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Bore designs for piccolos
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Author:  alcramer [ Tue Apr 21, 2020 9:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Bore designs for piccolos

Does anyone know anything about bore designs for conical-bore piccolos?

I'm trying to make a short Irish flute that plays an octave above the standard D flute and running into some really interesting challenges. My starting point was a 12.5mm diameter headjoint, with a body that tapered as per 19th century wood concert flutes (data for that was taken from Maestro Terry Mcgee's net site). Didn't work: way too sharp in second octave. Plus the bell note was weak. I made a new reamer with significantly reduced taper and it strengthened the bell note, but second octave is still too sharp.

If anyone has info on piccolo vs flute bores (for conical bored instruments) I would be very grateful!

Al Cramer

Author:  fatmac [ Wed Apr 22, 2020 3:28 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Bore designs for piccolos

Might not help, but all my keyless piccolo are standard tubes, not conical, (I have 6 of them), & my Boehm too.

Just curious why you would want a conical bore on your piccolo(?).

Author:  Sedi [ Wed Apr 22, 2020 2:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bore designs for piccolos

Interesting question. I know that the Bb band flutes made by Generation (the "Miller Browne" flutes) have a conical bore. I wonder if it would even be necessary for a high D piccolo. After making a number of flutes and whistles I came to the conclusion that a conical bore is not necessary at all to get a flute in tune. With large enough holes it will be in tune and the stopper position has to be adjusted (my own practice flute has a stopper position of 15 mm from the middle of the embouchure and sounds really nice, fat and boomy). The main reason for a conical bore on a low D flute has much less to do with tuning than I thought. It is more about the hole size. With a cylindrical bore the second hole from the bottom will get quite large and the first hole from the bottom very small in order to make the stretch manageable but another factor that influences that is the wall thickness of the tube. On a piccolo the hole size shouldn't be much of an issue. So a minimal taper should be enough and with the stopper position set closer to the embouchure hole, no taper is needed at all. But that will of course influence the sound. On a low D flute you will only get that "hard D" with the stopper between 15-19 mm or even more. And then you need the tapered bore at some point to correct the second octave or the holes will get too large to play it comfortably. I made one low D with a 17mm stopper-position and incredibly large holes -- it turned out a true monster to play but the sound is incredible at a bore of 2.2 cm. I can feel that sound in my stomach it's so loud and reedy.
You could try making the holes smaller -- that should reduce the sharpness of the 2nd octave. The question is if it will be enough to get it in tune. And you can set the stopper at a larger distance from the embouchure but that will also influence the third octave and might influence the overall tuning. From my experience -- if the second octave gets flat towards the end and the third octave D is in tune, then I need to set the stopper closer to the embouchure. So in your case, increase the distance to the embouchure hole.
So that's what I'd do. Change the stopper position and the size of the holes. Or make it less tapered.

Author:  alcramer [ Wed Apr 22, 2020 7:49 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bore designs for piccolos

Many thanks for the replies!

Maybe I should be trying for a straight bore instrument. I know Ralph Sweet (May His Name Be Praised) made some high-D fifes. There's a youtube video of a Japanese dude playing one and it sounds great. But that guy is a super accomplished player, I think he could make anything sound good. (Not to say Ralph's fife is bad -- I wish I had one).

Main reason I'm into conical bores is for sound quality and playability. A couple of months ago I bought a Tony Dixon piccolo and was really disappointed. It's basically a straight-bore plastic fife with a well designed lip plate. I can make it work ok in the second octave, but above G you really have to work hard. Plus the sound is terrible. I want to make something that a good whistle player can just pick up, spend a day working out some kind of halfway decent embouchure, then play up to the third D with good sound quality.

Sedi -- it was very kind of you to reply at such length. I still digesting what you wrote. The Dixon design is interesting: small holes, cylindrical bore, and he's brought the cork right up to the left edge of the embouchure hole. It's certainly one way to go but I don't find the result appealing. After I made a new body with reduced taper, I made a new head joint with a bigger chimney height (.03 inches higher than what I had been using). It really helped to bring the second octave into tune. There's some kind of complex relation between bore width, taper, chimney height, and cork placement that I don't pretend to understand but really effect the playability of a flute when you're working at piccolo dimensions.

Thanks again for the kind replies!

Al Cramer

Author:  Sedi [ Wed Apr 22, 2020 8:06 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bore designs for piccolos

You're welcome. Yeah, I also have two of those Dixon flute things. One is an extra head to turn my A-whistle in a fife. And I have one of the smaller ones to put on a high D like the nickel trad or brass trad. Would also work on the DX204, which maybe I should try because of the thicker wall of the tube. I also noticed that the stopper is very close to the embouchure. That will indeed produce inferior results. That's why I tried on my cylindrical models to make the holes large enough but still playable to move the stopper as far out as possible. Only a millimeter can make a huge difference in sound. That space above the embouchure has some very complex influences on the sound, if I remember correctly (I read a Phd thesis on concert flutes once), they act a bit like a Helmholtz resonator, so basically a vessel flute. Those extra few millimeters can make all the difference. I am not too familiar with all the exact physics behind it but changing the stopper position should also move the wave patterns for certain notes inside the tube. So that will have an influence, too, and it can make certain notes stronger or weaker, I think. For example on one flute I made, I changed the stopper position and moved it a little further out, which weakened the E on that flute. But increased the "punch" of the low D bell note. Might be interesting if it would have the same effect on the piccolo. I think that's where the conical bore has a big advantage, you can make the notes more even and the difference in hole sizes less big.

Author:  an seanduine [ Wed Apr 22, 2020 8:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bore designs for piccolos

Hammy Hamilton has made conic piccolos. If my memory is right, I believe Hatao has a video on youtube playing one. I doubt you could twist his arm to make one now, but you could ask him what his thoughts are.
I have an exquisite little one key piccolo of French make. It has a lovely voice and is in close tune across the octaves. I would add, it has tiny holes, and excellent ability to cross finger. One possibility to study this approach would be to acquire a Yamaha YRF-21 . Very inexpensive, intended for begining students. This is called a fife, and is in the key of C. But to all intents and purposes it is a piccolo. I would point out, that with the exception of the addition of a ´Reform´ Embouchure (the kind with ´wings´) it is a copy of an excellent Baroque Museum instrument. Scaling this up to the key of D should be fairly straight forward.


Author:  waltsweet [ Wed Apr 22, 2020 11:14 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bore designs for piccolos

I think 12.5mm headbore is good. If it goes down to D (not C), try making the body 7.7" long, with a taper of 0.008 in/in.

Author:  benhall.1 [ Wed Apr 22, 2020 11:36 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bore designs for piccolos

fatmac wrote:
Might not help, but all my keyless piccolo are standard tubes, not conical, (I have 6 of them), & my Boehm too.

Just curious why you would want a conical bore on your piccolo(?).

I have two 19c piccolos. They are both conical bore. I thought that was the norm.

Both of my piccolos - a Hawkes and a Rudall - play sharp in the second octave unless you're very precise with your embouchure. If you just overblow, they will inevitably play sharp. The trick is to blow softer in the second octave, not harder, and make the octave shift with embouchure alone, not by blowing harder.

Author:  Terry McGee [ Thu Apr 23, 2020 4:38 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Bore designs for piccolos

Interestingly, while the "classical" music flute world has pretty much all gone Boehm cylinder, many professional players stick with the conical bore for piccolos. A Boehm bore piccolo can be pretty harsh.

So can the old 11mm bore conical piccolos, but in a different direction. To my ear, they yield a thin, raspy tone, low in fundamental, high in harmonics. Great for calling the dog and warding off bats. We have to keep in mind they were traditionally outdoor instruments, played en masse.

I did a series of experiments way way back, starting at the trad 11mm, then moving up to 12.5, then 14mm. The 14mm was stunning in the low octave, but hopeless further up. The 12.5mm bore just seemed the best balance of low-octave "body" and smooth upper sweetness. Here's an example of what I ended up with:


(Heh heh, note I lived in Canberra then! I ground the Canberra off my maker's stamp when I moved down here. I didn't think adding "Malua Bay" was going to help anyone find me. I believe the name originated in Hawaii and replaced the original name, Mosquito Bay. I wonder why the real estate developers were keen to lose that name?)

Note the big finger holes (for a piccolo!). Desirable to provide the biggish tone in the lower octave, but not normally possible because of the problem others have noted - the tendency for the octave to go sharp. I note I use a reamer I'd made up for a set of G pipes (English, from memory) I'd made for a local friend a trillion years ago.

Al, if you want to drop me an email, I can tell you the bore dimensions I use, and you can take it from there. I think they are a fun instrument.

Author:  chas [ Thu Apr 23, 2020 1:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bore designs for piccolos

waltsweet wrote:
I think 12.5mm headbore is good. If it goes down to D (not C), try making the body 7.7" long, with a taper of 0.008 in/in.

8 thousandths per inch sounds about right. Years ago I measured a Bleazey whistle, and IIRV the taper is about 0.032 over 5-6". The head is very short (total about 2.5" including the beak, so maybe 1.5 from the window.

I'd lost the measurements, so for my first try at a conical whistle, I tapered from 1/2 to 3/8. Way too sharp in the second octave. Then I tried 1/2 down to 7/16, and still too sharp. Then I found the measurement, and I think it went from 0.495 down to 0.463. The flute needs more of a taper than the whistle.

my wife has an old nach Meyer picc; I'll have to measure it one of these days. I think she also has a modern wood or ebonite piccolo, possibly a C and a Dflat -- definitely not simple system, but I don't think they're cylindrical. Would be interesting to compare them.

Author:  Casey Burns [ Thu Apr 23, 2020 5:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bore designs for piccolos

I've made a few cylindrical bored piccolos. The main thing is to bring the stopper close to the edge of the embouchure. A 1/2 bore works fine. Ruin a few bodies to figure out the best placement for fingerholes. Lower down they'll have to be larger, higher up they'll have to be smaller. Drill them undersized and ream the fingerholes to pitch. If the 2nd octave is sharp, move the plug around so that it is flatter and bring the 2nd octave holes to pitch by undercutting.

One thing: if you are perceiving the sharpness from a tuner alone that is actually normal. Flutes always appear 20-30 cents sharp in the 2nd registers on some tuners due to the way tuners hear the flutes. I imagine this problem gets worse in the piccolo ranges. Trust your ear over the tuner.

There are always some antique piccolos on eBay, including some with simple system fingerholes instead of the Boehm key mechanisms. Sometimes these don't go for much.


Author:  Sedi [ Fri Apr 24, 2020 7:27 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Bore designs for piccolos

Good point about the tuner. I'd suggest getting a proper stand-alone tuner and not use an app (I do like the TTtuner app however). I have one made by "Cherub" (WST-920, no longer made I think) and it has different settings for lower and higher pitched instruments. Also a lot of different settings for different tuning systems (I didn't even know half of those by name). Works pretty well for me. It can also give out a reference sound for each note if wanting to tune by ear and not use the needle.
I was thinking about getting one of those strobe tuners but couldn't justify the price. There are cheaper smaller versions of strobe tuners but I have read mixed reviews. Useful would be a tuner that could be adjusted for temperature. My workshop is not heated. So I always have to go up to the living room where it's close to the standard 20 degree Celsius so I can properly tune the bell note (or rather the D of the second octave on a D whistle) before I drill the holes. Seems to work just fine so far. But I have heard from a whistle maker (who makes great whistles) who didn't factor in the temperature with one batch of whistles he has made so they all came out sharp. I guess he has since corrected that mistake as the whistle I have from him has excellent tuning.

Author:  alcramer [ Fri Apr 24, 2020 7:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bore designs for piccolos

I just wanted to thank everybody for the wonderful posts. So many useful ideas -- I will try to put them together and come up with something half-way decent.

Maestro Casey Burn's comments were very reassuring. My main axe is fiddle, and I've been wood-shedding a lot lately in higher positions. I've spent many hours tuning my ears to high pitches & thought I was pretty good. So it's really bothered me that -- in trying to bring the second register of these piccolos into tune -- my ears were telling me one thing and the cheap electronic tuner I'm using was saying something else. It's good to know that these tuners can't be trusted.

Thanks again to everyone!

Al Cramer

Author:  Terry McGee [ Fri Apr 24, 2020 8:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bore designs for piccolos

Now wait just a cotton-pickin' minute. Casey alleges that tuners can't be trusted, but I haven't had that experience.

I'm sure some tuners can't be trusted (at any pitch!) but I'd be surprised if most decent tuners aren't fine. It's not as if we're pushing the boundaries of measurement range here - a piccolo produces the same pitch as the common D tin-whistle, and I've not had any issues ever with tuning them. Third octave D on a whistle or piccolo is only 2,349.32Hz.

I've just had a go with a couple of whistles on four tuners - a typical handheld hardware tuner, my guitar tuner set for mic input, Flutini and Tatsuaki Koroda's AutoTuner, and get consistent results from all four. And if I play them a note at 2349Hz electronically generated on the computer, they all indicate D7 exactly. (Sheesh, listening to D7 constantly for a while is not recommended!)

So, unless you have reason to doubt your particular tuner, I'd look elsewhere for tuning issues. And perhaps download Flutini or Autotuner (see links at the bottom of: ).

What is it we used to joke? "Do not adjust your tuner, the problem is with reality..."

Author:  davidbruce [ Mon May 25, 2020 2:36 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bore designs for piccolos

Looking into getting a piccolo, but I have a lot of questions.

I currently play Highland Pipes, flute, and whistle.

A lot of what I've read suggests that a piccolo can be harsh, shrill (and other pejorative terms). Some of the whistles I have fit that description. I am hoping to find a piccolo that has the sound quality of a whistle like my tweaked blackbird.

Other articles say that a fife or piccolo will overpower other instruments, as well as field artillery. Is that necessarily true?

It seems like a conical bore is important. I wold love to get one of Terry McGee's, but, sadly, I can't afford to take that plunge.

From what I have read, there are a lot of piccolo, fife, and flute players in the world. What advice do you have for one who just wants to have some fun with yet another instrument, and play some Irish Traditional Music?

Thanks to all, Really interesting posts.

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