Many great pipers’ instruments are almost as well known as the pipers themselves. Often a vintage set of Henderson or Lawrie drones, they most often acquire their pipe at an early age, sometimes as a family heirloom, but normally purchased for quite a bit of money. Occasionally, you hear about the pristine set of MacDougalls found in a junk shop or at a garage sale.
But, like Yo Yo Ma’s Stradivarius cello, B.B. King’s Gibson ES-355 or Paul McCartney’s Hofner “violin” bass, these pipes become synonymous with the musician himself. A pipes|drums poll not too long ago confirmed that, like King’s naming his guitar “Lucille,” many pipers name their own axe. That someone would pay $13,000 for John Wilson’s pipes is evidence of the power that famous instruments can have on people.
I don’t think that I would be attached to my pipes if I didn’t pay for them. There are a lot of pipes given away as prizes these days, and that’s nice marketing, but I’d bet that very, very few of these instruments actually end up being played by the winner. They’re generally sold into the market, where they can become someone else’s prized possession.
Some pipers agree to endorse instruments made by prominent makers, but I generally think that they aren’t getting much more from the instrument than the sound it makes. I even know one fairly prominent piper who has never actually paid for a set of pipes – ever. I guess he saved some money at some point, but there’s something to be said for feeling an intangible connection with an instrument, for losing a part of one’s self if the bagpipe itself is ever lost.
The elusive ancillary benefits of having that instrument synonymous with your own name cannot be minimized.