A good maintenance kit is essential to maintaining a set of bagpipes. Forty years ago when I started playing the pipes, we played it the same way they did for hundreds of years. We played elk-hide or sheepskin bags that were sealed with “seasoning” that usually smelled foul and look nearly as bad. We also played bamboo drone reeds. Everything we played was wet. It wasn’t uncommon to sit in the stands at a Highland Games and look out over the field to see a piper or two holding their pipes in a funny position while trying to pull “the right” hair out of their heads to insert under the tongue of the reed. You had to love this instrument so much to put up with the BS that it took just to make it work.
A lot has changed since those days. With synthetic bags, reeds, and moisture control systems, we have come out of the outhouse into modern day plumbing as far as the bagpipe is concerned. New people have no idea what it took to play this thing in “the old days.”
In today’s maintenance kit, you should have two kinds of hemp – waxed and unwaxed. As I play pipes with brass sleeves in the drones, I have found that teflon tape is useless so I don’t include it in my kit. I use the waxed hemp for all of the sealed joints. I mix the waxed and the unwaxed hemp for the sliding joints. This makes it possible to turn the sliders with my fingers and not have to worry about them falling. You should also have a good drone swab and chanter swab to dry you instrument if it does get wet.
If you know how to adjust your chanter reed, you should have a set of 90% needle nose pliers and a mandril. Chris Apps makes a pretty good mandril. The pliers are used to close the staple of the reed and the mandril is used to open it. You should have a good set of drone corks and stock corks as well and lots of wire ties to keep your cords tight.
Having all of the tools at your disposal will keep you in good tune with no risk of instrument failure! To order one, go to: Maintenance Kit
Gary Guth is a professional bagpiper with over 45 years of playing experience and has been teaching bagpipes full time for the last 20 years. He has written "Bagpipes For Beginners", "the Bagpipe Hymnal", and " A Piper's Christmas".