Over the past few weeks, I've been having fun
playing the new Suzuki SCT-128. I was particularly interested
in this harmonica as I once tried to build my own double reed
chromatic. Mine was octave tuned, rather than tremolo tuned
and although it was not entirely successful, it did convince
me that I would like to have a good double reed chromatic. My
prototype used two sets of standard Hohner 270 reedplates mounted
on a comb that was double the usual distance front to back.
This meant that the chambers were considerably longer than usual
- not a great problem in the lower range of the instrument,
but not at all good in the upper range. I wished at the time
that I were able to manufacture my own special reedplates so
I could use a shorter chamber for the high reeds. This is what
Suzuki have done.
Of course, there is a tremolo chromatic already available as
a custom order instrument, John Infande's Musette. John has
taken two regular chromatics, placed one above the other and
made a special mouthpiece that allows the player to sound both
instruments at once. A very creative solution, although I am
willing to bet that if Mr Infande owned his own reedplate making
machinery, he would build something like the new Suzuki.
So, is it any good? Yes - it is very good.
Despite the old saying about not being able to judge a book
from its cover, as soon as you see the heavy duty leather holster
that contains the SCT-128, you can't help but suspect that the
contents are going to be special. The holster is very substantial
with air holes to allow the harmonica to air out after use whilst
still safely protected and has a very solid clip for fastening
it to your belt. One word of
caution - you probably don't want to wear it like a gun when
you are going through airport security!
The harmonica itself has a black ABS comb with tastefully engraved
chrome-plated brass covers held in place by three interscrews.
Its shape is sort of reminiscent of a grand piano, its front
measurement being greater at the lower end of the harmonica.
As with most Suzuki instruments, the finishing work is superb
and the harmonica feels very nice to hold. Considering that
it has twice as
many reeds as a normal 16-hole chromatic, it also feels surprisingly
light in weight - about 15oz (428g).
The mouthpiece/slide assembly is a typical 3-piece design like
the modern Hohner 64. The backing plate and slide are made of
chromed brass, the mouthpiece is gold plated brass (personally,
I would have preferred silver, but that's just my personal taste)
and it doubles as the U-channel for the slide as well as clamping
the front edges of the reedplates firmly to the comb. The mouthpiece
has round holes with very smooth edges and is held in place
by a pair of Phillips head screws that are carefully recessed,
everything feeling very comfortable to both lips and tongue.
The slide button is nicely matte
finished to reduce finger slippage and the whole assembly fits
together with good tolerances and the slide worked very smoothly
right out of the box. The reeds are cross positioned and the
slide movement is about 1/4" (6mm). The hole spacing is
the same as a Hohner 64 and the instrument measures a little
over 7" (180mm) end to end, not including the slide button.
The reedplates are very substantial at about .05" (1.3mm)
thick, nickel plated and held in place with no less than 19
screws. There are valves on all but the two highest reeds in
each set, with double layer
valves being used for the first three octaves and some of the
valves deliberately cut a little short. The reeds themselves
seem to be Suzuki's favorite phosphor bronze, reed lengths being
for a 4-octave instrument ranging from about 22mm to 7mm. The
reeds are tuned by very neat scratching along the length of
the reed and the reed adjustment is very even. Not too surprisingly,
the reeds are spot welded and replacement reedplates will be
The tuning is quite accurately done, especially considering
how tricky it is to set up something like this. The main reeds
are tuned to around A=444/445, with the secondary reeds tuned
a fraction lower giving a fairly wet sound with the speed of
the tremolo effect about 4Hz in the lower range and 14Hz at
the top of the instrument.
You might expect it to feel somewhat "windy" to play,
given that there are twice the usual number of reeds, but it
is surprisingly responsive. It takes considerably less breath
to play than a typical
tremolo harmonica and is only very slightly less responsive
than a typical chromatic. Of course, note bending is out of
the question, but you can alter the speed of the tremolo effect
by slight changes in
embouchure. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the covers are
closed at the rear for half the length of the instrument, only
opening at the lower end of the harmonica. This allows for some
nice tonal shading.
Obviously the sound of the instrument would lend itself perfectly
to musical styles typically associated with the accordion -
tango, bal musette, zydeco, etc. It would also be a nice addition
to the tonal
palette of chromatic harmonica players in jazz, blues and folk
styles, as well as for players of diatonic tremolo harmonicas
who find themselves hunting for missing notes on their instruments.
currently being sold in Japan for the equivalent of about US$500.
The European and US retail prices have yet to be set, but they
are expected to be somewhat higher.
It's great to see more innovative harmonicas from Suzuki and
I sincerely hope this instrument is successful. If it is, I
hope they will consider such things as 12-hole version for those
who find the
16-hole instruments a little unwieldy and perhaps even an octave
tuned double-reed chromatic.
To give some idea of how it sounds, I've uploaded a lo-fi .mp3
clip (about 250k) to my website: