Oliver Seeler's
~ Universe of Bagpipes ~

~ Not just the best "first pipe" we've found ! ~

Scottish Great Highland Bagpipe
Model P1
by J. Dunbar Ltd. of Canada

Only $725.00 U.S. !

Now Standard With A Gore-Tex Synthetic Bag!

An Antique Pattern Dunbar Model P1
J. Dunbar Ltd, of Canada, Model P1 Great Highland Bagpipe

We Also Offer:
J. Dunbar Ltd. Practice Chanters & Outfits, upgraded "Kitchen Pipes," Clanrye Synthetic Chanter Reeds, Electronic Practice Chanters & Bagpipes, John Walsh Smallpipes, Teaching Videos, Tutorials and more:
Catalog Index Page

If you're thinking of learning to play the Highland bagpipe, read the below commentary carefully. It's a bit long, but it may save you a great deal of time, trouble and money.

Before considering the purchase of a full set of Scottish Great Highland Bagpipes (GHB), read the introductory material on this site about practice chanters. Then if you still feel that you are ready for a full set of bagpipes, you will have to make a decision about which pipe to purchase. For most people, cost is a major consideration. Bagpipes are not cheap, and a decent instrument with a few accessories is going to cost around $1000 US. Especially fine bagpipes can cost much more but as a general rule when above $2,000 or so is spent the balance goes into things like heavily hand-engraved silver work, real ivory and so on - in other words, decoration; this is nice if you can afford it, but won't make a bit of difference in the way the pipe plays and sounds.

A Note About Prices

J. Dunbar Ltd. bagpipes are made in Canada. The exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Canadian dollar often swings one way and another. Thus from time to time we must adjust our posted prices (most recently downward, by the way).

Some dealers simply do not post their prices, and base quotes on the exchange rate at the time of order. Others post prices but don't update them and then ask for higher amounts. Some try to avoid the issue by charging high shipping fees and/or by offering incomplete instruments (no reeds, bag cover, etc.). Some post out-of-the-way disclaimers stating that prices are subject to variation. We believe that our customers have the right to know what they'll be paying from the beginning. The prices posted on this site are firm, and there are no nasty surprises.

There are, at the extreme (and we do mean extreme) other end of the spectrum, bagpipe-like objects that can be purchased for as little as $200. There are also, unfortunately, a large number of persons and firms selling these horrors to unwary fledgling pipers. Most if not all of these pipes are made in Pakistan. While there are craftsmen in that area who would be capable of building fine instruments, the demand, generated by importers and exporters, is for something that can be called a bagpipe for the lowest possible price. The results are instruments made of offbeat wood species (but often touted as "rosewood" or "blackwood" or "cocuswood") with drones of questionable dimensions and sloppy internal construction, with a chanter that is almost certainly out of tune with itself (let alone anything else), a blowpipe that will likely split if it's ever operated long enough to get damp and a bag made of leaky poorly-tanned, maybe even smelly, leather. The reeds supplied with such instruments are usually altogether beyond mention, and the finish often looks as though it was applied with a broom. At the very least getting one of these pipes into usable shape will require some hours of skilled work, along with a new chanter, bag and reeds - say about $300 worth. So, it's just barely possible, with luck, to end up with a playable instrument for around $500. It's also possible to sink substantially more than that into the project and still end up with something fit only for hanging on a wall (and a dimly-lit wall at that).

There is another way to go. A number of pipemakers are now producing bagpipes made of synthetic materials (generally lumped together under the often inaccurate term "plastic"). The best of these rival any bagpipe made in terms of performance and far exceed any wooden pipe in terms of durability and ease of maintenance. The best synthetic material for this purpose is an extremely strong and durable machinable acrylic composition known by several names - most machinists are familiar with it by its trade name "Delrin" while some call it "Polypenco." This structural material is hard and dense - very much like a tropical hardwood - but not at all brittle. The color used is a pure black through and through and the surface will finish to any level of gloss that the maker has the time and skill for, without any sort of coating. Quality Delrin orchestral woodwind instruments such as clarinets, oboes, etc. have been produced for years by various mainstream instrument makers. The instruments are made by machining the Delrin - turning, boring, drilling, reaming and so on - not by molding. So the process of building the pipe is essentially the same as with wood. However, by its nature Delrin is easier and faster to machine than wood and while it is actually quite an expensive material there is very little waste or breakage during manufacture; these factors combine to lower the price of the finished instrument substantially in relation to one made of wood.

The Rest of the P-Series Dunbars:

The popular J. Dunbar Ltd. Model P3 Great Highland Bagpipe is discussed on its own page. We are showcasing the P1 and P3 on these pages because they are particularly popular. But we also provide all of the variations of these two pipes, as well as of the P2 and P4. The differences among the synthetic P-Series Dunbar bagpipes are solely in the styles and materials of the external trim. There are actually hundreds of possible combinations, only a few of which have model designators. All of them are identical internally and, importantly, all are identical in terms of the very high standard of craftsmanship to which they are made. We also highly recommend Dunbar's brilliant Blackwood bagpipes, for those who wish a pipe in that traditional material.

Nearly ten years ago we began offering Delrin practice chanters here at the Universe of Bagpipes, made by the fine Canadian firm J. Dunbar Ltd. We chose the Dunbar PCs because in our estimation they are an outstanding value - flawlessly made, good sounding, 100 percent reliable, tough as nails and very nice looking to boot. These were very well received by our customers, so we soon decided to add Great Highland Bagpipes by Dunbar to our inventory. As with the practice chanter, we feel that these bagpipes (the most popular being the P1 and the P3), are simply the best buys available to both the beginning piper and the established piper who wants durability, quality, good looks and musical excellence at a moderate price .

But cost is not the only advantage of this sort of bagpipe. Bagpipes in general are high-maintenance and somewhat fragile instruments. Temperature and humidity extremes, rough handling, rain, spilled coffee, curious small children and a host other dangers are always concerns for a piper. Just finding a safe place to set down a pipe for a few moments, without breaking it down and putting it into a case, is often a problem - never mind what to do at, say, the beach. A Dunbar P1or P3 can be kept in a simple cloth bag and tossed into the back seat of a car next to the family dog, carried through rain, checked as baggage on an airline and so on - and one never has the horrible sensation of discovering a cracked or broken part, or the frustration of finding that one or more of the nine joints between the various parts has either become so loose that it falls apart, or so tight that it can't be gotten open without a dangerous amount of force.

Dunbar pioneered the use of Delrin in bagpipes and today there are other makers using this material for complete pipes. What is particularly noteworthy is that just about every major pipemaker provides as standard a Delrin chanter (the melody pipe, not to be confused with a practice chanter), even with wooden pipes. Wooden chanters are available from most makers, including Dunbar, but today account for a small fraction of the total.

A final note on materials concerns esthetics and tradition. Over the centuries bagpipe makers have used whatever materials and tools fell to hand, beginning with natural cane stalks with burned-through finger holes, then carved local softwoods, then harder woods turned on primitive lathes and then imported woods worked on machine lathes. In relatively recent times, African blackwood (genus Dalbergia) has become the material of choice for fine Highland bagpipes. It's a wonderful material, but it has nothing intrinsic to do with either Scotland or bagpipes and is only "traditional" insofar as it has been much-used for a relatively short time, historically speaking. Meanwhile, synthetics have been developed that are now the material of choice for many applications, including musical ones, not because they are cheaper or easier to work with, but because they are the best performing materials for a particular job; for example, nobody argues the point that synthetic clarinet and saxophone mouthpieces are superior to wooden ones. So, I suggest that the use of synthetics in the construction of woodwind instruments is actually traditional, in the sense that it follows a long established pattern of using what works best when musical, mechanical and financial considerations are balanced against one another.

But What About The Sound?

This is all very nice, but what about sound quality? That is, after all, what it's all about. The exact character of the sound produced by any woodwind instrument depends on a great many factors, some of which have a much greater effect than others. The two most important things by far are the reed and the shape and internal finish of the bore. It is the air column within a woodwind, excited by the reed, that produces sound. This sound leaves the instrument and enters the surrounding air from openings in the end and/or the side of the bore. Only a tiny amount of the sound energy of the vibrating air column is transmitted directly through the walls of a woodwind to the outside air; this is in contrast to the way that a string instrument works, where a great deal of the sound produced is carried to the outside through large thin vibrating surfaces, such as the top and back of a guitar or violin. In string instruments the acoustic properties of the materials are critical and have a huge effect on the sound - and in spite of much experimentation wood remains, by far, the only real choice. The same does not hold true for woodwinds. A given synthetic woodwind may sound a little different to some ears than another made of wood, but every bagpipe, no matter of what it is made, is going to have a bit of character of its own. "Blind" tests have demonstrated that many expert listeners simply cannot group pipes by material when they can't see them.

Going It Alone?

If you've mastered the basics of the practice chanter and are now thinking about going it alone with a full set of pipes and without a teacher, you're in for an interesting time. A very few years ago the chance of success was about zero. But just as there have been many advances in the instruments and reeds, there are now a couple of learning aids that can carry the isolated student onto the pipes. Foremost among these are the outstanding Bagpipe Solutions books and audio CDs by John Cairns, along with a two-volume set of teaching DVDs by Jim McGillivray. See our catalog on this site for details.

Another consideration regarding sound involves the chanter (the melody pipe). Today many professional and serious amateur Highland pipers use chanters not made by the same maker as the rest of their pipes. Bagpipe chanters, much more than the drones, have individual performance qualities and these vary from maker to maker and even among chanters made by the same maker. Pipers who have reached a certain level often develop a preference for one or another maker's chanters, which can usually be purchased alone. For this reason some makers even offer their bagpipes without a chanter, thus allowing a piper to use whatever chanter he or she likes. What is important for a beginning piper is to own a chanter that functions properly musically and mechanically and that continues to do so as it ages. The latter can be a problem with any wooden chanter, no matter how fine; it is common for a new wooden chanter's dimensions to change subtly as it "breaks in," especially in the very critical narrow "throat" area, just below the reed. An experienced piper can make certain compensations as these changes develop, and it is also common to eventually return a fine wooden chanter, after it has stabilized, to its maker to have its bore re-reamed with the same tool with which it was made. The fledgling piper, however, has more than enough problems producing correct tone without worrying about this and is thus well served by the utterly stable synthetic chanter, which will sound exactly the same in fifty years as on the day it was made. None of this is to say that synthetic chanters are by nature ultimately "better" than wooden ones, but they certainly have their advantages, especially for the beginning piper and for any piper playing in extreme environmental conditions.

About the Exterior Style of the Dunbar P1

The most familiar exterior shape and trim of the drones of a Great Highland Bagpipe is relatively modern, dating from around the early 1800s. The ivory (or "imitation ivory") trim parts on the ends of various drone sections, the boxy profile of the drone terminations, and the "combing" - closely spaced groups of grooves on the drone sections - are all more or less recent additions and/or modifications, as is sometimes massive amount of metalwork. An older exterior pattern, now considered "antique" and sometimes called a "chalice" pattern (after the shape of the drone ends) is the graceful design seen in the standard Dunbar Model P1. There are a variety of reasons for the various elements of the modern design, most of them having to do with the strength and other characteristics of wood. For example, wooden tubes of any sort tend to crack at their ends, and bands of other materials (metal, horn, ivory, other woods, etc.) at such locations help prevent this. The use of the enormously strong synthetic Delrin, of which the Dunbar P1 is made, allows a return to the sleek, uncluttered earlier design without running the risk of cracking, breaking a drone by whacking its end against something, or other disasters.

Overall size and location of the drones is the same in both styles and the internal configuration and performance of the instrument is unaffected by the exterior design. The internal specifications of the Dunbar P1 are exactly the same as those of all other Dunbar bagpipes, both of modern and early exterior design and regardless of whether they are made of wood or Delrin. That internal design follows closely dimensions used around 1911 by the very famous pipemaking firm Henderson. Pre-World War I Hendersons are considered by many to be the best-sounding of all bagpipes and they are avidly sought after (and incredibly expensive). Of course not all pipemakers today follow the Henderson dimensions, but the point here isn't to argue the nuances of the design, but rather to show the care with which the Dunbar bagpipes are made.

New Exterior Style Option

In response to numerous requests, the P1 is now available optionally with drone tops having the more familiar squared-off profile instead of the chalice style. There is no difference in price for this new "military" style (as Dunbar is calling it).

Occasionally we provide a P1 that is "dressed up" with metal (alloy, stainless steel, or brass) ferrules or other metalwork. This of course adds to the cost of the pipe, and we'll be happy to discuss specifics.

Pipes by Other Makers

We feature the P-Series pipes of J. Dunbar Ltd. here because they represent a just about unbeatable combination of quality, musicality, durability, practicality and economy. But we can also supply pipes by other makers, both in synthetics and in wood (and by the way, Dunbar's Blackwood pipes are, like everything they make, just outstanding). If there's something particular you're looking for in a bagpipe we'll be pleased to discuss it with you.

Further On-Site Information on J. Dunbar Bagpipes:

Ordering Information: The Dunbar Model P1 Great Highland Bagpipe

Options and Enhancements for Dunbar Bagpipes

Setting Up, Playing & Maintaining Dunbar Great Highland Bagpipes

The Dunbar Model P3 Great Highland Bagpipe

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Copyright1999 - 2008, Oliver Seeler,