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Harp Reviews

by Pat Missin



The Suzuki SC-56 14-hole chromatic has been available for some time, but it has recently been revamped a little, the most notable changes being in the mouthpiece. The square mouthpiece holes have been changed to round holes with nicely beveled edges and the mouthpiece now has a rounded cross-section, rather than the more traditional design it used to have. I'm sure these things are all a matter of personal taste, but I find it to be extremely comfortable to play. The mouthpiece is chromed brass and also serves as the U-channel for the two-piece slide assembly. The slide is very smooth and quiet (I think I recall that the slides for these instruments are cut using a laser, rather than being punched out, thus avoiding deforming the metal) and the instrument is cross tuned with a slide action of about 6mm. The covers are stainless steel and have a somewhat more traditional shape than some of the other Suzuki instruments, being slightly more open towards the rear. The cover supports are substantial pieces of steel, shaped like soccer goalposts. The comb is black ABS and the reedplates are secured with 9 screws. The reedplates themselves are plain brass, 1.1mm (0.43") thick, with phosphor bronze reeds spot welded into place, rather than riveted. The tuning is excellent, Equal Temperament at around A=442Hz, the fine tuning done by lengthwise scratches along the reeds. Reed adjustment is extremely consistent and the instrument responds very nicely over all 14-holes, with all reeds having typical two-piece valves except those in the top two holes. The overall construction is of the high quality you expect from one of Suzuki's top of the line harmonicas, very close tolerances throughout, it feels comfortable in the hands and has a nice bright but full tone. It is only available in the key of C and covers a range of three octaves and a perfect fifth starting on the G below middle C. It comes in a beautifully finished wooden box with a soft padded lining. I am informed that the sixteen-hole SC-64 has been similarly improved.



Suzuki have added a new 10-hole diatonic to their range. It is called the Harpmaster MR-200 and in many ways is similar to their Bluesmaster model, the most obvious difference being that the Harpmaster has a more traditional cover shape than both the Bluesmaster and the ProMaster. The covers are made of stainless steel with minimal engraving and feel very comfortable in the hands, all the corners and edges being nicely rounded. The reedplates are plain brass of fairly standard thickness (.9mm or .035") and are recessed into the comb, which is made from black ABS. The reedplates are secured with three screws (although they have seven screw holes) and the reeds are spotwelded to the reedplate.

The sample I have is in the key of C and the reeds are similar to the those used on the MR-300 Overdrive, comparable in length to the short slot reeds of both Hohner and Tombo and . Tolerances between reeds and reedplates are very good and reed adjustment is very consistent, all reeds being set with a fairly average offset. Tuning is very good, Equal Temperament at around A=443Hz. The tuning appears to have been done by scratching near the base with perhaps a rotary tool, rather than the laser tuning that Suzuki use on other models. This is done very neatly and mostly along the length of the reed, rather than across it. Another difference between the Harpmaster and the Bluesmaster is that the reeds themselves are of a brass alloy, rather than the phosphor bronze used on the latter.

The Harpmaster is very responsive and sings with very little player effort. It probably wouldn't be the first choice for hardcore overblowers, but it handlestraditional bending techniques with no problem at all. The tone is clear and bright, perhaps a little too bright for some, but if you like how the other Suzuki harps sound, you'll like this one too. It's a little early to tell what the reed longevity will be like, but Suzuki harps generally have a good reputation in this regard and it is certainly holding up well so far. Although there is nothing earth-shatteringly innovative about it, all in all this is a very good quality diatonic harmonica. About the only thing I didn't particularly like about was its plastic case - it would have been nice to have had something in which the harp fitted more snugly, rather than rattling around a little loose inside it. Hardly a major gripe, though.

It will be available in all 12 standard keys, although it is not certain at this point whether replacement reedplates will be available. I am told that the UK retail price will be £15.95, including VAT. Retail prices for other countries have yet to be set, but the Harpmaster will be a little lower in price than the Bluesmaster, making it good value for money.

Pat Missin

Planet Harmonica - 2006