Suzuki A-34(School 34)

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    Alan Brinton

    Thank you, Pianonymous. Your blog looks interesting! I will explore it more carefully.

    Google translates for us, so I am able to read your review, though the translation is choppy. Maybe you have seen the thread that I started here on the A-34C?

    Suzuki A-34C

    The Super 34 was the first Suzuki KENBAN harmonica. I saw one for sale on a Japanese auction site but made the mistake of not bidding on it. I have been watching for another one since. The key range of the Super 34 is different, starting on F rather than on G. And the Super 34 has small keys.

    I have seen your model A-34 for sale on eBay and Yahoo Japan auction and thought about bidding. But I have too many melodicas. I’m glad to see your review of it. If you have a chance to play an A-34C in comparison to your A-34, I would be interested to know what you think.

    Alan Brinton

    Suzuki’s very first keyboard harmonica (piano key style) was the Super 34, introduced in 1961 and replaced in 1972 by the A-34 (School 34), which was replaced in turn by the now current A-34C in 1991. The original versions of all three models are shown in Suzuki Melodion melodica charts, company documents, from one of which this illustration is drawn:

    From Suzuki Company models chart

    Notice the difference in key size and key range between the Super 34 and the later School 34 and A-34C. The Super 34 is very rare, the School 34 less so. The A-34C is very similar to the School 34. But, in addition to stylistic changes, the 34C has an improved spit valve mechanism and a small rubber bladder at the low end of the reed chamber.

    Alan Brinton

    Here, by way of comparison, are the Yamaha Pianica 34, which predates the School 34 by a few years (mid to late 1960s) and an auction photo of the 1961 Super 34, followed by photos of my A-34C and School 34.

    The Yamaha has full size keys but the same (more typical) key range as the Super 34. You will notice that the original A-34 (School 34) is stylistically distinguished by the “horn” (as pianonymous aptly refers to it). This is also a feature of some other 1960s-70s Suzuki Melodions. Although the horn appears to be mainly ornamental, it provides a nice grip when the School 34 is cradled at the bottom in the left hand.

    Another distinctive of the School 34 is it’s release valve, activated by the small black button on the bottom. This is less convenient than the excellent rocker style mechanism of later high end Suzukis, but in action the button mechanism of the School 34 is surprisingly effective and vents a strong stream of air.

    As for sound differences, the School 34 and the A-34C have a very similar, distinctive and mellow sound in comparison with other 32-37 key metal tray Suzuki Melodions. The sound of my School 34 is a bit more muted than that of the A-34C, as the sound of the A-34C is a bit more muted than that of the other 32+ key models. This may be the result of aging, but I like it a lot. It’s hard for me to choose between the School 34 sound and the A-34C sound. Both are very pleasing to my ear.

    Given its ancestry and it’s distinctive sound, the A-34C has a special place among current metal tray Suzuki Melodions. The School 34 is eminently playable. Suzukis of its vintage are typically air tight and mechanically sound. Consequently, the School 34 is, in my opinion, a viable option for serious melodica players. For fans of the A-34C, it makes a nice companion piece, though it’s hard to make a case for it as an alternative to the A-34C.

    Alan Brinton

    Here now are more detailed photos of my School 34.


    The School 34 lacks the small black rubber bladder at the low end of the A-34C’s reed chamber. I notice a slight difference in key responsiveness at the lower end of the A-34C (less responsive), which might be on account of the bladder and may result in a slightly richer sound at the low end of the A-34C. I leave it to more sophisticated players to comment on this issue.

    A slight digression about “tools of the trade” here. Although there are better precision screwdriver sets, I’m liking this little inexpensive (about $5) set of Stanleys in the yellow box. These do not grip adequately and have too small handles for dealing with problem screws, for which you see the bigger supplementary drivers I have there. But once the initial loosening of screws has been done, these work well in repeatedly removing and replacing the reed chamber cover during tuning.

    Alan Brinton

    The reeds and reed plates of this Melodion were dirty and discolored. It was also seriously out of tune. Lowboy and I have both come to the conclusion that the typical vintage melodica (excepting some older models with wooden parts or crumbly gasket material) is significantly improved by a soak in a water-vinegar mix followed by thorough rinsing and drying. This almost always improves key action. I also clean the reeds carefully with a soft toothbrush and baking soda (or even toothpaste in problem cases). These preliminaries affect tuning and gapping.

    This particular Melodion was wildly out of tune, and re-tuning was complicated by a previous owner’s having made crude tuning attempts in which some reeds were gouged. You may be able to see some gouging if you look carefully. All reeds are, however, fully functional. I re-tuned to A=440. It was necessary to widen the gaps of quite a few reeds, partly because of pre-existing problems, but also partly as result of my toothbrushing.

    After cleaning. Some discoloration (and slight corrosion?) remains, since I didn’t want to get into scraping. But that could be done with the variable speed electric engraver, and I would do it except that in this case there was already so much tuning to do.

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