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Uilleann Pipes Information and FAQs


type of bellows-blown bagpipe known in Scotland, Ireland and Northern England from 18th century when it was known as Union Pipes. Has a conical chanter which has a two octave range, 3 drones, and 3 keyed chanters known as regulators.


The Irish or Uilleann pipes have reached quite an advanced state of development. Unlike most other pipes, the reed will overblow, giving them a range of two octaves, and the addition of regulators gives them an extra dimension. The regulators are closed ended chanters each of a different pitch, and speak when a key is pressed, the keys are arranged side by side so chords can be played (this requires great skill).


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Uilleann (or Elbow) pipes usually play in D, and the full set has a chanter, three drones, and three keyed regulators. The half set has no regulators, and the practice set has no drones either. All the models we stock are in D, but flat pitch sets can be ordered.


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Recently the first practise chanter for the Irish pipes was introduced. Previously beginners would usually start with a practice set, and later trade in for a half set with drones. However it is now possible to learn the fingering before you learn to operate the bellows. It is best not to use the drones until you have good control of the bellows and bag, as the drones use extra air, and make it harder to keep steady pressure for the chanter. It is possible to add drones to a practice set, and some even come with the main stock fitted and the extra holes blanked off. If you follow this route you will be without your pipes for a while when you upgrade. In my experience, it is cheaper in the long run to either go for the half set at the outset, and just don't use the drones at first, or to trade in when you are ready.


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Setting the Irish Chanter Reed

The exact position of the reed in the chanter is of great importance in determining the pitch of the notes. If the reed is too far down in the reed-seat, then the upper notes of the scale will be too high - that is, they will be "sharp". On the other hand, if the reed is set too high, the upper notes will be "flat", or too low a pitch compared with the other notes of the scale.

To begin with, put the reed firmly in the reed-seat, put the chanter carefully in the pipes and play some slow tuning phrases. (Don't blow the chanter in your mouth because your ear may make you cheat. and your damp breath will ruin the reed.

All we want at this stage is that the low D and high d will be an octave apart. If you remember the singing lessons you had at school low 'D' is the "doh" and high d is the "high doh".

If the high d seems too high - that is, if it is sharp - then take the chanter out and raise the reed slightly in the reed-seat. To do this, take the reed out, wrap the hemp a little lower down, and replace the reed. Make sure the reed is firmly in the chanter.

If the high d is flat (too low a pitch) take some of the hemp off the reed (or move the hemp higher up the reed) so that the reed can be put further down in the chanter. Keep altering the setting of the reed until the two 'D's are properly In tune.

The use of the tenor drone may help you. Start drone going and by moving the joint up or down try to tune the drone to low 'D'. When the drone and the low 'D' chord together , then if the high 'd' and the low 'D' are in tune, the drone and the high 'd' will chord perfectly together.

Reed Problems

The back "D" is weak and breaks

This usually means the reed is weak, and it can be strengthened by;-

  1. 'Trimming 1/16" off the tip of the blades with a sharp knife.
  2. Opening the lips by squeezing the sides of the bridle.

A weak back "D" can also be caused by a badly made chanter. Check that the bore is conical up to the base of the reed-seat, - A cylindrical portion of bore is often the cause of weak high notes.

The Bottom D has a Gargle

  1. Try opening the blades a little.
  2. If that fails, carefully shave the base of the reed.
  3. A combination of (1) and (2).

The reed is erratic and will not jump the octave.

  1. The sides are leaking, - use bridle to close reed slightly, if this fails, use a small amount of P.V.A. adhesive to seal the sides.
  2. The corners are leaking, - trim the corners at 45 degrees slightly, this will often improve a reed and make it easier to blow.

There is much more on the subject of Irish Pipes Reeds on this:

Read our Full Article on Woodwind Care & Maintenance

Try the instruments for yourself! We keep a huge and varied stock of new and secondhand instruments.


Definition: The family name of all instruments which have strings stretched across a box. Popular in central Europe, In addition to the melody strings, the Concert Zither has a guitar type fretboard (similar to the epinette des vosges), and other models have strings grouped together in chords.
Read the full Autoharps, Zithers & Dulcimers FAQ Page.