Q: What piccolo trumpet should I buy?
I’ve attempted, rather than to describe in detail the specifications and features of each horn, to link, where possible, this page with the manufacturers’ page for each of the horns. Some manufacturers have made linking directly to the individual horn impossible, with various interlaced frames and all, and you may need to navigate through the site or all of the trumpets to get to the particular model discussed here. Sorry.
Prices and links were last checked and updated in July 2006.
A note about pricing: The prices here quoted are those drawn from the web sites of the large volume retail discount music stores such as the Woodwind and the Brasswind, Music 123, andGiardinelli. I have often rounded up to the nearest round number. Prices change often but usually not by all that much. Where there are particular retailers who offer unusually good prices on particular instruments, I have noted it.
The prices on the high volume mass produced horns are likely to be considerably less at these places than at your local music store and I post the mail order price for their relative cost because the alternative–list prices–are even more misleading. There are many reasons to visit, support, and buy from your local store, but because of their more modest volume and higher overhead per unit, it will likely cost you more even if they discount somewhat from list prices. However, your local music store often provides repair services and supports local school or youth music and you may find that the higher price is justified for the intangibles also purchased. And you never know when you may need a favor.
First off, the cheap third world piccs–Amati, Winston, Monique, Fasch, Maestro, Laval, etc., made in China or Taiwan or Eastern Europe–are all junk. Don’t waste your money on them. You will be very disappointed. Get a second job, sell old junk sitting around the house, borrow a horn, go in with someone else and share the horn, whatever, but don’t be tempted to buy one of these. Piccolo trumpet playing is difficult on a quality instrument, impossible on a lousy one. They are the most popular ones on eBay. Don’t bite.
The Getzen Eterna 940 with four valves is the best entry level (i.e., less expensive) new picc available. Settle for no less than this. Many folks play the Getzens and are quite happy with them. They sell, for around $1285 in silver (lists at 2150). They have a slightly larger bore (0.420 inch) than many and this seems to facilitate adapting to the piccolo more quickly. However, almost everyone who has gone to the expense of purchasing Blackburn leadpipes for them find the horns greatly improved by them. The leadpipes cost about $190 each (one for A and one for B flat) and are available from Blackburn directly, Brasswind, Giardinelli, Tulsa Band, etc.
Getzen used to make a Capri 3 valve piccolo trumpet for less money, but it was discontinued. You didn’t want it anyway.
For more money, Getzen also makes the Custom 3916, which was formerly the piccolo trumpet developed for the discontinued Canadian Brass line (and called the Eterna 916 for a few years), a long model, with a 0.451 inch bore, a Schilke knock-off, that sells for $1289 in lacquer and $1349 in silver according to Brasswind (listing at $2270 and $2395). The Custom has been improved in its latest incarnation wtih a 4 inch copper bell (kind of like the Schilke beryllium bell which is standard on the P5-4), and a revised mouthpipe and tuning bit. The horns are very nice horns, I understand, but are priced near the Kanstul Custom Class. Used the 916 or the 3916, though somewhat rare, would make a great buy.
The Selmer (Paris) piccs, which once used to dominate the market, are still made. You can get them new from Giardinelli for about $2600 in lacquer, now with a clever thumb trigger that operates a third valve slide, but if I had that much money to spend on one, again, I’d probably choose something different. They are the classic small bore short model, but at the moment the fashion seems to be for the longer, larger bore horns like the Schilke. The Selmer has a clear ringing sound which does remain popular to this day, but the intonation is not as solid as with the Schilke. Nearly all of those classic early Maurice Andre recordings are made on a Selmer. The Selmers, however, are available used in abundance at prices ranging from $700 to $900, and for that money, they are the best horns, new or used, available for most folks and make a great first piccolo. I speak from experience here. Like the Getzens, the horn is also greatly improved by theBlackburn leadpipes. It is startling that such a difference could be made by 3 or 4 inches of brass tubing.
The most popular professional piccolo is the Schilke P5-4, which sells for around $2650 new. They are not discounted extensively. They are so much in demand that they are sometimes hard to find, or there is a wait, though stores which sell many Schilke trumpets usually have one in inventory. It is the benchmark at this point–the one to which others are compared. It’s introduction in the early 70’s revolutionized piccolo trumpet playing. The P5-4 is the overwhelming choice of professionals. The Schilke, and its clones, have larger bores (around 0.450 inch) and are often preferred for orchestral playing, as opposed to the smaller bored (around 0.413 inch) Selmer-type horns which are often shown at best advantage in solo work. The larger bore helps the picc play more similarly to the larger horns and makes the transition to picc easier.
I finally have had a chance to play for a while the Kanstul Custom Class CCT 920 piccolo which has a larger bore (0.460 inch) even than the Schilke and plays very nicely indeed, especially for the money. It is clearly one of the best values in piccolo trumpets. Street priced at under $1599 (in silver), some even prefer it to the considerably more expensive Schilke. It has a third valve ring, but no pinky ring, which many find unfortunate.
Kanstul also makes the Signature ZKT 1520 piccolo, with separate bells, slides and leadpipes for the key of A, key of B Flat, and key of G. Trumpet Lego, almost. It is priced at $2150, plus $100 for the case (which is necessary to keep all the little parts organized), but represents a serious alternative at the high end, and provides the player a solid piccolo trumpet with many options for transposition. The 1520 has a first valve trigger and third valve ring. Unlike the Custom Class, it has a pinkie ring. At this point, the Signature collection includes also the ZKT 1521 and 1522,which come with one and two bells respectively and which represent the same horn as the ZKT 1520, but without some of the options.
Towards the end of his career, Maurice Andre endorsed Stomvi piccolo trumpets, made in Spain. For a while in the late 90s, they were sleepers because they were very high quality copies of the Schilke P5-4, but sold for a reasonable price. Lately the horns have become more expensive, the equal in price of Schilke and Kanstul, and interest has diminished, though they remain of very high quality construction, and very popular with a small group of enthusiasts. The Stomvi Elite sells for around $2150, and the Master, a bit over $2650. The Master has the unique feature of a screw bell design and comes with a gold plated yellow brass bell and a sterling silver bell. An optional ($600) bell is made of wood (pictured). Really. Stomvi has also lately added titanium parts such as valve guides and buttons. They’ve always favored a mixed gold and silver plated look, with the top of the line horns available in gold. Like with Schilke, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a lacquered Stomvi. The most comprehensive dealer of Stomvi instruments is Horn Haven, in Dallas, Texas.
Other popular piccs are made by Yamaha. There are three–two “Custom,” and one “Professional.” The Custom YTR 9830 priced at $2700 is a long model that started its life as a Schilke P5-4 knock off, and still is very similar in appearance and performance, though it is as expensive now as the Schilke. It has its own personality and following. The Yamaha YTR 9820C, Yamaha’s most expensive priced at $2850, is an unusual beast with three piston valves in a short model configuration and a rotary valve on the third valve slide to extend the range of the horn down as with the usual fourth valve. It has, I believe, a slightly more open bell flare as well for a somewhat darker sound. This is a production model of a prototype Yamaha made for the late great Armando Ghitalla.
The Yamaha Professional piccolo (YTR 6810S) is a short model, like the Selmer, but started its life as a knock-off of a Benge piccolo designed in the early 70s by Zig Kanstul in Los Angeles when Benge was owned by King, prior to King being acquired by UMI, and moved to Ohio. They are responsive and have nice short stroke valves, and easy upper register. They fetch around $1650.00 and are a good buy, though if one had that to spend, he or she should certainly play the Kanstul Custom Class.
The Benge piccolo trumpet was discontinued in the summer of 2007 by Conn-Selmer. They are, however, something to look for in the used market, with the Los Angeles ones being more desirable than the East Lake Ohio ones. The Los Angeles ones have Los Angeles stamped on the bell and five digit serial numbers, the Ohio ones have USA stamped on the bell and either six or eight digit serial numbers.
Bach makes a Stradivarius 196 piccolo (with a very small 0.401 inch bore), very similar in design to the Selmer, priced in the $2000 range. It is not very popular–for good reason. It has terrible intonation and response. Lately, however, Bach has introduced their first decent piccolo trumpet, a long bell model, or as their own ad copy says, the first “piccolo worthy of the Bach name,” theVBS196. Actually, it isn’t even made by Bach, it is a Stomvi Elite (I’ve been told) with a Bob Reeves valve alignment and it costs within a $100 of a Schilke P5-4. For some reason, it isn’t a Stradivarius, it’s a Vincent Bach, maybe because Bach doesn’t make it, as much sense as that makes. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
LeBlanc/Holton also makes the Arturo Sandoval T 351 model piccolo, a knock off (with a 0.460 bore) of what appears to me to be Kanstul Custom Class, but costs several hundred dollars more. Duh. All of the LeBlanc Sandoval trumpets are copies of better instruments, (the Schilke X3 trumpet, the Kanstul Signature flugel), but aren’t priced all that favorably. Stick with the real thing is my advice. Since LeBlanc/Holton has been absorbed by Conn-Selmer, the future is murky. All of the production on Holton brasses has been moved, I understand, to the old King/UMI facility in Eastlake, Ohio.
There is also the B & S Challenger II 3131/2 piccolo, a long belled model, made by Vogtländische Musikinstrumentenfabrik GmbH in Germany, with an amazingly large 0.465 bore. They have been made since 2001 or so and do not yet have much of a track record. They are premium priced slightly below the Schilke and Kanstul Signature piccolos, horns I’d buy first.
One other new European product is the Spiri Piccolo Trumpet. It is based on the Schilke P5-4 design, but has a unique treatment of the third valve slide which can be extended by way of a first valve trigger Isee photo at left). The bore size isn’t mentioned. Prices range from $3052 US in raw brass to $4025 US in gold, depending on finish. I have never seen one, so I can’t comment on how it plays. Werner Spiri does have an interesting product line.
Although more popular in Europe than in North America, rotary piccolo trumpets are being found in increasing numbers. These horns tend to play darker than the piston valved models, though I haven’t played any of them sufficiently to comment myself. The Scherzer piccolo is sold by the large national retailers (Brasswind, particularly) and is readily available. They are also sold by The Brass Bow in Chicago. The price is in the upper range of piccolos, currently around $2660. Scherzer also offers a sterling bell and leadpipe which costs $500 more. One can order the fourth rotary valve to be operated by the pinkie finger of the right hand or, for an additional $175, the second finger of the left hand (compare photos) . There are a number of other German makers of expensive handmade rotary valve piccolos which are difficult to test or buy in North America.
Used Piccolo Trumpets
The best entry level piccs are the less expensive models found used.. Since piccolo trumepts are used by a fairly small number of folks, upper class college trumpet majors, professional players, and serious amateurs with more money than sense (that would be me), the horns are usually very well cared for. The Getzens are perhaps the most available used because their purchasers are moving up. The Selmers are also plentiful, because their purchasers are moving over (to the longer models). The Benge and Yamaha YTR 6810 are also available used from time to time at good prices.
And remember, the Inexpensive third world piccs as found on eBay extensively are trash. Not even worth turning into lamps.
The fourth valve has two uses:
- It is the same length as 1 and 3 combined, so you can use it for some false fingerings to improve intonation and facilitate trills. Thus D (fourth line, 1-3) can be played with just the 4th valve, and C# (1-2-3) can be played 2-4. Many players use the first finger of their left hand to operate the fourth valve (like Maurice André), so a C# – D trill can be played 2-4 to 4, with the second finger of the right hand doing the trilling and the first finger of the left hand holding the 4th valve down.
- It lowers the whole horn a perfect fourth. The bottom note “on” the picc without the fourth valve is the F# (first space, just like the note an octave below on the big B flat). With the fourth valve, you can play the notes from low F (first space) down to low C# below the staff by playing as follows:
- F = 1 -4
- E = 1-2-4
- Eb = 2-3-4
- D = 1-3-4
- C# = 1-2-3-4
And most piccs have a nice open pedal C (which is just low C on the B flat).
The smaller the horn, traditionally, the more problematic the intonation. As a result, tuning the piccolo can often be more complex than simply pegging your usual concert A or Bb with the tuning slide. Here is one suggestion on how to get the horn to be as close as possible:
- 1. Tune the first space F with the leadpipe;
- 2. Tune the top line F with the first valve slide, but make sure that it doesn’t flat the 4th line D horrendously. This D can be especially flat on some piccs.
- 3. Tune the 3rd valve slide so the low D or C# are in tune. Like triggering, but if you have a 3rd valve slide ring on your picc, you probably don’t need to do this. Most don’t have tuning rings (why? because the length of the tubing is so short that it tends to bind and doesn’t operate smoothly).
- 4. Tune the fourth valve slide for the low F.
The Piccolo Trumpet Big Book, published in 1993, is a wonderful thing which includes short essays on the history and types of piccolo trumpets, mouthpieces and mutes, tuning, transposition, baroque ornamentation, “tricks” and brief interviews about picc playing and preparation from 14 “famous performers,” including Konradin Groth (Berlin principal), Adolph Herseth, Ray Mase, Fred Mills, Anthony Plog, Charles Schlueter, Philip Smith, Edward Tarr, Allen Vizzutti, Hakan Hardenberger, and others. The descriptions of practice materials and warm-ups are fascinating (though I fascinate easily).The bulk of the book contains a dozen of the more significant works for picc including the Leopold Mozart and Fasch Concertos, the Torelli Sifonia, the Telemann Concerto, the Clark Trumpet Voluntary, the Purcell, Handel, Torelli Sonatas in D, The Franceshini, Vivaldi, and Manfredini two trumpet works, all nicely and newly edited and clearly written for picc in A, and the Brandenburg 2 written in C. No accompaniments. I think it costs $25.
Hickman’s The Piccolo Trumpet Book is an earlier smaller book which emphasizes exercises, etudes, and duets, to build skills necessary for picc playing. It is $8. I recommend them as a pair.
For some additional information and some other opinions, check out the Piccolo Trumpet slide presentation of Dr. Brad Ulrich, trumpet professor at Western Carolina University. It was intended as an outline for his lecture, and therefore, the information is very sketchy. Still valuable however.
One final note: Playing the piccolo is hard. You can’t play it an octave higher than your regular B flat. In fact, most folks can play no higher on the picc than on the big horn. It is hard to get a good tone; it is hard to play in tune, it is hard to keep from overblowing the small bores; it is hard to maintain the appropriate volume for the literature. There are lots of new problems one must learn to solve in playing the picc. It is fun, but the difference is far greater than say the difference between a B flat and a flugelhorn. It requires work. The first time you play one (or at least the first time I played one) it is astonishing how bad it sounds and you wonder if anyone could make such a funny little horn sound good. But people do, even me sometimes. Buy a Maurice Andre CD, or several, and listen to him every day to figure out the sound. Then practice on the picc 20 minutes a day as part of your regular practice routine. Playing it a couple of hours a day (without playing the big horns) does strange things to my playing, and probably yours.
But the music for picc is wonderful. All those grand Italian (and German, and English, and French) baroque sonatas. All those 16th notes, all those trills, all those high notes. All those oboe transcriptions….and of course, Penny Lane…..(please go to this link right now, and I mean it)….
© 1999 – 2007 by James F. Donaldson
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