Blog – Are my pipes clean enough inside?

 

Objectives:

To test a few areas in my pipes for any fungus/mould/bacteria to help identify whether or not I should change the way I clean and maintain my instrument based on the results.

 

My Pipes

I am an average parade piper in a parade band down in the South of England. My pipes are blown regularly during each week. I sometimes use pipe brushes inside my drones to dry them out and I regularly air my bag and drones after long, cold practices to get rid of unwanted moisture. I also regularly dry my canister gels out to keep them in good condition.

I use a synthetic Bannatyne bag with bottom zip and have a Bannatyne canister water trap with normal tubes running from the canister to my three drones and my chanter stock. I also have a moose valve.

 

 

Most reading this blog post would have already heard or read the story about the piper who apparently got ill from his bagpipes which had a fungus growing inside. I only go by what I read on the internet and that was enough to get my attention and interest seeing as though I am a piper too. So I got in touch with a company who offered to run some tests using damp swabs. I decided to take swabs from the following areas : blowstick, moose valve, tenor drone, pipe chanter reed, and inside the bag itself. I felt those were the best areas to test.

 

Swabs all ready to be sent back!

 

The Results

The results came back after roughly five days. As I am not too knowledgeable in the biology area, so the results posted have been written here as they were sent to me. I spoke with person responsible for the tests and will add what he said about it all too. Firstly, they were shocked at the levels of mould, yeast and bacteria growing in the instrument. The cleanest area, as you will be able to tell below, was around the chanter reed. I can only attribute that at a guess to the fact that with my water trap tied in the way it is, moisture has the least chance of getting there. The bad points were the fact that the samples taken grew greater than 10,000 bacterial colonies each, apart from the reed area. To put that into perspective as my contact put it – in a normal water system in a building, they would expect to find less than about 1000 colonies in lower temperatures, and about 200 or so in higher temperatures. Wow! I am pretty sure he also said something about ‘evacuation’ of a building if those levels were found in water, however that’s water and this is bagpipes *shrugs* ? Anyhow – here are the results in blue, and I’ve highlighted the headings to show the areas :

 

Daniel,

 Interesting results……not very nice ! These are the colonies per swab.

All of the counts were extremely high with the exception of the Reed Chanter Area for some reason. I was not expecting such high results (I guess we had no idea what would grow), so in the future we would probably dilute the swabs further to try to get more accurate results. But needless to say the bagpipes are “alive”.

 

Moose Valve Area:
Mould:
6,000 Yeast colonies
240 Mucor species

Bacteria:
Total count at 22°C: >10,000 colonies
Total count at 37°C: >10,000 colonies

Coliforms & E.Coli: NIL

 

My grown sample from the moose valve area.

 

Reed Chanter Area:

Mould:
NIL

Bacteria:
Total count at 22°C: 170 colonies
Total count at 37°C: 120 colonies

Coliforms & E.Coli: NIL

 

Sample from around the base of the pipe reed.

 

Blowstick:

Mould:
Approx 20,000 Yeast colonies

Bacteria:
Total count at 22°C: >10,000 colonies
Total count at 37°C: >10,000 colonies

Coliforms & E.Coli: NIL

 

Sample from just inside the blowstick.

Tenor Drone:

Mould:
2,600 Yeast colonies
840 Penicillium species

Bacteria:
Total count at 22°C: >10,000 colonies
Total count at 37°C: >10,000 colonies

Coliforms & E.Coli: NIL

 

Sample from the tenor drone.

 

 

Inside Bag:

Mould:
Yeast – Overgrown

Bacteria:
Total count at 22°C: >10,000 colonies
Total count at 37°C: >10,000 colonies

Coliforms & E.Coli: NIL

 

Swab taken and grown from inside the Bannatyne bag.

 

So there you have it – with visuals! That was it. So what does it all mean for me as a piper? I’m not entirely sure really because I found it difficult to understand what if anything is harmful. Further tests in more detail become very expensive so I am not going down that route, but I guess the conclusion is that there are extremely high levels of activity in my pipes. More than the lab ever expected and enough for them to highly suggest cleaning immediately. They suggested immediate further cleaning and better maintenance because none of it is going to be beneficial. Those results, with the recent story and other previous stories of people getting ill is probably a good enough kick up the backside.

The lab would like to run some tests in a months time, once I’ve cleaned the pipes better to see if that reduces the colony count. I suspect it will so I’m not sure I’ll go ahead with any further tests. It was most interesting to do this though, and I hope someone gets something out of it.