Chromatic harmonica history – last words

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First Hohner Chromatic harmonica and the DM48 midi controller harmonica invented a little more than 100 years apart

This is the end of my chromatic harmonica history journey. Of course, history keeps writing itself. I am sure some new and exciting chromatic harmonicas will show up on the market. There is a lot of development going on in Asia, especially in China. Some time ago, I purchased a very nice book of beautiful Chinese harmonica illustrations: “Chinese Made Harmonica Illustrations (中国口琴图谱)“, by Zong Xiaohua.
One harmonica in particular got my attention. The description is only in Chinese. The inventor Jia-Yi He wrote to me:
“this invention combines two chromatic harmonicas into one: a C and D chromatic, to solve trill and legato problems of the chromatic harmonicas. The harmonica has a double control system. Holding down the whole-tone handle with the left hand will free the right hand to make trills with the semi-tone top slider.  Holding down the semitone handle with the left hand will free the right hand to make whole tone trills with the bottom slider. ”
I could not find out if an actual prototype exists or the harmonica was ever manufactured. It looks like an exciting idea, though.

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Double control system chromtic harmonica, invented by Jia-Yi He

Some of the newer manufactures like Easttop or Kongsheng have newly developed chromatic harmonicas in their lineup. I am especially thrilled about the new Kongsheng chromatic model “Lyra”. Its design looks unique.

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New Kongsheng “Lyra”, released in the second half of 2019

There is of course Hohner with its own sizable R&D department. They recently revamped their Super 64 chromatic harmonica line with a new design and VarioSpring system (first introduced with the release of the ACE-48).

I am also looking forward to seeing more inventions coming out of the Seydel lab. Recently, they announced a new Seydel Magnet-System (based on Jim Antaki’s Turboslide harmonica). The description explains:

https://www.seydel1847.de/WebRoot/Store/Shops/Seydel/MediaGallery/HOTM/SEYDEL-Magnet-System-All-Minor-Harmonica-principle_magnetic_field_WEB.jpgif you slide the magnetic sliders towards the tip-end of the reed the magnetic field slows down the reed’s oscillation resulting in a pitched-down tone. It can be re-tuned for a semitone down.

The new Seydel 1847 All Minor diatonic harmonica has that magnet system incorporated. I see potential to use it in chromatic harmonicas as well, e.g. changing the base tuning or adjusting reeds that are out of tune.
-> See update on the new Symphony 48 with magnetic slider system

Let’s not forget Suzuki. They also have contributed with some amazing harmonicas like the  SCT-128 tremolo chromatic and just recently the new S-48B Bass Chromatic.

Lastly, I hope you enjoyed this blog and got some useful information out of it. It was a pleasure doing this research and sharing my findings with you.
Some of you might wonder why one or the other harmonica was not mentioned in my blog. One example would be the Hohner Harmonetta. I decided against it since the instrument does not fall under the category “slide chromatic”.
If you have another opinion on that or you feel I am really missing out on an important instrument, there is an option to leave a reply or comment at the bottom of each page. Actually,  any comment in form of additional info, suggestions or other kinds of statements would be highly appreciated!
It would be great if these articles can initiate all sorts or interesting discussions. For any specific question, please don’t hesitate to contact me via the web form.

 

Will’s Make Chromatic Harmonicas

The newest harmonica manufacturer out of China and in my opinion currently one of the most interesting ones is Will’s Make. They are at the fore front of new harmonica development and inventions. Besides relying on modern CNC manufacturing facilities for creating outstanding harmonicas they also experiment with metal 3D printing. 3D printing has been getting more precise over the last couple of years. In addition, the price for 3D printing manufacturing  has come down.

CNC manufactured harmonicas

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Will’s Make RE-DEL-12: 3 octave harmonica. The top cover does not show any screw holes.
The stainless steel comb can be equipped with different reed plates from Hohner
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Will’s Make FYWT14: 3 1/2 octave chromatic harmonica with separate channels cut into the cover plate similar to the CBH 2012/16
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Will’s Make FYWT12 and FYWT16: the concept is similar to the Hohner CX12 chromatic. These model are made out of brass.

Prototype ML-12 with new magnetic lock system:
3 octave chromatic with stainless steel comb, brass cover plates and new magnet system*.

* No screws needed to attach cover plates to comb.

This prototype was a collaboration between Will’s Make and me.
I appreciate all the valuable design input they provided to make the new magnetic lock system a reality.

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Will’s Make new concept chromatic ML-12: besides a stainless steel body, fitting Seydel Saxony reed plates and silver plated brass covers, this prototype comes with separated channels (similar to the CBH 2012/16). Covers can be easily taken off via a new revolutionary magnetic lock system.
Demo of magnetic lock system

This harmonica encompasses a lot of useful  features found in other chromatic harmonicas and even more:

Slider package:

  • half moon shaped mouthpiece (similar to Seydel Saxony)
  • slider has only minimal contact points to reduce friction and stickiness (similar to Polle Silver Concerto)
  • slider package consists only of mouth piece and slider (similar to the Easttop chromatic)
  • pockets are cut into mouth piece and comb to reduce slider friction (similar to Harmonica Art chromatics)
  • extended slide button to increase area for finger placement (similar to Tombo MU-01)

Comb (stainless steel):

  • fits Seydel Saxony reed plates (with long-life steel reeds)
  • reed plates can be separately attached to comb, 11 screws on each side (similar to Silver Concerto)

Covers (silver plated brass):

  • single reed chambers (similar to e.g. CBH 2012/16)
  • carved out channels (below mouthpiece) to retain moisture when playing (similar to Polle Silver Concerto)
  • new unique magnetic lock system which helps to take the covers off within seconds for maintenance work or cleaning (new feature)

Update:
A new 14-hole (3 1/2 octaves) version based on the ML-12 design was just finalized and manufactured. The ML-14 uses Hohner Meisterklasse reed plates. The brass comb and covers are silver- and the stainless steel mouthpiece gold-plated. Some of the specific ML-14 design characteristics, like acoustic openings on the backside of the comb, were provided by Rocky Lok of the renowned King’s Harmonica Quintet.

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ML-14 with magnetic lock system

RC-16
The newest addition coming out of Will’s Make factory is the 16-hole chromatic RC-16.
The instrument comes in three different versions:
1) aluminum alloy comb and body, all silver
2) brass comb with silver plated brass covers and gold plated mouthpiece
3) brass comb with gold plated brass covers and gold plated mouthpiece (limited addition)

What is special about this harmonica is the new trapezoid shaped comb.
According to Will’s Make, it creates a larger resonance chamber increasing the sound volume while reducing the weight of the comb.

Suzuki (SCX64, Sirius 64, Fabulous) or Easttop 16 holes reed plates can be used.

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RC-16 with aluminum alloy comb and body, from my collection
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RC-16 limited gold addition with brass- comb and covers
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The new trapezoid shaped comb creates a larger resonance chamber

3D printed harmonicas
As mentioned before, Will’s Make is experimenting with new 3D printing technology.
One great advantage is that the harmonica body and mouth piece can be manufactured in one complete unit.

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Will’s Make 3d Concept harmonica: the body and mouth piece are manufactured in one unit. The below picture shows the hollowed out comb.
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Will’s Make new 3D advanced prototype: the harmonica does not need any screws. The reed plates are attached to the body via clamps. Covers and mouth piece are one unit.

 

 

Kongsheng Lyra

The Lyra was introduced at the 2019 Frankfurt Music fair in Germany.
What makes this instrument worth mentioning is the construction of the buffer used for the slider as well as its design. This is the first harmonica  designed by Kongsheng’s own in-house designer. It sets this harmonica apart from most of  Chines produced harmonicas, usually copying the appearance of already existing harmonicas.
The corpus is made out of aluminum.

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Kongsheng “Lyra” comes in silver and cold colors
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New unique buffer system, consisting of a metal shell and a silicone ring
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New silver Kongsheng Lyra, from my collection

 

Seydel Symphony 48

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The new Seydel Symphony 48, from my collection

Overall. the Symphony 48 looks like the smaller brother of the Symphony Grand, the four octave model. The shape of the covers and mouthpiece are identical.
The covers and the body are made of aluminum. It wasn’t clear at the time of my writing if Seydel will eventually come out with an additional “Acryl” version.
One of the new interesting features is the newly redesigned slider mechanism. Instead of using an internal spring to push and release the slider, the new Symphony uses two same poled magnets. That is a clever idea since a spring tends to wear out after a while. The slider itself feels smooth and the button can be pushed in with little effort. Just in case, Seydel still leaves the option to remove the magnets and use a spring instead.

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Seydel’s new slider system with magnets (in the comb and button) instead of an internal spring

Similar to the Symphony Grand (and before that, the Renaissance), the mouthpiece has no visible screw holes. The mouthpiece screws are attached from the bottom of the comb.
It also comes with steel reeds. For additional durability, as it was explained to me, the reeds have been polished.  When it comes to durability, I actually never had a problem with steel reeds. Maybe the extra polishing makes them indestructible. 🙂
For extra airtightness, similar to the Symphony Grand, the reed plates are placed into the body. There are screws on both sides of the reed plates for easy removal.

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The reed plates are placed into the body

The covers have wide openings to disperse the sound as much as possible.

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The Symphony from the bottom, showing the mouthpiece screws and wide open covers

Additional info: the box looks similar to the heatable case. It will be smaller without the heating option. One instrument can be placed into it.

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Symphony 48 case

Suzuki S-48B Bass Chromatic

From the Suzuki harmonica website:
the Suzuki S-48B is a bass chromatic harmonica that can play the same bass range as a cello, with the same style and size as the standard 12-hole 48 tones chromatic harmonica. Until now, there was only a choice of heavy bass harmonica, but with the S-48B you can easily carry and play. Planned release date is July 2019.

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Suzuki S-48B Bass Chromatic
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The lower reeds have big slabs of extra brass attached
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Chart showing the S-48B in comparison to the  normal chromatic harmonica range

Until now, the first real slide chromatic bass was the Brendan Power slide bass. It is actually a mouthpiece/slider unit attached to a regular bass harmonica.

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Brendan Power Slide Bass mouthpiece/slider unit

Tiane (Swan) Horn Chromatic

The Tiane horn chromatic was launched in 2017. The idea was to embed a regular three octave harmonica into a larger metal pipe in order to leverage the inner resonance of the pipe and therefore resulting in a more rounded and internally echoed sound.
The principle is similar to the Koch horn chromatic. Even though in that case the pipe has openings on both sides. A patented was acquired in 2017 with patent number: ZL 2017 2 0578099.2

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Tiane horn chromatic with case, from my collection
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The horn chromatic has openings on both sides
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 There is either a gold or rainbow colored version available

Asia Bend Chromatic

The AsiaBand chromatic was invented and patented by Brendan Power and released in the second half of 2016 .

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For many years, Brendan has been at the forefront of harmonica inventions and customizations. In two of my articles, I have already referenced some of his work like the twin chromatic and  the slide chromatic bass. On his website you can get an overview of all the great stuff he has been working on the last several years.

Even though the AsiaBand chromatic itself uses parts of a standard  Easttop chromatic, its peculiarity lies in how the reeds are tuned and  gapped on the plates. The blow reeds have zero gap, and blowing makes no sound: only the draw reeds play under normal draw breath and draw  bends. The blow reeds activate during interactive reed bending to  provide the sound of the deep draw bend notes. No valves are required with this reed setup.
Brendan writes on his website:
“Instead of valves the AsiaBend uses the slider action of an airtight chromatic harmonica to isolate reed pairs and select the bending function. Its scale layout is designed to allow the player to controllably bend every note of a diatonic major scale (and related modes) up to and down from other notes of the scale, as well as micro tones in between.”

The result is a harmonica with a very unique and soulful sound that can be used particularly in traditional Indian and  Chinese music, but also for other styles.
Have a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWpeIwjCvoM

Hohner ACE-48

In 2016, Hohner came out with the ACE-48 chromatic harmonica.
It encompasses a revolutionary new concept, allowing a player to insert wedge-shaped blocks from the rear into the main structure of the harmonica. Hohner writes on there website:
ACE stands for Acoustic Coupling Elements, removable inserts with which you can adjust tonal color and weight distribution of your ACE 48 to your personal taste.
The patent #DE102013021367A1 was granted in 2014.

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Hohner ACE-48
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The ACE-48 showing the removable inserts

In theory all kinds of different materials could be used as inserts such as wood, stone, metals etc.. They can be bought as a pack and the player can change materials if they wish.
Besides brass, Hohner currently offers separate wood ACE Elements.

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ACE wood elements (max. 6) in a separate case

In addition, Hohner introduced a new slider system called VarioSpring system: the VarioSpring system permits easy slide spring tension adjustment via a dedicated screw.

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Hohner VarioSpring system

Tombo MU-01 and MU-01 PG

In 2015 at the music fair in Frankfurt, Germany, Tombo presented the new Mu-01 (µ-01) and Mu-01 PG (µ-01 PG).

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Tombo Mu-01 (µ-01) chromatic, from my collection
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Mu-01 PG (µ-01 PG) with pink gold coating covers
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Tombo soft leather case

The novelty of those instruments is a new slide mechanism Tombo called “new Short-Cross-Key function”.  As Tombo describes, it is as a revolutionary, newly designed slide for quick and effortless movement. As you press the slide the holes close from both sides. In addition there are 2 springs to keep it balanced:

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New short cross slider illustration  from Tombo
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New short cross slider in action, including the two spring system