Buying Criteria

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 27 total)
  • Author
  • #1374
    Alan Brinton

    I thought it might be useful to develop a list of melodica characteristics to consider in evaluating melodicas. Not everyone will agree about the relevance or relative importance of the following, but here’s my preliminary attempt (not necessarily in order of importance), with some parenthetical comments:

    1. Alto, soprano, or bass. (Alto melodicas are the most common and in my view the easiest to play.)

    2. Number of keys. (37 is typical for what is considered a “professional” melodica. I personally prefer 32 for compactness and ease of play. A 32 key melodica can be easily held in your left hand.

    3. Blow hole design. (Similar on most but not all melodicas. The receptacle on the Suzuki M-32C and M-37C, for example, is almost level with the end of the melodica, so that if you blow without a mouthpiece, so air may escape into the containing compartment of the instrument, or may not depending on you the player. The same is true for the Mylodica. This could be regarded as a minus, or it could be regarded as a plus.)

    4. Seal. (See #5 — You don’t want leakiness. It can sometimes be remedied by applying food grade silicone grease to the rubber gasket(s) that seals the air chamber.)

    5. Spit hole/valve design. (An important consideration. When you blow on the melodica without pressing any keys, no air should escape until you open the spit hole. Once you do so and blow, the easier the air flow the better. The best design, in my opinion, is the kind of lever on the end of the melodica that some of the Suzukis and the Hammond 44 have. By contrast, The Suzuki STUDY-32 has an awkwardly placed button on the bottom of the instrument, and air flow is not good. Some melodicas continue to play well much longer than others without spit venting, Yamaha pianicas, for example. don’t seem to vent so well but also are not so much in need of it. The expensive Suzuki Pro-37V2 has a nice removable brass cap that has to be screwed off — inconvenient to use while playing, though the Pro-37 doesn’t seem to need venting so often. The Mylodicas have no spit hole.

    6. Key size, action, and evenness.

    7. Quality of build. (We might as well say “general look and feel,” except that to get a full appreciation of the differences, you need to take melodicas apart, which is not hard or risky to do, but which you obviously can’t do before buying them.)

    8. Weight. (There are significant differences. Sometimes actual weight is given in product descriptions, but sometimes it’s shipping weight. Some actual weights are given in Melodica World’s Reviews section. I have started weighing my melodicas with a food scale. Lighter weight has its advantages, but on the whole I think the heavier the better, as there’s some correlation with build quality. The more expensive Suzukis have added weight because of the metal tray. Among ABS melodicas, the Yamahas have a bit more heft to them than others.)

    9. Color. (This is a “merely” aesthetic consideration, but playing the melodica is an aesthetic experience, and the aesthetics of your instrument also matters if you’re performing, to the audience and to fellow musicians. To some extent it’s a matter of personal taste. I’m fine with the blue color of my Yamaha P-32D, but I keep thinking I may order one of those black ones that has to be ordered from Japan.

    10. Factory Tuning. (Most negative reviews of name brand melodicas on Amazon involve complaints about this. I personally don’t give these reviews much weight. Factory tuning varies from one sample to another. It is generally not so good and not very consistent. I have two Yamaha P-32Ds and I have two Hohner 32Bs. The factory tuning on the two P-32Ds was fairly good, but not the same. The factory tuning on the two 32Bs was not nearly as good, and it was very different between the two instruments. Almost all melodicas are factory tuned a bit sharp, with some notes sharper and some flatter. It’s also debatable whether a perfectly tuned melodica would actually sound better than one whose tuning is a bit off. There’s also the question of how well a particular model holds its tuning. In any case, the only satisfactory way of dealing with tuning issues is to learn to tune your melodica, for which there are excellent instructions on this site.)

    11. Hand strap. (I have no use for these things, which is one reason I like a 32 key melodica. Some straps are a total joke and have no possible use. You want a hand strap that is a bit flexible and that fits the fingers of your left hand. But unless you like holding your melodica at one particular angle and it happens to be an angle to which its hand strap restricts you, the hand strap is not likely to be conducive to enjoying your melodica.)

    12. Tube. (18-24″ in length, depending on our preference and how you’ll be using it. I almost never use a tube because of how I’m comfortable holding the instrument and using the keyboard, but it’s useful if you want to play with both hands and/or lay the melodica flat so you can use one hand on another keyboard or whatever. Most tubes are about the same except with the Yamahas, whose tubes are not flexible enough.

    13. Mouthpiece. (Mostly not interchangeable between different brands. I like the duck-bill curved mouthpiece used on Yamahas, though it doesn’t work as well as some others for bending notes. This is partly a matter of personal preference, but you want the mouthpiece to be smooth so it’s comfortable in your mouth. There are a few more specialized mouthpieces.)

    14. Case. (The ABS plastic cases are the best for transporting and protecting your melodica.)

    15. Toyishness. (This isn’t a particular characteristic, but you probably want to think of your melodica as a real musical instrument and not a toy. It’s unsettling to open your new melodica and find that little slip of paper showing it being played by a four year old Japanese kid. Maybe we could have a toyishness scale. At one end [1, most toyish] would be the Schoenhut 24, and at the other end would be the Mylodica and the Hammond 44 [10, least toyish most real instrumentish, furthest removed from being a toy]. The Suzuki M-37C would be about an 8, the Yamaha P-37D about a 7. Maybe deduct one point for the 32 key sisters.]

    I’m sure I’ve forgotten something important.


    Hey Alan,
    What about the one I seem to be complaining about all the time!(ha,ha)
    Breath response. How quickly a reed sounds after blowing.Perhaps under the same heading the air capacity. some melodicas take a lot of air in general, some not so much. Some play single notes fairly easily but if you try a three or four note chord it robs too much air.
    Along those lines for the two-handed players what about balance? Does the lower register drown out the treble or vice versa.
    Also what about tone color? Some are very reedy, some honking and shrill some softer almost flute-like.
    Just some suggestions. I like this idea of criteria ratings. Perhaps Troy could find a way to work it in to our review section where we have a 0-10 rating for each of the criteria?

    Alan Brinton

    Good additions, Kevin. I notice on my new Suzuki M-32C that the response on the bottom end is a bit slow. It’s otherwise a terrific melodica. The slow response does require more air. My lungs fail me on the Suzuki Bass 24.

    I thought about tone color after I posted and was embarrassed that I overlooked something so important.

    I think a semi-official list of criteria for reviews should probably be shorter and in any case not include some items on my list. As important as tone color is, isn’t this a matter of personal preference and of what kind of sound you’d like to get? Toots Thielemans is one of my top ten Jazz players, so I came to the melodica looking for a harmonica sound. One of you guys could come up with a better rubric than I could for different kinds of tone color. I’m almost always thinking in terms of Jazz standards and tend to be thinking of particular players I love, such as Chet Baker on trumpet and Gerry Mulligan on sax. I know my melodica won’t sound like a trumpet or saxophone.


    Thanks for all your thoughts and suggestions Alan and Kevin, really helpful. I’ve added a couple more – feel free to add more when you think of them! I’m considering providing a link in the melodica description to another page called ‘review criteria’

    Here’s the list so far:
    Air tightness
    moisture release valve design
    key size
    key depth
    keyboard action
    keyboard evenness
    quality of build
    factory tuning
    tuning stability
    reed response
    reed strength
    reed moisture tolerance
    air efficiency
    hand strap
    evenness of tone
    number of keys (listed in description).

    Alan – have you tried a Clavietta? The tone is really very similar to a chromatic harmonica…

    Alan Brinton

    That’s good. I haven’t tried a Clavietta, but I’ll keep my eye open for one on eBay.


    Hello Alan, I took Troys advice and picked up a couple of clavietta’s for parts primarily for the reeds. These were not pretty melodicas nor were they playable but I purchased them cheap. Look for one that is in good playing condition and one for parts. I spent a few days during the holidays replacing the gasket and hard washers with new rubber washers and for most parts it plays pretty good but volume is a little low as a norm. Next to my Vibrandoneon the Clavietta is one of my favorite sounding melodica as well as my oldest one. You will appreciate the quality of this melodica.


    I’ve started a new topic in ‘Vintage Melodicas’ so we can talk about the Clavietta…


    I thought about tone color being a subjective quality Alan, but I guess I’m thinking in terms of providing some service to players looking to buy. After all most stores won’t let you play a melodica without buying it and I believe you are like me and maybe most people now are buying on-line sight unseen. So I think maybe some general statements might be in order however the subjective quality is a bother?
    Perhaps sticking with comparisons to other free reeds sort of statements such as harmonica-like, accordian-like, Bandoneon-like etc as opposed to saying dark, shrill, powerful sorts of statements would be more helpful to the potential player?
    I know we will have succeeded some day when I read the ad copy for a harmonica and it reads rich melodica-like tone!!! 😀

    Alan Brinton

    I completely agree with you that subjective preference is not the issue here and that “harmonica-like”, “accordion like” are the appropriate and useful descriptors. Although our preferences are subjective, a Suzuki Study-32 really does sound more like a harmonica than a Hammond 44 does.

    Breath Response: I want to get back to this topic, Kevin. It occurs to me that your dissatisfactions about this and mine may actually just be complaints about the laws of physics. This thought changes my feelings about the Suzuki Bass B-24 (which I suspect, Melodica-Me, is very much like the Hammond B-24H). It is, after all, a bass instrument, and the sound waves that it emits are longer than the higher notes that are played on an alto or soprano melodica. The reeds are longer, their vibration requires more wind, and they vibrate more slowly. It may be possible to design a bass melodica so as to require less wind and consequently as easier to play. (I’m not a physicist or an engineer, so I don’t know.) But that could involve serious tonal compromises and result in a sound that is not so rich as what the B-24 produces. What I’ve been trying to do is to play the B-24 as if it were an alto instrument. It’s possible that my dissatisfaction with the soprano Mylodica also has something to do with my trying to play it as if it were an alto. Think of a trumpet player trying to play as usual but on a tuba. Gene Pokorny plays Bach partitas on his tuba, and I love his playing. But he’s doing something really hard. Think of Yo Yo Ma trying to play Paganini caprices on his cello. Maybe he can do this, but imagine him trying to do it on a bass fiddle and complaining that his instrument is not a very responsive bass fiddle.

    Now, I complained in another thread about my new Suzuki M-32C responding slowly and being a bit hard to play on the bottom notes. It’s possible that this is because it is a superior instrument relative to my other alto melodicas. In other words, the deficiency may be (probably is) in me as a player rather than in the instrument.


    It could be the laws of physics Alan, if it were not for the Yamaha type of design I would accept my fate.I think you would agree that the Yamaha responds just as fast in the lower register as it does in the very highest?
    Looking at the Yamaha and others with the same basic design where you have a row of reeds that you blow directly across covered by a very shallow concave cover I never have a reed response problem.
    The Hohners and I believe also the Suzukis have a large rectangular cavity that you have to fill up with air before the reed will sound. I believe this design is what’s creating the delayed response as well as the design of channeling the air to the highest notes first?
    I’ve done some experimenting on the Hohner Performer 37 (meant to get a video up at some point) where I applied putty around the inside air chamber reducing the size and shape of the area till it’s similar to the Yamaha design.
    I now find the Performer 37 has a much faster and more even response across the 3 octaves.

    Alan Brinton

    All that makes some sense, Kevin. It has been some time since I took my Suzuki B-24 apart, but to the best of my recollection, it has a diaphram-like rubber air compartment, which I’m guessing is at least partially responsible for the significant response delay that makes it so hard to play.

    You are right about the Yamaha, and the same is true of other melodicas, including the real cheapies.

    Digression: I somehow mistakenly ordered a Hohner Performer 37 from Amazon, and I was about to send it back because of negative impressions about Hohners. Should I keep it? There are so many melodicas out there, and I probably already have too many in my arsenal and still don’t have the Yamaha P-37. I had one coming from Japan but mistakenly refused delivery because it came early on the day the Hohner was supposed to arrive. Money is not really the issue, but is there anything special about the Hohner?


    Hmmm…special about the Hohner. I guess that’s the worst thing about it Alan. There’s nothing really special about it, it has a sort of generic quality. I more than once thought of giving it to the neighborhood children. Sometimes I play it to make me appreciate my other melodicas and since it was cheaper I more readily experiment with it (such as with the putty).
    If I had known the build quality beforehand I would have bought the Fire instead since it at least has a visual quality but at the time I really wanted the full 3 octaves.

    Alan Brinton

    Thanks, Kevin. That helps. The Fire seems very popular. Is it just the color, do you know?

    Okay, so I’m sending the Hohner back, and now I can order a Suzuki A-34 in good conscience.


    Can’t say for sure Alan, but from the videos I’ve seen and heard I believe the Fire and Ocean are 32 note versions of the Performer?


    You guys are completely out of control. . . . I love it.

    I am looking forward to more great reviews. I will also attempt to review a couple of melodica’s I own one of these days.


Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 27 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
Back to top button