The bagpipes are a unique woodwind instrument utilizing enclosed reeds. Though the most well-known bagpipes reign from Scotland, these instruments are played around the world in marching and military bands, solo performances and other situations.
There are plenty of options when it comes to choosing the best bagpipes. In this article, we’ll consider the top 11 best bagpipe brands in the world today.
Though obviously subjective and prone to biases, I’ve done my best to list these brands based on the following metrics (in no particular order):
- Company reputation
- Variety of bagpipes
- Performance of the bagpipes
- Longevity of the bagpipes
- The company/brand must currently be in operation
With all that being said, let’s list out the brands.
The top 11 best bagpipe brands in the world are:
- Gibson Bagpipes
- R.G Hardie & Co.
- John Walsh
- Kilberry Bagpipes
Let’s get into each of these brands in greater detail and explain why they belong in the top 11 best bagpipes brands for music and audio production. I’ll share their country of origin, a bit of history, an example of notable bagpipes, and a link to their official website.
The secret to understanding why McCallum is the highest-volume bagpipe manufacturer on the planet is in Stuart McCallum’s past. Indeed, he worked for McCridnles Tooling for years, and during that time, he mastered the use of CNC machines.
Combining state-of-the-art production techniques and cutting-edge technology blended perfectly with generations-old tradition allows McCallum Bagpipes to make 40 outstanding instruments a week.
The Classic Collection by McCallum is a no-frills approach to an outstanding-sounding instrument. It is entirely made of African blackwood, which gives it a unique tone. Also, the beaded alloy nickel ringcaps and ferrules, along with the alloy nickel mouthpiece, make this a sturdy and durable instrument. Finally, the company allows customers to fine-tune the models so you can request a plethora of upgrades and modifications to suit your unique style.
Official website: mccallumbagpipes.com
Stuart McCallum and Kenny MacLeod founded McCallum Bagpipes in 1998. Currently, the headquarters are in Kilmarnock, Scotland.
“Born in Scotland, made in the USA” is this company’s motto and is 100% accurate. Indeed, Roderick MacLellan was born in Scotland to a family with a long heritage in bagpipes. In that creative atmosphere, he studied at the Glasgow School of Art and, after graduation, moved to the USA in 1980 to pursue his dream.
By 1991 he was already utilizing his grandfather’s 1880 Henderson bagpipes as a model to create some of the world's most musical and easy-to-play bagpipes. Moreover, he was able to blend his artistic talent to create true sound masterpieces that sell to avid players, professionals, connoisseurs, and experts around the world.
Just like Waterloo wasn’t just another battle in the history of humankind, this is not just another bagpipe. Indeed, it is based on a bagpipe at the National Museum and is said to have been played at this historic battle bravely.
Moreover, it is made with blackwood and hard maple, which gives it a warm tone and an aged look to the pipes that make it era-correct. In the same vein, the sound is the perfect blend of quintessential complex tones with modern, extended lows and highs. Finally, the distinctive details and the craftsmanship expertise make it a one-of-a-kind musical wonder.
Official website: maclellanbagpipes.com
Roddy MacLellan founded MacLellan Bagpipes in 1995. Currently, the headquarters are in Monroe, North Carolina, USA.
Jerry Gibson took on quite a challenge when he decided to make traditional-style, great-sounding bagpipes outside of Scotland. Not only because the market is already competitive with national brands but also because it’s not so big.
Due to pure talent, lots of hard work, and clever innovation, Gibson Bagpipes could build an impeccable reputation as a bagpipe maker and find a place in the market to sell their state-of-the-art, handmade bagpipes to the most demanding of customers around the world.
Notable bagpipes: Gibson Bagpipes R-110-D (link to check the price at Celtic Corner Store)
Part of Gibson's Great Highland Bagpipes collection, this is a great representation of what their craftsmanship can achieve. It is important to say that each of these bagpipes is made by one of the 7 expert craftsmen working at the shop. But that’s not all because Gibson goes the extra mile to make it era-correct, building it completely from African blackwood, which allows the player the quintessential Highlands bagpipe tone. Finally, the stainless steel sides and ferrules ensure the player years of blowing fun.
Official website: gibsonbagpipesllc.com
Jerry Gibson founded Gibson Bagpipes in 1978. Currently, headquarters are in Nashua, New Hampshire, USA.
Duncan MacRae is one of the masters in bagpipe making. His style, tone, and quality have been imitated largely around the world, and his original pieces are hung at museums around the globe. One of the master players making MacRae’s reputation grow is Stuart Liddell, whose accomplishments on the instrument are countless.
He built his amazing career playing early MacRae bagpipes and wanted them to be available again to the public. Therefore, he teamed up with McCallum bagpipes to make the closest reproductions of the originals as possible. The result is music history in the making.
This is the most elaborate model currently made by the company; hence, it represents the company’s pinnacle in craftsmanship and quality. To begin with, the company utilizes African blackwood to obtain that quintessential highlands tone. Also, the MacRae engraved alloy ferrules, slides, and ringcaps with ivory imitation projecting mounts give it a classic look you would expect in an instrument of this calibre. Finally, the bagpipe ships with a ten-year warranty.
Official website: macraebagpipes.com
MacRae was founded by Duncan MacRae in 1897. Currently, headquarters are in Glasgow, Scotland.
Leslie Cowell did what anyone who wants to make serious musical instruments should: learn from the masters. Therefore, he worked with the Starck family (generations of bagpipe makers) for 9 years and then fine-tuned his talent at Boosey & Hawkes.
After learning the craft from the masters, he decided to open his own company and make the kind of instruments he had envisioned for decades. As a result, his creations were received with critical acclaim by expert players around the world. Nowadays, Naill & Co. is synonymous with quality, sound, and elegance.
Notable bagpipes: Naill DN6 (link to check the price at Henderson's)
The DN6 is the most elaborate, complex, elegant, and great-sounding bagpipe the company makes. Therefore, it is also one of the best bagpipes money can buy. The entire instrument is made with highly-ornamented hand-engraved .925 Sterling silver. Moreover, the full silver mouthpiece and chanter sole are made from a solid piece. Finally, the thick-walled projecting mounts are machined and then turned by hand to give them the perfect finish only an artisan can give to an instrument.
Official website: naill-bagpipes.com
Naill was founded by Leslie Cowell in 1976. Currently, the headquarters are in Somerset, England.
Although Jack Dunbar founded the company in 1967, the history between him and bagpipes began over three decades before. Indeed, in 1934, when Jack was only 16, he started his apprenticeship with Peter Henderson, a master builder of Scottish origins.
By the moment Jack founded Dunbar, his bagpipes were the work of over 30 years of experience. That same legacy and passion for perfection fuels the company’s decisions to this day. As a result, Dunbar doesn’t collect customers around the planet but hardcore fans.
Notable bagpipes: Dunbar Blackwood Bagpipes DB2 (link to check the price at Dunbar)
Dunbar bagpipes don’t ship ready to play. The company ships sticks, stocks, blowpipe, and chanter. That being said, those are some of the best you’ll find in the market. Moreover, they are made of the quintessential African blackwood along with 1/2 metal and 1/2 ivory imitation, making them sound and look like a legendary bagpipe should. Finally, they are warrantied for 2 years for workmanship and materials.
Official website: dunbarbagpipes.com
Dunbar was founded by Jack Dunbar in 1967. Currently, the headquarters are in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.
At the beginning of his instrument manufacturing career, Bob was making only reeds, pipe bands, and solo pipers. Soon after, he started getting requests from other countries because of his reputation as a master craftsman.
Soon after, his son, an engineer named Douglas, quit his job to join his father and learn the craft. Together they created the “Shepherd Chanter,” which became a worldwide phenomenon because it offered players more stability as well as more flexibility.
Nowadays, every Shepherd bagpipe leaving the 12-employee factory is ready to make music history.
Notable bagpipes: Shepherd SS/9 (link to check the price at Shepherd Bagpipes)
This model faithfully represents the level of expertise and craftsmanship quality the company has reached. Indeed, this fully combed and mounted model features a complete silver mouthpiece and silver sole chanter. Moreover, the bagpipe also ships with SM90 drone reeds, tone enhancers, a Canmore bag, silk cords, and a velvet cover. Finally, the same instrument can be ordered engraved at an extra cost.
Official website: shepherd-bagpipes.com
Bob Shepherd founded Shepherd in 1966. Currently, headquarters are in Fife, Scotland.
R.G Hardie & Co.
Being not only a championship-winning piper but also an accomplished craftsman, Hardie decided to make the best bagpipes he could, mixing his player sensitivity and master builder skills.
In 1973, the company merged with Peter Henderson Bagpipes of Glasgow, moving to their shop. Henderson had been making bagpipes since 1880, and the merger brought the best of technology and artisan craftsmanship to the resulting instrument.
Nowadays, R.G. Hardie & Co. enjoys a reputation for being among the best bagpipes shipping from Scotland to the world.
Notable bagpipes: Peter Henderson PH06H (link to check the price at R.G. Hardie Store)
This is an awesome candidate if you’re after the best bagpipe that money can buy.
Not only because it retains the wonderful Henderson pre-war sound but also because it is an instrument of striking beauty and flawless craftsmanship. Moreover, it is made with top-notch materials such as fully-combed beaded African blackwood.
Details like hand-engraved ferrules, slides, projecting mounts, sterling silver ring caps, and a solid silver mouthpiece make it unique, elegant, and classy. Finally, the instrument is covered with a 5-year warranty.
Official website: rghardiebagpipes.com
R.G Hardie & Co. was founded by Robert Gavin Hardie, John Weatherston, and Joe Henderson in 1950. Currently, headquarters are in Glasgow, Scotland.
John started playing the pipe at age 13 in Bradford, England. He won several championships as a piper and then went to Bradford Technical College. By 1980, he had emigrated to Canada. He decided to reunite both his passions and founded John Walsh bagpipes in 1994.
Nowadays, after 25 years of making outstanding bagpipes and accessories, the company continues to make entirely by hand (no CNC machines involved) some of the best-sounding bagpipes in the market.
Still made at home and with obsessive attention to detail, John Walsh’s bagpipes might surprise more than one player.
Notable bagpipes: JWB Plastic Set (link to check the price at John Walsh Bagpipes)
Representing the next generation in pipes, this creation by John Walsh is ready to take the world like a storm. Indeed, after the CITES restriction on African blackwood, the company experimented with a plethora of materials and alternative woods and found perfect combinations to replace it. Moreover, the classic style construction with the full projecting mounts and nickel ferrules will feel like home from moment zero. Finally, the bagpipe ships set up and ready to play, fully combed with Walsh Plastic Pipe chanter and accessories.
Official website: johnwalshbagpipes.com
John Walsh founded John Walsh Bagpipes Limited in 1994. Currently, headquarters are in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada.
The current waitlist to receive an Atherton original is of two years. Moreover, the price tag of those instruments that sometimes take over 100 hours to be built is into the 6-digit numbers. But why is it that expert players, collectors, connoisseurs, and enthusiasts wait for such an instrument?
The answer is that Atherton works to achieve perfection rather than volume. In this sense, he compares with a master watchmaker in Switzerland making four watches a year. Therefore, every Atherton bagpipe comprises 100 hours of pure talent poured into a musical instrument, ready to take any performer to a different sonic plateau.
Notable bagpipes: Atherton Bagpipes (link to check them out at Atherton Bagpipes)
Dave Atherton doesn’t make regular models; instead, he creates custom instruments upon customer requests. You can expect only the finest materials like naturally dried, handpicked African blackwood or authentic mammoth ivory.
Moreover, the artist makes everything completely by hand—even the most intricate engraving jobs. Dave Atherton founded his company with one aim: to create the best bagpipe ever made. He is always one bagpipe closer to his goal.
Official website: dmatherton.com
Atherton Bagpipes was founded by Dave Atherton in 2007. Currently, headquarters are in Naperville, Illinois, USA.
Having honed his craft since he was 16 years old, Dave Wardell can be considered a master builder for bagpipes that can compete at any level. Moreover, when Neil retired from the business in 2010, the entrance of double gold medal winner Douglas Murray elevated Kilberry’s craftsmanship, adding a top-notch player's fine sensitivity to every design.
Moreover, with the help of Doug, Dave was able to develop further the designs for the pipes and the pipe chanter bringing the company’s bagpipes to a new level. Nowadays, the brand has become a synonym for excellence, durability, and performance.
The pinnacle of Kilberry’s craftsmanship quality can be seen in this bagpipe model's impeccable construction, sound, and details. Indeed, made with the finest materials available and fully engraved to customer request, this is a serious instrument for serious players. Moreover, you can choose the tartan design for the bag at an extra cost. Finally, the metal parts can be requested in nickel or brass, which drastically changes the instrument’s look and sound.
Official website: kilberrybagpipes.com
Kilberry Bagpipes was founded by Neil Manderson and Dave Wardell in 1990. Currently, headquarters are in Edinburgh, Scotland.