Bagpipers are often accused of coaxing their instruments to wail and whine and eventually emit soaring sounds of “Highland Cathedral” or “Amazing Grace.” But in Scotland, it’s the bagpipers who are wailing now, and it’s because of the Chinese.
The thoroughly Scotish bagpipe tradition is still strong in the Highlands, but the bagpipe-making industry is turning to the Chinese and mass production. That means instruments cost less (something Scotsmen appreciate). But it also means the quality has degraded, especially the sheepskin bags that the player inflates by blowing into it or pumping it with bellows.
Scotsman.com reports that about 10,000 pipers in Scotland need to replace their pricey bags (around $365) every year or two. Scottish bagpipe makers also supply bagpipers in Canada, the U.S. and New Zealand. But where they used to visit fellmongers in Scotland to choose skins, China is a different thing altogether.
Americans, who find “made in China” labels even on Old Glory, can sympathize with the Scots. But some will still find it difficult to believe that a bag made from a scarred sheepskin could sound any worse than the finest hide.