Skip to main content

Recording Bagpipes


I'm new to the forum, and relatively new to the recording side of music. I came to it via recording the band I play in in my basement, as a lot of people have. One of my first paid gigs will be an interesting one - a local bagpipe band has asked me to record a solo piper. They're going to use the recording mainly for practice purposes so I might be overthinking this, but I'd like to deliver something that sounds as good as possible (all joking about bagpipes aside).

I haven't been able to find much on the topic of recording bagpipes, so I thought I'd share my plans for recording, and see if anyone has any advice to offer.

I have a smaller basement studio that I have recently built and treated, but am not planning to record there. The band has a church sanctuary available to them, and I figure this will be a much better environment acoustically to record. I've considered doing it outside, but don't want to rely on the weather.

Microphone technique: Close micing seems pretty impractical to me as the SPLs are very high, and attempting to individually mic drones seems futile. I'm leaning towards a simple stereo pair a few feet behind the piper, and am considering the below options:
1) A spaced pair of Avenson STO-2 omnis. As my ear isn't tuned to a 'good' bagpipe tone, I figure the flatness of these mics will at least give a natural sound.
2) M/S with an AKG 214 and a modded Apex 460 as the figure 8. These mics might tone down some of the harshness of the pipes.

Of course I'd like to experiment all day, but my client and ears probably wouldn't appreciate that.

Any suggestions people have are appreciated. I'd love to hear from someone who has recorded pipes in the past.

Thanks in advance.

"I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter."
- Blaise Pascal


Boswell Mon, 05/05/2014 - 15:37

I've done plenty of pipes of various types: Scottish bagpipes, Northumbrian pipes, Welsh pipes. Scottish pipes are LOUD. The worst I had was a group of four Scottish pipers in a small hall. I had on low leakage earphones soloing a muted mixer channel, and they were still loud.

Because of the problem of bouncing echoes in a room, you do need to get the microphones close to the pipes, and you need a pad such as 20dB on the mic body if you can. I would set up the mics in front of the piper, not behind, as the chanter is the slightly more interesting bit.

It's worth trying the two configurations you suggest, assuming you've got the mics available to hand. Because one is a spaced array and the other a coincident, these two sets can be recorded concurrently if you have sufficient pre-amps and recording channels.

Good luck, and let us know how it turns out.

thatjeffguy Mon, 05/05/2014 - 17:12

I have recorded bagpipes on a few occasions. I always use ribbon mics to calm the harsh tones, and i place one fairly close to the chanter and the other behind the piper about 18" - 24" from the drones. Gives me a reasonable degree of separate control over the two elements.

paulears Tue, 05/06/2014 - 00:16

The two occasions I recorded the damn things the one thing that stood out is that the players will NOT like your results because they have never heard their own pipes properly, so your balanced recording sounds wrong to them. They seem to hear the drones at a lower level than people out front and consider this 'right'. A bit like a trombone player at their first recording.

Reverend Lucas Tue, 05/06/2014 - 07:46

Thanks for the input, all. I do have the above mics and plenty of pres, so that’s not an issue. Unfortunately, I don’t have any ribbons at hand. I’m now thinking of throwing the M/S pair up in front using an omni for the mid, and throwing the other omni up behind to balance the drones as needed. Any idea if the additional mic would have adverse effects on the M/S stereo image? I guess I’m puzzled in finding the best way to stereo image a source that seems to be oriented more front to back then left to right. I suppose reverb could do this, but doesn’t seem appropriate here. Maybe stereo isn’t necessary? Narrow panning?

I suppose now I’m also in a philosophical quandary, Paul – do I deliver what I think sounds good, or what will please the client? If the audience is bagpipers, what is ‘right’? Ok, I’ll be done now.;) Thanks again for the good thoughts. It’s always nice to stumble into a wealth of knowledge.

thatjeffguy Tue, 05/06/2014 - 10:04

Whether or not stereo is necessary is of course subjective. I would lean towards stereo in this case, to create a three dimensional soundstage. The font-back vs L-R is a challenge... I think I would be inclined to record both front & back in stereo if possible and blend the results (with careful attention to panning).
The occasions when I have recorded pipes they were mixed with other instruments and I only needed a mono image, but this thread has been an interesting "what would I do" exercise!
As far as your philosophical quandary, I have faced this in the past. It really has to be handled on a case-by-case basis, but generally speaking, I refuse to put my name on anything I'm not proud of or can't support, to the extent of refusing to work with certain would-be clients.

Hope this helps!

paulears Tue, 05/06/2014 - 11:20

If you have plenty of mics and channels available, I wonder if maybe the spaced omnis could be used either side, and maybe slightly above the player. I'm thinking it could be an ideal opportunity to try something a bit different - like maybe a Jeklin Disk? My reasoning is that some kind of stereo setup would be best for recording purposes, because of the wide spread location of the various parts of the instrument. It would be nice to record lots of options as a test and then listen to all the sound sources to see if you can creat the characteristic 'big' sound the damn things have.

A friend of mine who is very into folk music has a set of pipes - not quite sure what they are, but they are smaller that the Scots version, and he plays his live. After getting lousily miked up at festivals, he has a tiny L bracket glued to each drone and the chanter, and has some cheap omni labs, that he then sub mixes (with a preset balance - he removed the rotary knobs, and covered the pot shafts with gaffer tape!) He also uses this setup on studio sessions - and he loves it, although to me it sounds a bit 'wrong'. It was him that made me realise they hear it differently to somebody further away.

It's a bit different from what we're talking about here, but if you do Spotify, look up Paul Winter - Golden Apples of the Sun, and listen to the Ulean Pipes on that. It's recorded in a very live cathedral, but the sound is amazing.

Reverend Lucas Wed, 05/07/2014 - 13:28

I hadn't considered a Jecklin disk. I happen to have a spare half sheet of 703 laying around that should do nicely for that. I like your idea of experimentation, Paul. I now plan to throw up three stereo pairs:

1) M/S using AKG C214 as the M and modded Apex 460 as figure 8 in front of the piper

2) Spaced pair of cardioids (NT5s) behind the piper

3) Jecklin disk capturing at a proper distance with STO-2s

My thought is that the cardioids behind the piper can be used to balance the M/S or Jecklin disk pair (with proper time alignment). I think it will be a good exercise in the differences of the techniques, if nothing else.

As far as perception behind the mouthpiece versus out front, my plan is to explain the difference to the client. I’m sure we’ll be able to find something useable.

Thanks again for all the help.

paulears Wed, 05/07/2014 - 16:15

I'd love to hear a little of the results at some point - sounds like it could be a worthwhile experiment.

My best techniques are often mistakes. My assistant set up a couple of large diaphragm condensers under the lid of a Yamaha C3 grand piano. We spent all day recording and only when packing away did I spot that she'd pointed them 180 around the wrong way - pointing up. As this was on location, monitoring had been in the space, using DT100s for isolation, and I'd not noticed. However, the sound, reflected by the lid sounded really good - in this location, the room sound was quite poor, so closer miking than usual was needed. This wasn't really quite right for the genre of music - but the reflected sound seemed to be very similar to the more distant mic position I'd have used. So a happy accident - it worked rather nice. BUT it didn't work on a different Yamaha, one of the smaller baby grand type instruments. The same mic setup sounded very artificial. Compared to the C3, no comparison.

paulears Thu, 05/08/2014 - 12:03

Perhaps this is just a US perspective, because there is a definite shift in mic selection in the US to the UK (which of course is for the moment containing Scotland). Here, we prefer condensers - with very able mics like the Shure SM7 not really getting a look in. Dynamics do find a home for the very common things where SPL, and toughness are required, but dynamics, including ribbons are not by any means universal receding tools. To infer that all condensers are going to make the pipes thin and nasty is simply wrong. I'm not saying they are all universally good for pipes - my pair of AKG 451s I've had for a very long time sounded pretty nasty, but I have used 414s, and the Chinese large diaphragm mics sold under posh names and most are rounded enough. I still have a single ribbon, having got rid of the others because I really didn't like their sound.

I respect your view of how to do it - but to rubbish everyone else's in such a weird way is not really helpful, is it?

We're talking about trying new techniques, fully aware they're possibly going to fail - but equally, some could work rather well, and we're interested enough and open minded enough to consider trying it.

I suspect that you want to create a new bagpipe sound - a warm, in your face, balanced and musical result. Proximity effect? Have you even considered how on earth you will keep the player static to make this happen. Bag squeezing means movement - not much, but enough to have your tonal balance up and down like a yoyo. Realism is the intention here, and close miking is simply crazy, impractical and unsympathetic to the instruments timbre.

Do you have ESP? Where did crappy computer interface come from?

If you wish to be helpful or offer considered comment - please supply some, but it just looks like you got out of bed the wrong side and just fancied a pop. Unhelpful and unwelcome. I'm sure you didn't mean to sound like you did - but we all know what pipes sound like, and this isn't our problem - we're thinking out of the box a little. I can't really see the point in mellow pipes - it's just wrong, somehow? Their design was to be quite the opposite.

Transformers do not mean quality. Quality transformers are a different beast altogether - but we're not talking about preamp transparency and snake oil fine detail. We're talking about capturing the characteristic sound of pipes.

Reverend Lucas Thu, 05/08/2014 - 15:28


I’m not sure if you missed the first bit about the client using this recording for practice. I’m not a professional audio engineer. I came to this forum looking for advice on how to achieve the best results I can, given my limited experience and equipment. I’ve found the members to be friendly and more than helpful, but frankly find your comments presumptuous and extremely condescending. I don’t expect to obtain the results of someone with more talent than I and who has dedicated their life to it. That being said, your ad hominem arguments don’t seem to me to behoove a professional. I have degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics (neither of which from schools that have much to do with The Beverly Hillbillies), and have played in bands for fifteen years. Recording is where I get to put these together, for fun. I like the idea of creating a permanent record of music. I don’t mean to take a cavalier attitude towards the art and science of audio recording, as it’s something I have the utmost respect for. I simply enjoy a lot of aspects of the creation of music. Lugging gear, of course, excepted. I'm not performing brain surgery. Nobody is going to die if my hand trembles.

As far as the 460 goes, let me explain: I’ll be using dual diaphragms that are facing away from and out of phase with each other to create a figure of eight pattern. The stock capsule is actually set up this way, but I’ve replaced it with one based on the AKG C12 (along with most of the rest of the mic). The mic has multiple polarity options, much like the 414.

I understand waking up on the wrong side of the bed, and so will assume you really meant to be helpful. I hope the rest of your day is better.

Thanks for the input regarding mic selection. I will look into it further.

My pres aren’t Neves, but have been lower on my investment list than the signal chain in front of them (instruments, room, and mics). Without starting a debate on pres, the ones I use are clean enough that they are not my limiting factor.


I appreciate your input. I’ll be sure to get samples to you.

DonnyAir Fri, 05/09/2014 - 03:25


The post has been deleted. And you don't need to give your resume in order to post here. Your questions were valid and should have been treated with respect, and I apologize that this person felt the need to insult you. It was uncalled for.

Please don't let this influence you regarding this forum. Most of the time, you will find the members to be very helpful and friendly.


edit: I'm the one who deleted the post. If Remy feels the need to question why her post was deleted, she can contact me anytime, and I will be glad to explain to her why her post was out of line.

paulears Fri, 05/09/2014 - 05:03

Not quite what we're talking about, but I buy quite a bit of equipment (mics and pro lighting) from China, and they often offer me all sorts of strange things. The Chinese love copying designs and pre-production samples are often hand-built. They offered me a stereo multi-pattern mic - using a design very similar to the old european mics. Two capsules, each one cardioid/omni/fig-8 with the top one rotatable by 90 degrees, and it has a lovely sound, and completely hand made, including the chassis. Remote power supply, via 5 pin XLR - and I use it for choral or orchestral stuff. It's not as bright sounding as the usual large diaphragm Chinese mic capsules. In a nice sounding space, set to fig-8 at 90 degrees it sounds very nice.

Reverend Lucas Fri, 07/11/2014 - 11:32

I ended up using the M/S and spaced omni pair described above, with close 421s on the chanter and drones. I could've gotten by with the M/S pair alone, but added some room from the omnis. The chanter cut through plenty, so I didn't end up using that mic, but boosted the drone at the request of the client. Yes, a pair of ribbons would have been nice. I'm considering a pair of Fatheads in the future.

I've uploaded a sample below, and am including the URL as I haven't embedded anything from SoundCloud.

I'd love to hear what anybody thinks (constructive criticism please).
I can post any of the individual pairs if anyone's interested in a comparison.

Thanks again all for the input.


MadMax Fri, 07/11/2014 - 19:58

Sounds like a bagpipe to me.

I'm not being flippant... You captured quite adequately, and have a faithful representation of a solo bagpipe performance.

A bagpipe is not really a musical instrument... it's a weapon of psychological warfare that was tamed and refined. What you presented, even with the degradation of audio from SoundCloud's artifact filled algo, it sounds very much like... a bagpipe.

Pipe's seem to compress the dynamics in their wave fronts, or some such... cause the damn things EAT the airspace in rooms... Hell, pipe's have been said to swallow entire towns!

It's a tad hot on the capture if anything... otherwise...

Good job!

It sounds like....

a bagpipe!

dvdhawk Sun, 07/13/2014 - 07:05

I appreciate the fact that after much discussion here, prior to recording, you returned with a sample of the end result so we could hear how it turned out. Thanks for that.

I would agree with Boswell on the drone, but when the guy who's writing the check asks for more drone, you give him more drone. (then maybe split the difference when he's not looking. Who me? Never! How DARE you!)

Reverend Lucas Sun, 07/13/2014 - 11:49

An upload is the least I could do after all the sage advice.

My theory is that 40+ years of playing a constant 120 Hz will desensitize a bagpiper's ears to that frequency. Maybe I should have been more firm. I probably would have been if it were for widespread distribution.

MadMax Mon, 07/14/2014 - 09:09

Boswell, post: 417032, member: 29034 wrote: Nice work, but if anything I think you let your client's request override the musicality. The drone is too loud.

Musicallity and bagpipe... in the same sentence?!? REALLY?!?!? o_O


(Sorry... couldn't resist!)