Ishmael's Tabor Pipe Reviews
Following are reviews of some tabor-pipes I have known.
Appearing in alphabetical order.
See the Pipe & Tabor page for
The Generation three-hole pipe is consistent, inexpensive, and ubiquitous.
With a plastic mouthpiece and brass tube either lacquered or nickel
plated the pipes are rugged and weatherproof.
They are sold far and wide throughout North America and Europe.
Response over an octave and a third is easy and predictable.
I have only seen these manufactured in the key of D, however some
musicians have converted their six-hole flageolets - available in
keys from Bb to G - into single handed pipes by covering the extra
holes with tape and (in most cases) drilling a thumb hole on the bottom.
While slightly more expensive, my personal preference is for the
nickel plated pipe. Wear and skin treatments such as sunscreen or
mosquito repellent remove the lacquer from the plain brass pipe
so that after a long session I find metallic deposits on my fingers.
Susato tabor pipes, as well as six-hole pipes, are made by George
Kelischek from ABS plastic. They are large bore, available in
Bb, C and D, and are quite loud. Both the old model, made in the
1980s with a wooden fipple, and the newer model manufactured since
1992 take a lot of air and turn it into sound that can carry through
noisy fairs and streets. The upper overtones are close together and
require good breath control, without which one can miss the desired
Individual pipes can be obtained for specific keys, or one can get a
set consisting of a mouthpiece and three separate pipes.
Did I mention that these Susato pipes are LOUD?
All things change, and at the turn of the millenium the Susato tabor
pipes have changed. The newer pipes are mellow to the point where
NK considers the Generation pipes shrill in comparison. In particular,
the G pipe can be played inside while conversations take place about the
room. It is easy to control the overtones and thrifty with breath.
If you need a loud pipe, seek out an older model.
Sweetheart tabor pipes, from the workshop of Ralph Sweet, are made by hand
in a variety of fine woods in keys of D, G, and low D. Due to natural
variations in the wood, the hand manufacturing process, and effects
of humidity and temperature on wood, each pipe is unique and suitability
must be determined by the user. In general they have a more mellow
tone than the Generation or Susato instruments and with a narrow windway
are more sensitive to the breath. The G pipe in particular is well
suited for small rooms and intimate affairs where a metal or plastic
instrument would be too harsh.
As with wooden recorders they will absorb moisture and suffer from
condensation if cold or played for too long a time. Individual instruments
vary, but in general beyond the first full octave the notes become
more difficult to hit than with the Generation pipes.
I would not expect to play one for Morris Dancing at a noisy street fair,
but for Country Dancing indoors they can be just right.
A highly compressed
MP3 file (276kB) of the Morris tune Nutting Girl
played on a Sweetheart G 3-hole pipe with tabor accompaniment.
In the mid-80s I borrowed for a while a stainless steel tabor pipe
of unknown key, perhaps Bb, of large-bore heavy welded construction.
It was rugged and might well withstand the rigors of military service,
or do double duty as a defence weapon when returning home from late-night
gigs. Though loud, it took lots of air and was not easy to play well.
Maker unknown, though in the style of Russell Whortley.
Stainless steel, similar to the above, in the key of D,
possibly made by Roger Cartright or Russell Whortley.
Gift from Adam M. Loud and very rugged, with loop for the fourth finger.
Features a sliding head joint, allowing the pipe to be tuned from D-flat
to D-sharp. Design and construction favor notes in the upper octave,
with some loss of strength in the lower part of the range.
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Original 25 October 1996
Last Modified: Oct 8 22:56 EDT 2001 /
Ishmael the Fiddler