I did something I knew I would regret the other day: I went to Amazon and searched “piccolo.” No brand name, no price specifications. As I expected, a plethora of inexpensive instruments in an array of colors and finishes greeted me, promising great sound and intonation for under $200–some as low as $75. I just wish I could shout from the rooftops “IT’S A TRAP! DON’T FALL VICTIM!” But, unfortunately, I can’t–but since I have this way of communicating, let me try to educate you about the downfalls of ordering cheap instruments online.

I get it. I really do. I am a faithful Amazon subscriber myself. And, like many others, I have often been disappointed when I order an inexpensive version of something that has ended up falling short of my expectations. That’s why I always keep in mind the tried and true saying, “You get what you pay for.” In other words, if something is cheap, there were undoubtedly some corners cut and sacrifices made to cut down on cost. In the musical instrument world, that can range from simplifying parts (for example, gluing instead of soldering pieces of metal together) to cutting corners in construction (like not properly shaping the inside bore of the instrument) to using cheap materials (like using paint instead of silver plating–yes, really!!). In fact, the vast majority of these instruments cannot be repaired by our technicians: in a continued effort to cut down cost (and because, quite frankly, they just don’t know what they are doing), there are no replacement parts available and when (not if, when) the instrument breaks, it’s done for.

In the end, what you are left with is an instrument that looks like a piccolo and may have the same fingerings as a piccolo, but falls woefully short as far as its sound and performance. I was just working with a student this past week who had a piccolo whose brand I have seen come into our shop many times (and which, of course, we can’t repair). We were working as a flute section and the piccolo was having some serious intonation issues. Upon grabbing a tuner and investigating, I discovered that the instrument was so severely out of tune with itself that it was impossible to get any group of notes to play in tune. One note would be a half step flat, the next would be sharp, and so on. How frustrating for the student and the ensemble!

I know this is a lot of information, and you may be wondering what to do or where to turn to find a good instrument. Next week, I’ll be discussing ways you can do just a bit of research to protect yourself against wasting your hard-earned money on a cheap instrument, and how the Indy Flute Shop can help you make an educated, informed decision on your next instrument for you or your student.