Border Pipes

Border pipes are bellows blown, have three drones in a common stock, and a conical bore chanter. They keep a lot of the characteristic vibrant tone of the Highland pipes, but at a lower volume. Although they are not as well known as the Highland pipes, they have a history on both sides of the Border and in the Scottish Lowlands which goes back some 500 years. The popularity of these pipes has increased over the last dozen years or so, as the standard of the pipes available has improved, and a growing number of pipers have appreciated their particular musical qualities. Border pipes are also sometimes called Scottish Lowland pipes, Lowland pipes, Reel pipes, or Half Longs.

One way in which the Border pipes are more versatile than the Highland pipes or the Scottish smallpipes, is that in addition to the standard scale, the chanters can give accurately pitched cross fingered accidentals. After many years work we developed, in the early 1990's, a border pipe chanter which was fully chromatic by cross fingering, giving a good minor third, minor sixth, major seventh, sharp fourth, and minor second, without altering the standard fingering of the normal pipe scale.

Our chanters have gained a reputation for the accuracy of the pitch of their accidental notes. Border pipes make excellent solo instruments. Their tone, volume, and the fact that they are tuned to A 440 and do not sharpen during playing, also makes them ideal for playing with other instruments. The volume of most Border pipes is a perfect match for two fiddles but is certainly not too loud for one. These factors are making them now the Scottish pipes of choice for playing in traditional music groups, and also in sessions.

The pictures here illustrate the variety of different specifications and different materials available. See Materials for details of the different woods we use. 

Left - Fully mounted mopane/boxwood with gold plated ferrules and drone sleeves.

Right - Standard blackwood with art. Ivory ferrules on drones and nickel plated ferrules on stocks.

Left - Fully mounted blackwood/bloodwood with nickel plated ferrules and drone sleeves.

Right - Fully mounted blackwood/boxwood with gold plated ferrules and drone sleeves.

Left - Fully mounted mopane/boxwood gold plated ferrules no drone sleeves.

Right - Fully mounted blackwood/bloodwood nickel plated ferrules no drone sleeves.

Apart from accurate tuning, the things we consider most important to achieve in making good border pipes are:

  • A rich and direct chanter tone giving clear articulation of grace notes, and a clarity of tone in the top notes rather than a "watery" sound or the "cracked" tone of the top note favoured (strangely) by a number of players of Highland pipes.

  • Drones with a full rounded tone like those of the Highland pipes, featuring an internal end chamber.

  • Moderate volume without sacrificing tone quality.

  • Playing pressure at a comfortable level.

The key of A is by far the most popular for Border pipes, which suits other players of traditional music, particularly those playing Scottish music. Border pipes in Bb are also available. The standard sets have two tenor drones and a bass drone, a combination which has proved itself with Highland pipes. Also available is our bass, baritone, tenor combination, and if desired bass tenor alto.


We have made our reputation over the years particularly as makers of top quality border pipes before any other pipes or instruments. Border pipes are not the same musical instrument that they were 40 years ago when I first became interested in them, or 35 years ago when I made my first chanter. At that time the pipes available were fickle, unstable, and varied in tone and pitch. It is probable that the Border pipes played by the masters of yore (Geordie Syme etc) were good instruments, but after many hours research into old chanters in Edinburgh's Reid museum and elsewhere it was clear that there was no good standard design. Our border pipes are the result of 20 years continuous research and development.

Separate Border Pipe Chanters

Our border pipe chanters have a reputation for tone quality, stability and the accuracy of their cross fingered notes, and as a result we sell many on their own, generally to be fitted to existing sets of pipes. Often players of smallpipes who want a louder chanter for playing in sessions fit them in their smallpipes for particular tunes. The smallpipe drones don't support the border pipe chanter as well as border pipe drones, but where other instruments are playing this is not usually an issue. We can fit split stocks so the reeds on both the chanters are protected when not in use. We will match our chanter to the internal and external diameter of your chanter stock, unless the stock has a very narrow bore (under 5/8th inch 15.8mm) in which case please enquire regarding a solution for this problem. These chanters can be made to suit your requirements are usually available with little delay.

Baritone Drone for border pipes

The accepted wisdom in the Scottish bellows pipes market in the last twenty years has been that while the baritone drone works well with smallpipes it does not suit the border pipes. The demise of the Northumbrian "Half Longs" and the fifth harmonic being a G# and thus potentially clashing with the G note on the chanter are two possible reasons for this belief. However beliefs are there to be challenged so we did! Many years ago we made a set of border pipes for fine German piper Thomas Zoeller - included a baritone drone at his request - and many people liked the sound. However we did not pursue it at that time and have only offered this option recently after further development. It certaily does work well if the baritone is kept at a moderate volume, and is designed to supress the unwanted harmonics as far as possible. Apart from the warm sound when playing in A the baritone gives a further option of playing (with or without the bass) in D or E (major or minor) with the support of a tonic note on the drones. 

Alto Drone for border pipes

The naff drone as one of my friends calls it. The 3rd harmonic of the bass drone already makes this note. As a separate drone at this pitch it can start sounding sweet and pleasing, but later just turns into irritating high pitched whine which interferes with the chanter melody IMHO. We don’t make them.

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