Synthetic bags, although relatively new to the piping community, have come a long way in a short period of time.
Originally no more than a synthetic, airtight material, synthetic bags were flimsy under the arm, when not inflated, and were somewhat challenging to strike in and stop. Over the years, bag makers have added a variety of options including hybrid bags that include a thick, hide-like material over the airtight membrane. This gives the bag a solid feel under the arm and provide for better starts and stops.
Part 1 covered the tips to make sure your first steps—the tie-in—created perfect airtightness. Part 2 covered methods for controlling the inevitable moisture that you will experience as you play. In this post, we cover general maintenance tasks that will keep your synthetic bag in top shape.
You should check any bag for airtightness and leakage, regardless of the material, on a regular basis. The frequency with which you check is your decision. However, even the most well maintained bag will develop unexpected leaks over time. Synthetic materials will change and move as they expand, contract, and are exposed to the elements. While there is a certain peace of mind that goes with knowing that your bag is airtight each time you play, surprise leaks will be a surprise at the worst time if you're not checking regularly. A weekly check takes very little time and gives you that peace of mind as well the opportunity to discover and address air leakage before it is a problem.
If you determine that your synthetic bag has develop leakage of some kind, the first place to check is all the points where parts meet the bag. As with any bag, the "tie-in" spots of the stocks are your first point of check.
If the bag is leaking air at the chanter tie-in:
- Tighten the hose clamp to seal any leaks around the O-ring and neck. Always proceed slowly and methodically when tightening the hose clamp. Remember, the hose clamp can exert great force against the chanter stock. While breaks are rare, you are applying a mechanical force against wood.
- If necessary, loosen the hose clamp and make sure it is centered over the O-ring. Center O-ring underneath the hose clamp and tighten slightly and aggressively smoothing out any folds in the skin. Repeat this process, tighten the hose clamp slightly and then smooth out any folds. Repeat the process until the tie-in is airtight. The chanter tie-in on a synthetic bag is the most difficult part of the process of tying in a synthetic bag. It is worth the effort to get it right. This may involve doing it over several times until your tie-in is solid and airtight. Remember that an airtight bag is the foundation upon which you will build solid tone with the bagpipe. With a little bit of practice, you will become quite proficient. Persist and you will eventually get it right.
- It may be necessary to “bulk up” your chanter stock so that it fits firmly in the neck of the bag. My chanter stock is 1.5 inches in diameter at its thickest point; my synthetic bag is 1.75 inches in diameter at the neck. I use sections cut from a bicycle inner tube and stretch them over the base of the chanter stock. In my current synthetic bag, I need to stretch two sections over the chanter stock; then I stretch the O-ring into the tie-in groove. The sections of bicycle inner tube provide just enough bulk; the chanter stock will fit firmly in the neck of the bag. The skin will not fold as I tighten the hose clamp. The synthetic material of the bag will grip the rubber and provide an airtight seal.
A note on hose clamps: As I’ve noted, many synthetic bags use a hose clamp and O-ring for the chanter stock. Others use hose clamps not only for the chanter stock but also for the drone and blowpipe stocks. It is important to wrap the hose clamps with tape to protect your pipe bag, your pipe bag cover, and your pipes. Hose clamps have sharp edges and, while they are not razor sharp, they can put a gouge in the wood of your pipes or a tear in your pipe bag or pipe bag cover. Use a roll of 1-inch electrical tape and make several wraps over each hose clamp.
If air is leaking at the rubber collars:
- If the collars for your drone and blowpipe stocks use hose clamps, tighten the hose clamps slightly. As with any hose clamp, proceed slowly and methodically.
- Wrap electrical tape around the top of the collar and the start of the stock. Start the wrap on the collar and then wrap over the end of the collar concluding the wrap on the stock.
- Many bags have a seat at the base of the collars that will fit into the tie-in groove on the drone and blowpipe stocks. If air is leaking at the collar, make sure that the tie-in groove of the stock is seated properly in the base of the collar.