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Flute/Piccolo for my daughter in college

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QUESTION: My daughter is in college pursuing a music performance major. She currently has a Powell Conservatory flute but her instructor is saying she needs to get a piccolo. We have a limited budget as we really spent a lot of our money on her flute. We cannot even consider the professional level piccs at $4000 plus. I have read many of your past posts and found them very helpful. We are probably in the $1,000 range but if better to stretch ourselves might be able to go up to $2,000. I have been looking at the Pearl 105 and 165 as well as the Burkart Resona (global). Would like your input should we stretch ourselves since she is at the college level or would the lower range be sufficient. If there are other brands other than these we should consider please let us know. We have dealt with Dave Kessler of Kessler & Sons in the past and he has their own picc he has developed with a manufacturer to reduce cost. He has one for $500 that he says performs as good as the Pearl 165. I wondered if you are familiar with this? Here is a link. http://www.kesslermusic.com/kesslercustom/flute/piccolo.htm I appreciate any input you can give.

ANSWER: Hi there Paul!

I'm glad you've found some of my past answers helpful, and I'll be glad to help you figure out which route to go down when it comes to piccolos.

My main consideration in a situation like this is whether your daughter already has experience playing piccolo but simply has never owned one, or whether this will be her first foray into piccolo playing.  It would also be useful to know whether she has any strong desire to play the piccolo, or whether this is simply something that her instructor expects her to be proficient on as part of the degree.  Piccolo, despite a very similar basic technique to the flute, is an instrument all of its own and will require extensive, dedicated practice.  If she has never played piccolo before, even if she is a very gifted flutist she will have difficulty at first, and it will probably be several months before she can go back and forth between flute and piccolo seamlessly.  I mention this because some piccolos are very solid, in-tune players but are pretty utilitarian musically, while others offer a greater range of musical options but take a little more effort to get on with.  What your daughter's experience and goals are would certainly influence my recommendations.  

As far as budget goes, I would expect to spend at least $750 or so for a new student level instrument from a reputable manufacturer.  Depending on your daughter's goals and experience it may well be worthwhile to try to stretch for the $1500-$2000 range, because that's where you start to move away from student level instruments into something that could reasonably be used in a concert setting by a serious player.

With regards to the piccolos you mentioned, I would not recommend the Kessler Custom.  It's designed for young and very casual players to see if they want to go down the piccolo path without breaking the bank, but it is not designed to perform like a performance major (who is presumably a pretty serious player) will require, nor is it built to last beyond a couple of years.  The Resona piccolo and the Pearl are both good options, though I would recommend steering away from piccolos (and flutes for that matter) with a wave lip plate.  The wave lip helps to direct the airstream, which will make it slightly easier to play the instrument but will also limit your daughter's ability to play with different tone colors/etc.  

I would also recommend keeping an eye out for a used Zentner piccolo or an original Roy Seaman (NOT the Roy Seaman LTD. which is currently using his name and is made by Gemeinhardt, but the original ones without the 'LTD.').  These are older pro-level instruments which are still very highly respected and make a fantastic starter instrument for serious players because they can be found for significantly less than modern pro piccolos but still perform very well.  The Powell Sonare and Yamaha's various models might also be viable options and both companies make instruments that play well without getting into the range of custom instruments.

Because it is possible that your daughter might find a student level piccolo sufficient for her needs (if her only goal is to become proficient enough to appease her instructor), it's also worth noting that piccolos come in two basic designs--The conical bore piccolo and the cylindrical bore piccolo.  As you might infer, the difference lies in the shape of the interior of the instrument.  A cylindrical bore piccolo is built like a miniature flute, with a headjoint that tapers toward the crown and a body that has a consistent interior diameter.  The conical bore piccolo, however, is the opposite and has a body that tapers toward the footjoint and a headjoint with a consistent inner diameter.  Cylindrical bore piccolos are easier to play, especially when it comes to playing the very highest notes, and this design is usually reserved for student level instruments, but they do not play in tune as easily as their conical bore counterparts.  However, professional piccolos are almost without exception conical bore instruments which are much easier to play in tune, but tend to be a bit more resistant.  Given an option, I would recommend choosing the conical bore piccolo.  As noted, this is really only an issue if you're looking at student level piccolos, however.

I hope this is helpful, and wish your daughter the best of luck in her degree work!  If you have any other questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

Herbert

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you so much for your input on this. My daughter has never had the opportunity to play a piccolo before. I have talked with her and she does desire to learn the picc to help further her career. She feels it's important to develope this area. She has desired to before this but primarily has been a financial issue.

I am open to looking at used piccs but have not seen a lot and not always sure what would be a good one for her. I have seen a few where they specify the particular key they are in such D flat etc and not sure what to make of that.

Based on what you have told me thus far we are willing to stretch to the $2,000 range. along with the Pearls 105 & 165 there is also a diMedici 905es in this price range and then the Burkart Resona. Of these I would like to know your recommendations as well any other that you feel strongly about. I will continue to look for used as well.

Thank you again you have been a great help.

Answer
Hello again, Paul!

Given this new information, I would certainly encourage you to purchase the best instrument possible for your daughter.  If she's serious about learning to play the piccolo, she'll need the proper tools....She'll have enough of a learning curve to deal with as is.  However, her efforts will be WELL worthwhile, both in terms of musical fulfillment and career advancement.  Many professional ensembles will not seriously consider flutists who cannot play at least some piccolo.

With regards to the listings you've seen for D-flat piccolos, those were popular at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, but had largely died out by the 1950s.  Today they are used almost exclusively for 19th century marches (which were often composed for the D-flat piccolo).  The C piccolo is now the standard, has been for many years, and this is what your daughter will need.  If you wind up buying a new piccolo, you will not have to worry about this.  If you choose a used piccolo, you may need to exercise more care depending on just how old your prospective purchase is.  If you have any doubts, I'll be glad to help you determine whether any older used piccolos you might find will be useful to your daughter.

I would recommend looking for a Yamaha YPC-62 in good used condition along with the other instruments we've discussed.  These are excellent introductory pro level instruments which will give your daughter a good start on piccolo without breaking the bank.  They can be found easily for less than $1800.  Aside from this, I would consider the Pearl and the Burkart to be the front-runners in terms of new piccolos, and the Zentner and Seaman the best in terms of used piccolos.  You might also get lucky and stumble upon a good used Haynes, but be careful...Haynes is the oldest American flute maker and has produced piccolos in a number of keys and at varying pitch standards.  Their instruments are excellent, but you need to be sure you're getting a C piccolo pitched at A-440 or A-442 for it to be usable in a modern ensemble.

Your daughter will need time to get pitch, dynamics, and the other finer points of piccolo playing under control, but she'll be able to produce at least the first octave or two without too much practice, so I would recommend getting her opinion on any piccolos you might be considering.  Everyone has different preferences, and since everything on your list is of acceptable quality, preference is what it will ultimately come down to when the time comes to select one.  All of the major flute dealers (Fluteworld, Flute Center of New York, Carolyn Nussbaum, etc.) will ship instruments to you on trial (they'll also have the widest range of used instruments), and I would encourage you to take advantage of this.  She (or her teacher) may well have a definitive preference, and the player must feel comfortable with their instrument.

I hope this is helpful.  If you have any other questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

Herbert

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Herbert Smith

Expertise

I can answer questions about almost any flute-related topic.

I have trained professionally as a flute repair tech and music educator, and have a broad range of experiences as a performer. I also have experience with a huge array of flutes with any imaginable material or specification, and can comment on the quality of various instruments, as well as guide people through the flute-buying process. I'm willing and able to discuss various flute gadgets (Valgon rings, Foster extensions, etc.) as well.

I'm very familiar with piccolo, alto, and other harmony flutes (including those in unusual keys, such as Eb flute, Db piccolo, G treble, Ab alto piccolo, Flute D'amore, Contrabass, etc.).

I am also glad to offer advice on how to approach difficulties within pieces of music, offer teaching tips to those who give lessons, or answer just about any other flute-related query you can throw at me!

Please note, however, that I am not an appraisal service, and will not provide estimates of value. Please do not ask me about the value of your flute. I also must decline to date instruments based on their serial numbers.

Experience

I'm a professional repair tech with years of experience, and a veteran high school band director. I've maintained a successful studio for private flute lessons for many years, and have performed professionally in just about any imaginable venue.

Education/Credentials
I have bachelor's degrees in music education and performance from highly regarded universities, and have trained with one of the best flute techs/flute makers in the US.

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