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Andrew's Tips: Caring for Your Bagpipes After PlayBy Andrew T. Lenz, Jr., Santa Cruz, California, ©2006-2007
You're finished playing your bagpipes and aren't quite sure what to do with them when you are done. Take them absolutely and completely apart and swab them out with Q-Tips? Just toss them on black leather car seat while you run off to the beach for a leisurely summer swim?
What steps are necessary to properly stow your pipes after playing will depend on a number of factors, primarily having to do with moisture control. Now, most of the advice below pertains to the care of wood bagpipes. Plastic (or "poly") pipes are very durable and handle extremes in termperture and moisture much better than wood pipes—hence not a bad choice for piper who plays in snow or in desert summers—or is just lazy. On the other hand, while poly pipes usually sound pretty good, you don't see them at the top levels of competition, so there's a trade off involved. Also if you have a set of bagpipes with corked joints, ideally these joints should be disassembled when not in use to keep the cork from compressing and losing its springiness.
If you are a dry blower, live/played in a dry climate, use a moisture control system, or simply didn't play that long, you can probably get away with just disassembling your pipes and putting them in their case. Otherwise, wiping out your chanter and drones will probably be a good idea as you do not want standing water left on the surfaces of your pipes. Excessive moisture can cause your pipes to split. You may hear stories from pipers who insist on one of the extremes—just put them in the box or a meticulous cleaning first—the thing is, what works greatly varies from piper to piper, pipe set-up to pipe set-up, climate to climate. Personally, I remove my chanter, cap it, plug that stock, remove my blowpipe (I have an in-stock valve), place my pipes in the case and then take off and flip around the top (two sections) of my bass drone—I typically don't play for hours and am not a wet blower. A bandmate dries his reeds, blowpipe and drones—he has determined that his system works best for him.
Most pipers remove the chanter from its stock and place the chanter in a "dry stock" (also called a "chanter cap") which covers the end of the chanter and protects the reed. In most locales, a chanter reed will develop mold more quickly if the chanter is left attached to the bag when not in use. And sometimes the chanter may become stuck in its stock—not exactly the most desirable situation! You may wish to remove any beaded moisture on your reed by gently pressing it with a tissue for a few seconds, though some pipers go so far as checking the reed against their lip for any wet feeling. Some recommend leaving the reed exposed to air for 5 minutes before stowing it in a cap. If you do air out your reed, be extremely protective of it, you don't want it getting whacked or rolling off of a table or chair!
If you are in a dry climate such as Denver, Colorado (high altitude) you could just leave the chanter in its stock on the bag to help the reed retain moisture. (Kinnaird Bagpipes of Canada invented the Piper's Pal Chanter Cap, a cap with a moisture stabilization feature which may pipers have found helpful regardless of climate.)
In cold temperatures or after lots of playing, moisture may condense on the inside of your chanter. Ideally, this condensation should be wiped out after playing. There are a number of swabs on the market, basically a cone-shaped plume of absorbent material on a metal rod. These swabs work nicely.
Most pipers can get away without doing much to their drones after playing. But again, you don't want moisture sitting inside the bores of your drones. If this is an issue for you, a "pull through"—a string with a rag strips at one end—may be used to wipe out the larger bores of your drones.
Now, if you do happen to own a set of poly pipes, you'll find that condensation beads up more easily on plastic than wood and that moisture may run down and clog your reeds. It wouldn't hurt to check your bores and wipe them out when necessary.
Condensation on the tongues of synthetic drone reeds is very common, even with dry blowers. It's good practice to dry the body of the reeds after playing and wipe out under the tongue using a thin durable paper—paper currency (i.e., a dollar bill) works well since it's designed to not tear easily. Nose tissue and toilet paper is not recommended (too fragile)—nor is a business card which may have the unintended consequence of springing the tongue, affecting both efficiency and tone.
Some people remove and store their drone reeds in a protective box after each use. If you are one of these, make sure your reeds are very secure when you go to play—this constant removal/installation can compress the hemping and a reed may drop into your bag as a result.
If you have an synthetic or hybrid bag with a zipper, then you will probably want unzip your bag to allow it dry out. With a hide bag, you want to avoid having it dry out, but you also don't want it super moist either. You can help the bag retain moisture by plugging any open stocks with a cork. A hide bag will gradually dry out even with all the stocks plugged—particularly if it's a sheepskin bag. If it's necessary to dry an overly-wet bag then leave one or more of the stocks open.
Into the Case.
A pipe case serves a number of purposes. It allows you to carry quite a number of items easily, it protects your pipes from impacts, and can also somewhat serve to prevent rapid changes in temperature and humidity.
When you place your pipes in their case, you don't want so much leeway that the pipes knock around and chip, scratch, or dent. You also don't want to force the pipes into the case so that they are on the verge of cracking—while drones and stocks are reasonably solid overall, the tuning pins are particularly vulnerable as is the chanter. And remember, if you employ a hose system, make sure these lie flat as you don't want any kinks.
Wrapping the chanter in something (such as fluffy fabric or bubble wrap) to protect it is wise. If you really want to baby your pipes, sets of commercial fabric sleeves are available or some pipers go as far as cutting individual slots in a large block of spongy foam for each bagpipe section.
If your case is overly stuffed you might consider weeding out nonessential items (particularly items that could scratch or otherwise damage your pipes) or if they are all things you need readily available, investigate a larger case.
Storing/Moving your Pipes.
A good piece of advice is to think of your bagpipes as your baby. Don't leave it in a car unattended. Play with it often. Don't drop it or throw it. Only sit on it if you are sure that it's big and strong enough to hold your weight. Feed it (seasoning, if a hide bag). Don't leave it wet (empty/dry your moisture traps). Don't force things to move if they are really stuck. If it screeches, it probably needs some attention. And singing tunes to it (canntaireachd) won't hurt!
Bottom line, treat your pipes to a mild environment that would be very comfortable for you personally. So if your car is a very mild environment and will stay that way while you are gone, then, yes, you can leave your pipes on the seat—but it better be a very overcast and not too hot or too cold of a day!
If you take good care of your bagpipes, they will take care of you. Yes, some pipers are lucky and can get away with not taking proper care of their pipes, but sooner or later, it may just to come back to haunt them!
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This page last updated Sunday, March 14, 2010.