Tips for buying a new piccolo include looking at the instrument's material, the desired tone and intended venue, bore type, mixing and matching materials, price and play test results. Investigating all these factors can take considerable time, but given the cost involved with a good-quality instrument, it is worthwhile not to rush through the process. If a player uses these tips, he is more likely to get a model that will last, be appropriate to his musical career and work without defect.
The first tip for buying a new piccolo is to understand how the material from which the piccolo is made impacts durability and tone. People who are not especially familiar with piccolo playing sometimes see the piccolo as a "sometimes" instrument that performers pull out only on occasion. The reality is that the piccolo is a serious instrument that gets considerable use in particular settings. The tone and composition of the piccolo have to be appropriate for the music and venues the performer will play.
Piccolos come in three basic musical flavors: metal, composite and wood. Metal instruments are generally nickel silver or sterling silver. Composite ones are hard plastic. Wood models generally are made of grenadilla, although manufacturers sometimes make ones from other woods.
In general, the only place a new piccolo of wood is appropriate is in an indoor setting. These instruments are simply too sensitive to temperature and humidity to use out-of-doors; they can crack in extremes of dryness or heat. They have a very sweet, warm tone compared to other models, so they're best for orchestral or chamber playing where the piccolo needs to blend more. For general bands, metal models sound much more shrill and have better projection. Buying a new piccolo of plastic can be a good option in marching bands because the plastic doesn't have the susceptibilities of wood.
Next, know the difference between the two major bore types: cylindrical and conical. Cylindrical bore instruments are similar to the concert C flute, are always made of silver and tend to be easier to play, but they don't allow a player to control the tone quite as much. Conical bore instruments can be made of metal, composite plastic or wood, so there are more tonal options with conical models.
Additionally, understand the pros and cons of the "mix and match" models. These instruments are not made of all the same material. For example, they might use wood in the main body but use a metal head joint for better projection. Buying this type of new piccolo allows a player to get very specific about the sound he wants from the instrument. The problem with buying an instrument of different materials is that different materials do not heat or cool at identical rates, which means that it will be harder to control the tuning of the instrument. This is the last thing someone wants on the piccolo, which has nowhere to hide in an ensemble.
Another tip for those who want to purchase a "little flute" is that, although it is possible to find a bargain, typically, price is a good indicator of quality. The piccolo is not an instrument with which a person can be shy, as it is heard over everything. It is better to put down a little more money for a better instrument that provides easier tuning and fewer "accident" notes.
Lastly, never buy anything without play testing it first. Even new instruments sometimes have manufacturing quirks. Additionally, an individual sometimes finds that two instruments of equal price and tone sometimes have a better "fit" given the size and shape of the player's hands.