Throughout the last month, I have found myself sitting on my studio floor on numerous occasions, re-hemping pipes for my students. I hope they were watching.
The Great Highland Bagpipe is almost a living, breathing life form! It needs care to work properly. Often, my students come in complaining that their pipes are unplayable. They play one tune and feel like they're going to drop dead. I usually ask them if they've done any maintenance on them. The most frequent reply is "what maintenance?".
As a person who makes a living playing the pipes, I have a twice-per-month ritual that I perform to keep my pipes in shape. Here's what I do and what you should do, too:
Take your pipes apart at all of the hemp joints. I personally have been experimenting with different hemp methods. I personally like waxed yellow hemp on all of my "sealed joints". Those are the joints where the pipes are attached to the stocks. The stocks are attached to the bag. While you're at it, you might want to remove your bag cover and check to make sure that your stocks are tight. If you can turn them, you're in trouble. You might, at that point, need to re-tie or re tape your stocks. Most new bags have grommets and install with tape.
Again, I use waxed hemp on all of my sealed joints. I want them to be "hand tight". That means I need my hands to turn the two joints together. I mix waxed hemp and unwaxed hemp for my sliders. Sliders need to be "finger tight". If they rock back and forth, I then need to make sure that they are hemped evenly. Adding hemp to the joints make all of the difference in the world.
The last thing you should do before you blow them up is to make sure that the reeds are seated properly. That means that there is no chance of the reeds falling out of the seats and into the bag. That is a performing disaster when it happens.
In addition, if I know I have a gig coming up, I always go over my pipes the night before. There is nothing more embarrasing than having your pipes fall apart when you're playing someone's event.
Doing these things on a regular basis will keep you playing for a long time.
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".