Sunday, 25 August 2013

Guest Writer, Mark, on his visit to McCallum's Bagpipe Factory

They have grown and have taken over 3 store fronts now.

A visit to Scotland, for me, would not have been complete without a tour of McCallum Bagpipes, in Kilmarnock. McCallum sponsored our trip by supplying a set of their dependable P3 plastic bagpipes and accessories. With our adventures to many countries and climates, including a soaking at an Iceland waterfall and mountain hiking in the Lake District of England, it was obvious that my wooden bagpipes wouldn't come back well tuned, although Lisa would say that they never sound in tune! 
Me in anticipation!
Robert, the foreman at McCallum, was a great host and took us on a tour of the production floor.  He started with handing me a large block of African Blackwood, which is the main material made in the Great Highland bagpipe. I was amazed at the weight of the wood and Meg couldn’t even budge the block pictured on the table.  These trees grow in swamp lands in Tanzania and are now sustainably farmed, which is great news for the Tanzanians and the future of bagpipe manufacturing.  I am hoping to see the Blackwood trees when we visit Tanzania.  Ebony used to be widely used; however, due to the shortage and tendency to crack, Blackwood became the common choice.
How it all begins.
The wood is then cut into rectangular blocks. 
Milled into round dowels, then shaped further.

The ivory mounts are then added.
McCallum uses milling machines to do much of the work, this modern technique has allowed the bagpipes to be consistent and built with high quality in mind.  The etchings on the caps, ferrules and other metal parts are designed in house where computers are programmed to complete the engraving. You can even get these in fancy, glittery colours, commented Lisa. 
Hand finishing the stocks of the drones is completed on the yellow
milling machines shown in the background.
ohhh sweet!

Lisa's artistic contribution, she's missing her glittery bits left at home.

Lisa made me add this one to show the colours.
The finishing touches and final assembly of the pipes are completed by hand.  McCallum has grown from a business of 3 employees doing all of the work to employing over 30 people today.  They are currently producing between 30 to 40 sets of pipes per week.  In recent years they have diversified their stock by producing the plastic set of bagpipes, which I have on ‘world-wide testing’, and have recently introduced colours into their lineup.  You can now march down the street with blue, red or green bagpipes. 
The final assembly room.

The girls and I checking out the map where they have shipped their pipes.

The new colours for the fancy Lisa, I do not need a new chanter!
Lisa was very thankful they were able to set me up with some new chanter reeds that allowed my high e to sound ‘MUCH’ better than when the pipes first arrived – those poor Icelanders didn’t know what had hit them!   A big thanks to Kenny McLeod, Robert Eynon, Ian Todd and the rest of the crew for their hospitality, support and expertise.  If you are in the market to purchase a set of bagpipes, I would highly recommend a set of McCallum's.  More on the travelling bagpipes later! 


  1. That looks awesome!! Mark must have been in his glory.
    Thanks Ally and Meg for the post cards I have them waiting and ready to share with my new little munchkins next week. (can't believe it is next week, yikes!!)Keep them coming when you can.
    And I believe a BIG HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, LISA is in order!!!!! enjoy
    As always, travel safe

    1. Very informative Mark. We love McCallum Pipes and Mark Mitchell. Love Mom and Dad

  2. Great post Mark. I'm amazed that there is that level of demand for the bagpipes - a sign that the bagpipe world is in good shape and growing.
    I have cousins from Kilmarnoch that lived on a farm called Tayburn. They bred a sheep called the "Scotch Mule" that was very popular (they have a website, my uncles name was Robert Currie). I walked to their farm one spring from the Glasgow train station. It's a beautiful part of the country. Happy travels!

  3. This is amazing to see. Grandma read the guest writer's blog to Papa and me last night but I had to check in for myself to see the pictures...and comment, of course. What is a blog if you don't have comments to know people are reading it, so if my comments get tiresome, just facebook me a message. My own kids would have told me already so my feelings will not be hurt. I am glad you got your 'E' tuned up, Mark. Good thing you are not having to worry about the G string (like on a guitar)!! Ally and Meg, I saw your cousins, Anna and Kaite, last night and they miss you! All is well on the Mitchell Mansion!!

  4. Fantastic! Keep writing and posting those pictures! What an adventure!! ~Bernice


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