Bagpipe maintenance is the root of the bagpipe tree of sound. If the instrument isn't holding air and operating efficiently, there is no way that Tonal Quality or Tuning can be achieved.
Continually maintain your bagpipe "from the inside out."
Let's start by simply defining what you're trying to do when it comes to maintaining your pipe: Bagpipe maintenance and efficiency is the process of making sure absolutely no air is wasted whatsoever. This way, every bit of our effort goes into making a good sound (and we have energy to spare to focus on the music).
At the Dojo, we teach that you should see maintenance as a continual process, where you are always going through a mental checklist each time you play to make sure things are as efficient as possible. We form this checklist by thinking of the airflow through the system. Start inside the bag, and work your way outward, doubling checking that there are no parts of the bagpipe that are leaking or taking too much air.
Here is the maintenance checklist, starting from the inside and working out.
There are three basic maintenance steps you should check on each and every time you play your pipes.
Step 1: Double Check That Your Bag is Airtight.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you'd be amazed how often even experienced players overlook this detail. If the bag hasn't been seasoned in a while, or if the tie-in isn't secure, the bag will leak! Use big corks to cork up your stocks, and then blow air into the bag until it's as full as you can make it. Does it stay 100% completely full for at least 30 seconds? If not, it's not holding air well enough! Settle for nothing less than perfection. Remember, if the bag isn't 100% tight, you are losing efficiency and taking energy away from your quality of tone and your music making.
Step 2: Check That Your Joints are Securely Hemped and Airtight
Step 3: Check Your Reed Seats and Flapper Valve
Ah, now this one is certainly very commonly overlooked! The hemp-job on your reeds is vital to an efficient bagpipe. If the reeds are loose in the read-seat, air will leak out. Also, you should use waxed hemp on all of your reeds to ensure an extra tight seal. The reason this is so important is because reed seats are so close to where the air is exiting the bag. The air is desperate to find a path of lesser resistance and so, if your seats aren't sealed up tight, you're going to lose a lot of air through there.
By the by, don't forget your flapper valve! This is included in the reed-seat step because it is another potential exit-point of air from the bag. When the bag is blown up tight, put your ear to the mouthpiece - can you hear gurgling sounds? That means your flapper valve isn't tight.
Calibration is sort of a bridge into the "Tonal Quality" area of the Bagpipe Tree of Sound, because it does certainly improve the overall sound and stability of your instrument (and the tuning of it). But, it's also largely about efficiency, which is the main purpose of bagpipe maintenance.
You have three drone reeds, and they all need to be "locked in" so they're tunable and stable. Well, how do you do this? At the Dojo, we teach the process of "calibration," which means getting the drone reeds to all take the exact same amount of air. If they are taking the same amount of air, they will lock in easily. If they're not, they'll never quite lock.
Prerequisite: Make Sure Your Bag is Tied On Securely
Honestly, we recommend that you have an expert to physically tie the stocks into your bag of choice (Contact us and we'll help you arrange a tie-in at a good price). Bags are valuable, so you don't want to accidentally ruin a bag. Also, the tie-in has to be 10,000% air-tight or you'll never get an efficient bagpipe. That being said, we do have a class on bag tie-ins!
We have tons of maintenance classes available in our expansive class archive. How do you find the classes we want? Use the "Search the Archives" page under the "Archive Tab." In the Maintenance section, you'll see tons of good topics to answer any questions that may arise.