octaves that must be in tune with itself at a minimum, and concert pitch instruments must be in tune with the commonly accepted pitch standard of today, A=440Hz. It's a time consuming process to make a UP chanter and the slightest error can throw the instrument out of tune.

Every south asian chanter or plastic chanter from a highland outfit or specialty shop I have ever encountered failed to be in tune with the A=440Hz standard or even with itself without extensive reworking such as re-reaming and movement of tone holes. Unless you are a seasoned pipemaker, the expense and delays of reworking such an instrument make buying a more expensive but functional, working instrument from a known maker a better option.

Some Highland pipe outfitters or specialty import shops sell a "starter set" or "practice set" featuring a plastic chanter with a plastic reed, vinyl bag, and a bellows; this too is rubbish. It cannot play an in-tune two octave UP scale, period. And plastic reeds sound like a cat with its tail in a garbage disposal. :boggle:

Which brings me to my next observation about these "bargain" instruments:

Who do you go to if your reed suddenly shrivels up and turns to dust? What if you drop your chanter and break off a key block? Keep in mind that even if the manufacturers do send replacement reeds, they will probably work their best in Pakistan or India or wherever they were made.

Beginners, you are better off acquiring your instruments from a known pipemaker with a name, address, phone number, and email. Ideally this person should not live any great distance away from you but that is not always possible in North America or other parts of the Irish diaspora. Try to buy from someone who lives on the same continent if possible. Don't buy from a maker who lives "across the pond" until you are comfortable making your own reeds.

An instrument from a known pipemaker should sound better and be more in tune than any of these options, and you can get help if you need it. Stay away from "bargains" unless an experienced piper - someone who has been playing for a while and knows pipes - tells you it's a bargain. And don't rely on just one opinion when choosing your first instrument.

And another thing...

If at all possible GET A TEACHER. I know it was mentioned earlier in the thread but it must be hammered home. This is not an instrument you should try learning on your own without guidance. Videos, DVDs, and books can help, but are not a substitute for sitting face to face with someone who's been playing for 20 or 30 years or more and really knows their stuff.

End of rant.

Author:  Joseph E. Smith [ Wed Oct 12, 2005 7:28 am ]
Post subject: 

Future submissions to the FAQ page can be forwarded to me via PM and I will post them. Please keep them 'topic only'.



Author:  Joseph E. Smith [ Sat Oct 22, 2005 7:35 am ]
Post subject: 

For those new to the Uilleann Pipes, if you have not found what you are looking for on this FAQ page, I recommend posting your questions on the forum with a header like "Newbie Question" or "New Piper needs help", anything to that effect, followed by your question. This will help members of the forum who wish to help you out answer your questions, and allow those who have grown tired of answering the same old questions time and again avoid your topic.

Thanks a gazillion!


Author:  Joseph E. Smith [ Wed Nov 30, 2005 8:50 am ]
Post subject: 

From myrddinemrys:

myrddinemrys wrote:
I know it's been brought up before; i'm immortalizing a thread with a useful resource for bagpipes imported to USA, in case someone has a problem: ... 510c92.pdf
I hope the link becomes useful.

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