JOHN D Burgess was the nearest Scotland gained to a piping legend in real life. An outstanding exponent of the pipes, he gained instant recognition on the international circuit when, at 16, he won what was effectively the world piping championship, taking both the gold medal at the Northern Meeting at Inverness and the gold medal at the Argyllshire Gathering at Oban for piobaireachd. To attain these at a first attempt, and while still a teenager, made his triumph all the more noticeable and one unlikely ever to be repeated.

James Burnett, a fellow pupil at Edinburgh Academy with Burgess, recalls that what made the event all the more memorable was that "his astonishing precocity on the pipes was known to almost no-one at school beyond the school pipemajor, Colin Caird". For fear of having his exquisite fingering style altered by outside forces, Burgess had been forbidden to join the band on the orders of his tutor, the redoubtable PipeMajor William Ross, head of the army school of piping at Edinburgh Castle.

John Davie Burgess - almost always known as "John D" - came from farming stock in Newmachar, Aberdeenshire, and moved to Edinburgh as a boy when his father, also John and also a piper, took up a lecturing post in veterinary medicine in the capital. He introduced John to piping aged four, using a cut-down practice chanter, and such was the evident ability of the boy that John senior taught him canntaireachd, the system by which ceol mor, or great music, is sung or chanted rhythmically.

No-one used the words "child prodigy" in the Burgess household, but Burgess senior knew enough that the youthful grace of his youngster's fingers deserved the best of tutors and, at 10, young Burgess became Ross's protege. By 14, there was no doubt he had a boy genius on his hands, with success at junior competitions propelling him out of his own generation into the ranks of established masters, and after gaining the unofficial world solo championships, going on to take all major piping awards in the UK and abroad. He turned professional while still in his teens and, with PipeMajor Ross, toured America and Canada.

A prolific prize-winner, he gave many recitals and made numerous recordings, including an album called The King of the Highland Pipers.

In stature, Burgess verged towards the small, but his slim build and outstanding dress sense set him apart. He dressed with a verve that verged on vanity. The definitive photographic portrait of him, taken at Minard Castle, Loch Fyne under the patronage of Col Robert Gayre of Gayre and Nigg, shows him wearing Ross tartan from shoulder to shoe:

tartan doublet, plaid, waistcoat with the tartan cut on the cross, kilt and Ross tartan hose. From his substantial collection of Highland ornamentation, he festooned himself with a plaid brooch set with a large cairngorm, theatrically-sized dirk and a large hunting horn slung over a shoulder by a silver chain, plus, of course, his pipes.

On less formal occasions, he was no less noticeable, his dark tunic sporting a scarlet trim offset by silver buttons and yards of green Ross tartan.

Unusually for someone from Edinburgh Academy, Burgess enlisted in the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders as a piper, rather than take a commission. He reached the rank of corporal before being poached by Edinburgh City Police for the fine band the force possessed at the time. He rose to become pipe-major.

He was also one of the top solo pipers sought by Invergordon Distillery in a short-lived attempt to recruit a band of "all the talents".

From 1962 to 1965, he was pipe-major of the 4th/5th Battalion Cameron Highlanders TA, on whose members he impressed his will by sheer playing ability. Latterly, he worked as school piping instructor for Easter Ross, based at Alness, with his home in Tain.

From his earliest years, Burgess tied his natural talent to hours of practice to master what can be a fickle instrument. As a young piper, the grace and dexterity he brought to fingering verged on the dazzling, while in maturity, his fans admired the expression he brought to the playing of light music of marches, strathspeys, reels, jigs and hornpipes, and his interpretation of piobaireachd, the classical repertoire regarded as the highest form of pipe music. For services to piping, he was awarded an MBE in 1988.

Before stepping up to compete at the Lonach Gathering on a rare August day when the sun wasn't shining in West Aberdeenshire, Burgess noted that the winning piper in the march was required to play for the dancers in the afternoon.

The rain never stopped and the wily Burgess later recounted to broadcaster Robbie Shepherd:

"I made the odd mistake as I appeared before the judges, and then in the middle of the afternoon went into the arena to congratulate the lad from New Zealand on winning, with the water teeming down the back of his kilt."

Burgess's humour and fund of piping (and sometimes risque) stories camouf laged the fact that for one short time in his life, he fell prey to a battle with the bottle. Courageously, he won through, referring to the period long afterwards merely as a "bad patch".

John Burgess died in hospital in Inverness after a long battle against kidney failure, and is survived by his wife, Sheila, children John and Margaret, and grandchildren Alix and Freya.

Pipe-Major John Davie Burgess, born March 11, 1934, died June 29, 2005.