Master piper;

Born: September 5, 1922; Died: April 21, 2012.

DONALD MacPherson, who has died aged 89, has been described by his peers as "the greatest competitive piper in history" and "piper of the century". He was famed worldwide for his playing of piobaireachd, or pibroch, the classical bagpipe music of the Highlands.

A competitor during five decades starting in the post-war years, he became a legend worldwide for his mastery of the instrument, creating a rich and resonant sound often compared to that of a church organ. He won his last competition at the age of 68.

To this day, Mr MacPherson's magical technique of chanter fingerwork and unwavering drones remains the goal, but usually the impossible dream not only of young pipers, many of whom he tutored, but also of experienced exponents of the instrument. During his 42-year competitive career, he amassed shelves full of gold medals and gold clasps from major events, notably the Argyllshire Gathering in Oban and the Northern Meeting in Inverness.

Although best-known for his virtuosity in piobaireachd, or classical ceol mor (the Great Music), he was also supreme in the lighter ceol beag (the Little Music), such as traditional marches, reels or strathspeys.

For his services to piping, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire for Meritorious Service, usually known as the British Empire Medal (BEM), awarded by the Crown. He also served as official piper to the Lord Provost of Glasgow and was named honorary piper to the city of Savannah, Georgia, on one of his world tours during which he was often a piping judge, from North America to Australasia. He was inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame in 2006.

Despite his fame, he remained a gentleman and a much-loved teacher. "The piping world will be saddened at the passing of a man who epitomised all that is good in the world of solo piping," wrote the Piping Times, oracle of the Glasgow-based College of Piping. "He was modest to a fault despite a record of wins at the two most important gatherings, Oban and Inverness, which is unlikely to be beaten."

Donald MacPherson was born and brought up in Glasgow, son of Iain MacPherson who had been an army piper during the First World War and whose tutors had musical lineage back to the great MacCrimmon piping family of Skye. Donald first played a home-made set of pipes aged 12 in the Glasgow Battalion of the Boy's Brigade although he was the first to admit he was a "natural practice dodger".

After school, he became an apprentice at the West of Scotland Engineering Company, at the time in Finnieston, but volunteered for the RAF when the Second World War broke out just as he turned 17. He was stationed in Egypt and Italy during the war, serving as back-up crew to RAF airmen.

After overcoming a wartime injury near Naples, he picked up the pipes again after his demob and entered the Argyllshire Gathering in Oban for the first time in 1948. Despite his rustiness, he won a rare double – the Gold Medal and the Open Piobaireachd. H

He would win more than 30 gold medals or clasps, his last one being at the Oban Gathering in 1990 when he mesmerised judges and audience with his moving version of the 18th-century Lady MacDonald's Lament.

Although he was also an accomplished pianist, Mr MacPherson's "day job" was as an engineer, working for many years in England and latterly Bearsden and Edinburgh. After starting his retirement in Wales, he and his wife Gwen returned to Scotland and settled in Balbeggie, near Perth, where he continued to tutor. He also contributed to the culture of the bagpipes by writing many of his own compositions.

Only a week or two before he died, it was announced that Mr MacPherson's famous, career-long pipes – with R.G. Lawrie drones and a chanter by Robert Hardie -- were up for auction via sealed bids. Although in a sense they are priceless, the Glasgow auctioneers warned: "as with all instruments, it's the piper, not the pipes."

Teaching, in retirement, well into his eighties, Mr MacPherson emphasised to this students the importance of good sound quality. He liked to warn them about "the danger to lampshades and light bulbs that is the weapon of mass destruction, the bass drone."

Donald MacPherson's funeral service will he held at Mortonhall Crematorium in Edinburgh tomorrow. He is survived by his wife Gwen, their children Heather, Fiona and Katrina and three grandchildren.