The Salvaged Wood Smallpipe
Fellow bagpipe addict and pipehacker-in-training Johnny L. stopped by for a visit recently and he is the first recipient of the “Pipehacker DIYB award.” OK, I made that last part up, but he should win something since he has performed ultimate pipehacking and created sets of sleek and minimalist moutblown smallpipes using nothing but a small wood lathe, a drill press, and his grey matter.
The pipes are true DIY from top to bottom, inside and out with the exception of the drone reeds. Far from being an amateur affair, they are expertly crafted and designed. What stands out about these is that John has used salvaged wood where he can find it in the parks and woodlands of New Jersey. He’s made several sets while channelling the ancient pipers of old who had to rely on their own skills and wits to construct instruments and make music. If I might be so bold, his sets capture the pioneering American spirit of creative enterprise. They are the essence of DIY, which is breaking the shackles of commercial production and fulfilling your own needs on your own terms.
The main drone stock of John’s pipes is made of found maple while the drones have been hand-turned using ash or hornbeam. A clever application of brass hobby tubing and plastic O-rings on tuning slides and joints completes the construction. John has opted for a modular approach that facilitates experimentation by creating a common stock that is open at the base to fit onto another stock which is tied into the bag. The bag then stands alone and John can change things and create new drones and test easily. John has gone “vegan” with his set up and used furniture vinyl to make his bags and toilet bowl flapper material for the stock grommets, which all work quite well I might add. John is still experimenting with the chanter, which he turned in an almost futuristic profile that evokes the design of many antique pipes. The sound is also not bad, but John admits trouble with a few top hand notes. His home-grown reed might be to blame, but that is something I’m sure he’ll crack.
I can’t decide what enthralls me more about them, the sleek, “retro” look or the cleverness of the construction. Playing them is as much a pleasure as playing any commercially made set of smallpipes and the tonal issues are something I’m sure John will resolve soon enough. An inspiring endeavor though, and one that I hope encourages others down the same path. Click below for some short sound samples of these DIY salvaged wood smallpipes.