In 1997, I began a painful journey of self-teaching. Impulsively, I just entered a music store and purchase a “Gaita”.
This bagpipe has never worked properly, making my learning very difficult. I was forced to buy another instrument soon after – I ordered it directly from a good quality maker.
That instrument has served me well during 14 years, and is still working. During the following years, while learning to make bagpipes, I kept going back to that bad quality instrument – my ever “first Gaita”.
I have since, wasted countless hours working on it, and incredible amounts of money, to keep it functional… and it will never be a good quality instrument.
I keep it as a reminder to never “buy twice” again!
After almost 20 years since I have started playing Gaita, the bagpipe scene developed greatly in Portugal. However, despite an increase in players and schools, I still see that beginners (and even pipers that should know better) make the same mistake I made, back when I started in 1997 – They acquire an “instrument for tourists.”
When they finally come to our workshop, the harm is already done, and there is very little we can do to help.
Be it as a Gaita tutor, be it in answering the daily emails, we try to help those that seek our workshop looking for a repair or guidance in purchase a new Gaita.
Unfortunately, countless times we must repeat the same warnings.
With that in mind I decided to create the following FAQ section.
Do not be fooled when buying a Gaita!
Frequently Asked Questions or “how not to be fooled when buying a Gaita!”
1 – Buying bagpipes in stores
I would not recommend buying a Gaita in a musical instruments store. The stores generally sell only poor quality industrially made Gaitas. Even when “apparently” stamped with a “nickname”, they are seldom REAL signature design instruments. If it is branded with the name of a well know maker, THEN it will most likely mean it is a used instrument.
2 – Ebay
Good quality used Gaitas hardly ever hit the market. Bagpipers form strong communities. There is always a piper friend, or student, that is keen on buying a good quality used instrument. If a used Gaita is for sale on the internet that could mean there is a reason no one really wants it.
3 – How much for a good quality used Gaita?
The price for a good quality used Gaita will most likely be about the same as for a new one. Good signature Gaitas are not like cars or electronic devices. High quality musical instruments value with time. Your best bet, in selling or buying a used instrument, is to contact your favorite maker directly.
4 – Can I spot if a Gaita is any good?
The answer is NO!
People can try to give you some clear indicators on “how not be fooled” when buying a Gaita. However, if you are a beginner, truth is that you will never know for sure. The only safe way, is to order the instrument from a professional maker, and make sure that he is willing to always welcoming you back, to help you with any problems you may face.
5 – Can I know the basics to keep away from a very bad instrument?
At your own risk, the common tips are to look for obvious things like a rubber bag, or soft wood. Of course NEVER buy an instrument with a rubber bag – It will never work! It damages the wood and reeds, and is hazardous for your health. NEVER get a bagpipe made from light/soft wood. Such woods are only suited for your furniture. It will be very sensible to moisture, and will never work properly. However, nowadays factories are making the same
very bad instruments, but with gore-tex bags and apparently the same woods so… Again, you can never really know.
6 – What is the best wood, then?
The appearance or even the weight of the wood, will never assure – by itself – the final quality of the instrument. In fact two Gaitas made out of two different density woods, can be both beautiful instruments. Even Gaitas with the same wood, but with different woodwork and ornamentation rings, will seem lighter or heavier to you, making any real comparison impossible. Now, top quality makers only use the best materials, that’s for sure. But bad manufacturers try to copy the high end instruments in every detail, but the price – Nothing easier! They try to replicate the look using wood with similar colors, or wood that goes by the same “common name”.
7 – “The only thing I care about is the right wood for the right sound!”
Although in theory the wood has a lot of influence on the final sound of the instrument, ordering a Gaita simply based on ear-say about some wood, may prove a disappointment. There are endless variations in wood, even the one that has the same name, and supposedly the same provenance. Again, even experienced musicians, will have difficulty in knowing for sure whether they are buying the right wood, just by looking at it or asking for it’s name. The only safe way is to order the instrument from a professional luthier that you trust – Someone who can understand your needs as musicians, and assume full responsibility for the materials he employs, making the right instrument for you.
8 – Price tag | How much does a Bagpipe cost?
Please rest assured it is quite impossible to pay something like 300€ for an actual “Gaita type” bagpipe! There is an absolute minimum amount of money needed to get together a functional musical instrument. Of course the prices increases with the quality of the materials employed, BUT the prices will also vary for a wide range of reasons, making it impossible for the beginner to use the price as a rule for choosing the right instrument. Unfortunately, I personally know of beginners that have bought “tourist Gaitas” in local souvenir shops for several thousand euros, because the instruments seemed to have all the right “signs” – gore-tex© bag, boxwood, shiny bag covers, etc. “for that price, it should be the real deal, right?” Be careful: Expensive does not always mean the best, but cheap playable Gaitas simply do not exist either! The only safe way, is to order the instrument from a professional maker.
9 – Servicing and warranty
Unfortunately it is common to forget servicing and warranty when buying a Gaita. In fact, most makers/sellers rub their hands while forgetting all about the customer, the minute he steps out of the workshop with a brand new bagpipe. For me, everything starts (not “ENDS”) the minute the customer buys a Gaita from us. I know for a fact, that musician will be part of our workshop with ideas and requests every time they bring in there Gaitas for free maintenance. If musical instruments were cars, the musicians would be our Test Drivers, helping us improve our machines.
My advice is – Make sure you are also choosing the best servicing and lifetime warranty when you buy a Gaita.