Custom Harmonicas & Personal Service

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Seydel High A & G Stainless – A Workable Solution

Play in any acoustic setting and you no doubt have the issue of being heard above the guitars when playing 2nd position (Cross) in (D) or (E).  We’ve all been there and noticed that the harp is playing at exactly  the same range as the other instruments and hearing yourself play is next to impossible and forget others hearing you.  This has been one of the reasons harmonica companies occasionally produce High A and High G harmonicas.  Seydel still has both in production although only in brass reed models.  The reason for this is that a given reed length can only be made to produce a finite number of pitches.   The pitch range of a reed is significantly smaller on stainless steel and hence, the higher octave harps are not produced in stainless.  There is a very workable solution to this using  what is called a “shift”.  Shift tuning merely moves the notes over to the right or left 1 hole into the usable pitch range.  For example, a typical diatonic (G) harp is laid out as follows.

G  B  D  G  B  D  G  B  D  G     BLOW

A  D  F# A   C  E  F#  A C  E   DRAW

These pitch ranges are not available in stainless steel an octave higher.

However, we can shift all the notes over 1 hole and get into the workable range.   Of course, the layout is slightly different, but it still follows the same basic pattern. You lose the notes on the 10 hole, but at that octave those would be too piercing, anyhow.  The other advantage is the additional notes added on hole 1 fit perfectly for 2nd position play.  Under this tuning scheme, the player gets a full 3 octaves of 2nd position.

The shifted layout would be as follows:

D  G  B  D  G  B  D  G  B  D    BLOW

F# A  D  F#  A C E  F# A C   DRAW

Listen to a sound sample of a little informal jam using a HIGH A 1847 that has been shift tuned.

Shift Tuned HIGH A Seydel 1847

This is a great option for those needing a higher octave harp in bluegrass, country, and other acoustic type settings.  It takes only a few minutes to figure out the layout.  I can build this type of harp in the 1847 for about $110.  Contact me for more details at greg@1623customharmonicas.com

Seydel Sales and Repair

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Welcome to 16:23 Custom Harmonicas.  I am a full-service Seydel dealer and offer all Seydel products.  My specialty is individualized and personal service with a goal of getting you the player into the right Seydel harmonica.  My customers  appreciate the individual attention and responsiveness I provide and that is my specialty.  If you have questions and are considering a Seydel purchase feel free to contact me.  My prices are generally in line with most Seydel dealers.

I like to provide my customers with options that might not otherwise be available.  This includes economical harmonica configurations, tunings, temperament and choices that are specific to their playing.

I also specialize in Seydel repairs and have an extensive stock of spare parts for Seydel diatonic and chromatic harps.  More information on repairs is available on the link to the right.

As a way to insure my customers get exactly what they need, I accept orders by email instead of drop-down menu format.  This allows me the satisfaction of developing a relationship with my customers and guarantees  I am in tune with their needs.

I accept Paypal, credit cards, and personal checks.  As a matter of general practice, I do not invoice customers until the order is ready for shipping.

Thank you for stopping by and I look forward to hearing from you.

Greg

greg@1623customharmonicas.com

The Hohner Auto Valve Octave Harp

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The Hohner Auto Valve is a really neat instrument that plays two (2) notes simultaneously an octave apart. This produces an accordion like sound that is ideal for Cajun, Irish, Zydeco, and Country Music.  Tuned like a standard 10 hole diatonic, the layout makes it easy to play.  However,  there are drawbacks.  Anytime two or more reeds sound per holes there is extra air leakage.  This certainly happens on many Auto Valves.  The remedy for this is the installation of chromatic style wind savers and in fact, newer Auto Valves come with wind savers. The result is a marked improvement in playability.  For a variety of reasons, the Auto Valve does not lend itself to bending and attempting to do so will cause uneven wear on either the top or bottom reed causing permanent deviations in pitch and premature reed failure.  Bending is practically impossible on a fully valved harp like current Auto Valves.  Auto Valve harps are also prone to comb cracking.  The divided combs are very thin and are not sealed from the factory.

At 16:23, we have copied an idea proposed by Mr. Rick Epping and placed the Auto Valve reed plates on the body of a Hohner 260 (Koch Chromatic).  The comb is sanded and sealed and the reed plates are attached with screws.  The mouthpiece is kept on but the slide mechanism is removed.  The result is a very high volume and responsive octave harp that is very easy to play and comfortable on the lips.

We prefer the harp to be re-tuned to either Paddy Richter, Country, or Melody Maker tuning as these note layouts lend themselves to the types of music octave harps are most commonly used.   The cost of the pictured hybrid Auto Valve is about $175 + shipping.  The cost includes the necessary purchase of both a complete Auto Valve as well as a complete Hohner 260 with a comb in perfect condition.  Either the Auto Valve or Hohner 260 covers work equally as well and this simply a matter of preference.  For an additional $15, we will re-tune to Melody Maker, Paddy, or Country.  Above are some pictures to include a few of the stock Auto Valve unmodified. It should be noted that Hohner has stopped production of both the 260 and the Auto Valve although there are existing supplies. Both harmonicas have been manufactured since the 1940s.  Email me at greg@1623customharmonicas.com if interested.

Tuning, Temperament, Pitch, and Frequency Basis

The terms TUNING, TEMPERAMENT, PITCH, and FREQUENCY BASIS are used quite commonly on forums and in marketing data put out by harmonica companies.  The standard diatonic harmonica has a series of notes that are commonly referred to as RICHTER TUNING.  Although the name is not technically correct, common usage has taken over and it has become synonymous with the tuning layout that comes on almost all stock production harmonicas.  When we refer to ALTERNATE TUNING, we are referring to deviations in this layout where specific reeds are tuned to a completely different PITCH or note.  Examples of different tunings are Paddy Richter, Country Tuning, and Melody Maker Tuning.  In each of these cases, specific notes are changed to a completely different pitch.  PITCH refers to the specific note that a reed is tuned to (ie A, Bb, C, etc).

Temperament refers to the way a harmonica is tuned to itself. In other words, temperament refers to how each note is tuned relative to other notes on the harmonica. The tuning of harmonicas and other instruments is part science and part art.  In many cases, mathematical perfection is not necessarily desired.  Notes that are played simultaneously do not always sound as pleasant when each note is tuned perfectly. Hence, harmonica companies frequently tune some notes sharp and some notes flat so that chords have a more desirable sound.  Most players do not notice these deviations but as players progress and play more complex styles of music, the playing of chords becomes less important giving way to perfect pitch.  When harmonicas are tuned to the exact mathematically calculated pitch on every reed, we call that Equal Temperament.  Lee Oskar harmonicas and Golden Melodies are tuned to ET from the factory.  Almost all other harmonicas are tuned to what is called COMPROMISE TUNING.  There is no exact formula for CT but rather slight differences based on several factors.  It is generally assumed that most players perform in 2nd position and hence, CT places the deviations in pitch (Usually just a few cent) in places that will allow the draw and blow 1-4 hole chords to sound good while at the same time keeping the notes consistent across the harp so the tongue blocked octaves are in unison.

FREQUENCY BASIS refers to the baseline frequency a harmonica is tuned to.  This is most commonly set at A=442.  Although many instruments are actually tuned to A=440, harmonica companies tune slightly sharp to allow for certain factors that cause a harmonica to go slightly flat.  Recording industry personnel frequently expect session players to play instruments tuned to 441 or 440 as sometimes free reed instruments can sound shrill.  This is generally not noticed in a live setting unless the player is performing strictly acoustic and with a lot of string instruments.

This discussion is not scientific and volumes have been written about each topic. It does provide a basis of understanding so that a player can communicate effectively with harmonica technicians and other players.

My specialty at 16:23 Custom Harmonicas is providing technical assistance to players and recording musicians who need special temperaments, temperaments, and frequency basis tunings on their harmonicas.

Hohner Organette Repairs and Restorations

The Hohner Organette – also marketed as the Weiss Fluta – is a free reed diatonic instrument that has a modified accordion reed block inside a cylinder with a mouthpiece. Sound is produced when the player blows or draws into the instrument and presses one or more of the keys which are on the outside and resemble sax or clarinet keys.  The instrument was produced in the early 1900s by Hohner and previously to by the Weiss Harmonica Company. The existing literature indicates they were produced as alternate band instruments. Organettes show up on eBay every couple of weeks and are sometimes labeled as rare collector instruments. The instruments are actually quite common and there is little interest in them by collectors. However, a playable organette could accurately be classified as rare.  I’ve seen organettes built from brass as well as pressed wood veneer. The bodies are robust and most are in tact.  However, almost every organette for sale has broken or missing keys. The keys are not currently produced and there is no known source of supply for keys. The restoration of an organette usually entails additional organette purchases for buttons and other parts.

The tuning and musical layout of the organette somewhat resembles that of a diatonic button accordion and hence, the organette is referred to in some literature and eBay auctions as a blow accordion.  Starting from the mouthpiece, there are ten (10) spring loaded buttons. The root note usually starts around hole 3 blow, although all the notes – blow and draw – fit into the major scale.  At the bell end of the instrument are two (2) additional keys that are labeled “Bass”.  These produce a single bass note and the major chord representing the I and V of the key.  The bass keys are usually played in unison with the other notes and offer a chordal backing or an interesting “oompah” sound.  The internal reed block is usually wood with a zinc plate attached.  The reeds are paired in the same way as an accordion or harmonica. However, most organette reeds come from the accordion family.

The original organettes had leather valves or wind savers attached. Although possibly still in tact, almost all of them are badly curled which makes the organettes unplayable. Organettes can be restored to playable condition but the entire instrument must be completely disassembled.  There is no way to make repairs short of removing almost all components. I’ve worked on several organettes and restored individual parts as well as complete instruments. In the restored condition, they are a very interesting instrument that can be used in a wide range of musical context. There is no way to estimate the cost of an organette repair without inspecting it or at a minimum seeing detailed and complete photos of all the parts. It is unlikely that an organette could be put into service as a functioning musical instrument for under $250 and this price would only apply to organettes in outstanding condition.  Most restoration costs would be closer to $400.

If you have an organette for sale, you may contact me and it is possible I may be interested. If you have purchased an organette and wish to have it restored, you may take photos and send them to me. However, these photos will not likely reveal the condition of the reeds and repair costs will vary based on reeds.

I respond most thoroughly to email correspondence and prefer email contact over phone calls.  Greg@1623customharmonicas.com

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Half-Valving Diatonic – Wind Savers and the Single Reed Bend

In our previous discussion on wind savers, we talked about their use in chromatic harmonicas.  Wind savers are also used in diatonic harmonicas in a set-up that is called half-valving.  Harmonica virtuoso Brendan Power is credited with developing the technique of half-valved playing and the term has come to be associated with him as well as Nashville great PT Gazell.  The set-up involves attaching one (1) wind saver (Valve) per hole.   The wind saver is attached to the reed plate over the higher pitched slot.  For example, on a standard diatonic, a wind saver is glued on to each of the holes 1-6 on the top side of the draw plate and on to each of the holes 7-10  on the top side of the blow plate.

Half-valving has significant advantages for the player seeking to achieve chromatic play and those elusive missing notes that are normally played only through over blow/over draw techniques.

To understand half-valve playing, it is important to know the mechanics of a typical draw bend on holes 1-6 of a standard harmonica.  The pitch that is produced in a typical draw bend is a result of both blow and draw reeds vibrating together.  Most players call this a “bend” or “draw bend”  but these are technically called a  “dual reed bend”.  The half-valved hole will produce a nice sounding dual reed bend.  However, the half-valved hole will also play a “single-reed” bend which produces a pitch lower than the lowest pitch in the slot.    For example, a (C) harmonica does not have the note F# but rather the F on hole 5 draw.  The F# is a very important note for 2nd position play as it is the major 7th.  Getting this pitch on a standard diatonic requires an over blow on hole 5 .   The half-valved harmonica will produce the F# pitch using a blow bend on hole 6.     This is possible because the sounding un-valved reed (6 blow) is isolated when blown.  The wind saver prevents air from putting the valved reed (6 draw) into motion so the pitch is produced completely by the un-valved reed and is therefore called a single-reed bend.  It is complex to explain but in simple terms, the half-valved hole will allow the player to produce both a draw bend and also blow bend.  Whereas the un-valved hole 6, for example, will only permit a draw bend.

Half-valved playing is is an outstanding technique for achieving chromatic play.  Many players also report their half-valved harmonicas actually play and respond better on standard dual-reed bends.  This is highly likely as a half-valved harmonica will be more air tight and the noticeable difference will be more pronounced on lower key harps such as (G) and below.  Half-valving is a low risk experiment as it is an inexpensive modification.  Also, for the players who decide it isn’t for them, the wind savers can be easily removed.

Examples of great half-valved playing can be found on PT Gazell’s 2 Days Out CD  ( http://www.ptgazell.com/Back_To_Back.html#New_CD_2_Days_Out)  As PT has stated, half-valved playing is natural for harmonica players because it involves bending skills which are already developed.  Additionally, the mindset of the harmonica player is already wired to lower pitch in the form of bends.

At 16:23, we highly encourage players to try half-valved Seydel diatonic harmonicas. Half-valving is an option that is available on all Seydel diatonic harmonicas sold by 16:23 Custom Harmonicas.  The modification is fairly inexpensive and we use stock Seydel diatonic wind savers from Seydel.  These wind savers are cut from ultra-suede and were specially designed for Seydel by PT Gazell and hence the harmonicas are referred to by Seydel as Gazell Method harps.  Although standard chromatic wind savers are prone to creasing, rattling noises, and deterioration with age, the Seydel ultra-suede wind savers are durable and very quiet.  They will also hold up to occasional rinsing under tap water.

Email me at greg@1623customharmonicas.com if you have additional questions about this versatile technique for achieving a more expressive sound and for playing those missing notes.

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Personal Service, Sales, and Tech

Welcome to 16:23 Custom Harmonicas.  We are primarily a seller of Seydel diatonic and chromatic harmonicas.  If you are here, it is likely you are interested in learning more about what we offer.  16:23 Custom Harmonicas specializes in providing personal and individualized service to its customers.  You will find our prices to be in line with the outstanding service we provide.  At 16:23 Custom Harmonicas, we understand that our products are of the highest quality and hence are priced higher than many other fine harmonicas available on the market.  We also understand that our customers may need guidance in choosing the right harmonica for their playing style, experience, and of course budget.    We offer numerous creative options.  We hope that if we satisfactorily serve you in this regard, you will choose 16:23 Custom Harmonicas as your provider.  In addition to Seydel diatonic and chromatic sales, we handle Seydel repairs and repairs on other chromatic brands.  We also specialize in setting up harmonicas in alternate tuning, over-blow/draw set-up, and half-valving. At 16:23 Custom Harmonicas, we know we are a great resource for musicians.  However, if a purchase is clearly not in your future, or if you have committed to buy from our many friends in the harmonica business, we ask that you use our web site or one of the many online resources to get more information.  We want to remain available for our existing and future customers. Need more info? Shoot us a call, text, or email at greg@1623customharmonicas.com or (210) 445-6600

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