Do you want to upgrade your piccolo? You may wonder if wood piccolos are better than other materials, at least for your needs.
They can be the perfect choice for many players, but they take a lot of work as well. Read on to learn if wood is the best choice for your next instrument.
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Overview of Piccolo Materials
Wood is one of the most popular piccolo materials, but it’s not the only one. If you want to determine if wood piccolos are better than others, you should compare the various options.
Here are some of the different materials you can choose from when buying a piccolo.
Of course, wood is probably the most well-known material for making piccolos. Grenadilla is by far the most popular wood, and it’s an option at both the intermediate and professional levels.
Other options include cocus wood, kingwood, and mopane. Some brands offer more options, and you can choose from even more woods if you want to upgrade your piccolo headjoint.
You can get a warm, rich sound from a wood piccolo, especially compared to other models. It’s an excellent choice for playing in an orchestra or another ensemble as well as when you’re a soloist.
Plastic is a very common material among student model piccolos. It’s cheap and durable, which makes it one of the best options for new players who aren’t sure if they’ll stick with the instrument.
You can get a similar sound on a plastic piccolo as you would on a wood piccolo. However, plastic won’t crack when you take the piccolo from extreme heat to extreme cold, for example.
That makes it more versatile because you can use the instrument when playing outdoors as well as indoors. I knew quite a few people who played plastic piccolos in my college marching band.
Another popular material for student piccolos is metal, usually silver plating over nickel. I got my start on a metal piccolo, and I enjoyed it when I was first learning the smaller flute.
That was the piccolo I used when I played in marching band in college. It also served as my backup piccolo after I upgraded shortly following my college graduation.
I still own my Armstrong 204, but it’s seen better days. If you can get a good metal piccolo, it sounds great in a band, but it can be a bit shrill for an orchestra or solo setting.
If you can’t decide between plastic and wood, you may want to try a composite piccolo. This material combines the two so that you get the warmth of wood with the stability of plastic.
When I upgraded from my metal model, I chose a composite Pearl 105. I love how it sounds warmer than metal or plastic, but it was nice not having to worry about cracks.
Composite piccolos also tend to be more affordable than wood piccolos. So if you’re on a budget but want as good of a sound as you can get, composite might be better for you.
Why Are Wood Piccolos Better?
In some cases, wood piccolos are better than other materials. If you’re looking at a wood model or two, consider if the material will meet your needs.
Here are a few reasons why wood piccolos could be better for some piccolo players.
At the professional level, wood piccolos are the standard. When I was trialing professional piccolos, all of the models I tried were of grenadilla wood.
I also got to try a few aftermarket headjoints of other woods, like rosewood. If you want to take the piccolo seriously or even become a professional, you might want to get a wood piccolo.
You can start your career on a plastic or composite model. However, you might find those other instruments hold you back if not for the material, at least for the fact that they aren’t pro models.
Not all wood piccolos are professional, so they aren’t all handmade. However, a lot of wood piccolos are professional, and most of those models are handmade.
Even the intermediate wood piccolos might feature a handmade headjoint. In that way, wood piccolos are better than piccolos of other materials.
Handmaking requires more individual care for each instrument. You can expect a higher level of quality from a professional piccolo than one made by machines on a factory assembly line.
Another way in which wood piccolos are better is the greater number of available specs and features. Wood piccolos tend to come with more headjoint cuts as options.
You can also choose a model with a spec like the high G# mechanism or even a vented C key. I haven’t seen any metal or plastic models with those advanced features.
At most, plastic and metal piccolos have a split E mechanism. That’s helpful, but you don’t get as many options as you would have with a wood piccolo.
Why Are Wood Piccolos Not Better?
Wood piccolos are better for some players than others. Before you splurge on a professional or intermediate model, you should consider if it’s the right choice for you.
Here are a few potential downsides to buying and playing a wood piccolo.
Professional or not, wood piccolos almost always cost more than metal, plastic, or composite piccolos. After all, wood can be expensive, and it takes special care to turn into an instrument.
A lot of piccolo makers also let wood age for a while, which adds to the production time. Compare that to metal or plastic, which is more affordable for makers to procure.
They can pass those savings to you, the buyer. Of course, the handmade aspect also increases the price of wood piccolos, so the material isn’t the only factor.
Specialized Technician Needs
If your piccolo needs a COA or any other sort of maintenance, you shouldn’t take it to your local music shop. They probably won’t have a flute or piccolo repair specialist on staff.
Instead, you should take it to a tech or mail it to a reputable tech or flute shop. A specialist will have the tools and experience necessary to get your piccolo into good shape.
You can take a student piccolo to the local music store, and the repair staff can probably work on it just fine. But these piccolos require the knowledge of a specialist.
Potential for Cracks
Another drawback that comes with wood piccolos is that the material can crack. Even if you’re super careful, you may take the piccolo between temperature extremes.
Or you might store it somewhere with the wrong level of humidity. Unfortunately, this happened to me in the summer of 2021, and I had to pay for repairs.
You have to warm up your piccolo with your hands rather than blowing warm air into it. Then, you have to be as careful as possible, and your piccolo could still crack.
Plastic vs. Wood Piccolos
Plastic and wood piccolos are very similar, especially at first glance since they both appear to be black. However, plastic piccolos are a bit more durable and can withstand temperature and humidity changes more easily than wood instruments.
On the other hand, wood piccolos can sound a bit warmer than even the best plastic piccolo. You can also choose between different woods to get the sound and response you want.
Metal vs. Wood Piccolos
Metal and wood piccolos are quite different, with metal piccolos almost always featuring a cylindrical bore. Some wood piccolos also have a cylindrical bore, but conical bores are more common.
Also, metal piccolos tend to be more shrill, especially in the upper register, so they can be harder to blend with other instruments. A wood piccolo offers more resonance and can sound better in solo and group settings.
Are Wood Piccolos Better for You?
Wood piccolos offer many unique benefits that you won’t find on plastic or metal models. However, wood is also more expensive and comes with the risk of developing cracks.
Be sure to try piccolos of different materials to learn which suits your needs better.