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What Is a Piccolo Guitar? The Definitive Guide [2021 Edition]

So what is a piccolo guitar exactly?

That’s what this post is all about!

A piccolo guitar is a miniature steel-string guitar tuned up a fourth from A to A as if you were to capo the standard guitar on the fifth fret.

The word “piccolo” is Italian for “little.”

Thus, this term describes smaller versions of regular-size instruments.

In this case:

  • Has a scale length of 20.9 to 21.3 inches whereas a standard flamenco guitar is around 25 to 26 inches.
  • The strings are tuned A-D-G-C-E-A

The requinto guitar (often just called a requinto) is similar in proportions to a flamenco guitar but scaled down.

Its smaller size and higher tuning do not provide the same depth of sound and resonance you might expect from a standard size flamenco guitar.

Why is that?

The smaller the resonance box, the smaller the sound.

And in this case, a requinto has a smaller resonance box, and thus a smaller sound than a flamenco guitar with a larger resonance box.

Thus, a requinto will give you a brighter tone for high pitches but less depth in the low register.

This instrument is actually quite similar to the guitalele.

While the guitalele shares more in common with the ukulele with its nylon strings and body style, the requinto and guitalele have the same tuning.

You can learn all about exactly how these instruments differ in my post comparing them here.

The Difference in Sound Between a Requinto and a Standard Guitar

In this video, the staff from Ibanez demonstrates the tone of the Ibanez EWP14OPN, a piccolo.

Check out my review of this instrument (and why I purchased a guitalele before I bought this instrument) here.

And in the following video, you can compare the piccolo’s sound to a full-size steel-string acoustic model from Ibanez.

As you can hear, the tuning of the piccolo is as if you put a capo on the 5th fret of a steel-string guitar (whereas the guitalele tuning is as if you put a capo on the 5th fret of a classical guitar).

This means that all the same positions, chord shapes, and fingerings of the guitar can be used on the piccolo guitar too.

The most distinctive aspect of the instrument is the mellow tone it produces. Therefore, the piccolo guitar is an ideal instrument for a guitarist focused on the mid-to-high register.

So, music that would sound darker and heavier on a standard guitar will sound a bit softer on the piccolo. This is because the open positions of the piccolo guitar are in a higher register.

As for the materials, piccolos have steel strings and usually come in mahogany, spruce, or ovangkol. Of course, different materials will produce different results. Check out these examples:

The musician in the above video is playing an Ibanez EWP14OPN with Ovangkol wood.

And the musician in the above video is playing a Bourgeois Piccolo Parlor made of mahogany and spruce.

You’ll notice some subtle differences in sound thanks to these instruments’ different sizes and materials.

Why you might want to add a piccolo to your collection

  • The ideal travel instrument: The size of the piccolo makes it perfect for traveling. It is easy to transport, smaller than most travel guitars, and has an overall decent sound. Keep in mind the tuning difference, though; so it might not be ideal for you if you don’t like playing in the A to A register.
  • A different instrument in its own right: A piccolo guitar is a great instrument for exploring the possibilities of a higher register with the ease of playing all the same guitar chord shapes and fingerings. By having easier access to a higher register, you can get the best out of it by playing chords or melodies that are uncomfortable or nearly impossible to reach on the guitar.
  • Playing guitar tunes on a different instrument: Since a piccolo guitar has the same intervals and positions of a guitar, you can still play your favorite songs here. Of course, they will be higher in pitch.
  • Small hands: The short scale of a piccolo guitar models is ideal for people with small hands. In this regard, the instrument can be a good choice for children.
  • Pricing: Purchasing a piccolo guitar doesnn’t need to break the bank. The prices are about the same, and sometimes lower, than a starter guitar.
  • Same type of strings as a standard guitar: Extra light strings will work just fine on this instrument which is great news for someone like me who uses extra lights on nearly all my guitars.

Piccolo Guitar Downsides

There are certainly benefits to the piccolo guitar.

But there are some downsides too.

I’ll discuss some of these below.

  • Less common, fewer purchase options: Since the piccolo guitar is not as popular as the regular guitar, there are fewer purchase options available. In fact, not all major brands have piccolo guitar models. The most common is Ibanez’s.
  • Less projection: As with all short-scale instruments, the piccolo guitar does not have a big sound. Since it uses a small resonance box, this instrument won’t have the resonance of a guitar and can sometimes sound thin.
  • Narrower frets: Frets are narrower, making it a little bit difficult to play chords between adjacent strings, like A major for example. So, if you are a guitar player, you might find yourself uncomfortable with the little space you have for complex fingerings.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the piccolo the same as a standard guitar?

No. Like I mentioned in the introduction, a piccolo is a miniature steel-string guitar tuned up a fourth from A to A as if you were to capo the standard guitar on the fifth fret.

Is the piccolo guitar the same as a guitalele?

No. The piccolo guitar and the guitalele are tuned the same but their primary difference is that the piccolo has steel strings and the guitalele has nylgut strings. However, they are also different in terms of body size and scale, producing different tone qualities.

Can you play a piccolo like a standard guitar?

Yes! You can play a piccolo guitar just like a regular guitar. The distances and fingerings are the same, but in a higher pitch. In fact, playing a piccolo guitar is like playing a guitar from the 5th fret onwards.

Conclusion

I hope this article has helped you understand what a piccolo is and why you might want to add one to your collection!

I decided to purchase guitalele before a piccolo because I prefer the guitalele’s warmer tone to the piccolo’s sometimes thin sound.

However, I’m still considering purchasing a piccolo and will likely get this Ibanez.

Are you planning on purchasing a piccolo?

Let me know in the comments!

2 replies on “What Is a Piccolo Guitar? The Definitive Guide [2021 Edition]”

Can i put nylgut strings on a piccolo guitar ?

Hi Robert,

You can definitely try it. In general, putting nylgut strings on a steel-string instrument won’t hurt the instrument like putting steel strings on a nylgut-string instrument can. However, the instrument may not perform as you intend it. Have you considered buying a guitalele which is just like a piccolo (with six strings tuned A to A) except is designed for nylgut strings? They’re inexpensive and fun to play (I own this guitalele). Regardless, if you’re set on putting nylgut strings on your piccolo make sure your nylgut strings are ball-end like these (assuming your piccolo has bridge pins). Let me know if you have any other questions!

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