Scottish Smallpipes made by Ray Sloan
Fully mounted Scottish Smallpipes with Drone Stops, decorated Nickel Silver ferrules, imitation Ivory caps and mounts.
I have been making Scottish Smallpipes since the 1980’s, at a time when there was only a handful of makers producing Smallpipes. These were makers like myself, Hamish Moore, Colin Ross and Herriott & Allen – all based around Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. This was long before any of the makers of Highland Pipes started to copy us and before there were any makers anywhere else in the World. Scottish Smallpipes were not popularly played until after their revival in the late 70’s and early 80’s when they were re-developed into their present form by Colin Ross. Northumberland and the Borders is where it all started and it was prinicpally due to the research of Colin Ross of Whitley Bay who ‘re-invented’ the Scottish Smallpipes as we know them today. Despite the fact that they are called ‘Scottish’ Smallpipes, the epicentre of their revival was undoubtedly in the N.E. of England and the Scottish Borders, but more especially in the county of Northumberland. The fact that they are called ‘Scottish’ smallpipes is more to do with a deference to the existence of historical sets such as the Montgomery set found in the National Museum of Scotland and the fact that they are played with the same fingering as the Great Highland Bagpipe.
Scottish Smallpipes are an amazingly sweet and mellow-toned instrument providing an absolutely ideal alternative for the player of the Highland Bagpipe. Not only is this a beautiful bagpipe in its own right but it provides the perfect quiet and sweet alternative to the rather dull and uninspiring ‘practice chanter’ for players of the GHB. The Scottish Smallpipe will give you the completely authentic sound and feel of a ‘real’ bagpipe which will allow you to hear just exactly how your playing and technique are developing, while also giving anyone listening a high degree of pleasure.
However, the Scottish Smallpipe is not merely an alternative practice instrument for the GHB, to view it like that would be to completely overlook its beauty as an instrument in its own right. It is also perfect for playing with other instruments such as the fiddle, amongst others, which will immensely broaden your enjoyment and participation in the world of traditional music.
Scottish Smallpipes are available in A/Bb/C & D. However, in reality the most popular pitch is ‘A’ for a couple of reasons; 1) the finger spacing is almost identical to the finger spacing on the chanter of the Highland Bagpipe giving those players of the GHB making the transition to Smallpipes that familiar feel. 2) being pitched in concert ‘A’ it is perfect for playing with other instruments as mentioned above.
‘D’ pitch is the next most popular as it means the player can join in traditional sessions playing tunes in the keys of G major and D major. However it must be said that players of the GHB may find the finger spacing quite uncomfortable as the chanter is relatively small with very ‘tight’ finger spacing necessitating playing the chanter with the finger ‘tips’, quite a different feel for GHB players.
Buying a set in ‘A’ pitch with a chanter having a plug-in chanter stock means it is possible to buy a chanter in ‘D’ separately, which will play with the ‘A’ drones as ‘A’ is the harmonising 5th of ‘D’. It is also possible to buy a combination A/D set with the appropriate drones for correct harmony with both pitches. So, if you want a recommendation then ‘A’ is the pitch most often chosen.
Circa 1990 I was probably the first Smallpipe maker to line all of my drone sliders with fine gauge brass sleeves giving a lovely smooth action for the movement of the tuning pin. This also reduces the need for maintenance through wear.
The typical drone arrangement of Scottish Smallpipes is Bass – Baritone – Tenor, (A/E/a) but can be Bass – Tenor – Tenor as with the Highland Pipes. You can also have x4 drones playing Bass – Baritone – Tenor – Alto (A/E/a/e).
The pipes are completely hand-made by me individually, using the finest materials. Nothing is bought-in except the raw materials and bags, which means that I retain complete quality control over everything I make. This ensures that you receive a finished product of the highest standard. Amongst other things, my reputation is built upon my uncompromising attention to detail and ‘ finish’ and together with my unwavering commitment to customer care and service this guarantees you, the customer, a first class product.
In late 2014/early 2015 I re-designed my Drones to incorporate Plunger Stoppers for the Drones. Stopping the Drones has always been a problem and players often resort to sticking pegs and other materials into the Drone ends to stop them sounding while, for example, tuning them to the chanter, or perhaps wanting to play the chanter by itself during practice sessions. Incorporating a plunger stopper in the end of each Drone, as in Northumbrian Smallpipes, gets around this problem and makes playing, tuning and practicing so much easier and efficacious. One of the reasons this has been difficult previously is that if you incorporate a piston/plunger then the air vent has to locate in the side of the Drone top, again, as in Northumbrian Smallpipes. Doing this gives a discernible ‘hiss’ to the sound as the air makes a right angled turn to vent from the Drone, this also inhibits the production of harmonics and so dulls the sound. My solution to this problem is one I developed a long time ago i.e. by drilling multiple vent holes around the Drone top it is possible to simulate a traditional end venting Drone i.e. the air has a clean and free escape from the Drone end which eliminates ‘hiss’ and retains the production of the harmonics which give the Drones their richness and vibrant sound.
My standard wood is African Blackwood generally thought of as ‘the’ wood for Bagpipes. You can however order your pipes made from any wood, such as Cocobolo, which is a beautiful deep red with a lovely pronounced grain, Ebony or indeed any wood of your choice. If this is what you require please enquire with me for price and availability.
All sets are Fully Mounted
African Blackwood, Reid style decorated ferrules with choice of Ivorine/Cocobolo or Boxwood mounts. Padded bellows. Mammoth Ivory and Hand engraved silver can be supplied – please enquire for price and availability.
All sets of Smallpipes come with a copy of my best selling maintenance manual: ‘The Smallpipes Survival Guide’ and are name stamped and delivered complete with bellows and set up ready to play ‘out-of-the-box’.
Special orders can be made and so if you have any ideas for that extra special set then I will be happy to discuss all of your requirements.
Bellows wood is dependant upon availability. At the present time Honduras Mahogany is being used. If you want a special wood for your bellows then please let me know and I will always do my best to find it for you. All bellows have my garment-proof inlet valve as standard.
Bags are all made from the best quality leather that is just the right thickness to be sturdy yet supple. Guaranteed air-tight.
Reeds are of course crucial to the performance of any set of pipes. I have developed my reeds in over 30 years of pipe-making experience and can assure you of the very best sound and performance available anywhere. My drone reeds are my own design of ‘composite’ reeds being constructed from copper bodies with cane tongues – the same cane as that used for chanter reeds i.e Arundo Donax. ‘Composite’ reeds are very much more stable than pure cane reeds and are steadier in performance when temperature and humidity change, as when playing in sessions. I source my reed cane from the French company Rigotti, one of the main suppliers of reed cane for wind instruments situated in Cogolin.
The Smallpipes Survival Guide.
This book has sold over 1,000 copies and is now available to purchase as an e-book. In seven sections it guides everyone from the beginner to the accomplished piper through all of the various problems associated with playing and Smallpipes maintenance. Although the book focuses on Scottish Smallpipes the general maintenance and reed issues are equally applicable to the Northumbrian Smallpipes. There are sections on History, making drone reeds, general maintenance and tuning, as well as many references which will be of interest to all Bellows-Pipes enthusiasts. The text is backed up throughout the book by comprehensive and easily understandable diagrams, in addition there are useful fingering and Troubleshooting Charts. The book has been previewed, reviewed and proof-read by some of the worlds top Pipers, including: Jim McGillivray of Canada, Rab Wallace of Scotland, and Chris Ormston of Northumberland. The cost is 12 Euro (payable only via PayPal) and upon payment the x7 PDF files will be mailed to you.
Please contact me for details.