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What Are the Pros and Cons of Buying a Used Piccolo?

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

Buying a used piccolo has benefits such as a lower price, permitting cost negotiation and letting the buyer avoid "breaking in" the instrument. Following the used route can create some difficulties, however, including additional costs for repairs, the lack of a warranty and the inability to compare the piccolos as easily. Buyers have to compare all of these pros and cons together to figure out whether it is in their best interests to purchase a used model.

The most obvious benefit of buying a used piccolo is that a used instrument is often cheaper than a new one. This of course depends on the quality of the instrument, with some used professional models still far exceeding the price of new student models. A cheaper price is especially important for beginners who do not have the money to invest in an instrument they cannot guarantee they'll enjoy or master. It also can be a factor for school systems that have constraints on the amount of funds allocated to new instruments, particularly when a music director is looking for piccolos for multiple players, such as to outfit members of a marching band.

Man playing a guitar
Man playing a guitar

Related to pricing is the idea that a buyer sometimes can negotiate with a seller about the price of a used piccolo. This is most common when the sale of the piccolo is private. Music shops often do not adjust their price, although they might do so if the customer is expert enough to evaluate the piccolo thoroughly and offer legitimate points as to why the shop should lower the cost.

When a piccolo or any other woodwind instrument is new, it takes a little time for the player to "break in" the instrument. This refers to the performer gradually increasing playing time, allowing the materials in the instrument to "settle" and get used to the expansion, contraction and moisture changes that occur during normal playing. This helps prevent cracks and similar issues; it also is though to improve the "freeness" or resonance and projection of the instrument slightly. This is of particular importance on wooden instruments, with the break-in period of metal instruments being more about becoming familiar with the instrument's quirks. With a used piccolo, the instrument already has gone through this break-in time, meaning that the instrument is immediately available for regular use and has the tone, projection and resonance that is truest.

The most serious con about buying a used piccolo is that used instruments are in a wide range of conditions, which often necessitates at least minor work to get the piccolo into the best working order. At the very least, buying used means checking the pads and flexibility of the screw and lever mechanisms, which typically need adjustment or replacement. The cost of fixing up the piccolo has to be considered in the final price to determine whether the instrument truly is a good value. It is sometimes difficult to ascertain how the instrument truly will perform before repairs are made, so purchase sometimes can be a hope-for-the-best game.

Buying a used piccolo also usually means that the instrument no longer is under warranty by the manufacturer. Subsequently, initial and future repair or replacement is almost always out of pocket, regardless of whether the repair or replacement is handled with cash or through an insurance policy for which the buyer has paid premiums. Some music shops do offer warranties for used instruments, but this may not cover services that the buyer might prefer, such as having work on the piccolo done by the manufacturer rather than the shop.

Lastly, getting a piccolo in used condition makes it slightly more difficult to compare instruments. With new piccolos, customers can talk to the manufacturer or, when in a shop, play test many piccolos one after the other for the purpose of comparison. Used piccolos don't always come from shops, and in fact, sellers sometimes are not even piccolo players, and are selling instruments family members used to play. When play testing the instruments, the buyer has to maintain a highly refined memory of what each piccolo is like, as the time between tests is so extended. Even when a used piccolo comes from a shop, the shop might not know the entire history of the instrument, which means the buyer doesn't truly have all the information he might need to make an educated decision about the instrument's value or performance viability.

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      Man playing a guitar