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Proper After-Session Care for your Bagpipes

Posted by Griffin Hall on

If I've learned one thing about playing the bagpipes, it's that you get out of them what you put into them. After you've played for about 45 minutes or more, you'll definitely want to check your instrument over again before putting it back in the box. Much like a car, your pipes will need a regular check up and cleaning of all the essential parts. If some of these items go untreated for a length of time, you may encounter problems with the functioning of different parts of your pipes. Use this guide to check your parts step by step.

1. Cap the Chanter:

This is the first thing you do after playing. You'll want to remove the chanter from the wet environment of the stock and isolate it in a cap with a vent hole. Be very careful as chipping or knocking the reed against the stock or cap could ruin the reed. Check the bore for any moisture that has run down from the reed. If it's wet, you can use a small brush to carefully take the moisture away. Use this opportunity to replace any tape that appears slippery. 

2. Remove the Blowpipe:

You can bet that if any moisture has accumulated in your pipes that your blowpipe will be the most wet. Remove the blowpipe from the stock and let it air dry until the hemp is waxy again. This part of the pipes will need re-hemping more often than the other parts because of it's frequent involvement with moisture. Check for the quality of the hemp and re-hemp if needed. Make sure to run a cloth brush down the bore and follow it with a bristled brush to remove any debris. Use this opportunity to check the airtightness of the flapper valve. Wooden blowpipes are very sensitive to changes in moisture so it is crucial that we remove the moisture from the bore as quickly as possible. 

3. Take the drones apart:

After taking care of the blowpipe and chanter reed, you're ready to move to the drones. Take the drones completely apart from every joint including the stocks. Remove the drone reeds from their seats and place on a flat surface. We'll come back to these later. Be sure to keep these marked as you don't want to confuse the tenors. You can look through the bores of the drones and see if any moisture has visibly accumulated on the wood. If so, take a fabric brush and wick the moisture away while running it through the drone. Be mindful of the bass as it has a third section that'll need checking. Let these air dry for about 15 minutes. It is not recommended to leave the pipes out to dry for very long as this can dry the wood rapidly causing the wood to crack. 

4. Drone Reeds:

With the different models of synthetic reeds today, the drying method has changed depending on the style of reed. Carefully remove them from the drone and check the hemp seal on them, making sure it's tight and secure. You'll want to blow through the top of the reed and remove any water that has pooled inside the body. Visibly check the reed for water droplets and carefully remove with a dry towel. Many reeds have a hydrophobic body or tongue which requires air drying to remove the moisture. Check the tongue of the reed as well. Look for any debris or water droplets and remove them with a disinfecting wipe. Carefully check the screws of the reeds for moisture as well. I wouldn't recommend removing the screw as this has been set to where you want it to tune. Be very careful with these reeds as handling them too roughly could result in changing the stability and efficiency of the reed's performance.

For cane reeds the process is much easier. Carefully remove them from the drone. Make sure to grab the top of the reed and stay away from moving or touching the tongue at all. Simply let these air dry while you clean your drones and stocks, then put them back into the drones and assemble the instrument. Cane reeds thrive on moisture so removing the moisture in excess will affect the tone and stability. 

5. Dry the Bag and Stocks:

You'll only want to dry the bag if it is synthetic. Hide bags should be kept closed so that the seasoning remains moist. Open the zipper and clear the stocks of any valves. Remove your water trap or moisture control system from the stocks. The bag should be left open to sit and air dry for about 15 minutes. For hide bags, check the inside of the skin and ensure that there is even coverage of the seasoning. It should feel like a glazed doughnut all the way around. Apply more if needed. You'll also want to remove any moisture from the stocks. Use a brush and run it through the stock. Sometimes you'll want to use a bristled brush and remove debris on the bottom of the stock. You can move the bottom of the stocks close together and look through them like a spyglass to more accurately see any seasoning or debris that is stuck to the inside. Hide bags should have their stocks corked after removing excess moisture from the wood. We don't want the seasoning to dry out. 

6. Water Traps:

Like the drone reeds, these devices are numerous in style and material so the drying process differs between brands. Most times the system is made of plastic and will benefit from having hot and soapy water run through the tubes. Check for anything suspicious on the inside like black spots or fuzzy patches. If you've been cleaning your trap regularly then you shouldn't see this. Use peroxide or additional cleaning agents if necessary. Allow to air dry for a while and place back into the pipes when ready. If any cloth or sponge is involved in the system you may want to either thoroughly wash or replace this from time to time as this is where bacteria will tend to grow. 

7. Outside Wood:

We play in all kinds of places and in all kinds of weather. Depending upon your climate and humidity, you may consider oiling your pipes. This should only be done once every 3 months at most. Over-oiling will change the moisture content in the wood and could cause cracks and splits. A wooden pipe chanter should never be oiled for this same reason as the wood is as thin as glass. I personally don't oil my instrument as I think they get enough oils from my hands. After a cold and wet parade or a dusty highland games, I'll normally run a cloth over the wood and polish the metal on my pipes. I'll always visibly check the wood for any chipped mounts or pieces that look suspicious. 

8. Final Steps and Storage:

After ensuring that your instrument has properly rested you may begin re-assembling your pipes. Add your water trap at the end to give it plenty of time to dry out. Use this opportunity to double check the joints, reeds, valves and wood for any last minute changes. You may find it smart to blow the drones up and give a check to the functionalization of all the parts. I store the pipes with a cork in the chanter stock as to not let the instrument overly dry out in it's case. you should especially do this if you have a hide bag with seasoning. I also wrap my pipes in a towel and store them in my soft case with proper humidification and temperature devices as needed. Typically, you'll want your case to be at about 50% to 70% humidity. In colder and dryer seasons, I use sponges to give extra moisture to the inside of my case. Keep the case and pipes away from air conditioning or heaters as drastic changes in temperature can cause the hemp and wood to expand or contract. 

With your instrument fully maintained you are ready for your next playing session!

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