The Latest 3D Object to be Printed? Hoots Mon, it’s the Bagpipes!

Over the past year we have enjoyed experimenting with a vast range of 3d objects – and now we have a 3d object within the musical world to add to our repertoire! Donald Lindsay, who is a bagpiper and also something of an inventor, approached us for the use of our filament

Having played the pipes for so long, and, knowing them like the back of his hand, he was keen to see if 3d printing could challenge the sound limitations of the traditional instrument.

Tell me a bit about your history with bagpipes. Why did you first start playing (and how did this lead on to actually making the instrument)?

I began piping in my teens, as I enjoyed the sound of the pipes. My Dad loaned me his practice chanter, and then passed on his pipes to me. Shortly after this I became interested in the Smallpipes, and before I’d had the chance to play a professionally made set of Smallpipes, I’d started experimenting with practice chanters, bags and makeshift drones to produce a similar sound.

Can you briefly explain the process of making bagpipes in the conventional way and tell us how it differs from 3D printing bagpipes?

Traditional wooden pipes are lathe-turned, usually using engineering lathes and the vast majority of pipes are made from tropical hardwoods, particularly African Blackwood. This is chosen for tonal reasons, and also due to its relative stability.

I believe some 3d makers are producing full-size pipe chanters using injection moulding. I think in some cases, a combination of processes can be used, depending on what is most appropriate or cost-effective. Plastic pipes have certain major drawbacks which prevent their widespread acceptance as mouth-blown instruments (moisture tends to gather), but the Smallpipes are blown by bellows, so plastic can be used without any significant disadvantage.

Plastic is also very widely used for the chanter (melody pipe) on the full size pipes, where the rest of the set is made of wood. This is due to the relative stability of plastic, although it does also tend to be stronger (the chanter is quite a thin-walled part, and therefore quite vulnerable to damage).

What is the Qwistle and the Dreaming Pipes campaign? 

The Qwistle is a modular, 3D printed penny whistle. It is currently available as a set of STL files, which can be downloaded from my website. A simplified, one-piece version is also on sale on Shapeways.

The “Dreaming Pipes” Kickstarter campaign ran during April 2014, and raised funds towards the development of an extended range Smallpipes chanter. A conventional set of Scottish Smallpipes has a range of just over one octave, comprising nine notes in total. My involvement with 3D printing began as a way to allow me to realise a design for a chanter which currently has a working range of two octaves and which can in fact play three octaves in total. This gives a total of 28 notes, or over three times the range of a conventional chanter. The musical possibilities for this instrument are very broad.

Have you experimented with both ABS and PLA filament? If so what have you found to be the differences between the two materials?

PLA is harder than ABS, making it more robust, and also theoretically making a crisper, clearer sound possible. However ABS is currently a better choice for me, as it is easier to finish well. I hand-finish the outside of all the pieces I print, using wet & dry, followed by 0000 steel wool in water. It gives a fairly smooth finish, which takes on a glossy sheen once the instrument has been handled and played for a while. The inside surfaces, which are by far the more important in a woodwind instrument, have to be finished as smooth as possible. I’ve tried a variety of techniques for this, including drills, fine sandpaper, reamers, and filling the part with acetone momentarily.

Whether as a musician or simply as someone interested in 3D objects, we hope you have enjoyed this interview. Leave your comments and come back next week to read the rest of our interview with Donald!