From the Maker on Piccolo wood
Why should my piccolo be wood?
The sound, the sound, and… the sound!!!!
And which wood? Grenadilla. Hands down. Let’s talk about grenadilla wood.
By Lillian Burkart
I’ve made and repaired piccolos for more than 30 years. The piccolo sits on top of all other instruments in an ensemble. It is exposed, heard by all, and shimmers when played well and in tune. The piccolo, in its mid to upper range, can be perceived to be shrill or thin. Therefore, I want to make a piccolo that has the deepest, richest sound possible.
Ok, so, to meet that objective, I’ve tried many species of wood in making my piccolos – rosewoods, cocuswood, zebra wood, etc. Some are really beautiful… gorgeous to look at. My personal preference is always grenadilla wood because no other wood has the same density or stability. You want density for the dark, rich sound, and stability to keep your piccolo out of the repair shop! Last, but not least, grenadilla piccolos are fun and rewarding to play.
Wood piccolos are more expensive than plastic or composite (a dust and glue fusion) instruments. Why is that?
Wood, as a living tree, takes in water to grow. When the tree is cut it will lose that water quickly or slowly depending of the species. While losing water, it shrinks, and during times of high humidity, the wood takes water back and swells a bit. This back and forth can cause bowing. A piece of pine loses water very quickly and takes a little back through a change of seasons. Think of this as a door that is easy to close in the winter and difficult to shut in the summer. A pinewood piccolo would hardly even make a sound in the high or low register, and it would go in and out of adjustment with every seasonal change. In my opinion, the wood that sounds the best and has a long term reward (read on) is grenadilla, or African blackwood.
The grenadilla tree grows in the forests of Tanzania and Mozambique. Here are a few pictures.
In my company we buy wood for Resona and Burkart piccolos from a supplier that supports sustainable harvesting practices. Learn more at https://ic.fsc.org/en/news/id/5
The wood from Tanzania arrives in our shop as a rectangular billet.
The next step in making the piccolo is to turn it round and bore a long hole in the wood. The wood is dated and sorted to remove pieces with knots or other imperfections. The billets that make the grade will progress to my drying area. The drying area is exposed to hot, humid conditions in summer and bitterly cold, dry conditions in winter.
Grenadilla wood needs more time than other woods for its moisture content to stabilize. We basically keep it in an unheated space for, GET THIS… 5 years before we make it a piccolo.
During this ‘aging’ time the piccolo wood goes through the many seasonal changes that make it ready for a piccolo. After five years of loving this wood, it’s time to make a piccolo. Work proceeds to make the final shape of the piccolo and tone holes are drilled in the body. Further internal imperfections may appear and more pieces will, again, drop off as ‘losers’. Only 4 out of 6 pieces of wood qualify for a Resona or Burkart piccolo. Lots of time goes into this process because the best part of all is (and here is the reward) that our grenadilla wood piccolo sounds better and better the more you play it.
To see more about care and maintenance of a wooden piccolo, visit our piccolo page.