Playability & Viabilityof Vintage Melodicas

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  • #3444
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    Another Opinion Piece

    Lowboy Bootay, Melodica-Me, and many others have demonstrated that some vintage Hohner melodicas are eminently playable. A serious melodican could have, and many do have, the Piano 36 as their main, or even as their only melodica. A Piano 36 in relatively good condition will sound as good as or better than most (some would say all) melodicas currently on the market, and the Piano 36 can be maintained for the most part without professional assistance. It is also easy to find a Piano 36 that is in or can be brought into good working order. (I am working on spiffing up my third Piano 36.) Those with the good fortune to own its predecessor, the Professional 36, say that it is superior to the Piano 36. But it’s hard to find a Professional 36, especially one in good working order, and repair and maintenance is likely to be much more problematic. The HM series of Hohners (HM-26, 27, and 32) has been shown by Tom Bootay to offer vintage melodicas that are also highly viable as well as distinctive, though they are a bit more of a “special interest” instrument and are more fragile and more difficult and risky to work on. And their sound will not appeal to everybody. But they are viable instruments and (some would say) musically superior to all but a few of the melodicas currently in production. And they HM (“Piano”) 26 and 32 are not hard to obtain in new or very good condition. I’m working on dating the HM models: it seems that they are a 1970s melodica, but I’m not sure how long they remained in production. The ones I have are mint or close to it and didn’t have any of the odors that the Piano 36 usually does. None of the Hohners I have just mentioned is a good beginner melodica. But they are serious options for experienced melodica players.

    What about other brands? After Hohner, the most widely available vintage melodicas are Japanese, namely Yamaha Pianicas and Suzuki Melodions. There are a variety of them available at reasonable prices. The vintage Yamahas and Suzukis are typically of very sturdy construction, so that it’s not hard to find them in good condition. I have a couple and will be obtaining a few more. The one I have been playing and have opened up is impressive, for its construction and musical qualities. I am having to get under the reed plate (just one) to address what is a minor issue, and my impression at this point is that these vintage Japanese instruments may be a little trickier and riskier to work on than, say, a current Yamaha P-32. The particular instrument from which I’m generalizing is the Suzuki Study 25, which is a variant of the historically important original Suzuki A-25 (1967-69). The Suzuki A-25 is eminently playable and is highly viable. It is at least the equal of one of my favorite melodicas, the Yamaha P-25F. More work has to be done on the playability and viability of vintage Japanese melodicas. This requires examination of particular models, and with regard to musicality the judgment of melodica-informed musicians such as Melodica-Me, Lowboy, Quetscher, Troy, and others whom I don’t mean to offend by not naming them.

    #3453
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    Correction: The original Suzuki A-25 (and presumably the Study 25) is identified in another source as produced from 1968 to 1972, rather than from my other source dates given above of 1967-69. There is another, later A-25 dated 1972-85. It is important to achieve accuracy. I’ll be saying more later about the sources and the general issue of dating melodicas. Dates given by eBay sellers and on other auction sites are a questionable source, except for those cases in which some documentation is included with the sale item, such as a receipt, dated company brochure, or something like that. The earliest Suzuki melodions seem to be late 50s Hohner style “piano flutes” from 1960 and a Melodion 34 introduced in 1961.

    #3455
    AvatarAdam Tombs
    Participant

    I have a M36 Suzuki Melodion coming my way so I will be bale to update the review on this discontinued model. It’s the same one pictured on the reviews page. I have seen Augustus Pablo playing variants of this model and it sounds fanatastic, although as has been previously noted here on this forum, a good musician will make a 2 buck harmonica sound like a million bucks.

    #3456
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    Great, Adam. I also have one on the way! We can compare notes. I’m very interested to learn that Augustus Pablo played one of these. He seems to have used a Hohner Piano 36 quite a bit in addition to the little Hohners.

    #3457
    AvatarMelodica-Me
    Participant

    I purchased a Suzuki A-27 a while back and even though it plays ok It tends to clog up very easily. The sound is nice but if played a little to loud it chokes up. One more thing the A-27 I purchased looked clean and spotless but when I open it and I found rust on the body. Has anyone had the same issues.
    Melodica-Me

    #3459
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    I have an A-27 that I also got recently from a thrift shop. It’s green. It came with no case or mouthpiece and has a significant crack across the mouthpiece end. It leaks a bit but plays well. I haven’t taken it apart yet, but there’s no choking. The reeds on these models are different. They are hard to gap. I have one reed on a Study-25 (same vintage, roughly) that was pressed below the reed plate. I had to partially remove the read plate to get under it and push the read out to where I could get something under it, and I’ve been working for several days to open up the gap, but the reed is much more resistant to having its gap changed, and the note is still not playing correctly. I have made some progress by applying heat (with a hair dryer), having been advised that heat would temporarily change the properties of the bronze. The Study-25 (A-25 really) reed plate and reeds were discolored, and one of the screw heads was rusted. But otherwise they seem to be in good shape. No clogging issues with either one, though I’m not sure exactly what you mean by that. “Clog” makes it sound like a moisture issue and makes me wonder if yours is venting properly.

    #3460
    AvatarMelodica-Me
    Participant

    Alan, to clarify, I have a lot of moisture build up. When it builds up the lower notes choke up. It sounds good and feels good, it’s just not a gig trust worthy melodion. Usually the older melodicas have the same issue. I have many in the same condition.

    Melodica-Me

    http://s355.photobucket.com/component/Download-File?file=%2Falbums%2Fr445%2FBigPwr%2Fimagejpg1.jpg

    #3462
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    Thanks, Melodica-Me. That’s the kind of information that’s needed. Maybe the old models are not gig-worthy. That’s something about which I would not be competent to judge. Their reeds may also not hold up the very aggressive playing. I’m viewing this as a casual, non-aggressive player. If some but not others are gig-worthy, then it would be good to know which ones. I spent quite a long time playing an A-25 (STUDY) the other day and did not have any moisture build-up or clogging, though I am having to work with a particular reed. It might be that if you were using several melodicas on a gig, it would be cool to pull out an obviously distinctive vintage model and use it for one or two tunes. Maybe you already do that.

    #3467
    AvatarMelodica-Me
    Participant

    Alan, I love the old Melodicas a lot, they just seam to need a lot more attention than the newer one’s. Sometimes they play great and sometimes they don’t, kinda like an old car, if you know what I mean. The only vintage Melodicas I use occasionally for live work is my Hohner Pro 36 “built military grade” and the Hohner Piano 36, the work horse and still probably the most used melodica by professionals. My Hohner Solist stays at home. Though you can never know when you are going to break a reed, new or vintage, the older melodica’s will go out on you sooner than later just due to age. Heck just blew a reed on my Vibrandoneon, second time this year.
    Melodica-Me

    #3468
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    Sorry to hear about your Vibrandon, Melodica-Me.

    I think Lowboy will be experimenting with some of the old ones. He’ll put them to the test!

    What I’m learning is that the Suzukis have not changed much since 1980 or so (arbitrary date). Maybe they will stand up as well as new ones. On the assumption that the earlier models have serious limitations for performance, it would be interesting to figure out which “semi-vintage” melodicas are viable options for professionals, especially for those like you and Lowboy who make serious demands on the instrument. Also, a folk musician might be able to work with an A-25 or 27 that wouldn’t work for a blues player or guy who is playing like the Monsters. My interest is mainly academic. Both Adam and I are getting M-36 Suzukis (1980s or so, depending on the model). He apparently is a piker like me, but we’ll be able to get an idea of how different they are from, say, a new M-37C or M-32C.

    #3470
    AvatarMelodica-Me
    Participant

    Alan, I think the reason these oldie but goodies tend to have so many issues is that they have a lot of moisture residue that unless they are completely cleaned out even on the edge of the reed and reed hole that cause them to stick and buzz and de-tune. I would not mind paying to have them restored but the reality of spending more money than what they are worth does not sit well with me, especially if I really do not intend to use them for recording or live work. I have (4) Claviettas (1) in perfect condition and (3) parts doner. I keep saying that they will be my past time when I retire lol. I am waiting to see when the new Ballone Burini Vibrandoneon is released and if not soon I will be buying another Hammond 44 as back up since that is what I use 50% of the time. So many Melodicas so little time lol
    Melodica-Me

    #3471
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    Makes sense. I do want to point out a couple of differences between the A-25 and the A-27, though. I’m just taking the A-27 apart. The A-27 has an unusually crude venting mechanism, a button that vents moisture out of the reed chamber and into the main cabin of the melodion. The A-25, on the other hand, has the far superior lever mechanism that is now found in the Hammonds and the metal tray Suzukis. The reed chamber cover of the A-25 is plastic, while the reed chamber of the A-27 is metal, which is discolored at the blow end on mine and a bit corroded, as is also true of the inside of that end of the metal tray. The A-27 also has a metal plate under the keyboard. So the A-27 has a poor moisture management system. (My A-27 mouthpiece end is cracked, though, which may have aggravated the situation.)

    Surprisingly, the reeds on this A-27 are almost pristine with virtually no discoloring. Maybe the original owner just filled it up with moisture and then never played it again.

    I haven’t see any Claviettas for sale lately.

    #3472
    AvatarAdam Tombs
    Participant

    Slightly off where this topc is going, please forgive me. Just a short comment on my journey in restoring a Professional 36. After my accordion mechanic mate had a look and repaired all its ills, he gave it a bit of a tweak once over tightening bits here and there and declared it a player. He substituted a larger steel accordion reed and it works perfectly… The only issue is that it is more stable and clear than the rest of the keys. Very hard to spot the difference apart from the clearer sound.

    If I can compare it to say an Irish whistle, the original reeds are more ‘chiffy’, that characterful chirpy burr….. But the substitute accordion reed carries well and has a purer tone.

    Looking forward to the Suzy M-26 arriving in the mail Alan!

    I am thinking of buying either a piano 36 or a pro 36 and colluding with my accordion mecchanic friend to modify it to use retrofitted accodion reeds, replacing the stock reeds entirely.

    #3474
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    What interesting experimentation, Adam.

    I haven’t seen a Professional for sale in a long time and am also concerned about how complicated it is to get one in working order and maintain it.

    Does your M-26 look like either of these?


    #3478
    AvatarAdam Tombs
    Participant

    Alan, after experimenting with both the Piano 36 and the Pro 36, I think you can bank on there being some work involved in getting them up to scratch, unless you are buying that rare example of a new old stock item. That said, I believe you can get them going very well, with a bit of patience and work. Once repaired up to a standard where the bugs have been ironed out I think they are as reliable as any other melodica.

    I am not budgeted for putting a lot of money into repairs and baulked at paying for the broken reed to be replaced on my Pro but I consider that the $100 Australian I spent was well worth it, on an initial investment of under $100 for a good example apart from the broken reed and some general tuning and minor maintenance problems. Maybe I have been lucky in that the Piano 36 and the Pro 36 I bought sight unseen off ebay were in more or less good condition and not too badly treated.

    It would appear that performing musicians favour the Piano 36 and I can understand why as it is a great instrument, of course reliability should be a first concern for the professional musician.

    The M-36 I am getting is the black version as pictured in the review write up section on this forum. Looks pretty much exactly the same….

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