I’m a huge fan of Fred Morrison and his music so it was a no-brainer that when I finally bought a set of smallpipes I would go for the Fred Morrison Smallpipes from McCallum Bagpipes. I have been playing my set for about a year now fairly regularly, I’ve even recorded a track that you can find on all the major streaming sites, so I thought it would be a good time to pen a little review on the smallpipes for anybody else who might be interested!
Disclaimer – I am not affiliated with Fred Morrison or McCallum Bagpipes, this review is based purely on my view of and experience with the Fred Morrison Smallpipes.
Fred Morrison Smallpipes
The smallpipes I bought
After a lot of thought, and listening to as many YouTube videos as I could find, I settled on getting the smallpipes in Key of A. I prefer the more mellow sound of A as opposed to the D and no other keys are offered by Fred Morrison. You can see exactly what I bought on the Fred Morrison website.
I chose the bellows over a mouth blown set mainly for the novelty of not needing to blow the pipes but I’m also interested to see the difference that not having any moisture being blown into the pipes has on the longevity of the reeds and bag. I had only tried bellows once before buying the set but they are easy enough to get the hang of. I’d recommend them if you’re considering smallpipes but they do increase the price.
The pipes are all Blackwood and come with a cane chanter reed, Ezeedrone Smallpipe drone reeds a synthetic bag and bag cover. You can choose to add silver, engravings and a drone switch. The drone switch is not an essential item but it is nice being able to switch between playing with drones at the flick of a switch!
You can also choose to purchase a mouth-blown set. And if you’re really undecided about what key to get your smallpipes in then you can get an interchangeable set. Here’s a video of Fred Morrison talking through the key of A smallpipes.
General overview of the Fred Morrison Smallpipes
The smallpipes are playable straight out of the box and sound great on the whole. The reeds are all set up and it is literally plug and play. If you are new to bellows it will take a little while to get hang of the technique so don’t get too disheartened if you struggle at first.
The pipes sit comfortably and the bellows strap well to your arm and body. The synthetic bag can feel quite light and you may want to look into a hide bag if you are struggling. I have not had any problems with the lightness of the bag myself but I received a few questions regarding the feel.
Chanter and Tone
There is quite a considerable difference between the finger spacing on the A and D chanters so make sure you are aware of what they are and what you want before purchasing a set. The finger spacing on the A chanter is wider and closer to the a standard piping chanter, while the D chanter is much smaller and finger spacing is tighter. This is obviously a general smallpipes thing and not specific to the Fred Morrison Smallpipes.
I am pretty happy with the tone I got out the box and I’ve only slightly adjusted the seating of the reed. The balance wasn’t 100% and I had to tape my Low-A and D to bring them in. Considering that the pipes travelled from Scotland to South Korea I would have been very surprised if the balance had been perfect.
I have had problems with and inconsistent squeal on the Low-G and Low-A of the chanter. The obvious answer is I’m over-blowing but I have experimented extensively with different pressures and the squeal can happen regardless of pressure. It could be the lack of moisture from using bellows or else it could be a problem with the specific reed. Or maybe it is just me! I don’t think it is a regular problem though as I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere else, just be aware you may encounter it.
Drones and Ezeedrone Smallpipe Reeds
Tuning the drones was possibly the technique that has taken me the longest to get down perfectly with the smallpipes. Keeping a steady bellow pressure while tuning the drones was tough at first but once you get the drones going they hum beautifully with the chanter.
I have not had any problems with my Ezeedrone Reeds. I had to adjust the inside tenor slightly when I first got my pipes but since then I have not had to touch the reeds. Fred Morrison has said that he has been playing with his set of Ezeedrone Reeds for 10 or 15 years so I don’t see any reason to make any changes.
Overall I love the drone cover I get when they are properly tuned. I have to take apart my pipes after every session for transport reasons so it does mean a complete re-tune every time I take them out again!
The bellows made by McCallum Bagpipes are fantastic. The leather is thick, so it keep a degree if resistance to your squeezing, which is what want. After a few months, as the leather gets softer, it becomes very responsive to your movements giving you a comfortable control over your pressure.
The leather, wood and metal finish on the bellows also looks great. It is a great addition to an already beautiful instrument. There are times where I would like to have mouth-blown pipes because of the familiarity with my regular set but overall I am happy that I chose the bellows.
Don’t be afraid to try out bellows if you’re thinking of smallpipes. They are not as difficult as they look and they are really fun to play with. Watch some tutorials on YouTube if you are unsure.
When you’re buying any product customer service is important. When you’re forking out thousands for a personalized instrument then you the reassurance of good customer service is essential. Fred Morrison Smallpipes are made by McCallum Bagpipes as I have stated earlier. You can order them directly from McCallum or use the Fred Morrison website.
I chose to go through Fred Morrison because I like working with the person who’s name is on the final product. The process for ordering is simple and any questions I had were answered promptly via email. I needed the pipes shipped to South Korea so there were lots of logistics to figure out!
When I ordered to pipes I was given a very clear time frame for their completion. I was doing some travelling around the time so a clear time frame was important! The pipes were going to be ready in 20 weeks from the date of my order and that was perfect. Handmade products take time and I wouldn’t want a rushed product. But come 21 weeks and I had had no news on my pipes.
There was no news from McCallum Bagpipes for a long time on where they were in the process. I kept pushing and was eventually told that the Christmas rush for pipes was slowing down my order. I ordered the pipes in March! After about 30-35 weeks I eventually received my pipes so take the time frame with a pinch of salt.
Overall I was happy with my service but if I have one complaint it was that there was not enough done to keep me updated on the process.
Price for your Fred Morrison Smallpipes
A basic set of smallpipes in the Key of A with bellows will set you back £ 1,100. To add a drone switch is £ 125 and engraving adds a further £ 105. To have the metal work in silver it will cost another £ 500.
The smallpipes in Key of D with a bellow costs £ 1,065. To get an interchangeable A/D set with bellows costs £ 1,325.
A standard set of mouth-blown smallpipes in Key of A costs £ 885, in Key of D costs £ 840.
All these prices have been taken directly from the Fred Morrison website and are subject to change.
Final thoughts on Fred Morrison Smallpipes
I thoroughly enjoy playing my smallpipes. I originally got them because my living conditions had change drastically and it had become nearly impossible to practice on my regular bagpipes. I needed something quieter, so I made the investment and it was a great choice.
There are obviously a wide variety of smallpipes to choose from. The Fred Morrison Smallpipes are not the cheapest but you are getting as very good quality product that has a fantastic sound and beautiful finish. With the backing of a musical legend like Fred Morrison and the history of a company like McCallum Bagpipes you can’t go wrong.
Whatever you choose I hope this review has helped make your decision. If you have any more questions drop a comment or an email, I’ll be happy to help! And make sure to check out my YouTube channel for original music from the Lonely Busker. Also stop by have a look at my original, free sheet music for bagpipes.