Getting HIGH! Two affordable piccolos that play in tune!!!

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.

4 comments

  • David Kessler of Kessler Music has some exciting news re: the Kessler Custom Artist Series Piccolo…

    “Thanks for the post! We have been thrilled with the piccolos and have more coming in soon… as well as more models in development. I will have a prototype coming in with the next batch that will be pointed arms and made from a very high quality ebony (the same ebony that we are sourcing for our new Kessler Custom clarinets which come from the same manufacturing partner as the piccolos). This model, assuming that we put it in to full production, will likely hit the $949.00 price point.

    I am also working with the factory on doing a hybrid… composite body, ebony headjoint… or even playing with a 70% wood headjoint on the 30% body (improve tonal depth while maintaining low cost).

    So it is possible that we would eventually have 3 separate models of piccolo by this time next year. However, the model you played, the 30% model, is just fantastic. The only thing that I am having the factory change is how the logo is done on the body. The wording was simply too small to make work on the piccolo. So I am having them ditch the “Kessler Custom Las Vegas” wording and stick simply with the artistic “K Custom” logo that is on there while enlarging it slightly in hopes of making it a little cleaner. ”

    Looking forward to seeing the new models! An ebony piccolo that plays in tune for under $1000 would be phenomenal.

    • Robert, I wanted to update the people who read your blog & specifically this blog post about the Ebony piccolo. We have decided to cancel that product. To be blunt, as great of a performer as it was, we continued to have little issues of keywork fit consistency that made the piccolo unstable. Combined with the sheer performance of our Composite model as you have reviewed, and now the redesign to the Di Zhao Wood Piccolo (which falls in a great price range), we just didn’t see a market for the Ebony piccolo we were working on.

      Also, our Composite piccolo has gone up in price to $549. When we first launched it at $479, we did so as a more “introductory price” but over the past 3 years since it’s launch, we absorbed several production cost increases while maintaining that introductory price. So we have brought it’s price up to $549 which should be able to stay stable at that price for a while. Of course, we still feel it is an unbeatable value at that price & well above that price.

      Thanks for your marvelous review & kind words! Keep doing what you do!

      Dave Kessler
      Kessler & Sons Music
      Kessler Custom Products

  • Fuzzyflute

    Dear Robert my question si what oil would you recommend to oil the bore of a wooden Piccolo and or the outside thereof? How often would you do this? Thanks for any info.
    Yours.
    György Sándor Fazakas
    Lecturer Flute
    School of Music
    NWU
    Potchefstroom
    george.fazakas@nwu.ac.za

    • Dear Mr. Fazakas, thank you for your inquiry.

      There is a good article by Robert Bigio on the Larry Krantz site. http://www.larrykrantz.com/oilwood.htm

      The article points out that there are two distinct types of oils – non-drying such as almond oil and drying such as linseed or tung oil. Bigio clearly states a preference for drying oils which leave a residue that hardens and helps seal the grain of the wood. His preference is for 100% tung oil.

      My biggest consideration is that the oil be nontoxic and nonallergenic. There are several commercial products specifically designed for use as woodwind bore oil.

      As to how often to oil the bore, I would say oil it before it is necessary! If you observe a lightening of color around the embouchure hole, that would indicate oiling is overdue. If the instrument starts to play less well then it is also time to oil.

      I find myself using a wood restorative that contains orange oil, beeswax, and carnauba was. Care should used to not get any type of oil on the mechanism or the pads. I occasionally use a food grade mineral oil designed for use on cutting boards. Sometimes I mix the two.

      Thinner drying oils require more frequent application. Drying oils help seal the wood a bit for a longer period of time.

Leave a Reply