Any good piper knows that taking proper care of your bagpipes is an absolute necessity. Much like any woodwind instrument, bagpipes are comprised of several smaller parts that can gather moisture that will cause damage if not thoroughly cleaned. There’s no need to worry – I’ve done thorough research on this topic and will share my findings with you in this article.
Bagpipes require regular oiling, cleaning, and disinfecting sessions. When doing so, disassembling the instrument is essential. Also, there are specific storage requirements for bagpipe parts to help protect it and prevent it from drying out.
Though it may seem like a lot of work, taking the time to properly care for your pipes will make all the difference. Keep reading for a detailed, step-by-step guide to maintaining your bagpipes!
How to Properly Oil Bagpipes
Oiling your bagpipes is essential, as it helps to ensure that your bagpipes remain clean and conditioned. Below are step by step instructions for oiling your pipes.
- Set aside the chanter, drone reeds, and valves, as they don’t need to be oiled. Set aside your blowpipe if it is lined or made of poly material (plastic).
- Place your stocks, drones, and unlined blowpipe (if you have one) aside, preferably an area that you don’t mind getting a bit messy.
- Spray each piece with an oil. You can use an oil specifically made for bagpipes, which can be found at your local music store or online retailers. Other more common oils can be used as well (see next section).
- Using thin bristled brushes, work the oil through the drones, bores, and bells.
- Wipe off the excess oil using a clean cloth and reassemble the pipes.
Oiling can be done during regular cleaning, or you can specifically take apart the pipes for the purpose of oiling. They should be oiled every 8 to 12 weeks.
What Oil Should I Use for My Bagpipes?
You shouldn’t use just any oil for your bagpipe. To oil your bagpipe, the following oils are recommended:
- Almond Oil
- Vitamin E Oil
- Olive Oil
You can get these oils at your local grocery store or at just about any online retailer. Some bagpipe manufacturers recommend that you only use pharmaceutical grade oils for your bagpipe. I would recommend sweet almond oil since it is easily absorbed into the wood and is odorless. You can find organic sweet almond oil on Amazon.
Disinfecting Your Bagpipes
Bagpipes have the potential to get infested with bacteria and mold. So, disinfecting your bagpipe is one of the most important parts of bagpipe maintenance.
You should know that not just any disinfectant spray can be used on your bagpipe. A specialized bagpipe disinfectant spray should be used.
Henderson Group Ltd sells a disinfectant spray made especially for your bagpipe. It is formulated to be gentle enough to disinfect your pipe bag whether it’s made of leather or a synthetic material. It’s also safe for internal bagpipe parts and your mouthpiece. You can get it for less than $10. The sanitizer Sterisol would work well too and is to go-to for most woodwind players.
The steps below will help you disassemble and clean your bagpipe.
Use your disinfectant spray to clean the following bagpipe parts:
- Pipe bag
- Chanter parts.
Some also use rubbing alcohol to disinfect their pipes. It’s your choice!
How to Disassemble and Clean Your Bagpipe
There are several steps necessary for cleaning your bagpipe. They are examined in detail in the following sections.
1. Remove and Cap the Chanter
The first step to disassembling your bagpipes is to remove the chanter, the long piece on which the melody is played. After removing, store the chanter in a dry stock or chanter cap, which protects the reed and covers the opening.
Examine the reed for any moisture. You can gently blot the reed with a tissue or set it on a hard surface to air dry for a few minutes before storing it.
Be careful when removing the reed as hitting it on the stock — the connecting part of the pipes and the chanter —can damage it. Chanter reeds can develop mold very quickly if not dried correctly, so be sure to clean thoroughly.
If you notice that mold has developed onto your chanter reed, you will need to clean it thoroughly to avoid causing any harm to your health. This can be done easily using rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab (Q-tip) or your disinfectant spray to fully saturate the area. Let dry before returning the reed to the pipes.
2. Thoroughly Dry the Blowpipe
After playing, the blowpipe will likely have some moisture accumulated as it serves as the mouthpiece for the piper to actually blow into the pipes. Remove the pipe from the blowpipe stock and allow it to air dry completely. J. Higgins suggests drying the blowpipe until the wrapped hemp, which secures the end of the blowpipe into the stock, has become waxy to the touch.
If necessary, use a small fabric-covered brush to wipe through the bores on the blowpipe. This will remove any extra moisture that hasn’t air-dried. It’s a good practice to disinfect your mouthpiece to keep bacteria and mold at bay.
3. Disassemble the Drones
The next part of cleaning your pipes is to remove each of the drones from their stocks, being careful to separate them so that they don’t get mixed up. Similar to the blowpipe, the drones can be cleaned using a combination of air-drying and fabric wiping.
Note that poly pipes are much more likely to accumulate moisture than wood, which can damage the reeds. Always err on the side of caution and thoroughly disinfect each and every one of the bores.
4. Check Your Drone Reeds
After removing the drone reeds from the drones, you’ll want to ensure that they are free of any moisture before storing them. The cleaning process depends on the material of the reed, as synthetic reeds require more care than cane reeds.
- Synthetic Reeds: For synthetic reeds, blow through the top to clear the body of any pooled moisture. Double-check the hemp seals to make sure they are still tight and waxy. Either air-dry the body or use a fabric cloth to remove the moisture, avoiding tissues or paper towels as they are likely to disintegrate without effectively cleaning. Lastly, check the tongue of the reed and wipe with disinfectant if necessary.
- Cane Reeds: For cane reeds, simply remove them from the drones and allow them to air-dry for at least fifteen minutes. You can do this while cleaning and disassembling the rest of the pipes. Additionally, you can store your reeds in a protective box when not playing.
5. Unzip, Clean, and Dry the Bags
A perfect bag is a bag that isn’t too moist or too dry. After playing, moisture can collect just like the rest of the parts, which can pose a problem. However, only dry the bag if it’s synthetic!
Disinfect your pipe bag with your disinfectant spray. Alcohol may be too harsh for your bag, so a specialized disinfectant is recommended.
A hide bag needs to be moist. Simply unzip the bag and allow it to air-dry for roughly fifteen minutes. For a hide bag, check that there is enough seasoning covering the inside. If you need more, apply it evenly with a brush until the inside is sticky to the touch.
6. Gently Dry the Wood
The last step to cleaning your pipes is to gently wipe down the wood of your pipes to remove any moisture or dirt.
Drying the wood is likely the simplest step of all. Use a fabric cloth to gently wipe and polish your pipes, checking for any damage.
Properly Store Your Pipes
Storing your pipes properly is another important part of cleaning and maintaining them. After all of the parts have sufficiently dried, reassemble your pipes carefully, double-checking all of the joints and valves. You’ll want your case to have some humidity to it to keep the pipes from drying out.
If you aren’t storing your pipes in a case, keep them in an area of your home that doesn’t get too hot or too cold. A mild environment is best for your bagpipes.
If something seems off, take them to be checked out by a professional.
Bagpipes may seem like a complicated instrument with its various parts and fussy temperature requirements, but caring for them is actually quite simple after a little practice. It’s good to familiarize yourself with the necessary steps for cleaning your bagpipes after usage, along with how to store and oil your pipes. This way, you’re fully prepared to maintain a one-of-a-kind instrument that plays just as beautifully as it shines.