Why 3D printed bagpipes?
Ever since taking up the Scottish Smallpipes, like many pipers I've been curious about the idea of extending the range of the instrument. It seems like a natural progression. As pipers, when we take to the Smallpipes, it's often to play with other musicians, and different instruments. I've been fortunate enough to have played the Smallpipes in a wide variety of settings, for a wide range of musicians and producers, and have often been in situations where I've wished I could just play something that's outwith the range of my instrument.
Over the years, I've often approached pipe makers to talk about my ideas for extending the range of the instrument. Instruments with keys are available to order from some craftsmen, but like many pipers I feel that keys can bring issues of their own. I wanted to develop the Scottish Smallpipes in a way that would be sympathetic to the sound, playing style, and spirit of Scottish piping. About eight years ago, I was fortunate enough to receive a grant from The Arts Trust of Scotland to engage the services of a pipe maker, Nigel Richard of Garvie Bagpipes, to have one of my earlier ideas realised. The result was a one octave small pipe in the key of C, which was able without keys to play the previously unavailable semitones within its range.
During the intervening years, as well as working to better understand and 'fettle' the Garvie C pipes, I realised I had many many more ideas I wanted to explore. I realised also, that it would be better if I could put an idea to the test as thoroughly as possible, before calling on a pipe maker to produce the instrument in wood. Having already experimented with wood turning, I knew that this would be a time consuming option for an amateur pipe maker - I also am not that good at it! So I began essentially building models. Understanding that brass, and even plastic, tubing would perform in an acoustically very similar way to a finished chanter of the same dimensions, I started with that. As time progressed I tried other materials, at one stage while I was living near Crieff I even tried using broken sections of carbon fibre fishing rods, kindly donated to me by P D Malloch's angling shop in Perth!
The use of technology is well established in the bagpipe making community, with CNC-milled instruments already widely played, so it wasn't a great leap to start to consider the possibilities of 3D printing, as a medium to prototype ideas that would have been difficult for me to model in other ways. So in early 2013, taking with me the note book I'd filled with the results of my various experiments, I made my way to The Lighthouse in Glasgow. Built by Charles Rennie MacKintosh as his first public commission, The Lighthouse was at the time the home of MakLab, the first maker's laboratory I was aware of in Glasgow. At time of writing, MakLab is in the process of moving to larger premises in the Charing Cross area of Glasgow.
At MakLab, I learned to use 3D printers, beginning with the original Ultimaker. Printing chanters vertically, using a 'built-in' sole as the support, and no support material (it destroys the instrument's tone), I was able to print several chanters to different designs, before work and life commitments meant that I no longer had time to spare for a while. Moving on to Shapeways, as being quicker for me (if a little more expensive), I continued prototyping. By February this year I was ready to print a full set of Smallpipes. To keep costs down, and for reasons related to the large chalice-style tops I'm currently using, the first print is essentially a set of "Parlour Pipes" having separate drone stocks. It maintains the Bass-Baritone-Tenor arrangement common to Smallpipes however, and internally experiments with a couple of the more basic ideas I have for drone design.
The pipes, printed by 3DprintUk in London, arrived yesterday (14th March), and I was lucky to be able to pay a visit to Ronnie McShannon at Pipe Dreams in Glasgow, for help with the reeds, and James Begg of Piping Perfection in Glasgow, who kindly supplied a good quality bag for the instrument.
This set is a proof of concept. The drones are quite original in several aspects of their design, and have a good strong sound for Smallpipe drones. They're still a strictly traditional set of drones, and the chanter printed with them is a simple nine-note chanter designed for a practice chanter reed. Of the many chanters so far printed, the most promising designs currently play in :
G - scale as follows
C, D, E, (F, G, A, B, c, d, e, f, g) a
A - scale as follows
D, E, Fs, (G, A, B, Cs, d, e, fs, g, a) b
D - scale as follows
G, A, B, (C, D, E, Fs, g, a, b, c, d) e
The notes in brackets indicate the traditional pipe scale, which can be played 'as is' on all of these chanters, undisturbed by the modifications made. All three designs have the potential to continue upwards from the highest note given (right hand end of the line), with refinement in the design of the chanter. Alterations to the reed design may help too, however I believe this can be avoided, and it would avoid the possibility of a change to the basic tone, character and playing style, something I'm anxious to avoid with this design.
The work goes on. On this site you'll find videos, sound samples, and images showing one or other of the many experiments I'm working on for the pipes, and shortly I'll be launching a "Kickstarter" project aimed at financing the refinement of my extended range chanter to the point where it's ready to be passed to a pipe maker. Since beginning 3D printing, I've been working to keep my designs within limits such that it could realistically be built by a traditional pipe maker, which is something that I think is central to my 'main' small pipe designs. I have many prototypes and plans that don't fit this bill - over time, I might share some of these with you, too!
I hope if you're interested in this project, and possibly in owning and playing a set of small pipes with these capabilities yourself, that you'll sign up and support the kick-starter project when it comes (watch this website for news). In usual "Kickstarter" style, rewards will be offered to subscribers. These will include a 3D printed penny whistle, chanter, and yes a 3D printed prototype set of traditional smallpipes, or parlour pipes (your choice), to my original design.
If you're interested in purchasing an extended range chanter directly, contact me through the 'Contact' section of this site to discuss your needs.