Some pipers are overwhelmed by the amount of choices that we offer. We offer a lot of configurations for pipes as well as a lot of woods and mount options. This short blog post might help.
Do I get Border pipes or smallpipes?
If you have nothing to go on to decide, then get smallpipes. They are easier to play and easier on the ears of your family. I think of them as probably giving the biggest bang for your buck for pure personal enjoyment, maybe of any bagpipe in the world. It doesn't take long to sound like a million bucks, and enjoying them starts almost immediately.
Still not sure?, then think on these pros and cons.
Pro - Smallpipes are easier to play and more forgiving.
Con- Smallpipes are less "expressive" than Border pipes
Pro - Border pipes are the more expressive instrument. There are many ways to give notes different shades of tone and emotion due to the flexibility inherent in the design.
Con - Border pipes are more demanding of finger accuracy and of bag control.
Pro - Smallpipes are an octave bellow Border pipes making them mellower and better suited for quieter indoor use.
Con - Smallpipes' pitch range (at least for A chanters) causes them to get drowned out in settings where there may be people talking during performance (i.e. pubs)
Pro - Border pipes are better suited for performing with in pubs.
Con - Border pipes are louder (at least in perceived volume) and therefore less apartment friendly.
Pro - Border pipes can play mostly chromatically (many cross-fingered notes available).
Con - Smallpipes can only play one cross fingered note, Cnat, by use of a back righthand thumb note
Pro- Smallpipes can play the most commonly needed cross-fingered note, the Cnat.
What Wood/Mounts do I get?
Unsure what to choose of all the options? If you're confused or unsure of the type of sound you're looking for from your wood, just forget about that part. It really is true that the differences are very minimal. My personal preference for smallpipe sound is for a mellower sound, but I play a set made from an extremely dense wood because I was given a small rare block of wood that I really liked the look of. And you know what? I love that set. It's just not that big of a difference from the mellower sound I'd prefer. So if you're only unsure because of the sound qualities of the wood, just forget it and pick what you like the look of best.
If you're interested in looking somewhat traditional (i.e. dark), choose Sonokeling. It's a great wood that's pretty dark. It's a cousin to African Blackwood, but it's actually a very sustainable wood as it comes from Indian tea plantations where they use it as a wind break. Worried about CITES? Choose Santos Rosewood. It’s a great hard, darker wood, but not a true rosewood, so it’s not on the CITES list. For a great contrasting mount material choose boxwood.
If you're interested in a light colored wood. Choose Hop Hornbeam. This is a wood I harvest myself here in New England and we're starting to call it "New England Boxwood" (without boxwood's tendancy to warp). We like the look, we like the sound and we like the feel. Looks like a million bucks with horn mounts. We also have a bunch of well seasoned lovely local Apple.
Concerned about stability? I have chosen all my woods based on a long experience with these woods that has shown me they can stand up to New England winters. So I'm very comfortable sending any of my woods to any location. But want to be extra sure? Choose mesquite. It is literally the most stable wood known to man. It is fairly unique in it's habit of shrinking very little, and when it does, it shrinks nearly equally longitudinally and latitudinally. It's the difference in up and down shrinkage verse side to side shrinkage that causes most problems with woodwinds. And again, chose horn. It's a super contrast for lighter woods, and durable.
What Drone Configuration should I get?
Unless you're after only playing a D or C chanter, don't bother with only 3 drones. I use all 4 of my 4 drone smallpipes with my A chanter all the time. (rarely all at the same time, but still)
If you're interested in the contrabass, get it. It's amazing. But yes, you do have to sit while playing it.
You don't need a drone switch. You probably don't need any chanter keys. In fact, if you're asking whether you need chanter keys, you don't need them.
For Border pipes:
If you're considering the contrabass, get it. It's amazing. Seriously, amazing. But yes, you do have to sit while playing it.
I think a drone switch is only useful while sitting.
If you'reconsidering 3 or 4 drones, get 4. Then you can do this:
If you think you might need keys, but aren't sure, I can put "key blocks" on the chanter so keys can be added later. These don't interfere with playing.
I you're wondering if you need keys, you don't need keys.
Just remember, you only need the bare minimum (plain chanter with traditional Alto, Tenor, Bass) to do this: