3 July 2014
Why the melodica?
I started practising the melodica seriously a few years ago, when I needed an instrument to play Irish music with, which I could easily take to play at the informal pub sessions. I already played the piano, so the piano accordion was the obvious first choice. But I gave it a go, and there’s something about the bulky size and weight, and that huge sound, which put me off. I was always fond of the melodica, the simplicity of the piano keyboard, only having to play with one hand, and of course there’s always that element of fun. I decided to take it up as if it were a professional instrument, and dedicate some years to seeing what I, and the instrument were capable of achieving.
What’s already out there?
I’ve tried many melodicas over the years, from the cheapest plastic “toys” to the high end Italian made wooden models. Of these, three models have become my favourites – the vintage Clavietta, the Vibrandoneon (MkI) and the Yamaha Pianica. Each one has its pros and cons. The Clavietta looks retro and professional, it’s light and has a beautiful tone. It’s far too quiet though for use with other acoustic instruments. The Vibrandoneon, made of wood, is much louder, and also has a great tone, as it uses very high quality reeds. The downside is the size – it’s awkward and heavy to hold, and takes a lot of breath power to make a sound. Also, beautiful as it is to look at, the wooden case is susceptible to mould, as the melodica gets very wet inside from extended playing.
And the favourite?
The Yamaha Pianica is one of the cheaper melodicas, developed for use in schools in Asia. The reeds are harmonica style, as opposed to the accordion style of the other two, resulting in a “honkier”, less refined tone. It also means the reeds go out of tune quicker, and fail more often. But it has some great pros. Because it’s made of plastic, it doesn’t suffer from mould issues, and it’s very light and easy to hold. It takes little breath to achieve a very loud sound, and the sound does actually have a special character of its own. There’s only one drawback – it looks like a toy. The burgundy 37 key model is borderline, but the 32 key model, prized for its compact design is only available in bright blue or pink!
I wonder wether it’s possible to build a melodica based on the Pianica, perhaps using the same reed plates, but redesigning the keys and casing, to make something beautiful? I believe 3D printing has got to the level now where it’s possible to do this at a relatively low cost. I have some experience of 3D design, but would need some help in developing my skills to the level required to build this beast. A homemade melodica. This has got to be one of the most exciting projects I’ve embarked on for a while!