There is a lot of variation in types of piccolos available on the market today, maybe more variation than for any other band instrument. There are all metal piccolos, plastic piccolos, combination plastic body with metal head piccolos, wooden piccolos, plasticized wood piccolos…….the list goes on. So how do you know what kind of piccolo to either buy for your instrument inventory or recommend when students decide to buy their own piccolo?
First of all, there are two basic kinds of bore configurations: conical head/cylindrical body or cylindrical head/conical body. In general, metal piccolos are conical head/cylindrical body and plastic or wood piccolos are cylindrical head/conical body.
You can make a case that different types of materials the piccolo is made from dictates the type of playing it is designed for. Here’s a quick run down of materials and purpose:
- Metal – strong, bright sound. Best for marching band and pep band. Somewhat weather resistant, but pads are vulnerable to water damage
- Metal head/plastic body – somewhat warmer sound, but still strong. Wide application from marching band, to concert band and even orchestra. Somewhat weather resistant, but pads are vulnerable to water damage
- Traditional plastic body – warmer, rounder tone. Strong enough for outdoor playing but suitable for concert band and orchestra. Somewhat weather resistant, but pads are vulnerable to water damage
- Guo New Voice and grenaditte piccolos – all the benefits of all plastic piccolos, plus weather proof silicon pads. The grenaditte also has the added benefit of having more wood-like qualities because the material is a plastic/wood composite with grenadilla. Wide range of applications from marching band to concert band to orchestra.
- Grenaditte or plastic/wood composites – the sweetness and warmth of wooden piccolos without the need for strict temperature/humidity control. Wide range of applications. Traditional pads that need to be protected from water damage
- Wood body and head – sweet, warm sound. For indoor use only. Important to protect from extremes of temperature and humidity to avoid cracks. Traditional pads.
Like flutes and other woodwinds, piccolos need regular maintenance. Yearly maintenance is what is recommended to keep piccolos in top playing shape. Keep in mind, because of the small size, you may not be able to detect mechanical problems as easily as on a flute or other woodwind. The player can certainly hear and feel the problems. It is also extremely critical that the headjoint cork be placed correctly. Even half a millimeter can make a difference in being able to play in tune. The correct distance should be 13mm. A side note is that in my experience, school piccolos are more often than not the worst maintained instruments in the band inventory. They often haven’t been properly serviced in many years. Imagine how disheartening that is for the kids that have to play them. I frequently counsel students to just go buy their own if they want a good experience playing piccolo.