I have owned four piccolos, two of which were exemplary. For me, an exemplary piccolo has to #1 – Play in tune! #2 – It should have a pleasant tone and not be too loud in the high octave. #3 – It should be relatively easy to play skips and leaps. And, #4 – the piccolo should be able to play the altissimo “B” with the regular fingering!
Of the four piccolos that I have owned, two have met those criteria. One, a Zentner is in the hands of one of my wonderful students, and the other, a Powell, I have kept for myself to use when need be.
In the past 10 or so years I have been on the hunt for piccolos for various students. Finding a piccolo that can play in tune for a decent price can be a real challenge.
There are two main problems that crop up in piccolo scales. The first problem is similar to the problem of old scale flutes – the scale is based on a pitch that is too low! Thus the tone holes are too far apart making the unadjusted scale out of tune.
The second problem is that on wooden piccolos the bore can lose its shape, usually through a lack of oiling and proper maintenance, and certain notes will become out of tune. If the high “D” and “C#” are especially low, then this can be the case. Also, the fourth line “D” can become unstable and sharp. Sometimes oiling the bore is all that is needed to ameliorate these conditions, but it can also mean the wood is unstable.
Please be reminded that wooden instruments need a breaking-in period to help prevent damage to the instrument. For the first couple of weeks, many manufacturers recommend limited playing each day to “season” the wood and to prevent cracking. In fact, for the first week or so, a wooden instrument should be played as little as fifteen or twenty minutes a day. Also, I like to oil the bore on my piccolo fairly regularly to help keep it working well.
One of my students recently purchased an exemplary cocus wood piccolo by Hammig. This piccolo is great! It plays in tune and has a great sound. However, the price for the piccolo with an extra head joint was over $7000, which is out of the price range of most students and casual piccolo players.
Another winning piccolo is the Burkart Resona piccolo. But at a little over $2000, that is still a bit pricey for many students.
I recently recommended two piccolos that are relatively inexpensive and play quite well.
The first of these, the Trevor James grenadilla wood piccolo is priced at a quite reasonable $1200. I suggested that one of my colleagues from the Miami Lyric Opera Orchestra sell her older Haynes piccolo and replace it with the Trevor James as the intonation on the Trevor James piccolo is far superior.
The initial feel of the Trevor James was a little bit stiff, but my colleague had a woodwind repair specialist match the dimensions on the blow hole of her Lopatin picc HJ and, now, all is well. Plus, the Haynes piccolo should sell for a few thousand dollars more than the TJ cost. Such a deal! A great piccolo that plays in tune, and money in the bank.
Finally, I just got done teaching at the South Florida Youth Symphony 2014 Camp for four weeks. Grace, one of the flute players from the SFYS orchestra was in attendance at the camp and made significant flutistic progress! She had just purchased a piccolo for between $400 and $500. But it wasn’t exemplary… I suggested she return that piccolo and try the Kessler Custom Artist Series Piccolo.
Wow! The body of this piccolo is made of a composite material containing 30% grenadilla wood. The sound is quite good and the scale is really good. And the piccolo is only $479!!! Seriously, I would never have believed that a piccolo could be that good for under $500! I play tested the piccolo with a bunch of orchestral excerpts and was quite pleased.
So there you have it. My recommendations for two affordable piccolos – the Trevor James piccolo at $1200 and the Kessler Custom Artist Series Piccolo at $479.
I have play tested dozens of piccolos recently and really like these two piccolos. They are inherently usable at a very decent price. There are other good and great piccolos out there, but most are quite a bit more expensive. And few play so well in tune.