Bagpipes are a symbol of folk music, particularly in Scotland. They come in a wide variety of materials.
For this reason, the price is quite variable. The average cost of bagpipes ranges between $200-$3,000. Plastic bagpipes will be less expensive than those made of wood or ivory.
If you are looking to learn to play the bagpipe, there are several options to help you save money.
You can rent bagpipes, you can buy used bagpipes, and you can buy bagpipes made of inexpensive materials while you are still learning.
As you become more experienced and join a pipe band, you will likely want to upgrade your bagpipes to those of a higher quality.
Table of Contents
- What Materials are Used to Make Bagpipes
- Types of Bagpipes and Their Cost
- Used Bagpipes
- Renting Bagpipes
- Why Do Bagpipes Cost So Much?
- History of Bagpipes
- Other Members of the Bagpipe Family
- The Most Popular Bagpipe Tunes
What Materials are Used to Make Bagpipes
The bag of bagpipes was traditionally made using the skins of the animals native to the area. This often meant sheep for Scotland, but other places would use other skins.
For example, in Australia, bagpipe makers often use (or used to use) kangaroo skins. In the United States, cow skin is popular.
In modern days, synthetic materials are sometimes used in the place of animal skins. Goretex is a popular material.
Traditional bagpipes use wood for construction of the pipes. Hardwood is ideal for the construction of pipes due to its texture and sturdiness.
Rosewood and Blackwoods are particularly popular for the pipes on bagpipes. However, the wood selection can vary based on region.
Bagpipe makers must take into account the humidity of the climate when selecting which wood to use.
Today, bagpipes are made of a wider variety of materials.
Wood is still the preferred pipe, but for a less-expensive option, you can buy bagpipes with pipes made of plastic.
Plastic also does not need to be controlled based on the humidity and climate in the same way that wood is.
Pipes made out of plastic use PVC, Delrin, and Acetyl.
Another key component of bagpipes is the reed. Reeds are usually made from water reeds. These can be carved to make single or double reeds. Some manufacturers also make reeds from PVC.
Bagpipes usually have ornamentation.
Traditionally, this ornamentation was made from ivory. However, in recent years, bagpipe manufacturers have made ornamentation out of other materials in an attempt to help preserve endangered species. Now ornamentation is made of metal, deer antlers, plastic, or metal.
Types of Bagpipes and Their Cost
If we separate bagpipes into the materials used in their construction, we see two groups and two approximate cost groups.
Bagpipes with pipes made out of plastic tend to be less expensive than their wooden counterparts.
The average price range for these bagpipes is between $200 and $400.
However, it is important to note that the sound on a plastic bagpipe may not be as authentic nor as rich as the sound from a wooden bagpipe.
Bagpipes with wooden pipes are more traditional. They tend to have a deeper, richer timbre than plastic bagpipes.
Aesthetically, they also have more variation as the gradation of the wood adds to the design of the pipes.
Wooden bagpipes cost between $1000 and $3000.
The amount of ornamentation and the type of wood used both accounts for the variation in price within this group.
If you want to buy bagpipes to get started, but are afraid of the investment required to purchase high-quality bagpipes, buying used bagpipes is a great way to save money without cutting too many corners.
Sites like eBay offer several options for used bagpipes. Use caution when buying bagpipes online, though, as it can be difficult to examine them before you purchase.
Furthermore, returning faulty bagpipes may create a hassle.
If you are looking for an in-person option for buying used bagpipes, reach out to the music stores in your area. Many of them have connections with people looking to sell their old pipes.
Also, check with your local pipe band to see if anyone is upgrading to a new set or has a spare set that they no longer need and are willing to sell.
Used bagpipes made out of wood or plastic can be purchased for around $80 to $200.
However, it is important to note that you should set aside money for any repairs that need to be made and that re-finishing pieces of the bagpipe may add some extra cost as well.
Often when buying a used bagpipe, you will need to replace the bag to make sure it is a good fit for you. New bags can cost around $100.
Other factors you will want to consider when buying used bagpipes are the quality of the wood, warps, and the overall sound. You will want to play the bagpipes before you purchase them to make sure that they create the sound you are looking for.
Inspect the wood pieces on the bagpipe. If the wood is warped or bent, it can be very difficult to repair and might need to be replaced. If the wood is cracked, it can be repaired. Depending on the size and depth of the crack, though, this process may be expensive.
Testing for warps can be done easily when you examine the bagpipes. If you can visibly see a warp in the wood, that is a red flag.
Another way to examine is to hold your hand in a ring around the pipe. If you run your hand along the pipe and discover any part that is shaped more like an oval than a circle, then the wood is likely warped.
Examine the finish on the wood. If the finish is too thick, the instrument is likely not of high quality. A clear finish will allow the natural beauty of the wood to shine through. A thick finish may be used to hide the true quality of the wood.
If you are inexperienced with bagpipes but want to buy a used set, see if you can get a bagpipe expert to help you examine the pipes before you buy them.
Your local city may have a pipe band where you could find experts. You could also reach out to a local university and see if anyone in their music department would be available to assist you.
Renting bagpipes is not a very common practice. Because they are easy to mistreat, and because the bag may be personalized for each player, it is difficult to maintain bagpipes between multiple owners.
However, if you are still interested in paying a little at a time for bagpipes, you can reach out to your local pipe band and see if anyone has an extra set that they can loan you.
You can also possibly work with the members of your pipe band to create a payment plan.
Why Do Bagpipes Cost So Much?
Bagpipes are very refined instruments. They require many pieces to all be in proper working order to create the ideal sound. In addition to this, high-quality bagpipes use materials that are not always common.
Blackwood found in Africa is not a cheap commodity.
However, it is concerned crucial to many bagpipers. It can hold up for many years without needing to be replaced. It creates a higher quality of sound than plastic or other woods. It tends to survive in a wide variety of climates, both humid and dry.
Furthermore, if the bag of bagpipes is not made of high quality, the instrument simply will not play. If the bag is cracked or leaks, air cannot pass through the pipes to make a sound.
Buying a bag that will last through the test of time is crucial for saving money in the long run.
Another reason that bagpipes may seem expensive is simply demand. Bagpipes are not as widespread as instruments like guitars or pianos.
This means that to make enough money to keep producing bagpipes, manufacturers may need to price the pipes at a higher rate.
One thing to keep in mind if the price of bagpipes is a turn-off for you is that bagpipes tend to last quite a while if they are treated properly.
The bag may need to be replaced over time, but many sets of bagpipes are passed down from piper to piper.
History of Bagpipes
Bagpipes have become a symbol of Scotland. However, bagpipes and instruments related to them are popular across the world. Bagpipes, or their ancestors, are recorded as existing as early as 400 BC.
Bagpipes, contrary to popular assumption, did not originate in Scotland. Bagpipes came from Mesopotamia and the Middle East. Bagpipes came to be known as “Dudel-sacks.”
Dudelsack is still the word used in German for bagpipes. Dudel-sacks spread across Europe and Asia. Russia, France, Poland, and India all have their version of bagpipes.
They quickly made their way to the British Isles. Chaucer wrote about bagpipes in the 14th century in his Canterbury Tales.
Within the British Isles, the two bagpipes that are still widely recognized are the Irish and Scottish bagpipes.
Irish bagpipes are similar to Scottish but the difference in construction between the two results in a different playing technique.
After bagpipes finally arrived in Scotland, they became incredibly popular as folk instruments. Every town had its public bagpiper. Often the bagpipers would play in churches instead of organs, particularly in regions where organs were too expensive.
Bagpipes further became symbols of Scotland when the Scottish army began to use them as part of their military band.
A bagpiper led the troops, and their piping sound became a form of battle-cry. This became such an icon of the Scottish army that for a brief time in the 1700s, bagpipes were considered “instruments of warfare.”
Today, anywhere with a large enough Scottish population is likely to have their pipe band. These bands are available to play weddings, funerals, graduations, and other festivals.
Other Members of the Bagpipe Family
Due to its widespread origin story, versions of the bagpipe exist throughout the world.
In France, they play the cornemuse. Cornemuses are traditionally made using goatskin because that is what was available in the area. They look very similar to Scottish bagpipes in appearance. It is frequently featured with the hurdy-gurdy.
The Irish union pipe is also closely related to the Scottish bagpipe. A trademark of this instrument is that the musician stops the sound on their knee to create staccato notes.
The Most Popular Bagpipe Tunes
If you are looking to get started on the bagpipes, knowing popular tunes can help your instrument pay for itself. These tunes are often performed at festivities and being hired to play for one such festivity can earn you several hundred dollars, depending on how long the engagement is.
- Auld Lang Syne- The music of Auld Lang Syne is a traditional folk tune. The words were written by the famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns. This piece is traditionally performed on New Year’s Eve around the world.
- Amazing Grace- Amazing Grace was composed by the English clergyman John Newton. This piece is performed at religious ceremonies, and around the world at funerals. This piece is particularly popular on November 11th, Remembrance, or Veteran’s Day.
- Scotland the Brave- Scotland the Brave is the most widely requested bagpipe tune in the world. This Scottish patriotic song appeared around the early 20th century. The piece is played at all kinds of parties and revelries.
- Modern Music- Though not a specific tune, bagpipers are still creating new music today. John Farnham’s song “You’re the Voice” famously uses bagpipes. Bagpipers also do covers of rock and roll songs. A particularly popular cover is AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”
Bagpipes are popular around the world. They are an icon of Scottish culture. Purchasing bagpipes costs between $200 and $3000.
Bagpipes are made of plastic or wood, and animal skin or Goretex. Higher quality bagpipes may cost more, but they produce a more beautiful sound.
Options for saving money when purchasing bagpipes include buying used pipes and buying plastic pipes.
Find your bagpipes, and start learning today!