Hemp – the cord we use on bagpipe joints to keep them nice and airtight – can be very finicky.

Day to day, temperature and humidity changes inside and outside your bag affect how much moisture gets into every part of your instrument, including your hemp.

Hemp is an ever-changing beast. You might think you’ve got it perfectly tight, but the next day it rains and you can’t budge it. Or perhaps you have a few long playing sessions, followed by a few dry days with no playing. Suddenly, your joints are so loose they’re spinning in their stocks!

Maintaining your hemp is an ongoing, regular task for pipers.

So when it comes to technique, here’s my golden rule: it has to be fast. 

In this video, I demonstrate how to wrap for a “hemp edit” – when your pipes just need a bit more to get them nice and tight again. 

Top tips:

  • I try to keep things as simple as possible. Hemp now comes pre-waxed, so using this saves a ton of time. Some (strange…) people prefer to hand-wax their own, or a combo of waxed and unwaxed. Go for it! But in my experience, to avoid the ‘finicky-ness’, and to spend less time on maintenance and more time actually playing, I recommend keeping a roll of pre-waxed hemp in your pipe case and using it every time.
  • Think about how the joint (on your drone or reed seat) is going to connect. You want the hemp to start where the covering piece will connect, and keep the tension tight the whole time you’re wrapping, to avoid ‘smooshing’ it down if it’s a bit loose. 
  • Compress the hemp down as much as you can. This will drastically decrease how much you need to rehemp in the first place, because the denser your hemp, the less moisture will affect it. 
  • You’ll notice I use a 3D printed hemp compressor that one of our Dojo students designed, but you certainly don’t need to! Contact us if you’d like to get your hands on a set, though.
  • When you’re satisfied with how tight the joint is, leave a little tail of hemp hanging to make it easier to adjust in future. To avoid ugly hemp tails poking out of the joint, pull your drone up a bit and cut or break it off inside the join, then twist the drone back down. 
  • Don’t cut the hemp until you’ve tested it a few times.

Of course, this is just one way to do it – but if you’re in a pinch and you realise you need a “hemp edit”, this is my advice for how to get it done quickly. 

The Piper’s Dojo Weekly Show brings you weekly advice about how to be a better bagpiper. Tune into our weekly livestreams on our Facebook page, subscribe to our YouTube channel or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my take on this topic. However, as with everything in piping, there are many schools of thought, and I’d love to hear yours! Leave a comment below to keep the discussion going…

About the Author

Andrew is a prolific practitioner of the bagpipe, active at the highest level of pipe bands, solo competition, teaching, and creative endeavors for the past 20 years. He was 2017 & 2019 World Champion with Inveraray and District Pipe Band, 2017 Winner of the USA Silver Medal for Piobaireachd, 2008–2013 Pipe Major of Grade 1 Oran Mor Pipe Band, multi-prize winner of Silver Medals at Oban and Inverness, and the 2004 B-Grade Winner Strathspey/Reel at Oban. 

Andrew published his debut and award-winning book, Finding Bagpipe Freedom, in 2021. He's also an Accredited Bagpipe Teacher and Examiner (Scottish Qualifications Authority) and holds a Bachelor Degree in Fine Arts from Simon Fraser University.

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