Unless you’re very lucky, you probably can’t find a set of uilleann pipes for sale in your local music shop. The pipes are a very niche instrument, and not many people out thre make or play them. Luckily, the internet has made it easier than ever to research makers and find sets of uilleann pipes for sale.
Where to Find New Uilleann Pipes For Sale
By far, the best way to buy a new set of uilleann pipes is directly from the maker. They can answer any questions you have, build something to your specifications, and give you advice on your pipes long after you’ve bought them. While there are makers all over the world, most of them are clustered around Europe and North America. If possible, try to buy from a maker you can physically visit. Not only will you be able to see what their workshop is like, they’ll be readily available for any repairs or upgrades you need done.
For a great searchable list of uilleann pipemakers, check out the listings on the Na Píobairí Uilleann site.
If you’re looking for a practice set that won’t break the bank, two makers in particular are known for their budget offerings:
- Patrick Sky makes a stripped-down “budget set.” He was one of the first uilleann pipe makers in North America, and is very well-regarded in the uilleann piping community.
- David Daye makes a budget set of pipes with what he calls a “penny chanter.” It’s not the most traditional outfit, but it’s one of the least expensive ways to get into piping with a good instrument
Buyer Beware: Avoid Cheap Sets!
You’ll find a lot of sets of uilleann pipes for sale on eBay, Amazon, and other large online retailers. Many of them will be surprisingly cheap, often selling for less brand-new than other sets sell for used. Be very wary about buying any of these sets. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
These sets are commonly mass-produced by companies with little to no knowledge of how to actually make a functioning set of uilleann pipes. They use cheap materials, are poorly designed, and will fall apart in short order. Worse yet, they can be almost unplayable. Many musicians call these “Instrument-shaped objects,” or ISOs for short. They look like an instrument, and may even make a noise. But they’re not really a musical instrument, and they can cause a lot of frustration for a beginner.
This is especially true for a beginner on an instrument like the uilleann pipes. By the time you notice that something’s wrong with your “pipes,” the return window will probably be closed, and you’ll be out a large chunk of change.
How To Separate Good From Bad
- Most uilleann pipes are made by single craftsmen or small workshops. It takes a lot of knowledge and skill to make a set of pipes. There aren’t that many in the world who can do it. At most, pipemakers may have an apprentice or a few helpers around the workshop. They won’t have a factory or a big brand name. If the set you’re looking at has a brand name rather than a single person’s name, be very cautious.
- Pipemaking is slow and meticulous. A craftsman working in a workshop can take months to build a full set of pipes. Even pipemakers who have been around a long time and work quickly won’t have many sets on the market at once. If it looks like there’s a big inventory of the same brand of pipes, it’s probably not made with the same care.
- Be careful with Asian-made pipes. Many of the cheap “uilleann pipes” for sale online come from Pakistan. There may well be a talented and dedicated pipe maker in Pakistan, and there are a few in Japan. But at this point in time, most Asian-made pipes are of the “cheap and not-so-cheerful” variety.
- If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. You shouldn’t be budgeting any less than $5-600 for a practice set, and you’ll be lucky to find a used one at that price. If you see something new, especially half and full sets, at or below that price, you’re almost certainly looking at something unplayable.
Where to Find Used Uilleann Pipes For Sale
By far the best way to buy a set of used pipes is in-person. That way, you get to see and hear them before you hand your money over. If you live near a decent-sized city, there’s a good chance there’s someone who plays the pipes in your area. A great place to find them is at Irish music sessions. Search “[Your City] uilleann pipes” or “Your City Irish session” to find pipers and sessions around you. The usual Craigslist/DoneDeal/GumTree/Kijiji online classifieds are also a great place to look, although you may not find much.
If you strike out in your area, there are still plenty of online options. “Buyer beware” definitely applies to any online dealings. Make sure to do your research beforehand. Know exactly what you’re buying and who you’re buying from. Otherwise, you could end up paying a lot for something unusable.
Despite the warnings about cheap sets above, you can find some great deals on eBay. Since you’re buying sight unseen (or heard), it’s a better place for more experienced pipers who know exactly what they want. If you’re new to the uilleann pipes, ask a lot of questions about any set that you see for sale. Ask for pictures, sound samples, and detailed descriptions. You want to make sure that the seller knows the instrument and that it’s in good working order. Don’t buy from anyone who doesn’t play themselves; neither they nor you have any idea as to whether the set they’re selling is any good.
Chiff and Fipple is an active online community centered around traditional Irish music. It originally started as a website and discussion forum about the tin whistle, but has added sub-forums for the Irish flute, uilleann pipes, and other traditional instruments. There’s also a “Used Instrument Exchange” where people can post things they’re selling on.
The forum has a wealth of knowledge and some very friendly posters. A search through their archives will probably answer any and all questions you may have about the pipes. If not, ask away and you’re sure to get a reply.
Sets of uilleann pipes frequently come up for sale on the Used Instrument Exchange. It’s also worth putting a “want to buy” post if you don’t see what you’re looking for; someone might have a set they’re willing to sell. The uilleann pipe sub-forum also has a long-running thread that highlights sets and parts for sale on eBay.
Na Píobairí Uilleann (“The Uilleann Pipes” in the Irish language) is an organization dedicated to keeping Irish piping traditions alive. They have a classified section that mostly has listings for uilleann pipes for sale in Ireland. They also have a nice guide to buyinga set of pipes, and a whole bunch of resources for players, makers, and enthusiasts of all levels.
While they’re mainly focused on the Great Highland bagpipes, there’s a sub-forum to discuss other pipes. like Chiff and Fipple, there are plenty of knowledgable posters that can answer any questions you may have, and a search through the archives will turn up a ton of great information. And also like Chiff and Fipple, there’s a “Trading Post” section for buying and selling pipes.
TheSession.org is a long-running website dedicated to traditional Irish music. It’s primarily known for its massive database of tunes, but it has a fairly active discussion forum as well. “For sale” postings are fewer and further between than on Chiff and Fipple, but they pop up from time to time. It’s also another good place to post a “want to buy” message.
Piper Patrick D’Arcy has created a wonderful site dedicated to the uilleann pipes which has a classifieds section. There are also plenty of resources for learning and listening to uilleann piping.
It’s not as active as some of the other forums, but it’s the only one solely dedicated to the uilleann pipes. Like the others, there’s a section with uilleann pipes for sale, although listings are somewhat infrequent.