Some Thoughts On Vintage
November 15, 2014 at 8:21 pm #3432
“Vintage” literally refers to the period of time during which an item (paradigmatically, wine) was produced and/or sold or marketed. Thoughtful members of the eBay community say that terms such as “antique,” “vintage,” and “collectible” have been hijacked and blurred in meaning, but there appears to be some agreement in this usage: “antique” means over 100 years old; “vintage” means “on its way to becoming an antique,” between 50 and 100 years old; and “collectable” just means anything for which there are collectors. I will take these definitions as the starting point for my comments. So, on the assumption that the (straight-up) melodica as we know it came into existence around 1953 (when Hohner claims to have invented it), there are no antique melodicas, and all melodicas made and sold between 1953 and 1964 are vintage. We’re good on there being no antique melodicas, but I suggest that we need to examine the history and main stages of development of melodicas, up to the present age of China-plastic melodicas, in order to decide where to draw the line on what is considered a vintage melodica.
I have a tentative proposal, which is that the vintage period is best regarded as extending to at least 1979, on the assumption that the Golden Age of Hohner melodicas extends from the Hohner Professional 36 (for which I have found a magazine advertisement from 1969) through the period during which The Hohner Piano 36, Hohner HM models (26, 27, 32) and related instruments were manufactured. That period seems to be 1974-1979, depending on when the Piano 36, successor to the Professional 36, was first marketed.
The Big Three in the early development of the melodica are, of course, Hohner (melodica), Suzuki (melodion), and Yamaha (pianica). And the big three, in terms of alternatives for a high quality melodica at the present time are also Hohner, Suzuki, and Yamaha. I’m expressing some opinions here, but I know some here will agree with this one, when I add that I am referring to the present day Yamaha pianicas, the present day metal tray Suzuikis (Hammonds included), and the vintage “Golden Age” Hohners that are still available for purchase, in particular the ones referred to above. Hohner, Yamaha, and Suzuki went in different directions after 1980, though I need more information about specifics during the 80s and 90s. The differences in direction probably reflect market considerations and company philosophies. Hohner turned in the direction of mass marketing Chinese-plastic melodicas, instruments of mediocre quality whose distinctiveness lies, if anywhere, on the surface, in paint jobs and gimmickry. Yamaha turned to plastic, but with a much more conservative and quality driven approach, focusing on one specific design (in 25, 32, and 37 inch configurations) and maintaining high standards of quality (of build and of musicality). Suzuki developed lines of China-plastic models for mass marketing, but at the same time make a serious commitment to continuing to develop and improve the kinds of metal tray melodicas (Pro V37, M-37, A-34, M-32, Hammonds, etc.) that they had been producing in the past. Here is an opinion with which not everyone will agree: For casual use and even for performance, among currently available straight-up melodicas, there is not all that much difference once you get past the high end Yamahas and Suzukis. Some look and/or sound better to us than others; but they all fit into the “toy like” category. Our options, if we want a really high quality, distinctive melodica that’s more likely to feel and look like a “real instrument,” are three: (1) a Yamaha pianica, (2) a metal tray Suzuki (or Hammond), or (3) a vintage melodica. A vintage melodica may, it’s true, have some issues that need to be addressed, such as tuning, adjustments, or repairs.
The vintage instruments to which I’ve referred so far are Hohners. But there is also an intriguing array of vintage Suzukis and Yamahas, as well as some others (Sammick, for example). I recently acquired a vintage Suzuki Study-32, which I’m guessing is from the 1970s. I will post something on this instrument, with photos. It is quite a nice melodica, worthy of comparison with the Yamaha P-25F and the vintage Hohner HM (“Piano”) 26. It is distinctive in appearance and in sound. I haven’t taken it apart yet, but quality of construction appears to be excellent. If Lowboy were visiting my home, I’d keep this one under lock and key. My point is that there are a variety of very good vintage melodicas out there, usually at reasonable prices. Most of them are far superior to all but a few of the melodicas presently being marketed. Vintage melodicas are a viable option.
My thinking and activity along these lines has been influenced by comments and assessments by other members based on their experience with vintage melodicas. These other members are therefore responsible if anyone is offended.November 16, 2014 at 12:47 pm #3433
Great overview of the state of the melodica.
I have seen some good photos of very old Suzuki’s and Yamaha’s and they look really well designed and made from high quality materials. Some have that funky 60’s look too. I am dying to start a collection of these melodicas, but every time I buy another melodica, my wife suggests I am going deeper in to an obsession. [If you buy a melodica and have to hide it from your wife, does that mean you have a problem?]
So I must stay the course of rounding out my Hohner collection. I just need one or two more. Your Suzuki Study-32 is safe for now.
I agree. For enthusiasts and professionals who can work on their own instruments, these classic melodicas by Suzuki and Yamaha (and Hohner) may represent some of the best values on the market today.
I look forward to your review of the Suzuki Study-32 and am curious about the timbre of this melodica.
LowboyNovember 16, 2014 at 3:53 pm #3434
Thanks for the comments, Lowboy. I can relate to your concern about having to hide your melodica addiction from your wife, as I’m in the same situation. The mailman came up the steps the other day with two separate poorly timed suspicious packages the other day and I had to explain how I was going to supplement our retirement income selling refurbished vintage melodicas. I think I already have a customer. She said I didn’t have to split the profits with her. The “historical research” angle seems to be working as well. “Can I get a family grant?”
I thought it would be good to get this discussion going in a somewhat provocative way. It over-simplifies, may not be entirely accurate, and is opinionated. But I’m making a serious effort to date models and have been discussing ways to conduct research of this type with a friend who does American history. I’ll have more to say about sources and whatnot, and I will work the Asian front for now, which, sadly, is requiring more melodica purchases. One question is how far back the Japanese models go. I’m trying to check patents.November 16, 2014 at 9:41 pm #3436
I have just purchased the Tokai Gakki pianica identified below. It looks interesting, but for two more important reasons: (1) I believe it is an ancestor (probably from the 1970s) of the wonderful Yamaha Pianica P-32. (2) One of the images shows a company brochure that clearly states that this instrument was invented by the Tokai Gakki company in 1952.
Wikipedia says the following: “Tokai Gakki Co., Ltd. (東海楽器製造株式会社 Tōkai Gakki Seizō Kabushiki-gaisha?), often referred as Tokai Guitars Company Ltd., is a Japanese guitar manufacturer founded in 1947 and situated in Hamamatsu city, Shizuoka prefecture. Tokai have produced acoustic guitars, electric guitars, electric basses, autoharps, and melodicas. Tokai first started making classical guitars in 1965 and started making Hummingbird electric guitars in 1968 and Hummingbird Acoustic guitars in 1970.”
Vintage melodica enthusiasts will have a sense right away of the significance of this information. It seems likely that Yamaha pianicas have their origins in the Tokai Gakki Company, and that Yamaha either acquired the rights for its pianicas from Tokai. I suppose it is possible that Tokai produces the pianicas that are distributed by Yamaha. The vintage Tokai pianica listed here under Reviews is clearly an earlier instrument than this one.
Break: I have just placed a last second bid on the older Tokai, and I have won it! So I will be able to compare the two instruments. (My wife isn’t going to like this. Maybe the wives can form a support group.)
Moving on: Tokai produces replicas or variants of Korean guitars. It’s conceivable that the claim to have invented our instrument in 1952 conveniently establishes them as having come out of the gate before Hohner (1953). The dating of the yellow Tokai Pianica 32 is important, as the current Yamaha Pianica P-32D (or E) looks so much like it as to indicate that the Yamaha pianica as we know it has not changed in it’s basic concept since that date. I have been researching vintage Suzukis, and the evidence is mounting that the basic design of the metal tray Suzukis has not changed since the 1970s. One expects that some changes have been made, which may include compromises as well as improvements. We shouldn’t just assume that the new models are better, all things considered, than the vintage models.
Now if I can just get one of those Bootay Family research grants so I can pay for hardware and devote some serious time to this.
Now excuse me while I disappear — but more later.November 17, 2014 at 3:39 am #3437
Here are the pianicas. I see now that the Pianica 32 looks very much like a Clavietta. The Clavietta in Troy’s photos of Nat King Cole holding on make it clear that instrument with that look (i.e., having the general features of our present day melodicas) were around prior to NKC’s death in 1965. The earliest photo I’ve found (yet) for the “piano flute” Hohner is in a 1959 issue of Popular Science. I know some here are clearer about the stages of development than I’m am, but I’m feeling my way along. I’ll try to dig out the article with that photo — “piano flute” is the term used in the 1959 article.
http://www.ebay.com/itm/Pianica-32-VINTAGE-Melodica-Keyboard-Wind-Instrument-TOKAI-GAKKI-HAMAMATSU-JAPAN-/201214408659?ssPageName=ADME%3AL%3AOC%3AUS%3A3160&nma=true&si=nAkde1gK0Wx4Ucs3RjpQpW49%252Fs8%253D&orig_cvip=true&rt=nc&_trksid=p2047675.l2557November 18, 2014 at 2:44 am #3438
Surprising results from this research. I would had never guessed the Yamaha P-32D that I own is a slightly refined version of a 1950 design.
I remember reading somewhere that the basic premise of the melodica (air-blown keyboard instrument) has been implemented in hardware since the turn of the 20th century.
Who invented the melodica? When is a melodica a melodica? Very interesting questions. I am on the hunt too Alan, but not as vigorously as you.
Let me give you some advice on the wife. Just allow her to buy whatever she wants without you saying anything. It pretty much doubles the cost of your hobby, but it reduces pointed and repetitive questions from the spouse similar to: Do you really need another melodica? How many melodicas do you have? How many melodicas do you have now? Why did you buy that red cassotto thing from Austria and pay $35 just for shipping?
LowboyNovember 18, 2014 at 2:52 am #3439
I found the quote. I was wrong. The premise of the melodica has been around since the 19th century according to this quote from Wikipedia.org:
“Melodicas are small, light, and portable. They are popular in music education, especially in Asia. The modern form of the instrument was invented by Hohner in the 1950s, though similar instruments have been known in Italy since the 19th century.”
LowboyNovember 18, 2014 at 2:57 am #3440
Also from Wikipedia:
“Accordina drawing from US Patent 2461806Public Domain André Borel – U.S. Patent 2,461,806 for “Chromatic Harmonicon” (issued Feb. 15, 1949) Patent drawing for accordina
Drawing from U.S. Patent 2,461,806 describing André Borel’s improved “chromatic harmonicon” with chromatic button accordion keyboard. This instrument, a type of melodica, is better known as the accordion.”
The drawing is included on the Wikipedia.com website.
LowboyNovember 18, 2014 at 3:03 am #3441
I’m afraid the wife already buys what she wants, so I’m not in a strong bargaining position.
I just got an early Yamaha 32, I’m guessing from the 1960s. It’s surprising. I think the rectangular melodicas we’re familiar with don’t go back before 1960, and the early Hohner button models are late 50s. Were they around in the early 50s? I’m not sure. I like the way you’re raining questions. One of mine is about what is the earliest 36-37 model? The Professional 36, I’m guessing from my limited results. I have lots of other questions. The Italians are obviously an important dimension of the larger picture, as they were working in the direction of the melodica, and have a history of being very creative, which is reflected in what they’re still doing.November 18, 2014 at 3:05 am #3442
You will want to go here:
There could be some misinformation, but this guy is definitely over the top on melodicas and melodica history.
LowboyNovember 18, 2014 at 5:13 am #3443
I saw this sometime back. Thanks for bringing it up. he’s Japanese, so he probably knows something or other we might not otherwise find out. If I recall correctly, he’s a composer. I’ll get on this tomorrow, Lowboy. Thanks. I sent this dude a message; we’ll see if he responds.November 30, 2014 at 1:05 am #3506
Hi guys was reading this discussion and I find myself with the same “wife” situation. I was ready to order a suzuki m-32c for cristhmas and wen I told her… The typical reaction.. Why another melodica?You just got one two months ago, I’m tired of hearing you playing.. Etc. Etc. And how can I explain her that I play a honher 26 and a hohner 36… And that I would love to play a 32 keys melodica, and that I only have German melodicas and I would like to play a Japanese one… She says that melodicas are all the same.. And that it is just my mind falling in desires because I can play all my songs in just one melodica, and it is not a new one that will make me play better. Also my cat is badly sick and I have a expensive bill to pay, so I guess I am not having the suzuki for Christmas…Just have to wait for the right time….November 30, 2014 at 1:33 am #3507
Some men collect mistresses, some motorcycles, some automobiles. And she’s denying you an M-32C?November 30, 2014 at 3:21 am #3509
not for to long I hope… 🙂 just have to wait for the right mood!November 30, 2014 at 3:35 am #3510
by the way I do have a old red suzuki m 27 that I bought in a charity market but it is so out of tune and pitch just so high and the melodica is so dirty that it plays terrible. So I have that one stored deep inside a closet waiting to see if I manage to set it right. Also it is a alto melodica and I still didn’t find use to it!
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