Last updated: August 18, 2021

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Welcome to our big bagpipe test 2021. Here we present all the bagpipes we have tested in detail. We have compiled detailed background information and added a summary of customer reviews on the web.

We would like to make your purchase decision easier and help you to find the best bagpipe for you.

You will also find answers to frequently asked questions in our guide. Furthermore, you will also find some important information on this page that you should pay attention to if you want to buy a bagpipe.




Summary

  • A bagpipe allows you to play many different styles of music. Whether traditional Irish, Scottish or modern music.
  • Basically, a distinction is made between Great Highland Pipes, Borderpipes and Smallpipes. All three types are available in different price ranges and materials such as wood, leather or plastic.
  • Great Highland pipes are suitable for those who prefer the classic bagpipe sound. Borderpipes are smaller and suitable for playing in pubs or bars. Smallpipes are the quietest version and are great for playing and practising in the home.

The Best Bagpipes: Our Picks

Guide: Questions to ask yourself before buying a bagpipe

Who is a bagpipe suitable for?

In principle, bagpipes are suitable for anyone with an interest in music, whether a beginner or an advanced player.

There are different types of bagpipes. Beginners are recommended to start with a practice flute, a so-called practice chanter.

In this way, you first learn the correct fingerings before you attempt to play the bagpipes.

This is how everyone imagines a bagpiper - with kilt and the classic Scottish castle landscape. (Image source: pixabay.com / Sharon Ang)

Bagpipes can be used in many different ways. You can use it for traditional Irish or Scottish music, but also in modern music such as medieval rock, rock and metal.

It should be noted, however, that different bagpipes are suitable for different occasions. We will go into these specific aspects in more detail below.

Where can I learn to play the bagpipes?

It is possible to learn the bagpipes in many different ways. You can go to music schools or workshops.

Of course, you can also teach yourself to play the bagpipes. There are many tutorials on Youtube.

On various bagpipe forums on the internet, you can exchange ideas with experienced players and beginners.

What instruments can the bagpipes be combined with?

The choice of suitable instruments is enormous. Common instruments to combine are, for example, drum, guitar, violin, harp or organ.

In marching bands, you play with a group of bagpipers and a few percussion instruments, such as snare drum and bass drum.

The bagpipes are also often used in rock music with electric guitar, electric bass and drums. In medieval rock, additional instruments such as hurdy-gurdy, lute or a fiddle fiddle are added.

What alternatives are there to bagpipes?

There are many direct alternatives to a classical bagpipe. The Hümmelchen, for example, is an instrument from the Renaissance period.

It is smaller than a normal bagpipe and the sound is also very different from a conventional bagpipe.

Then there are many special types such as medieval bagpipes, gaita gallega, shepherd's pipes, market bag pipes, etc. Unfortunately, many of these types of bagpipes are not so widespread.

It can therefore be more difficult for you to find information about these instruments and, if necessary, to buy them.

Of course, as with many other instruments, there is an electronic version of the bagpipe. The advantage of this is that you can switch between many different sounds in one instrument.

In addition, you can record the sound directly with a cable in the bagpipe. So you don't need a microphone.

If you don't have an electronic bagpipe, but you still want to record your music, you can easily do that with a good microphone.

Decision: What types of bagpipes are there and which one is right for you?

If you want to buy a bagpipe, there are three different types to choose from:

  • Great Highland Pipes
  • Borderpipes
  • Smallpipes

Each type has advantages and disadvantages. The following sections should help you decide.

What are Great Highland Pipes and what are their advantages and disadvantages?

When someone thinks of a classic bagpipe, it is usually the Great Highland Bagpipes. This bagpipe consists of a blowpipe, a chanter to produce sound, the air bag and three drone pipes.

The drone pipes, also called drones, produce a constant low tone that is characteristic of the sound of a bagpipe.

The air bag is held between the left arm and the body to regulate the air pressure. A non-return valve is also built in so that the blown-in air cannot flow back again.

The chanter is grasped with both hands.

Advantages
  • Very versatile
  • Full sound
Disadvantages
  • High volume
  • Low range

Since a very high sound level of up to 120 dB is produced when playing, ear protection is strongly recommended.

The range is usually just over an octave. This is why some people criticise the bagpipes for always sounding the same.

By comparison, a piano has almost 7 times the range of a bagpipe. With the Great Highland Pipes you get the full sound of a classical bagpipe.

Do you want to play traditional Scottish or Irish music? Then this bagpipe is perfect for you. Maybe you want to play modern music like medieval rock or metal? That's good too. With this bagpipe (almost) everything is possible.

What distinguishes borderpipes and what are their advantages and disadvantages?

Borderpipes, also called reelpipes, are mouth-blown or played with bellows. The name comes from the English border, which means border.

This bagpipe originally comes from the border area between Scotland and England, as the instrument used to be widespread there.

Playing with a bellows instead of a mouthpiece has the advantage that no moisture penetrates the bagpipe through saliva.

Therefore, in contrast to the mouth-blown version, one has to clean the bagpipe less.

Advantages
  • Possibility to play with bellows
  • Easy relearning from Great Highland Pipes to Borderpipes
Disadvantages
  • Higher finger precision required when playing
  • Smaller than Great Highland Pipes, but still very loud

Because the fingering is similar to the Great Highland Bagpipes, it is relatively easy to change from one bagpipe to the other. However, you have to finger the notes very precisely, otherwise it will sound unpleasant very quickly.

The volume ranges between Great Highland Pipes and Smallpipes. Unfortunately, the Borderpipes is still too loud to be practised in houses.

What distinguishes smallpipes and what are their advantages and disadvantages?

Smallpipes, like borderpipes, are bagpipes in their own right. Their origin goes back to 15th century Scotland. This variant can also be played with a bellows.

Advantages
  • Can be played at room volume
  • Smaller and easier to transport than the Great Highland Pipes
  • Easy to retrain from Great Highland Pipes to Smallpipes
Disadvantages
  • Not the classic bagpipe sound
  • The sound goes down slightly

Similar to the Borderpipes, relearning between the different types of bagpipes is relatively easy due to the similar playing style.

Due to their special range, the sound of the smallpipes is easily drowned out in places where there is a lot of loud talking, such as a pub or inn.

If you want the classic full bagpipe sound, you will probably not be happy with the smallpipe.

Because of their small size, smallpipes are relatively easy to transport. If you travel around a lot with it, a small backpack is sufficient for transport.

A considerable advantage is the low volume. This makes it possible to practice the Smallpipes in flats with direct neighbours.

Here you can see bagpipers during a festive procession, together with drummers. (Image source: pixabay.com / Dieter Ludwig Scharnagl)

Buying criteria: You can use these factors to compare and evaluate bagpipes

In the following, we will show you which aspects you can use to decide between the many possible bagpipes.

  • Material of the pipes and the air bag
  • Number of drone pipes
  • Types of reeds for the pipes
  • Volume

Material of the pipes and the air sack

Traditionally, the air bag was made of leather. Over time, however, versions made of plastic have become established, as they are cheaper and easier to maintain.

There are wooden and plastic versions of the pipes. The advantage of plastic pipes is that they are less susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity.

Number of drone pipes

The number of drone pipes, also called drones, can usually vary between one and three. The more you have, the more different possibilities you have when playing.

Most bagpipes have three drones. One bass drone for a low tone and two tenor drones for medium-low tones.

The drone pipes can also be switched on or off as desired. Of course, it depends on what song you want to play.

Types of reeds for the pipes

Here we distinguish between single and double reeds. The double reed sounds buzzing and penetrating.

The sound of a single reed is similarly penetrating as that of a double reed. However, it sounds less nasal.

Depending on which sound you prefer, you can choose between these two variants.

Volume

As already mentioned, Great Highland Pipes are the loudest bagpipes. If you do not have a suitable room to practise in, we recommend the quieter versions such as the Borderpipes or the Smallpipes.

Sound source Sound level Hazard to hearing
Absolute silence 0 dB None
Whispering 30 dB None
Normal conversation 60 dB None
Truck 100 dB Hazardous for long exposure
Aircraft take-off 140 dB Very hazardous

The Great Highland Bagpipes here is between the volume of a lorry and an aircraft take-off at about 120 dB.

Bagpipes are also played in south-eastern Europe. (Image source: pixabay.com / Silviya Kirilova)

Interesting facts about bagpipes

Where are bagpipes still played?

Bagpipes are not only played in Scotland and Ireland. There are many different types and forms of bagpipes in other countries as well.

In France and Italy, but also in Southeastern Europe such as Croatia, Macedonia or Bulgaria, bagpipe playing is widespread.

How do I care for my bagpipes?

Most air bags have a zip. This makes it easier to clean it inside and keep it dry.

If the bagpipes are made of wood, you should treat them regularly with an oil so that they do not dry out. In general, you should always make sure that all parts stay clean.

On the one hand because of hygiene, on the other hand to keep the life span of the individual parts longer. It can be very expensive if you have to send the bagpipe in for repair and need new spare parts.

What are the most popular songs for bagpipes?

Here we have listed the most popular songs for bagpipes:

  • Amazing Grace
  • Scotland the Brave
  • Scottish National Anthem
  • Highland Cathedral
  • Little drummer boy
  • Loch Lomond
  • Hallelujah

Probably the most famous song is Amazing Grace. The song probably also gained a lot of fame through the version of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, which made it into the British charts.

Where can I find sheet music and audio samples for bagpipes?

Of course, you can find audio examples for bagpipes on Youtube. If you are interested in bagpipe recordings on CD or as a download, there are special shops on the internet.

You can also get sheet music either on the internet or in music shops or music schools. If you can't read music, no problem. There are also fingering charts that are easier to read than classical sheet music.

Why are bagpipes played at funerals?

About 150 years ago, many Irish and Scots emigrated to America. They took many of their own traditions with them, such as playing the bagpipes.

The bagpipes were used at many festive occasions such as funerals, dances and weddings. At that time, the Scots and Irish in America took on dangerous jobs that no one wanted to take on, such as fireman or policeman.

It was not uncommon for someone to die doing these jobs. Bagpipes were then played at the funerals in keeping with the old tradition.

Nowadays, bagpipes are a common symbol at funerals to bid farewell to a fallen hero.

Image source: 123rf.com / 106813635 (M)

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