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The Blowpipe

By David Rock
(Revised 13 June 2006)

Try this experiment: try blowing out a candle through the little plastic staw that comes with canned air or WD-40. Now try it with a large bore milkshake straw like the kind you get at Sonic. An efficient bagpipe begins with an efficient blowpipe. Two major factors contributing to blowpipe efficiency are (1) bore diameter, and (2) the valve. If you´re going to blow a hard bagpipe, let it be because of robust reeds, resulting in good volume and crisp tone. You shouldn´t have to work hard just to move air through the tube. The blowpipe bore should be wide enough to allow the exhalation of an entire lungful of air in less than a second. If the blowpipe is at all restrictive, it should be modified or replaced. Wood blowpipes are often made with a relatively narrow bore, since this allows the walls to be thicker and less prone to cracking. When ordering your equipment, consider getting an aftermarket wide-bore plastic blowpipe. The best ones come with a built in, reliable, non-restrictive valve, and some are adjustable, such as the one made by Peter Chrisler, for example - this is what I use; it´s not pretty to look at, but it works like a charm. The valve also must not be overly restrictive and it must be absolutely reliable. Try the lungful-expulsion test with the valve installed. In addition to being non-restrictive, the blowpipe must also be airtight. To test the blowpipe and valve for air tightness, suck on the mouthpiece and put your tongue over the opening to create a vacuum. If a vacuum cannot be maintained, you have a significant leak. Blowpipe leakage is sometimes caused by a loose or improperly fitted mouthpiece. You´ll know if this is a problem because you will have noticed water dripping out from the joint during play. If necessary, waxed hemp or plumber´s thread seal tape can be added to snug up the mouthpiece fit.