- November 6, 2014 at 8:10 pm #3388
Vintage melodicas often emit unpleasant odors. I’m working on some old Hohners, which have a distinctive somewhat sweet odor. Mint condition old stock Hohners I’ve acquired recently do not have any sweet or other particular odor other than the smell of the vinyl cases they come in, so I guess the unpleasant sweet odors come from a combination of humid climate and German eating and drinking habits, enhanced by being owned and played by and in the vicinity of smokers. Melodica-Me suggested careful dabbing, etc. with Scope mouthwash, followed by a rinse. This does help; similar treatment with 3% hydrogen peroxide or drugstore rubbing alcohol does as well. This kind of approach, however, only reaches the places that are accessible at whatever level of disassembly you’re willing to go to. For most of us, that means taking the melodica apart to the level required for tuning, which is generally pretty easy. But at that level, you’re not getting good access to most of the keyboard — the underside and mechanisms, which is a main source of the lingering odors. Depending on the design of the melodica, there may be some other problem locations.
Three main alternative approaches occur to me: (1) a heavy sprinkling of baking soda, worked as well as you can into the chambers of the melodica, between and under the keys, around all mechanisms and fixtures, and followed by a thorough rinse. I currently have a Piano 27 and a Piano 36 sitting soda-ized for several hours, after which I will work them over with my Waterpik. I started with the melodicas completely dry. Pure baking soda (dry) is a very effective absorbent of odors. I would be afraid to leave it in some strong solution in the melodica for more than a few minutes. (2) A flush with some kind of deodorizing solution, followed by a thorough flush with pure water. For the flush, liquid is poured into the mouthpiece opening (that end up, of course) and worked through the melodica with intermittent working of the spit valve and keys. This process probably should include a “standing period” during which the deodorizing solution can have its effect, how long depending on the nature of the solution. Various possible solution ingredients come to mind, including vinegar, 3% hydrogen peroxide, lemon, what else? A flush probably won’t get to everything, but should reach all areas that are normally affected by the moisture that collects as the instrument is played. (3) A bath (with similar solution possibilities) in which the entire opened melodica is submersed for a period of time and then thoroughly rinsed with pure water.
So I’m trying (1) first and will see how well it works. But even if it is successful, I think there will be other benefits to a flush or bath. The most vulnerable parts of the melodica in a flush or bath are, it seems to me, the felt key pads. These obviously would be made and attached in such a way that they can withstand water, but we can’t be sure how they will do with a prolonged soaking or with other substances or solutions.
I don’t know if anybody other than melodica-Me has addressed this issue. A search of our forums didn’t reveal anything.November 6, 2014 at 10:43 pm #3390
Both Hohners are now odor free. After about four hours of their resting loaded with baking soda, I decided to wet them down with a sprinkling of water and then to take advantage of the situation by cleaning all accessible areas with paste made by dipping wet rag and toothbrush, alternately, in the excess baking soda. I worked the reed and reed plates over brushing/ rubbing in the direction of the open end of the reed and back and forth between reeds and on the rest of the plate. I was surprised how nicely this cleaned up the reeds. Then I worked each melodica around under running warm tap water and then immersed them and sloshed them around in warm tap water. It takes a bit more effort than you might think to eliminate all residue; you can tell by rubbing your finger across an area and seeing whether it has a salty taste. Finally, I dried the melodicas with a hair dryer at a distance of about 12″. This didn’t produce any odor; so while some may reappear, that seems unlikely to be a significant issue. The Piano 36 was pretty foul, so I’m really encouraged by these results. I’ll report back if there any unanticipated issues arising out of the treatment, but that seems unlikely. I do think the drying has to be done carefully, as high heat could cause damage.November 7, 2014 at 12:47 am #3391
I want to stress the importance of thoroughly rinsing all baking soda residue out of your melodica. Otherwise, the residue will harden into a coating, as you can see if drops of moisture fall on hardwood floor or other polished surface. Whatever water you can shake out of your melodica at the end should be clear and not leave water spots. If spots are still appearing (which happens within 10-15 minutes) when you shake it out, then the rinsing process is not complete. Obviously you don’t want any residue to remain, especially on the reeds. It’s probably a good idea to include some toothbrush work on the reed plates while rinsing.
I guess is kind of a “duh!” thread in which nothing ingenious is offered and the warnings seem obvious, but I have not seen a detailed discussion of deodorizing melodicae. The good news is that it’s easy to do, though it requires care, and it makes a big aesthetic difference with some of these old instruments. Also, if you were selling a vintage melodica, it would be nice to be able to say that it has been deodorized. One other thing I should have mentioned is that the melodica case should also be deoderized. This is easily done with a cloth and rubbing alcohol (or with a baking soda solution); the result you want is the “new car” vinyl smell, which the mint condition old stock Hohner Pianos have. Finally, if you’re a collector who lives in a very humid climate, it might be best to store your melodicas in a ventilated container with a box of baking soda.November 7, 2014 at 7:01 am #3393Adam TombsParticipant
Good information here thanks Alan. I only have one Melodica that really smells bad, it’s a Hohner Piano 20 1970s model I think. Mint condition but I am pretty sure it was stored in a cafe or a home where many cups of coffee were made and much tobacco smoking took place.
As a recovered (ex) smoker, I find it very difficult to play or handle the Piano 20 for very long as the odour makes my eyes water and my head swim. I tried rubbing alcohol which stopped the smell a little but baking soda was the missing link for me.November 7, 2014 at 10:28 am #3396Daren BanarsëKeymaster
Great info Alan. Thanks for taking the time to make this extensive report!November 7, 2014 at 11:30 pm #3398LowboyParticipant
I did write a little report about eight months ago where I tried to deodorize a melodica by taking it apart and cleaning it, but when the smell was still present, I just soaked the entire melodica, fully assembled, in a deep cookie sheet filled with water and white vinegar. I then soaked it in plain water a couple of times to rinse it, shook it out, let it dry, and voila, the melodica worked perfectly and smelled 98 percent better. However, I did offer a caution that this may not be an acceptable technique for some types of melodicas.
I guess an old melodica can smell like anything based on its history, but I have found 9 out 10 times they smell like an attic, which is where many of the vintage melodicas probably sit for a few decades before they end up in a tag sale or on Ebay.
LowboyNovember 8, 2014 at 12:50 am #3399
Great, good to know of any alternative approaches. We were thinking along similar lines.
I noticed a similar smell to a couple of thrift shops I visited today.
Thanks for turning me on the the Piano 26 and 32. I was able to get only one 32, the last one, but I bought two 32s, and then one more so I could give one to my friend. I love these melodicas. They are something special. The Piano 36 is also terrific, although it has some issues. I’ll have more to say about these.November 8, 2014 at 9:59 pm #3404LowboyParticipant
I think for many people, it may be hard to see something special in these melodicas (Hohner Piano 26s, 27s, and 32s). Some people may never get it, or not need the characteristics that make them special to me. They are after all of medium, maybe medium-high quality, just slightly clunky, not compact, and not particularly loud (but there is a way around that). The reed plates are not replaceable.
But I like their slightly mellow tone and their timbre, the easy as which I can bend notes, and of course the ability to execute the famous belly wah™ technique.
The secret to increasing the volume is to hold the back of the melodica near or against your chest, either flat or at a 45 degree angle, and the volume immediately increases.
Have fun with these Alan.
LowboyNovember 8, 2014 at 10:42 pm #3407
I think having several choice melodicas that are distinctive is like having several motorcycles whose handling suits you. But they’re a heck of a lot cheaper than motorcycles. These give me a similar kind of feeling.November 10, 2014 at 2:46 am #3413Adam TombsParticipant
I can relate to the motorcycle analogy, having been very much into motorcycles until the birth of my first child. After that, I was convinced by my family to give the bikes away, something about longevity and risk taking behaviour not befitting a father etc etc. I never had more than two bikes at a time….
But I can have as many melodicas as I want… within budget of course lol
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