What are piccolo trumpets?
Piccolo trumpets are really cool, and every trumpet player wants one, but be very careful what instruments you look at. When you first see one, you’ll ask if it’s actually possible to play it. It is, but it’s not an easy horn to play. A notable trumpet player calls it the “wee beasty.”
A piccolo trumpet in Bb plays exactly one octave higher than the normal Bb trumpet you use in band. They are played in weddings quite frequently, solos, orchestras, and chamber groups.
What piccolo trumpets are good?
Most people choose a piccolo trumpet in the keys of Bb/A. You adjust the leadpipe or change leadpipes and pull your slides to change the keys. This should be your first piccolo trumpet. There are other keys, but most people use a Bb/A horn.
To play piccolo trumpet well, it takes a good instrument. A poor piccolo trumpet will be almost unplayable. There are several brands on the market today that are great piccolo trumpets. Four valves are absolutely necessary on this trumpet. You need the fourth valve to reach the lower notes.
The Schilke P5-4 Bb/A Piccolo Trumpet has been the standard for years, and that is always a great choice, but there are some others now that are also great horns. Actually, the piccolo trumpet I would buy right now if I was in the market for one would be the Schilke P5-4 Bb/A Piccolo Trumpet with the Butler/Geyer Conversion. This is the piccolo trumpet pictured above. This is the standard Schilke P5-4 with a saddle added to the first valve slide and a ring added to the third valve slide. These allow you to pull these slides while playing to adjust the pitch, which is a very valuable addition. It’s named after Barbara Butler and Charlie Geyer, two of America’s top trumpet teachers who made this conversion famous.
The Schilke P7-4 Bb/A Piccolo Trumpet is a fairly new piccolo trumpet from Schilke. In my opinion, it gets a slightly darker, fuller sound that the P5-4, and probably fits into an orchestra section a little better. It already comes standard with the first and third valve saddle/ring, so you don’t have to pay more for it. If you are planning on playing more in a section than for solos, this is probably your horn. If however, you plan to use it more for solos and small ensembles like quintets, I’d pick the P5-4. Every other piccolo trumpet I like is a copy of the Schilke P5-4, with various modifications.
The Yamaha YTR-9835 Custom Series Bb/A Piccolo Trumpet is Yamaha’s version of the Schilke P5-4. This is a great horn, and if you are a Yamaha player, this is your piccolo trumpet, but it actually costs a little more than the Schilke piccolo trumpets.
Yamaha also offers a lower level piccolo trumpet, the Yamaha YTR-6810S Piccolo Trumpet, that’s not bad. It’s a pretty good entry piccolo trumpet, and if you’re not ready to spend the full price for a top line piccolo trumpet, this would be a good choice. In all honesty, unless you have aspirations to be a professional player or college teacher, this piccolo trumpet will work well for you.
There are a few others that are good horns. The Kanstul 920 Series Bb/A Piccolo trumpet is largely a copy of the Schilke, but it has a larger bore. That’s good for some players and bad for others. It’s a little more affordable that the Schilke. Players that have one though, love them.
There’s also the Kanstul Model 1520 Series Bb/A/G Piccolo Trumpet. This piccolo trumpet has different bells and leadpipes to play in all three keys. Having the option of playing in “G” is a definite advantage, plus it’s just really cool. It appeals to the trumpet geek in me.
The last piccolo trumpet we’ll talk about is the Getzen 940 Eterna Series Bb/A Piccolo Trumpet. This piccolo trumpet is another entry level trumpet that plays pretty well. Intonation is not quite as good as the above piccolo trumpets in my experience, although it’s been awhile since I played one. At the time, you would need to buy aftermarket leadpipes to help with the pitch. Still, the horn had a great sound.
Most players choose to use a different mouthpiece with the piccolo trumpet. The Bach 7E has become almost a standard for a lot of people. For most people a smaller diameter and shallower cup than their normal mouthpiece works well. Also, you’ll usually want a larger backbore to even out the intonation. We’ll talk more about that in another section.