Before we cover the Best Bagpipes on the market, let’s consider that Bagpipes are most associated with Scotland and with countries in the British Commonwealth. Most assume that is their derivation. But they appear to have other roots.
The first mention of a bagpipe-like instrument came in 1000BC in Anatolia. In ancient Greece, there was the Askaulos, a similar instrument, and Emperor Nero was said to have played a bag instrument with pipes.
Vague mentions continue through the centuries until they were definitively mentioned by Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales written in the late 1300s. However, the first reference to them being used in Scotland was not until 1547.
That was a reference in French history where it appears they had replaced the trumpet on the battlefield. There are vague references made to them in Scotland in the 1400 century, though. And mention of them used at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 though no evidence exists.
They were specifically mentioned, though, at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. At this time, they are also found in Ireland and Northumberland in England.
They began to fall out of favor in the 16th century…
And for the next two hundred years were only really mentioned in battle and ceremonial circumstances. The sophistication of music being developed in Europe squashed its popularity as a serious instrument. It was far too limited in its range and application to be of any use.
In an orchestral or solo environment, there needed to be precision and pitch. Bach, through to Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin, and of course, all the other great masters didn’t consider it suitable.
War on a much larger scale…
The instrument we know today is referred to as the Great Highland bagpipe. It is synonymous with Scotland. But it is used in the British military, in Commonwealth countries, and throughout the world. You can even get beginner bagpipes.
Fanciful stories circulate about their use in the two World wars. They were used to lead and play the soldiers into battle in the First World War. But that practice was soon stopped due to the enormous casualty rate. A little more on this later.
In the second World War, the Nazi defenders of Alamein in 1943 got a shock as lone pipers led units on the advance. The attack was successful but losses again amongst pipers high. In 1944 on D-Day, pipers led a Canadian unit, and once again, the practice was abandoned.
The final use was at Aden in 1967 when the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, kilts and all, marched into the city with pipers leading them. That rather quickly brought an end to hostilities. The ‘Argylls’ like the Black Watch, are a Scottish regiment you do not pick a fight with whoever you are.
And to the present day…
The bagpipes have a colorful history and are, in many ways today, considered a symbol of Scottish nationalism. That may be a little unfair, but they certainly bring the Scots enormous pride. And why not. The Great Highland bagpipe is a fixture in Scottish history and indeed in British and Commonwealth history.
Some say the Scots use it to irritate the English. The English not being quite so fond of the sound. That is tongue in cheek, though. English people recognize the instrument for what it is and what it means. They respect and quietly admire it and, of course, what it stands for.
Today there are lots of varieties of this historic instrument, and it is played all over the world. So, let’s go through the Best Bagpipes on the market and find the perfect one for you…
Top 7 Best Bagpipes of 2023
1 McWilliams Professional Scottish Highland Bagpipe
The McWilliams company is a well-known manufacturer of bagpipes. This set is certainly eye-catching with its Royal Stewart (RS) Tartan design. This is the personal tartan of Queen Elizabeth 2nd. Officially it is worn by the pipers of the Black Watch and the Scots Guards. It is also worn ceremonially by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. This set of bagpipes are made in Scotland, which gives them authenticity.
They are made from wood with FNS mounts, which gives them a solid and stable feel. But they are still quite lightweight at just six pounds. They are suitable for both beginners and experienced players alike and have a clear, powerful sound. The choice of the woods and materials used have ensured the sound is authentic.
You can tune this instrument, unlike some. Bagpipes are tuned in two separate places — the pipe that you play the melody on, or chanter, and the drones. Usually, three drones have a low A and two high A notes. You see the drones over the shoulder of the piper as he plays.
As we have said, the sound is good but maybe not professional standard. Those with the ‘ears’ for this instrument will know that. Having said that, for intermediate and starters, it is a good instrument.
It comes with a free bag and a reed. It is a quality instrument that is durable and well-built and uses traditional workmanship skills. The price point is attractive and affordable for a quality instrument. Certainly would be considered one of the best beginner bagpipes.
- Well made with good materials.
- Great RS tartan finish.
- A good clear sound.
- Limited instructions enclosed for assembly.
2 Kids Bagpipe Miniature Playable Bagpipe with Reed In Black Watch Tartan
This is a miniature children’s bagpipe set that has been designed as an introduction to a young child to the instrument. It is more fun than a serious set of bagpipes. However, it does work, and the bag can be inflated using the blowpipe. Once there is air inside, then the bagpipes play in the usual way using the chanter.
Some effort has gone into creating an authentic design. The pipes are made from wood and the bag a sturdy material in the tartan of the Black Watch. The colors and decor are dark by nature, but they are vibrant and capture the authenticity of the instrument. It is a fun way to introduce a child to the bagpipes, and it works in that respect, either as an instrument or as a cultural object.
Not exactly the ‘real’ thing…
It is a great way for a young person to have the first experience of ‘the pipes.’ However, it should be noted that this is more a toy than an instrument. You can reproduce a sound that sounds somewhat like the real thing. But if you are expecting it to sound like a real set of bagpipes, then you will be disappointed.
It can be used as a decorative piece if you so choose. But the idea is that it is given to a child as their first set of pipes.
Nicely made with authentic colors and woods, it is a great gift as well as a first instrument.
- Nice gift from a cultural aspect.
- Works well as an early learner set of bagpipes.
- It doesn’t produce a true pipe sound.
3 Tiny Tots Bagpipes With Instruction Sheet
Whatever instrument it may, introducing children to music at a young age is a great thing to do. This set of bagpipes for children has certainly been given the look of the real thing. It is nicely made from wood and cotton cloth with a tartan design that resembles the Royal Stewart.
This product is recommended by the manufacturers to be suitable for children over the age of 12. Weighing under two pounds, it is going to be an easy instrument to learn the basics. It might be lightweight, but it has a durable build that will allow use for a decent amount of time.
An authentic look…
When you are trying to interest children in the music, they want to see authenticity. It gives them a sense of realism. This set of bagpipes certainly does that. Though it does not pretend to be an authentic design or have a real tartan, it looks the part. That is important to any starter on an instrument.
Sound and playing-wise, it doesn’t play or sound exactly like the real thing. You can’t expect it too. The chanter works, but the drones are inoperative. The chanter, of course, is where the notes are created and resembles a small flute. Some tunes can be picked out using that on this instrument. However, it is the drones that create the real sound of the bagpipes.
What’s in the box?
It comes with some basic instructions about the instrument, which is a good idea. Whether you want a set of bagpipes or just a replica for display or educational purposes, this fits the bill. It set at a very affordable price point.
- Well made with an authentic look.
- Nicely priced for a starter.
- It doesn’t play like the real thing.
4 Junior Bagpipes
Another set of bagpipes for a junior to have their first experience. They are recommended by the manufacturer to be suitable for children aged twelve and up. They are made from wood with chanter and pipes. The chanter works, but the drones don’t. At this level of construction, you would not expect them to.
This set of bagpipes sits in the range of a toy, really. It is attractive and has an authentic type feel to it having an imitation tartan. Kids are going to enjoy using them but do not expect too much music to emanate from them. They are what they are, a set of cheap bagpipes that have more visual impact then audible.
Bagpipes are notoriously difficult to play…
We have some practical experience with that. Once tried to get a sound from a real set at Edinburgh castle. Failed miserably, much to the amusement of the locals. Blew and blew, and nothing happened. After it was explained what we were doing wrong and we understood, but no second chances.
With this set, it will be difficult to get a basic sound. It is a nice design, though, and will appeal. It is also good for a present or just for a display item.
- Nice looking.
- It doesn’t play like real bagpipes.
5 AJW Bagpipes Set
These are a set of Great Highland Bagpipes. This instrument is made to a good standard. The pipes themselves are made from Rosewood. Anyone familiar with guitar manufacture will tell you about the resonance of Rosewood. It produces a great sound for musical instruments.
The pipes are a standard bore that is combed and beaded. They are given an attractive black glossy finish. The mounts are projected and have ferrules made from silver-plated material, as are the ring caps and the slides.
Plenty of air…
It is a full-size instrument at 40 inches by 20 inches. The bag size is a full size 30 inches by 12 and made from synthetic material. Having a large bag is important as it will determine how much air can be held. The more air, the better the playing style. It features a Black Watch tartan and has black drone cords to match.
Several free accessories are given with this instrument. There are a number of reeds for the drones, the chanter, and a practice chanter. It comes with a carrying case and tutor and assembly books. This item interestingly is made in Pakistan.
Will need some practice…
This is a full-size instrument and set at a price point that is higher than some. It looks great and has some nice fittings. But don’t get too excited. It will still be an instrument that you will have to work at. The very best bagpipes, which are also the easiest to play, have another naught behind the price of this model.
So whilst it looks great, don’t expect it to perform or sound like a professional instrument. As a starter, it will suffice.
- Nicely made with the Black Watch tartan.
- Full-size with a large bag.
- Build quality is rather suspect in places.
6 McWilliams Professional Scottish Highland Bagpipe – Best Beginner Bagpipes
Back again to McWilliams for another from their range. This bagpipe is very similar to others in their higher level ranges. There are some differences with this instrument, however, including the impressive Black Watch tartan bag.
This instrument is full-size but comes in a little heavier than some models. This set of bagpipes weighing seven pounds. This shouldn’t be that much of a problem. If it were for a young starter possibly, for an adult, we think not.
Built to last…
As with the Royal Stewart tartan instrument we have already looked at, this is made with quality wood. It also has FNS mounts. Good quality construction material tends to make the bagpipes sound better. But they definitely make them more durable. As with the Royal Stewart version, this set of bagpipes is also tunable. This is a big plus, of course.
The sound is adequate, given its price point. You are not going to get professional sounding bagpipes at cheap prices. You will, however, get an adequate sound, especially for a beginner and improver. The drones work well, and the chanter is easily playable.
Superb authentic looks…
The big plus point, though with this set of bagpipes, is its visual look. As we have said, it has the tartan of the famed Black Watch. This gives it a historical authenticity and, of course, importance amongst those who prefer this to the Royal Stewart.
It comes with a synthetic carry bag and reeds. As a full-size starter instrument, it is a good value. It should be thought of as one of the best beginners bagpipes.
- Well made with good materials.
- Carries the Black Watch tartan.
- Only really suitable for a starter or improver.
7 Bagpipes Starter Kit with Tutor Book
When you are new to an instrument, you need all the help you can get. This is a starter kit that may help. It has been designed from the ground up with a starter in mind and comes with plenty of accessories to get you started but more on this later.
It is full-size and measures 40 inches by 20 inches. The bag is 30 inches by 12 inches. However, it is lightweight, weighing just under six pounds.
An attractive finish…
It is made of basswood, which is sometimes used in acoustic guitar manufacture and has a decent tone. The bag is made from neoprene. This is a substance that contains an element of rubber. This makes it an ideal synthetic material for the bag and is very durable. It has silver-plated nickel mounts, and the silver and black wood give an attractive finish. It is made in Pakistan.
There are some good accessories included. Spare reeds for the Drones, Chanter, and the practice chanter. It has a carrying bag and tutor book, as well as some basic assembly instructions.
Get a new higher quality reed…
The sound, as with most cheaper bagpipes, is only adequate. The reeds that are included are not good quality. But buying a better quality will definitely improve the overall sound.
It is only a starter instrument and will not provide you with a professional-sounding instrument. However, for someone just starting out, it will suffice. However, care needs to be taken with this instrument as the build quality is not as good as it could be.
- An attractive looking instrument.
- Nice finish and good materials.
- Plenty of extra accessories included.
- Sound is rather poor.
Best Bagpipes Buyers Guide
Buying a set of Bagpipes
You may think that when you walk down any street in Scotland, there will be a Bagpipe shop on every corner. But that is not the case. You will need to know where to look. Scotland doesn’t have the monopoly, though. There are Bagpipe outlets in many countries.
Being English, we hope our Scottish friends will not hold it against us when we make a point. The bagpipes are an instrument that, for the most part, is totally out of control. For that reason, they have found themselves in rock music and with some impact.
Peter Gabriel, Wizzard, Nazareth, Alex Harvey, and Van Morrison have all used them. McCartney, of course, but the big one was AC/DC. Can you imagine? However, Bon Scott, as well as both Malcolm and Angus Young, were born in Scotland, so that is at least part of the reason.
Therefore bagpipes are not just for ceremonial duty in various countries around the world. In the right environment, they become a rock instrument.
The Type of Bagpipes
There are a few types of Bagpipes you should be aware of when thinking about buying a set. There are, of course, the instrument we are most familiar with, the Great Highland Bagpipes. But then there are Uilleann, which are the official pipes of Ireland. They are inflated by having the bag under your arm and inflating the bag like a bellows. You may have seen them on TV.
Then there are the Scottish Small Pipes, Great Irish War Pipes, and the Border Pipes. All variations of the original idea and each with their own traditions and sound.
Manufacturing has changed over the years. Originally the bags were made from animal skins and other parts, usually Sheep, Cows, or Goats. This has now changed to synthetic materials. You can still get the original style, and some professional players still use them. Drones and Chanter and all other parts are wooden. Some come with nickel and silver-plated fittings and FNS mounts.
Finally, the Blowstick
This is an important element of being able to play this instrument. The length needs to be geared towards your height to be comfortable. But all measurements of the pipes need to feel comfortable.
But what are the Best Bagpipes?
Considering what might be considered to be the Best Bagpipes has been an interesting journey. We have seen that the real professional instruments cost an awful lot of money. We, therefore, are going to choose a set to suit a complete beginner.
Our choice for the best beginner bagpipes is the…
Nicely made and good to start learning to play this complicated instrument. But our choice was influenced by another reason.
This bears the tartan of the Black Watch. Part of the 51st Highland Division, they were leading the formations that attacked Beaumont Hamel as the battle for the Somme raged in November 1916. We’re not going to give you a history lesson, but it’s worth reading about the heroism behind the lone piper who led them. You’ll probably buy these Bagpipes because of it.
Today the trenches in Beaumont Hamel are as they were left in 1916. Untouched. A memorial. Some say that on winter nights, you can still hear the Piper play as he leads the Black Watch over once again.
Powerful things Bagpipes.