by Andrew Bova
IN the piping and drumming community, there are a number of standouts who
possess an impressive plethora of piping skills and who exemplify the phrase
“portfolio career”. One of those pipers is Craig Munro: Master Craftsman and
Production Director of Wallace Bagpipes, member of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers,
piper with Saint Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band, adjudicator, sought-after workshop
teacher and lecturer, and piper for cinematic soundtracks such as Disney Pixar’s
Brave and DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2.
It’s four years since Craig was last interviewed in Piping Today, so there’s a lot to
catch up on, as well as finding out his future plans.
What’s changed in the course of the last four years?
There’s been a lot of changes at Wallace Bagpipes since I took over completely
in January 2012. We’ve become a lot more prominent, especially in the events side
of things, including sponsorship of the CLASP (Competition League for Amateur
Solo Pipers). What I’ve done is try to change the direction the business is going
because about four years ago we didn’t really know where we sat in the marketplace.
Two years ago, a German piper asked: “Who are Wallace Bagpipes in terms of their
procedure, marketing etc?” with the simplified version of that question being “What’s
the difference between you and bagpipe maker B?” That’s a very difficult question to
answer without being biased. So what I had to do was sit down and think about who
PAGE 30 PIPING TODAY ISSUE 83 • 2016
PIPING TODAY ISSUE 83 • 2016 PAGE 31
we are and how do I define what we’re doing?
In answering that question, one of the
biggest things I’ve been trying to get across
is the manufacturing procedures. My whole
background is engineering and because Wallace
Bagpipes was a branch of Jet Engineering, people
think our factory in Anniesland, Glasgow,
is littered with CNC machines. The truth of
the matter is that we’ve only got one, and that
machine only does 5% of our process, so we’re
95% tradition and 5% CNC automated. Compare
that against most other makers, and you
would find the opposite, 95% CNC and 5%
traditional. So the last four years, for me, have
been about defining ourselves as a traditionbased
The reality is that you’re never going to be a
millionaire making bagpipes, so there’s no point
in trying to take people for every single penny
or, vice versa, trying to rush pipes out the door.
I’m just very thankful that I wake up every day,
I enjoy my job and I have a great team of guys.
All I ever say to the guys in the factory, and to
anybody else that asks me about Wallace Bagpipes,
is that as long as the wages are paid, the
bills are paid, and there’s a wee bit left in the pot
at the end of the year, everybody’s happy. I have
a great team, and I hope we stick together for
the rest of our working days. I have no intentions
of doubling the staff force or machinery.
Our smaller size benefits us in that we have a
very personal approach at Wallace Bagpipes to
the degree that I’m personally at the other end
of the phone or e-mail. Face to face interaction,
personal interaction, individual service — it’s
One of your recent developments with the
business is a partnership with Chris Armstrong
to produce the Armstrong Bagpipe.
How did that partnership come about and
what sets the Armstrong Bagpipe apart?
I’m eager to talk about this. We manufacture
the Armstrong Bagpipe and Chris is keen for
people to know that we’re the company manufacturing
his product. That’s partly because
while it’s a worldwide market, it’s still quite
niche and people would find out that we’re the
manufacturer, but also because anybody who
knows Wallace Bagpipes knows that we produce
a quality product. We believe in our products
and have great customer service and I know
that because I put my heart and soul into it.
As far as how the partnership came about, we
were teaching a workshop together in Austria
and started chatting about how pipes are made.
The conversation was very positive and later
Chris approached me, saying that he had an
idea to make a set of pipes and wanted to know
how I felt about making the prototype. From
the start, it was an exciting and fun experience.
Anyone who knows Chris knows that he’s a very
methodical guy who leaves nothing to chance
and this was a unique opportunity because his
prototype idea was his own design, not based
on an older bagpipe.
The reproduction market doesn’t sit well
with me. I say let legends be legends and leave
them be. He said the pipes are based on his
findings over the years, over various pipes he’s
PAGE 32 PIPING TODAY ISSUE 83 • 2016
played or set up for pupils or folk in the band, taking characteristics
from various sets of pipes and modifying them
with his own ideas.
What sorts of things did he pick up on and use in his
own designs or are they trade secrets?
I think it’s quite good to get it out there. He never came
to me with a set of pipes, he came to me with drawings of
pipes. Chris is a very artistic guy, to the extent that he drew
his own engraving patterns for his pipes by hand.
When he first gave me the drawings my initial reaction
was: “This will never work. There’s certain things going
on there that, as a pipe maker, defy all logic.” This was
particular in the bores, especially the counter bores. They’re
actually quite short, so if you were to take those drones and
pull them down as far as they could go, they’d likely sit about
an inch off the mount.
There were other things as well but Chris insisted that
I just make it, so I did and I couldn’t believe the results,
to be honest. What he was really looking to do was differentiate
the bass from the tenors. And he’s achieved that.
The bass bell is different from the tenor bells. The bass is
a conical taper and on the tenors, it’s like a chalice inside
which gives the drones a very balanced projection of bass
and tenor creating an excellent
overall blend of harmonics.
This is the only bagpipe I know
of that has different bells in the
bass and tenors.
We went about working on
the prototype very quietly and
he’d only had them about a
month when he took them
to London and won the Gillies
Cup. More recently,
he played the pipes in ScottishPower
for the 2016 season.
Following the Worlds, he boxed up
the prototype and we made a new
set with his distinctive aged imitation
ivory and nickel slides. He had
those going for two weeks when he
went to Oban and took fourth
in the Silver Star MSR. It
shows that the pipes
will hold up at the
PIPING TODAY ISSUE 83 • 2016 PAGE 33
You mentioned about Wallace Bagpipes
sponsoring the CLASP. How did that sponsorship
come about, what is the relationship
like and what are your views on the CLASP
as both a competitive and educational
I get e-mails and requests every day requesting
sponsorship and donations for events and
it’s something that I am very particular about.
I don’t just sponsor everything and anything
— anyone familiar with Wallace Bagpipes will
know that. We’re not in every magazine, we’re
not on every website, we don’t give sets of pipes
away to every solo contest, and I’m very selective
about how I go about sponsorships.
The reason isn’t that I’m a scrooge, it’s more
that we are in business so I’m only going to
sponsor an event if it’s beneficial in promoting
Wallace Bagpipes. What we don’t do any more
is give pipes away for prizes or raffles. My experience
is that most pipes that people win get
sold, which devalues our product. The other
part of that is that if you’re winning the pipes
by winning a competition, then you probably
don’t need a new set of pipes.
Instead we donate vouchers for people to
attend workshops, which actively helps pipers
develop. By providing Wallace Bagpipes
scholarships for people to attend workshops,
it helps them get tuition from some of the best
teachers in the world, paid for by us.
Ultimately, we’re picky about what we choose
and I’ve been quoted as saying “at Wallace
Bagpipes we’re about the right opportunity, not
The reason the CLASP really appealed to me
is that this area of piping has been completely
overlooked, diminished, and pushed to the side
over the years. When you get to 18, it’s very difficult
to make the professional grade and most
people just don’t get to that level. Any event
you see is geared towards kids or professionals,
so there was no in-between until the CLASP
My experience from teaching at workshops
is that on average you’ll get 50 people attending,
and of those 50, maybe 10% will be good
enough to perform at a professional or Grade 1
pipe band level. The rest are sitting around the
Grade 4, Grade 3A area. But that’s my market,
because if you’re a professional piper, you’re going
to be playing a set of pipes that you trust
and been playing for a long time so you’re not
really looking for anything else.
Here, The National Piping Centre has an
association that is solely geared towards my
market for business. But it’s not only that, I
see this as a nice thing to do by giving back to
the people who really need it. All the sponsorship
currently available is either for kids or
professionals. Everybody just forgot about the
pipers outside those two groups, which is why
I feel it’s necessary to support it and which is
why this is now our biggest sponsorship. It’s a
The CLASP has given these players an
opportunity to perform and compete, where
before the opportunities were limited, and as a
result they’ve built up a close network of friends.
Sure, they compete against each other, but it’s a
friendly rivalry, and I can see it all over Facebook
that they meet up and get together. And they’re
growing better together, because the CLASP
also provides workshops for them to come and
not only compete, but learn. And that’s why
the CLASP will get my 100% support.
This year’s Grade 1 CLASP winner was Gill
Cairns, who I know very well and plays a set
of our Classic 4 pipes with a wooden Wallace
pipe chanter so it was nice that in my first year
as sponsor I was presenting the top prize to a
complete Wallace set-up player.
How has the birth of your child and the
growning demands of Wallace Bagpipes
impacted on your role in the Red Hot Chilli
Pipers. Have you had to take a step back?
Yep, I’ve done it. It took a lot longer than I
thought it would and I’m still in the band, just
only doing corporate work so the gigs are all
UK based. The touring is done for me. The
big factor in that was my boy coming along and
I wanting not to be away from home for long
periods of time. Having a kid naturally changed
my life, and Wallace Bagpipes is the bread and
butter for me, so it’s about dedicating my time
to the company.
The exposure through the Chillis is fantastic
for the branding and exposure of Wallace
Bagpipes, things like packing the Fruitmarket
or O2 during Piping Live! is great for business,
especially when there is a large piping audience,
of course. But where I see the benefit is
that the Chillis get a lot of kids interested in
playing the bagpipes. Those kids might not
know anything about pipes, so they see the
PAGE 34 PIPING TODAY ISSUE 83 • 2016
‘The big factor in that was
my boy coming along and I
wanting not to be away from
home for long periods of time’
Chillis, think they want to learn the pipes, and
get in touch with the band to find out about
But it was selfish in that I was going on tours
with the Chillis and leaving the workshop. It
was never a happy medium. I would go away on
tour, which was great fun, great branding and
I’d get paid at the end of it which was amazing,
but I was fooling myself thinking I could be
abroad and run the business from my laptop. I
only ended up coming home to a mountain of
things to deal with.
It was the wee man that really made me
decide I didn’t want to be abroad, I didn’t want
to be away from my family. That said, I believe
the Chilli Pipers are going to be around forever.
If it was going to stop, it already would have.
Recently someone, a professional piper who will
remain unnamed, aired their disgruntled-ness
towards what the Chilli Pipers are doing, and
my whole take on it is that love it or loathe it,
it’s a great advert for piping. You could take 10
of the best pipers in the world, put them on the
stage at BB Kings in the centre of Manhattan
and you’ll be lucky if you sell 50. The Chillis
play a run of gigs at BB King’s and it’s sold out
every night, every single year. I maintain that
there is no other bagpipe act that can do what
they do in terms of ticket sales worldwide.
Your involvement in St Laurence O’Toole
has increased over the years. How has your
Well, I should have touched on that when
discussing the Chillis, because it was very difficult
balancing everything out. I have to say that
Terry, and latterly Alen, have been extremely
supportive of my involvement in the Chillis,
Wallace Bagpipes and my workshop teaching
duties. There was a number of competitions
I wasn’t able to attend because I was on tour
and I had to go on tour because it was a part
of my job with the Chillis. That still happens
to a degree, where if I have to miss something
in relation to Wallace Bagpipes the guys are
incredibly supportive, and know that they have
my 100% loyalty.
I’ve been in the band since 2011 and would
like to think I’m a strong part of the band and
have a good connection with Alen and Stephen
Creighton, whom I’ve played for at the World
Solo Drumming on many occasions. It’s a great
band to be a part of, a very close band. My role
in the band has been increasing to the point
where I’m running the Scottish team. That
seems to be a growing thing in pipe bands now,
and we know that Field Marshal have had this
for a long time, probably about 40% of their
pipe corps is over here in Scotland and there’s
no reason that we couldn’t. It’s changed times
in pipe bands now as Terry was very strict about
keeping a home-grown corps. When I joined
the band there were only three overseas players:
myself, Gareth Rudolph and Andrea Boyd out
of a pipe corps of 22 or 23. Over the years, it’s
become more acceptable for distance players
to come in.
Finally, is there anything you would like to
say to the piping and drumming community
I think we need to remember that, whilst
we’re competing against each other, there’s times
we need to put that to one side and remember
that we’re here to enjoy what we do.
Sometimes there’s too much focus on competition
and being better than the next person.
I’ve found that creeping in more and more recently,
that it’s all about the win and not about
the joy. I think people could come together a lot
more and I’d include the business side in that.
I was told years ago that all the bagpipe
makers used to get together around Christmas
time and go for lunch, or go for a drink, and
discuss how many pipes they sold that year and
how many they thought they would sell the
next year. They’d come up with a figure and
put in one order for enough wood to cover that
figure in order to save on shipping costs and get
a better price on the wood.
There’s none of that now, and that’ll never
come back. So it’s there in both the business
and the competition. And whilst for some of
us it’s a business, for 90% of pipers it’s a hobby
and we need to remember that it’s a worldwide
As a result of that focus on competition,
I’m sad to say that I know of many pipers who
are no longer competing because they’ve lost
the motivation as it’s stopped being about the
music with the focus being on the competition
and the politics.
Ultimately, it’s about the music. l
PIPING TODAY ISSUE 83 • 2016 PAGE 35