Thursday, September 27, 2012

Piccolo Headjoints

By Tim Burnett - Powell Flutes Wooden Instrument Manager

It is common enough to say the piccolo is different from the flute and that playing techniques must also differ. But why, essentially, should this be true? There are, of course, obvious physical differences between the instruments: The piccolo is commonly made of wood or a substitute, and most often has a conical bore, rather like many pre-Boehm flutes. These, in themselves, are enough to give the instrument a different response and feel from those of a cylindrical-bore, metal flute. But there still is the basis of tone production, the headjoint. What differences are there, and what choices does a player have?

Close-up on Classic style headjoint.
Traditional piccolo headjoints are essentially cylindrical, or, more properly, several shapes revolved around an axis. The bore is cylindrical (unlike a flute headjoint bore), but, of course, the outside varies in diameter, so that it looks like, well, a piccolo headjoint. Powell Classic piccolo headjoints have a slight swell near the embouchure, giving the head an elegant appearance, and helping a bit to focus the air stream. This feature is sometimes seen on late 18th century Classical-era flutes and occasionally on instruments from other eras. Despite such refinements, however, the essential headjoint shape remains cylindrical, and the relationship of the embouchure hole to the player's lips is constrained by this fact.

Piccolo specialists often prefer the plain, unadorned embouchure hole of such a head. Many players say they feel they have the best focus and control with a minimalist setup. But, there are also very many flute players, and even serious piccolo players, who prefer something closer to their flute headjoint.

Wave style on the left, Profiled on the right.
For such players, Powell offers two styles of piccolo headjoint in addition to the Classic shape. These are the Profiled, and the Wave. The Profiled features a miniature flute-style lip plate carved from the solid wood of the headjoint. The Wave is a more simple and elegant version of the so-called Reformmundstück often seen on German piccolos.

Classic, Wave, and Profiled styles.
The Profiled piccolo headjoint immediately gives the player more of the feel of a flute. This type of head minimizes the adjustment needed between instruments. Many doublers, especially, say they can put down their flute and pick up their piccolo and instantly feel secure. This head can produce a clear, well-projecting sound with great comfort.

The Wave accomplishes similar things, but with more of the feel of a traditional piccolo. This head also easily produces a clear, well-projecting and articulated sound, with perhaps a little more sweetness to it.

The thing both these heads have in common, however, relates to the geometry of the embouchure hole. The walls of the embouchure must be approximately the same depth or thickness in a traditional piccolo head. There are some refinements possible, but essentially the depth of the embouchure hole is symmetrical, because it is cut approximately into the center of a cylinder.

It is easy to vary the relative heights or thicknesses of the walls of a flute headjoint, however, because the parts are made of metal, and they can be designed and assembled to differing specifications. Thus, it is possible to make flute headjoints with the “front” wall (the side opposite the player’s lips) higher or lower than the “back” wall (the side toward the player).  Many players are accustomed to flute headjoints, such as the Powell Philharmonic-style head, that have a slightly higher front wall. The feel and focus necessary for such flute headjoints is rather different from that of a traditional piccolo head. Because both the Profiled and Wave piccolo headjoints have front walls that are higher than the back walls, these heads retain more of the feel of a flute. For many players, such headjoints offer the best of both the flute and piccolo worlds, without the trouble of the often difficult journey between them.


  1. I need a headjoint for my silver piccolo that is the same size as my flute.

  2. I need a headjoint for my silver piccolo that is the same size as my flute.


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