Reply To: Market for a melodica bellows

Alan Brinton

There is interest in tuning, David, and some of us do a lot of it. I have tuned and retuned 30+ melodicas, current as well as vintage, and have a pretty good feel for it. What you envision is interesting, and it would be great if there were some simpler, more mechanical and predictable way of tuning. But in my experience, a critical aspect of tuning is getting the feel for sounding the reeds so as to get stable readings that are consonant with where you’re trying to get your instrument. And becoming sensitive to reeds not sounding quite right after initial efforts to tune them. I think much more, though I can’t explain it well, is involved in this than getting constant pressure at the right level. I am able to tune a melodica to my satisfaction, making adjustments to gapping as I go along, so that the notes all sound right, are comparably responsive, and sound right in combination in combination with other notes and occasionally in chords. I’m skeptical about a more mechanical and measurable approach. I’m fairly confident about being able to tune to my satisfaction, but also about being able to significantly improve the tuning of someone else’s melodica. I know there are more sophisticated musicians who have the ear to do this better than I do, and I envy their ability. They can take the same approach and tune better than I can. But, as I say, I’m pessimistic about a more mechanized approach, even though I find the idea attractive. I have a lot of melodicas, several of which I obsess about keeping finely tuned. Some models hold their tuning well, for example the Yamaha Pianicas. Some need more frequent attention, such as the vintage Suzuki MA-32 Super II and the Suzuki II 25, which have less stable reeds but produce compelling sound.

Another simplified approach to tuning is to tune by pinging the reeds and using a pickup so the melodica doesn’t have to be repeatedly opened and resealed. I have experimented with this a bit but don’t believe this does justice to the role of the ear in tuning. Maybe for some it could do so.

But I also don’t think a lot of people actually do much tuning, as a result of which there’s less interest in your proposal than it merits. I think every serious melodican should get into tuning. I enjoy tuning. It’s very satisfying. I strongly encourage you to experiment with your envisioned approach. It’s possible that it could be a significant advance in melodica tuning technology.

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