Reply To: Refurbishing a Vintage Italian Melodica

Alan Brinton




This Sorrento has been abused. The keys are permanently marred by the residue of number stickers, not only visible but also in terms of a rough feel, especially on the black keys. There are signs of its having been exposed to heat, as evidenced by the circles on the bottom and maybe by the texture of the key surfaces; probably it was left on the dashboard of a previous owner’s Maserati under the Tuscan sun. I have extra keys that could be used as replacements, but each key/mechanism is unique, and some bending of pad arms would probably be required to get everything to fit. The plastic surfaces also are scratched and marred. I have made no attempt to make cosmetic improvements. It’s an old beat up vintage instrument, which is part of its character. But I may see what can be done with automobile rubbing compound and carnauba wax.


It is typical of this class of instruments that air is vented from the mouthpiece opening into the end of the reed chamber. When a key is depressed, its air hole pad is lifted, and air flows out of the reed chamber, past that key’s reed, causing it to vibrate, and out its air hole. When the key is released, the pad returns to cover the hole and block the air flow. The reed chamber’s main gasket is open ended at the blowing end of the melodica, as illustrated with the Chordiana.

(The ends of the two pieces are reversed in this photo.) Because the end is open, a gasket is required on the wall at that end of the instrument. I have replaced both types of gaskets in this Chordiana. The arrangement is the same with the Pinocchio Pianino, the Silvertone Junior, and most of these small key short vintage Italian melodicas. Although the reeds and reed chambers are otherwise the same for the Pianino, the Junior, and the Sorrento, in this respect the Sorrento is different. The Sorrento’s air flow comes directly from the mouthpiece receptacle through a permanently sealed channel into the permanently sealed chamber under the white floor of the reed chamber and is distributed evenly up through the banks of small air holes shown in the above photos. There are no opportunities for air to escape before it gets into the reed chamber, especially if one blows directly into the receptacle and not through a mouthpiece. My Sorrento did not come with a mouthpiece; I have not seen a photo of a Sorrento mouthpiece, and teeth marks show that this one has been played in the past without a mouthpiece. It seems to me that in terms of air flow, the Sorrento is markedly superior in design to these other models. There are fewer opportunities for leakage. But also, the flow of air is more evenly distributed within the reed chamber. I suspect that one of the reasons it’s easier to bend low notes on a melodica than high notes is that the reeds of the low notes are closer to the source of air pressure. If this is true, then it might be easier to bend higher notes on a Sorrento. Also, it’s possible that this arrangement results in more even responsiveness of notes up and down the keyboard, which should be an improvement and make this instrument easier to play. My subjective impression after playing it (after completion of the refurbishing) alongside the Pianino and Chordiana seems to support this speculation.

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