Oliver Seeler's
~ Universe of Bagpipes ~

~ Catalog Index Page ~

~ A Universe of Bagpipes White Paper ~

~ Purchasing Your Bagpipe ~

~ Part One: The Parts and the Choices of Style, Trim and Material ~

~ as seen in the Great Highland Bagpipes of ~

J. Dunbar Bagpipe Maker

P3 With Brass
A J. Dunbar P2 With Options

About This Essay

This article is intended for two audiences: Those who are looking for guidance regarding the many, many options available on J. Dunbar bagpipes, and those who want to learn more about the parts of a Great Highland Bagpipe (GHB) and the terminology used in talking about them. It is intended to supplement, not replace, direct contact between us here at The Universe of Bagpipes and those who are considering a bagpipe. You are always welcome to call or email. Thanks for your interest.
Oliver Seeler, 707.937.1626 (Pacific Time) and bagpipes@hotpipes.com

Some Things You'll Want To Know

J. Dunbar Bagpipe Maker Ltd of Ontario, Canada has long been regarded as one of the world's finest family-operated "hand" bagpipe makers and we here at The Universe of Bagpipes have been providing their wonderful instruments for over 15 years to pipers worldwide. The design, materials, workmanship and art that go into Dunbar's wooden and synthetic bagpipes ranks them among the very finest instruments made by anyone, anywhere. A Dunbar bagpipe, made by traditional methods, is a gorgeous instrument that can serve generations of pipers of any level. The lineage of Dunbar's pipes goes straight back to the legendary Henderson bagpipes of the early 20th century (not to be confused with new instruments sold today under that name).

Dunbar is also an innovative firm, but without straying from the core characteristics of those grand old Henderson bagpipes. A major innovation, now widely copied to one extent or another with varying results by many other makers, was the introduction by the firm's founder and Henderson-trained pipemaker, the late Jack Dunbar, of synthetic materials into the basic structure of bagpipes. These instruments, Dunbar's "P" series, turned by traditional methods on lathes, not molded, from the engineering "plastic" Acetal (trade names include Delrin and PolyPenco), today continue be the best of their type. They are the Range Rovers of bagpipes and supplement Dunbar's traditional African Blackwood (and lately Coco Bolo) bagpipes. They are very popular because of their enormous strength and durability, their long-lasting beauty, the ability to be customized and of course their outstanding musicality.

Wood vs Synthetic

Some pipers are of the opinion that there is no significant musical advantage of wood over a proper synthetic, with all other things being equal. Blind tests seem to point in that direction. It is an interesting topic, and it remains a subject of debate.

Be that as it may, our experience over the years has been that a major factor in the choice of wood vs synthetic in otherwise identical pipes lies with the piper. Aside from purely practical considerations, some people just don't much like "plastic" and revere fine wood for its own sake, while others are enthusiastic about high-tech materials and worry about the care wood requires, its fragility, and so on.

Any musician is going to play his or her best on an instrument with which they are both rationally and emotionally comfortable. This is a spot where you need to look into yourself and decide if you're going to be comfortable with one, the other, or both.

Another Dunbar innovation was the establishment of a large library of optional external trim and external design features and materials that can be incorporated into both their synthetic and wooden pipes in literally hundreds of possible combinations. For years, Dunbar has presented their bagpipes in about a dozen or so basic models that reflect some of the most popular configurations of these elements, using a DB prefix for Blackwood pipes, so DB1, DB2 ....DB6, DB7, and a P prefix for the "Poly" synthetic series, so P1, P2, P3, P4. But the only differences between the models within a series are these external features. As a result these model designations can quickly become meaningless as various of the many, many available options for each of the basic model are applied to a pipe. In an attempt to keep the model designations meaningful, suffixes were added for a time to many of the model codes, such as P3a, P3c, P2e and so on. But these additions still fell short of covering the possibilities for personalizing a pipe.

It is important to understand that there is no difference in the quality of materials or workmanship, or in the internal dimensions and thus in the musicality, of any of the bagpipes within a Dunbar series. A Dunbar P3 or DB3 is in no musical way a "better" bagpipe than a P2 or DB2, and so on. Secondly, once options begin to be applied there may not be a simple progression of cost. A P1 can be configured to cost more than a P3, for example. The model designations are merely starting points and waypoints, and they are a convenience for retailers who wish to stock and offer a standard configuration without even mentioning all of the possibilities because, you see, that can lead to having to spend time with a customer. We here at The Universe of Bagpipes take an opposite approach and don't believe choosing an instrument that can serve for a lifetime should be a matter of checking boxes in a Web site pull-down menu. You can't buy a bagpipe from us without a discussion by phone or email. As a result many pipers are happily playing on instruments we've provided that reflect their own personalities and tastes, rather than just being off-the-shelf. And by the way, there are no dumb questions; none of us were born honking on a bagpipe!

Bagpipe Factories

By the way, most if not all of the newly emerged mass-producers and super-automated copycat-class of makers try to provide a degree of individualization by hanging bits of flash and glitter on various designated models, using cheap materials, odd inlays, plating and shallow machine engravings and the results sometimes are reminiscent of, say, multi-colored running shoes marketed to silly adults, or the interior decor of fast-food restaurants. So if 1959 DeSotos are your thing, you might want to stick with such off-the-rack mass produced bagpipes; at least you won't have any trouble finding them in the dark.

Dunbar recently contemplated discarding the model designations altogether to instead present the piper with an entirely "a la carte" menu. We applauded this idea, as it reflects what we here have been doing for years: We have always let our customers know that these pipes can be easily customized as they are being made, often at no extra cost of money or time.

However, it seems that some retailers moaned and groaned about the extra work and the need to revise their Web sites and so on, so in the end Dunbar decided to only lightly modify their existing model designations for now. We nevertheless decided to go ahead and present the possibilities here in this page, to make it clear that there are literally hundreds of possible combinations available, not just the dozen or so defined in the model designations.

The Basics: Terminology and Features

The familiar Scottish Great Highland Bagpipes (GHB), as manufactured today by a dozen or so firms in North America and the British Isles, share many common characteristics, usually with relatively minor variations from model to model and even from maker to maker. To the casual observer or even to a new piper some of the differences may seem trivial to the point of being overlooked altogether, but to the practiced eye they may be front-and-center. By the time a new piper is ready to purchase his or her own GHB there is usually an awareness of different styles and features, but perhaps not yet an understanding of all the choices available and the reasons behind them, both aesthetic and practical.

How a Bagpipe Works

We might as well include here a brief synopsis of how a bagpipe works:

There are two fundamental things that set a bagpipe apart from other wind instruments. One, obviously, is the bag. The function of the bag is to provide a continuous airflow to the pipes and their reeds, so the sound is therefore continuous, with no silences at all between notes or when the piper takes a breath. While the piper is blowing into the pipe through a simple tube, (the blowpipe) the breath is both powering the reeds (one in the bottom of each drone pipe and in the melody pipe) and replenishing air in the bag. While the piper takes a breath the air continues to flow to the reeds as the bag is squeezed by the piper's arm, and air cannot escape backwards up the blowpipe as there is within it a simple one-way valve.

The second unique thing about a bagpipe is the presence of at least one drone. Each drone sounds a continuous single note. Thus the melody plays against the background of the drone(s), producing the rich harmonies that are the essence of bagpipe music of every kind.

Most large Western European bagpipes, including the Great Highland Bagpipe, have a tapered conical-bore melody pipe (chanter) driven by a double-bladed reed, so acoustically of the "oboe" type and cylindrical-bore drones driven by single-bladed reeds, so acoustically of the "clarinet" type.

Again: Variations between models within a particular maker's lineup are almost always confined to external style, applied trim, decorative turning of the main sections, and materials. Internal dimensions and internal finishing, which are the only things structurally inherent to an instrument that affect the character of the sound, seldom vary much if at all from model to model by a single maker, unless such differences are highlighted, for example if they are the result of replicating different historical instruments. Quality of workmanship and finish, and quality of materials, may vary among models by a single maker, but that is not automatically so and if present is usually also highlighted in the maker's literature.

A review of GHB terminology is in order here, as it can be confusing and it is essential that the piper, his supplier/advisor (that would be us) , and the bagpipe maker are all talking about the same thing. First, here are the basic structural parts. Refer to the letters on the left side of the below image.

features and names
Terminology: See Text

On the most basic level there are five major structural components of a Great Highland Bagpipe as shown on the left, above: one Bass Drone (A-B-C-D), two Tenor Drones (E-F-G and H-I-J), one Chanter (N-O) and one Blowpipe (K-L-M). The bass drone provides a continuous single tone, the tenor drones each provide a single continuous tone one octave higher then the bass, the chanter provides (hopefully) a melody, and the blowpipe provides the conduit for air between the piper and the bag. (Notes: We are not discussing the pipe bag itself, the bag cover, bag cover trim and drone cords, or the reeds, or the one-way valve in the blowpipe in this article; those are all more or less consumables rather than permanent structural elements and are discussed elsewhere. Also: When speaking of the chanter the most common pronunciation, at least in North America, is "tchan'-ter," as in "chanting." "Kan'-ter" is also correct, but to some Americans it may seem along the lines of calling a toe-may'-toe a toe-mah'-toe, which can draw some strange looks.... Each of these five main elements is built up out of several sub-structures that fit together and that are routinely assembled and disassembled by the piper. They consist of the following:



Stocks are short hollow tubular sections, open at both ends, that are tied into the bag so as to penetrate from outside to inside. Air passes into the bag via the Blowpipe Stock (M), and air passes out of the bag and into the three drones and the chanter through each of their stocks, the Bass Drone Stock, the two Tenor Drone Stocks and the Chanter Stock (D,G-J and O, respectively). So, there are five stocks in all. Stocks have a fairly deep Tie-In Groove near their bottoms, which is where the fabric or leather of the pipe bag is attached.

Simply enough, the chanter plugs into the chanter stock, the blowpipe plugs into the blowpipe stock, and the bottom sections of the three drones (C, F and I), often called the Standing Joints or Standing Parts because they don't slide like the upper drone joints, each plug into their stocks. All of these parts have a stubby end that fits into the stocks, called a Tenon, which is wrapped with hemp to provide a firm, airtight attachment. A Standing Joint Tenon (9) is pictured in the inset on the large diagram, above. (Note: The reeds - three drone reeds and one chanter reed - have a hemp wrap at one end which plugs into the tenon; so the reeds project outward from the tenon and thus are housed and protected inside the stocks. The beginning of the bore of a tenon, where the wrapped end of a reed is wedged, is called the Reed Seat and may be slightly conical and/or contain internal grooves to help grip the reed's wrapping. )

Each of the three drone standing parts terminates at its top in a narrow cylinder called a Tuning Pin (5). This plugs into the next drone section above, which in the two short tenor drones is a final Tenor Drone Top Joint , E and H. The bass drone has an additional Bass Drone Middle Joint(B), also terminating in a tuning pin, and then above that its final Bass Drone Top Joint(A). So there are four tuning pins in all, two on the bass drone and one on each tenor drone. As seen in the inset, part of the pins are wrapped in hemp to provide an airtight sliding seal with the upper sections. Drones are tuned by changing their overall length by means of these sliding joints.

Each drone top section terminates in an enlarged hollow knob-like structure usually simply called the Top or Drone Top. This acts as a bell or sound-chamber and affects the tone of the drone. (Note: There is the possibility of verbal confusion here, between the entire drone top section and just a top.)

Each of the four sliding drone joints has a relatively long, fat length at its bottom, to accommodate the inserted tuning pin from the next drone joint below. The interior of this larger length is sometimes called a Tuning Chamber and its exact internal geometry can affect the tone and stability of the drone. The external size and texture of these areas provides a good grip when the piper is tuning a drone.

Returning to the blowpipe, it has a short extension attached at its upper end, the Mouthpiece(K) , into which the piper blows, and internally, at its bottom, it incorporates a one-way Blowpipe Valve that keeps air from backing out of the bag when the piper stops blowing to breathe and/or rest for a moment.

The chanter may or may not have a disk, called a sole, mounted at its far end. It also has a knob at the end closest to the bag, usually an integral piece with the rest of the chanter. This knob is rarely decorated with more than a few turned lines.

Those are the basic structural parts of the Great Highland Bagpipes, and their commonly heard names. Now,

On To The Details:

Referring again to the large diagram, this time the right side, and starting at the drone tops (2): Drone tops most commonly have a cylindrical shape, like a small short can. In profile this looks like a simple rectangle, while viewed on-end it is a simple circle. This is by far the most common shape of drone top seen today, and is called simply a Regular Top or sometimes a Military Top. The top is usually turned as part of the rest of the drone top joint rather than being made separately and attached. The final opening of the bore, at the center of the top, may be lined with a contrasting material, for example imitation ivory, and called a Bushing. The upper edge of the drone top may again be a separate attachment, called a Ring Cap. Or, the entire top of the top may be metal, coming out over the edge a bit.


Some Dunbar Drone Tops

Other shapes are seen (many, many other shapes on non-GHB bagpipes), notably an antique or chalice style, shaped something like a wine-glass. Chalice tops are often left smooth-sided. Like the regular tops described above, they may incorporate bushings and ring caps.

Moving down the drone top section we commonly see some decorative grooves turned into the sides of the top, and then some beading and combing turned into the body of the section as we move lower, below the top. There may also be a concave groove a bit below the top in which to anchor the drone cords. Beads are turned shapes that may be half-round, quarter round, and so on. Combing consists of a series of closely adjacent fine grooves, made with a comb-like cutting tool, thus the name. The exact pattern of beading and combing running down a drone can be a signature (often the only signature) of a bagpipe's maker.

Beading and Combing

Detail: Beading and Combing on a Dunbar Blackwood Drone Top Section

The precision of beading and the crispness of combing are among the things that set fine bagpipes apart from so-so ones. This again is something that benefits from a practiced eye. The inexperienced piper may think a mass-produced pipe that has washed-out looking combing and/or that shows bumps and flats in the curves of the beading looks just fine. Beading and combing also obscure to an extent the grain pattern of wooden pipes, and the unpracticed eye may not notice if the character of that grain differs significantly from one drone section to another. All of these things become painfully clear when such a pipe is laid next to a finely made one.

Moving along to the very bottom of the top drone section we see the large hole that accommodates the tuning pin from the next section below, and the therefore relatively thin walls at this point. There are nine places on a GHB where this condition exists: the five upper openings of the stocks, and the four openings on drone sections that fit onto tuning pins. These thin-wall openings are weak spots on a wooden pipe (as are similar thin-walled large openings on parts of wooden flutes, clarinets, and so on). These spots may be left plain and unreinforced on inexpensive instruments, but more commonly they are reinforced by a band of some material stronger than wood. These can-shaped bands are called ferrules. They are most often made of metal, such as a hard aluminum alloy, brass, or silver. On some early pipes they were made of ivory, which however is not a very strong or durable structural material. On modern wooden pipes imitation ivory ferrules are sometimes used, and these can be very strong if made and fitted correctly. On a properly made synthetic pipe, turned from the Acetal crystalline engineering plastic Delrin, ferrules and other reinforcements are purely decorative as the Acetal is enormously strong and doesn't actually need any strengthening.


A: Nickel, Machine Engraved, Beaded (no longer offered); B: Silver, Hand Engraved, Beaded;
C: Brass, Hand Engraved, Beaded; D: Alloy, Plain, Closed, Beaded;
E: Imitation Ivory (Delrin) Plain; F: Imitation Ivory, Hand Engraved, Beaded;
G: Alloy, Plain, Beaded

The most common embellishment of a bagpipe, whether it needs them or not, is the addition of these ferrules. There being nine of them scattered up and down the pipes they stand out strongly and add considerable flash to the overall appearance of a bagpipe. Ferrules can be plain, or they can have several structural and decorative features. Simple decorations might be a few grooves running around the ferrule. A decorative bead is sometimes incorporated around the edge opposite the opening. At the open end of the tuning chambers, the ferrules might incorporate a disk that covers the exposed end-grain; this is called a closed ferrule. Ferrules are often engraved, either by machine or hand, in a variety of patterns, usually traditional motifs such as Celtic knots but sometimes specific themes such as Fire Service. So, ferrules provide nearly endless possibilities for personalization of a bagpipe.

The attachment of ferrules is a complex issue and has been approached in many ways over the centuries. There are opposing forces at work that make this more difficult than it would seem. Wood moves, metal less so but maybe in an opposite direction. For the moment, consider that a positive mechanical attachment method, such as incorporating screw threads into the mating pieces, is superior to any sort of push-fit or gluing. All Dunbar ferrules are threaded internally and screw onto their mating parts.

Having reached the bottom of the top drone sections, we continue to the next section, the middle joint of the bass drone (or the essentially similar bottom section of a tenor drone). Here we first meet the top of a tuning pin. There may be a little applied structure at the tip of the pin called a hemp stop, especially if the tuning pin is clad with a metal sleeve. Right below the hemp stop is the hemp wrapping, which forms a sliding seal when the tuning pin is mated with the tuning chamber of the pipe section above. The hemp stop keeps the hemp from slipping off the end of the pin, should it become loose enough to have that happen.

Tuning Pins

A: Plain Nickel Sleeve; B: Hand Engraved Alloy Sleeve;
C: Plain, Unsleeved Wood; D: Plain Unsleeved Delrin;
E: Hand Engraved Silver Sleeve ; F: Unsleeved Delrin;

The tuning pin itself is the most slender structure of the bagpipe. It is almost always turned as part of the same piece from which the rest of the section is made. A tuning pin may be be covered and reinforced with a tuning pin sleeve, usually of metal, up to the height at which the hemp wrap begins. The four sleeves on a pipe may be engraved to match any engraving on its ferrules. Tuning sleeves are considered an upgrade to the perhaps more commonly seen unsleeved pins.

Immediately below the tuning pin comes the first of a disk or knob-like, more or less protruding, structure called a mount (for reasons unknown to me). While sometimes turned as an integral part of the larger piece, a mount is more often made of a different material than the rest of the section. Ivory (now imitation ivory) is common, but contrasting wood, horn, metal, and even exotic materials such as jade or amber are seen. The mounts, especially in their most common shape, a fairly large curved disk called a projecting mount, are a highly visible part of a bagpipe and thus contribute heavily to its overall visual character.

Aside from the common projecting mounts, pipes are fitted with smaller bead mounts and even smaller button mounts that may not protrude out beyond the main part at all. Mounts may be engraved or otherwise embellished, and they are attached to the pipe section by a variety of means, with one of the best being screw threads as used by Dunbar.

Mounts do not serve any critical function, though they can act as landmarks and supports for the hand when the piper reaches for a drone to tune it, and they can keep a pipe from sliding through the hand when it's being carried. There are eight mounts on a GHB, and they are usually identical and referred to simply by their positions, so for examples "bass drone middle joint bead mount" or "tenor drone standing joint bottom projecting mount" and so on. Mounts are sometimes engraved, but not all that often.


Referring to the above montage: A: Projecting Mount, imitation ivory; B: Bead Mount, Coco Bolo;
C: Projecting Mount, imitation ivory (color is an artifact of the photo, the color in the far left drone, A,
is most accurate); D: Projecting Mount, alloy; E: Projecting Mount, imitation ivory (color, see note for C);
F: Button Mount, integral, Blackwood; G: Button Mount, integral, Blackwood; H: Projecting Mount, Coco Bolo;
I: Projecting Mount, alloy; J: Button Mount, Coco Bolo; K; Button mount variation, wood.

Below the tuning pin and the first mount we find a length of the pipe again usually decorated by beading and combing. If it is the single bass drone middle joint we are looking at, we see the swelling of another tuning chamber and another ferrule at the bottom. If it is one of the two tenor drone standing joints, or the bass drone standing joint, then we see nearly at the very bottom another mount, identical but inverted to the one above. Below that there remains only the short stubby hemped tenon that plugs into the stock.

The blowpipe will likewise have at its bottom a hemped tenon and a matching mount, beading and combing up its length, and the mouthpiece may or may not have a decorated contrasting material incorporated in some way.

Chanters today are usually supplied with just a bit of a square-profile knob and a little beading and/or grooving at the bottom. If a sole (already described) is fitted, it may be engraved to match other material and engraving on the pipe. Just above the fingerholes and just below the hemped tenon there is a usually half- round knob, turned from the same piece as the rest of the chanter. This is rarely decorated with more than a couple of lines. A maker's name may be roll-stamped around the circumference of the chanter, just above the high fingerholes and just below the half-round knob.

Finally, there are variations from maker to maker and between some models in Dunbar pipes in the diameters, curves and tapers of the parts underlying all of this fancy turning and trim, although the differences tend to be subtle and don't jump out unless the pipes are laid nest to one another, like this:

size comparison, Classic
Note the subtle differences in the diameters of two models of Dunbar bagpipes

Ordering Your Bagpipe: Do you Want Fries With That?

So, those are a bagpipe's sticks, as the permanent major acoustic parts are often called (sometimes sticks and stocks is heard, as is a stand of pipes), seen above with a variety of styles and attachments. It's clear from all of this that there are huge numbers of possible combinations of these elements, and many makers have somewhat arbitrarily created and named or numbered “standard” combinations to simplify construction, inventory, pricing and so on. Deviating from these can be a time-consuming hassle or it can be no problem at all, largely depending on the maker and how they work, and how helpful your dealer is.

Here our focus remains on J. Dunbar Bagpipe Maker Ltd, who make almost all pipes to order and do so quickly. Thus deviating from their basic models is usually very much open to discussion, and deviations do not tend to add much if any time to the delivery, and may not even add any cost. Elements that you will be thinking about and that we will discuss with you might include:

1. Basic Material: The choice is between Delrin and Blackwood (or Coco Bolo).

2. Overall Style: Regular style or the Classic style?

3. Ferrules: The next choices will be whether or not there are to be ferrules, and if so what they are to be made of, alloy, brass, imitation ivory or black Delrin. (Ferrules are sometimes the only added elements on a bagpipe.)

4. Drone-Top Ring Caps: Yes or no and if so, alloy, brass or im. ivory? ( Ring caps would not normally appear on a pipe without ferrules.)

5. Drone Top bushing (if there are ring caps) can be im. ivory or black Delrin (suitable on a pipe with no other im. ivory).

6. Tuning Pin Sleeves (also called "Slides"): Yes or no and if yes, alloy or brass? (Sleeves would rarely be seen without ferrules, and the metals would almost always match).

7. Mounts: Projecting, Bead-Type or Button-Type and of what materials? (Generally one would not use wooden mounts on a synthetic pipe. Materials include im. ivory, black Delrin, alloy, brass, Holly wood, Coco Bolo wood, African Blackwood.)

8. Beading and Combing: Yes or (rarely, except on P1/DB1) no. (As a practical matter the choice is between beading and combing as illustrated, or none).

9. Blowpipe: There are a number of styles and materials available, with recent additions. We will add more information here, meanwhile please ask about the options.

10. Chanter: The choices are first between the standard Delrin Model E1/E2 (the latter higher-pitched) or the Blackwood chanter; then whether without sole (standard) or with sole, and if so of what material (usually matching a trim material found on the rest of the pipe).

11. Hand Engraving: There are five basic patterns available, and two levels of engraving of each pattern except on the im. ivory where there is only one level. (We will soon be adding a box below with examples of the various patterns). All three of the attached elements discussed above - ferrules, ring-caps and tuning pin sleeves can be engraved. It is common to see some but not all of a pipe engraved. Now, there is sort of a sequence that is more or less traditional to this. If only one of the three elements is engraved, it would normally be the ferrules. Next would be both ferrules and drone top ring caps, and then the all three with the tuning pin sleeves, if present. So you will see pipes with just the ferrules engraved, and nobody would think that odd.

~$$~ The Bottom Line: Prices ~$$~

Rather than wrestling with a huge list of prices for all of the many individual available options discussed above, let's look at a few examples of configured bagpipes that will provide a good overall picture of what to expect your pipe will cost. These numbers are approximate but close (say within 10%), and will be updated from time to time. We will of course provide a precise price as we discuss particulars with you. Prices are in US dollars.

The synthetic (Delrin/Poly) model P1 and the wooden equivalent model DB1 in their basic unadorned form are the simplest of Dunbar's bagpipes, having no drone top ring caps, applied projecting mounts, beading/combing, ferrules or tuning pin sleeves (slides). Base prices from us are $725 and $1090 for these plain synthetic and wooden pipes, respectively (with a basic synthetic bag, bag cover and drone cords, ready to play with the addition of reeds).

  • Selecting the familiar "T" shaped drone tops or the antique chalice style makes no difference in price.
    T-top drones look "normal" in a group of pipes, but the P1/DB1 loses much of its overall smooth, sleek curvey look. Some people buy a P1/DB1 because they like that look, not because it is less expensive.

  • Adding plain alloy, brass, or imitation ivory ferrules and ring caps adds $140 in the metals or $115 in im. ivory to the base price.
    This is a basic way to dress up a P1/DB1 while still retaining its uncluttered lines.

  • Changing from the integral Delrin or wood button mounts to applied button mounts of alloy or im. ivory adds $100 or $80 to the base price.
    Perhaps starting to look a little busy for a P1/DB1 and if "T" tops, ferrules and ring caps were chosen this pipe now differs from a P2 or P3 only by way of the button mounts and the lack of beading and combing.

  • Changing from the integral button mounts to applied projecting mounts in alloy or im. ivory adds $140 or $120 to the base price.
    This might look odd without the next item.

  • Adding beading and combing to the pipe adds $70 to the base price of a wooden pipe or $40 to a Delrin pipe.
    Now we may have left the P1/DB1 completely behind and have created a Delrin P2/P3 or if in wood a DB2/DB3. We could have gotten to this same place by starting with those pipes rather than the P1/DB1. But here we will continue with the same example.

  • Adding alloy tuning pin sleeves adds $64 to the base price.
    That's the last piece of trim not yet mentioned. Keep in mind that these, like ferrules, are functional reinforcements on wooden pipes but purely decorative on Delrin.
So, again, the only difference other than the basic material (Delrin or wood) between all of the P (synthetic) and DB (wood) models lies in these things.

Now that these parts are understood let's fit some Dunbar sticks with a high quality synthetic zippered Bannatyne brand bag, a set of fine Ryan Canning synthetic drone reeds, a Duncan Soutar chanter reed, and a Canadian-made velvet bag cover with grip patch and matching drone cords. All of that will cost around $300 from us when purchased with a bagpipe.

So, at our present base prices we see a price range of $850 for a completely unadorned Delrin P series pipe, to around $990 with minimal plain trim (ferrules and ring-caps) and finally to approximately $1200 with all available plain trim.

The same sequence with a Blackwood or Coco Bolo DB series pipe, which has a base price about $400 higher than a Delrin pipe, yields the plain wooden pipe at $1250, $1390 for ferrules and ring-caps, and around $1600 for full metal.

Imitation ivory is a bit less, wherever it might be used, as are wooden mounts.

Engraving is most easily discussed separately, after the basic trim scheme has been decided upon. The price range goes from $300 for hand engraved Level I im. ivory ferrules and ring caps to $1665 for Level II hand engraving of all trim, including projecting mounts. A popular choice is Level I engraving on metal ferrules and ring caps at around $350. If tuning pin sleeves are chosen, it is not unusual for them to be left plain on an otherwise engraved pipe, but if desired Level I engraving on the four sleeves costs $120. Below are some pictures of a recent P2 sporting Level I hand engraving in the "Runic" (also called "Celtic") pattern on all alloy parts.

Machine engraving is not offered on Dunbar bagpipes at this time. While some machine engraving doesn't look bad, none is really appropriate for handmade bagpipes of this caliber. All engraving is currently done by the well-known Canadian engraver David Davidse at his firm, Truehand Engraving.

We have not discussed here custom engraving or sterling silver. Both are very much available and we will happily discuss them with you. Prices range from around $3000 (plain silver, Blackwood) to $10K (full coverage hand engraving).

P2 Black/Silver
A stunning Dunbar P2 in Delrin and hand engraved aluminum alloy
With black Delrin projecting mounts
We've named it "The Black Pearl."

P2 Black/Silver
The Black Pearl, detail
Level I "Runic" (Celtic) engraving by David Davidse, "Truehand," Ontario
Note that the underside of the beaded closed ferrule is engraved, a nice touch.

P2 Black Silver
The Black Pearl, detail
Design concept by the pipe's owner, Michael W.,
In consultation with O.S., proprietor, The Universe of Bagpipes.

The Black Pearl as a Price Example

We have been asked to go one step further here with a more concise example of the price of a specific pipe, for which we will use the above depicted Black Pearl as an example. This pipe is basically a P2/P3 with options that are detailed in the above list. It carries hand engraving, here we will price it with and without that. Included and installed but not discussed on this page are the bag, bag cover, drone cords and a chanter reed.

  • Price as shown, with the hand engraving, installed into a sythetic (Bannatyne) bag, and with bag cover, drone cords and chanter reed: $1370

  • Price as above, but without any of the hand engraving: $950

Often a piper will add synthetic drone reeds, a zipper for the bag and perhaps a few other items from the enhancement options, spending around $100 to $200.
These prices are derived from the information on this page (for the structural options) and on our "enhancements" page (for the peripherals). Remember, you will be in personal contact with us by email or phone when ordering a pipe and we will advise you as needed about any of these choices.

Some Final Notes and Comments, In No Particular Order

  • This article only discusses the sticks, as the main structural, permanent elements of a bagpipe are called, those being the drones, chanter, stocks and blowpipe. The remaining elements are more or less consumables that will likely be replaced from time to time, those being the bag, the reeds, to some extent the mouthpiece, the chanter reed, the drone reeds, the bag cover and the drone cords. These things, with the exception of the mouthpiece, are seldom fabricated by the bagpipe maker, and there are a wide number of choices which we will discuss on request and later on in another White Paper.

  • It is important to remember that none of the above choices have anything to do with the sound of a pipe. But they have much to do with the way a bagpipe looks, how well it reflects your personal style and tastes, how appropriate it is for the settings in which it is played, and ultimately how comfortable you, the piper, are with your instrument which in turn can affect how well you play.

  • Keep in mind that on a synthetic pipe ferrules, tuning pin sleeves and drone-top ring caps are purely decorative, while on a wooden pipe they are structural re-enforcements.

  • Note that Dunbar uses Delrin, not some cheaper, weaker material, for all of their synthetic imitation ivory. The particular formulation has a perfect color, not too white or too yellowish. It contains an UV inhibitor, so it will not change color after years of exposure to the sun (something seen to often negative effect on older bagpipes with various materials that emulate ivory when new turning ugly shades of brown, orange, or ).

  • Unlike some recently emerged mass-producers of bagpipes, the small traditional firms rarely make pipes to stockpile. Rather, they build to order. In some cases this can mean long delays, but small does not automatically mean slow. When we order a Dunbar pipe for our inventory or for a customer, it usually takes Dunbar only around three weeks to have the sticks ready to ship to us.

  • If you wonder what will look "right" if you join a band, or if you plan to pipe in formal or semi-formal Scottish dress, try Googling bagpipe band and then setting the search tool "size" option to return the largest images. You will be able to zoom in and see the wide variety of pipes being played within most individual bands. Almost all will be embellished to one degree or another with the sorts of things described in this essay. Absolutely plain pipes, like an unadorned P1, are uncommon. Also uncommon are drone tops with a profile significantly different than the most common sort shown on this page (chalice tops, or trumpet tops, etc. are pretty much absent).

  • It is probably not the best idea to specify wooden mounts on a Delrin bagpipe.

  • Regarding Ivory: Some people may be uncomfortable with imitation ivory at a time when real ivory is in some contexts a controversial material. Keep in mind that bagpipe makers have always used whatever materials were available from whatever source, near or far, that worked well for basic construction and trim. Ivory, and for that matter African Blackwood, are obviously not native Scottish materials. Many Great Highland Bagpipes have been made with them, and many without. So you are not compelled to use any specific material for general historical reasons. If a particular bagpipe is being replicated that's a different matter and not our concern here. Otherwise, the occasionally heard opinion that "it's not a real bagpipe unless it's Blackwood and ivory" is nonsense.

  • Many male piper's spouses might have something snide to say about their partners' choices of colors of socks, shirts, housepaint, upholstery and so on. Do the world a favor before ordering a bright red bag cover with flaming leopard spots and alternating brass and alloy ferrules for your bagpipe and check with her first. We will also try to gently keep you on the rails if you start veering towards a pallet reminiscent of North Korean propaganda posters.

  • Cost is certainly a factor for most of us. But bagpipes are a tremendous bargain in comparison to other fine musical instruments. They are very durable and easily last a lifetime barring major accident. They rarely if ever require maintenance by anyone other than the piper. It is much easier to make a little cash with a bagpipe than with just about any other solo instrument (people will ask you to play at events whether you want that or not). The long term cost of ownership is really low in any event.

Hopefully you are now able to discuss with your dealer (that's us!) what you want in a bagpipe without a lot of confusion or wasted time, and especially without mistakes or unwanted surprises. In fact, if you've got these fairly simple things down you now know more about bagpipe construction than does your cat and your goldfish combined, and probably more than quite a few established pipers.

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