THE HARMONICAS I PLAY
By David Kettlewell
I thought you might enjoy knowing what harmonicas I own and play. It’s like going through my top dresser drawer…private stuff!
HOHNER 280 C
I’ve owned many Hohner 280 C’s, in the more modern configuration which means black polymer comb with screw on brass reed plates. I still own them but don’t play them at all anymore. I grew tired of the never ending problems with the reeds and breath savers sticking. I like the tone, but it’s a bit schrill in recordings, and to my ear. And I don’t like the mouthpiece, the way it feels, and the way it leaks air.
For a long time it was state of the art…but no more.
Still nice to have when I want it.
SUZUKI SCX 64
Purchased from Rockin Rons in San Diego, this harmonica is one I play about one hour a day. For the buck it’s the best buy out there….by far. The mouthpiece is divine, and the reeds are very “hot” which means this is a great instrument for Jazz.
The build quality is excellent, and the mouthpiece is perhaps the most comfortable and slick I’ve ever played. Zippity Do Da.
This is a long throw slide instrument, if they make an SCX 56 with a short throw slide someday, I’ll buy one.
When I travel, I take this with me. Everyone likes it.
Great tone…easily manipulated tonal characteristics.
For the money, the best harmonica on the market.
(NOTE: Other than Seydel Saxony, all harmonicas need to be warmed in a heating pad prior to playing, it will end your sticking breath saver problems. Be sure to wrap the harmonica or cover it with towels above and below however to smooth out the heat penetration. Kitchen counter, heating Pad ($12 at Walmart), then towel, then harmonicas, then two towels. Put on low, cook for 4 minutes.)
SUZUKI SIRIUS 64
More and more I gravitate to this workhorse, especially when recording. The rich, fully saturated tone cannot be matched, perfect for ballads and classical, and I always enjoy the fantastic build quality and feel in the hand. If you have the money, it’s a must-own, as is the Suzuki SCX 64 described above.
To your audience, acoustic or amplified sound, it sounds noticeably richer, and better. Less apparent to the player when playing without amplification however due to the preponderance of mid and low tones in the harmonic frequency tonal footprint. On pro recording equipment it’s fantastic.
I, like many players in the U.S., was a bit prejudiced against this instrument.
YouTube videos seemed to present too bright a sound.
However, Ron from Rockin Ron’s in San Diego was right, I needed to try it. I love it.
He pestered me, “I know you will like this instrument David.”
Am I glad I listened to his counsel.
I will say that in some ways it is the best solo instrument I own, it cuts above other instruments and thus is perfect for solo work, live or in recordings. Note it is the only chromatic in its price range with a metal comb (in this case aluminum)…which means a more focused sound imprint and balanced brightness overall which I love. I can always remove brightness with embouchure and hands, but can’t add it. Right?
A music educator who just tested one said that it has a lovely round center to the tone, but is not as shrill as a Hohner. I agree.
The Seydel Saxony’s sound is spot on…with a lovely, rich, saturated middle frequency footprint with nice balanced overtones. Overall a very pleasing sound indeed…and again, it cuts over and above other instruments you may play with.
Frankly, it’s the only instrument I own that is problem-free, cold or warm. The breath savers NEVER jam, as they are dimpled, and the stainless steel reeds are problem free.
The slide is short throw, and I now prefer that to long throw slides.
12 holes means I can cup the entire thing in my hands, so I get more tone control.
Another PLUS of this instrument relates to pitch stability.
When you are recording or playing on top of an orchestra, your intonation or pitch must be spot on, or it’s noticed and you’ll likely get a reprimand, or you’ll hang your head when you hear the recording. The Saxony is an excellent choice for times when you want a lively sound that stands out, and is dead on relating to pitch.
The instrument also takes less breath to play, and I like that.
I can bend notes easily with the Saxony (I got the orchestra tuning…which I recommend), but again they are stable if I don’t push them off tune.
(Note almost all harmonica players have a tendency to take draw notes flat.)
What about the other instruments relating to intonation?
Suzuki SCX 64 is a bit too flexy on pitch for recordings where spot on intonation is required.…it’s very easy to go sharp or flat with any variation of breath or embouchure, where the Suzuki Sirius 64 has extremely stable intonation, so it is an excellent choice in studio too.
Of course that means that the SCX is great for Jazz and general use where you want that “liveliness in artistic interpretation,” and the Sirius great for ballads and classical recordings.
Again, the Suzuki SCX is great for recordings where artistic interpretation involves intonation variation…improvisation, or hot stuff.
In closing…the Seydel Saxony gets excellent marks for the wonderfully centered tonal harmonic footprint with its bright character which means IT CUTS ABOVE THE OTHER INSTRUMENTS YOU ARE PLAYING WITH….and that is a key deciding factor.
Add in the great tone, short throw slide and dependability and it’s a must-have in your stable.
I play this one all the time, and people always want to try it out.
I want a Suzuki Sirius 56 with the short throw slide, Brendan Power speaks highly of them, and after the Seydel Saxony I’m hooked on short throw slides.
I also dream of a Suzuki Magic Garden (now out of production) and a Suzuki SC 64 or 56…(also out of production.)
I must have a Suzuki fabulous 64 at some point with the solid brass, silver plated comb, and I’m hoping Seydel can be persuaded to make a 16 hole Saxony….we have to bug them to do this.
I also hear Hohner has some new models coming out, and we have to try those too.
I am now addicted to many harmonicas…it just happened.
The longer you play, the more you can play any instrument to good effect, but you also want that broader and broader tonal palette.
How about you?