As the temperature drops in the Midwest and we settle squarely into the colder months of the year, I wanted to take a few minutes to discuss a very important subject: the care required for wooden instruments, specifically piccolos. Wood is much more susceptible to temperature and humidity changes than metal, and sudden changes or poor maintenance can lead to serious issues like cracking and warping of the instrument. With just a few precautions, you can keep your wood piccolo looking and playing like new for years to come.
Most wood piccolos are made of grenadilla wood, which as I mentioned is susceptible to cracking as temperatures rise and fall, especially in the Midwest, where most of us are stationed. Therefore, wood instruments are strongly discouraged for outside playing, especially in a marching band setting. Just as with string instruments and wood clarinets and oboes, the bodies of piccolos can actually crack due to temperature fluctuations, which causes the wood to swell and shrink, compromising the integrity of the body. The simplest way to avoid this is–say it with me–avoiding temperature and humidity extremes.
Be sure to always swab out your piccolo after you have played it as well, to prevent excess moisture from building up and seeping into the wood. Plastic or metal cleaning rods are available in a piccolo size, and larger cleaning rods or cloths should NOT be attempted in a piccolo–it will get stuck, I promise you! The bore of a piccolo is much, much smaller, so only a very thin (about 1 inch thick and 6 inches long, at most) strip of cloth should be threaded through the body of the instrument. If a cleaning cloth becomes stuck in the instrument, do not attempt to force it through–bring it to one of our technicians. Oiling the bore is another helpful step towards keeping the wood healthy and less prone to drying out and cracking. Your piccolo should be cleaned, oiled (both the wood and mechanism) and adjusted approximately once each year by a qualified repair technician.
Aside from keeping the instrument from temperature and humidity extremes, wood piccolos also require a “breaking-in” period when they are purchased new. These steps are listed as follows:
1. For the first two months, the instrument should be played no more than 20 minutes per session, a maximum of two times per day.
2. After two months, the sessions may increase to three times per day.
3. From 3-6 months, gradually increase the playing time of each session. After 6 months, the instrument can be considered fully broken in.