3) The Uilleann (Union) Bagpipe.

3.1) What is an Uilleann Pipe?

 A) The Uilleann pipe (UP) is a type of bagpipe native to Ireland. The UP is mechanically somewhat complex, and it is normally played while seated. It has a range of up to 2 octaves, and is usually pitched in the key of D. The piper inflates the bag by operating a bellows with one arm, and maintains pressure on the bag with the other arm. Main UP components includes a bag, a bellows, a double-reed chanter, zero or more drones (usually three), and zero or more stopped pipes called regulators (usually three).

 

3.2) I'd like to get started playing the Uilleann pipes. I keep hearing about practice sets, half sets, full sets and so on. What are the differences and which do I need to get started? 

A) A practice set consists of a bag, bellows, and chanter, and is all you really need to get started. A half set consists of the practice set plus the drones, and is also reasonable for beginning players though you'll find that you won't actually use the drones for quite some time. A full set consists of the half set plus regulators. If you're just starting out on the pipes then it may be a matter of years before you're comfortable enough to manipulate the entire full set.

 

3.3) Where do I get Uilleann pipes, and how much will they cost me? 

A) Uilleann pipes are less widely available than are Highland pipes, and therefore you may have to do a bit more searching. Some of the suppliers listed in part 2 deal in Uilleann pipes. Alternatively, you may wish to purchase a used set of pipes or a new set directly from a maker. Be aware that many pipe makers (especially the better ones) have backlogs, and there may be a long wait for a new set of pipes. As with Highland pipes, prices can vary widely. Good-quality half sets (new) can be found for as little as $1,200 and as much as $2,500. Practice sets may cost less, while full sets will cost a lot more.

 

3.4) What else should I look for when starting? 

A) As with any instrument, a good teacher is invaluable. You may also wish to consider one of the tutorials listed in "The Printed Word", below. Also, you'd be well advised to find one or more good books or pamphlets on reed making. Uilleann pipers should learn to make reeds early and often. Uilleann pipe reeds seem to be significantly less "interchangeable" than Highland pipe reeds. In other words, a chanter reed that works well in one UP chanter may not work well at all in yours. Unless you know of a good reed maker in your area, you're going to be making and/or tweaking your own reeds.

 

3.5) Do Uilleann pipes play a lot differently than Highland pipes?

 A) Yes. The Uilleann pipes have a much wider range than do the Highland pipes (two octaves versus nine notes). Also, the spacing of the finger holes on the chanter is quite different, as is the fingering technique.

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Back: The Great Highland Bagpipe
Forward: Other Types of Bagpipes
If you have comments or suggestions, email me at walt@slac.stanford.edu Letters