One of the world’s foremost makers of handcrafted bagpipes has set up shop in a Monroe building.
Roddy MacLellan, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, moved to Union County in 2012 from Charleston, S.C., with his wife, Avis, and their two daughters. They liked the school system and had friends in the area. MacLellan also said the cooler weather makes working in his shop more comfortable.
“There’s a balance of rural living, and Charlotte has a lot going on,” MacLellan said. “There are also good bagpipe bands in the area.”
MacLellan makes MacLellan Bagpipes, known worldwide for their quality of sound and craftsmanship. His workshop in Monroe is filled with exotic wood and tools for wood turning and metal crafting; the instruments he creates are shipped to customers all over the world.
He says he creates bagpipes the old way, making him a rarity in an era when most bagpipes are mass-produced in factories in Scotland.
MacLellan studied art as a student in Scotland, focusing on metalsmithing and woodworking. His dad played bagpipes a little, and MacLellan tried the instrument for a few years as an elementary school student.
But he was more interested in art than bagpipes, and he moved to New York in the 1980s, where he worked for Tiffany’s and as a freelance artist.
Northeastern United States is full of bagpipe bands, MacLellan said, so he took up the pipes again. He made a set of pipes as an experiment and found that his instrument sounded as good as any other in the band.
He liked making things – and he used his artistic skills on the wood and metal pipes. Making bagpipes began to take up more and more of his time.
“I quickly realized that maybe this was the way it should have been all along,” he said.
MacLellan quit his job in the early 1990s to become a full-time bagpipe maker. To get started, he took a trip to Scotland.
In a closet there, he retrieved his grandfather’s ebony bagpipes. The set was made in the 1880s by Peter Henderson, a famous Scottish bagpipe maker.
The Hendersons, as MacLellan calls them, is now stored in Monroe on a shelf in his workshop. The instrument provided the original inspiration for his own distinct bagpipe style.
MacLellan makes his bagpipes from cocobolo wood – imported from South America – or traditional African blackwood. Both are heavy and stable woods that provide a strong sound.
Over the course of a year, McClellan shapes the squared-wood edges into rounded pipes and bores a hole through the middle, which provides the bagpipe’s unique sound. In between the work, the wood must sit for months to dry.
In the long-standing tradition of bagpipe makers, MacLellan then cuts “beading and combing” lines into the pipes in designs that are unique to him.
MacLellan is a rare pipe maker who also does his own metal work, and he has engraved everything from traditional Celtic designs to Asian dragons onto bagpipes’ ferrules, caps and slides.
The result is a distinctive-looking instrument known for a bold sound full of harmonics and overtones.
“The craftsmanship and drone sound is excellent,” Andrea Jones wrote in an email. Jones who plays in the Loch Norman Pipe Band with MacLellan.
“Their unique profile really stands out, and you know it is a MacLellan bagpipe the minute you see it and hear it,” Jones said.
MacLellan bagpipes are in such demand that MacLellan can’t keep inventory in his workshop. The wait for a set of pipes is about a year, and MacLellan says he can make 60 and 80 sets annually.
They range in price from $1,500 to $8,000.
Right now, he mostly works alone in his shop on weekdays. His family helps when they can, and he said his daughters – Taylor, 13, and Kyle, 9 – join him in the shop on the weekends.
The MacLellans already have become established in the Charlotte-area bagpipe community. Roddy and his daughters play in the Loch Norman Pipe Band; both Taylor and Kyle have won awards for their musicianship.
Roddy has also visited his daughters’ schools to play the bagpipes when students study international cultures.
The Charlotte Piping and Drumming Club holds club meetings in his shop, and Jones said MacLellan is an excellent source for instrument repairs and supplies.
“It is a tremendous boon for the piping community to have him here,” Jones wrote.
“Roddy is extremely helpful and supportive of all thing regarding bagpiping. I value his input in the band very much. We are fortunate to have him here.”
For more information about MacLellan Bagpipes, visit www.highland-pipemaker.com.
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email her at email@example.com.
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