Yet another new 10-hole diatonic on the market? Yes, but this one is different from the rest in more than just appearance. On every other harmonica currently available, the reeds, the most important part of the instrument, are made from some sort of brass or bronze; the reeds in the 1847 are made from stainless steel. This is not the first time that steel reeds have been tried in a harmonica. Decades ago, the short-lived Hans Eisen company of Trossingen made a diatonic called the "Stahl Klang" (also marketed under the English name "Vibro Steel"), which featured steel reeds made for his company by the famous Dix Company of Gera. A little later, the Hohner Harmonetta also used stainless steel reeds. As these were the same sizes as those used in Hohner chromatics, there are a few custom made Hohner 64s with steel reeds. However, for most of us, the 1847 is the only readily available harmonica with stainless steel reeds. It also just happens to be the best harmonica that Seydel have ever made.
The 1847 (named after the year that Christian August Seydel first started making harmonicas) is a 10-hole diatonic, with a typical "sandwich-style" construction like the Hohner Marine Band. The comb is made from maple, treated with several coats of smooth varnish to help avoid problems of warping and cracking to which wood combs can be prone. The chamber partitions have been contoured to give a slightly rounded shape to the holes which feels very comfortable to the mouth and tongue and the exposed front edges of the reedplates are also quite smooth. As with other Seydel diatonics, the spacing of the reeds is slightly wider than most other brands of 10-hole - not enough to cause problems for most players, but enough to stop you mounting these reedplates on a comb made by another manufacturer! The covers are heavily chromed steel with a no sharp edges and much less engraving than on many other harps - and no hole numbers! They feel very robust and are open wide at the rear, something generally believed to help project the sound of the instrument. The reedplates are plain brass and at 1.01mm thick, are a little thicker than standard. They are attached to the comb with five screws and everything fits together neatly minimising air loss. Not only are the reeds stainless steel, but so are the rivets attaching them to the reedplate, minimising the potential for corrosion. Tolerances between the reeds and the reedplates are very good, giving excellent response and the reed adjustment is very consistent on both the samples I was sent for review. If you use overblows and overdraws extensively, or if you are a extremely hard player, you might wish to adjust the gapping, but for most players that probably won't be necessary. Out of the box with no adjustments, all the bends came quite easily and I was able to get most of the overblows with no problem. The reviews that I have read say that the 1847 is tuned to a compromise temperament, however the two samples that I have are tuned very close to Just Intonation, with the exception of 5 draw and 9 draw, which are tuned closer to Equal Temperament. Again, this is probably going to suit most players, giving nice smooth chords, but avoiding the "flat" sounding 5 draw and 9 draw of the traditional JI tuning. The whole tuning is a little sharper than usual, the root notes being tuned relative to around A=445. The 1847 comes in an unassuming hinged box, complete with a cleaning cloth and is currently produced in all keys from low C up to standard F, with various custom tuning options available.
Those of you expecting it to sound different from a typical harmonica with brass or bronze reeds may be surprised to find that the reed material actually makes little difference to the tone of the instrument. The 1847 has quite a punchy sound, perhaps a little brighter than a Marine Band, but not unpleasantly so. However these differences are probably due more to the thicker reedplates and the close tolerances rather than the steel reeds themselves. The reed response is also not particularly different to any other good harmonica. Hopefully, the big difference will be in the life expectancy of the reeds. It's too early to judge just how long these reeds will last, besides, I tend to make all my reeds last a long time anyway, so I might not be the best judge of this. That said, I've been playing these harps quite hard for several weeks and I have yet to notice any changes in the tuning. I have also read the reports of those that have been playing them for longer than I have and nobody seems to have blown out a reed yet. This brings me to the downside of using stainless steel as the reed material - the cost. The main reason that steel has not been commonly used in harmonicas is that copper alloys such as brass and bronze are considerably easier to machine. Steel, stainless steel in particular, takes a long time to mill and causes a lot of wear and tear on the machinery, all of which means that the final retail price of the product is not going to be a small one. The Seydel 1847 will retail at around £50, about three times the price of most harmonicas in UK stores. Of course, if it lasts four or five times longer, then they will make economical sense in the long run. If they last ten times as long, then they are a bargain. Time will tell...
I should add a few tips for those that work on their own harmonicas. Steel reeds take much more work to retune than ordinary reeds, so be patient when working on them. Ditto for adjusting the gapping. Also, be warned that the cover fasteners on the 1847 are the same as those used on the Hohner MS harps. These have the advantage of being nice and smooth and not likely to snag the lips of those that play with a very deep embouchure. However, the material from which they are made can strip very easily. Although with care a Phillips #1 screwdriver can be (carefully!!) used on them, they are actually a Pozidriv head, so using the correct screwdriver will greatly reduce your chances of ruining them. A few people have expressed disappointment that Seydel chose to make this harmonica with a wood comb. Apparently they wished to combine in this model both tradition (the wood comb) and innovation (the stainless steel reeds). I have no idea whether they plan to make a steel reed harp with an alternative comb material, but in the meantime, it shouldn't be too difficult to fit these reedplates and covers on any Seydel-made metal or plastic comb that uses a sandwich-style construction, but NOT those that have the reedplates recessed into the comb.
So the burning question remains - when can we expect a chromatic harmonica with stainless steel reeds?
Since writing the above, I've heard reports from a few players that have managed to break reeds on the 1847, so these harps are not totally invincible. However, the general feedback so far is that they definitely last longer than brass and bronze reeds. My own 1847s are so far holding up very well with no signs at all of reed fatigue.
When the 1847 hit the market, quite a few players were disappointed that it had a wood comb. If you were one of those players, then you should perhaps check out the 1847 Silver. This has the same stainless steel reeds and stainless steel covers as the standard 1847, but has a white polymer comb. Also, rather than the plain brass reedplates of the standard 1847, the 1847 Silver has reedplates of German silver, making the whole harmonica extremely resistant to corrosion. In fact, Seydel claim that this harmonica is dishwasher safe. I don't have a dishwasher, but over the past few weeks I've been regularly playing the 1847 Silver in the bath and shower and I have yet to see any signs of corrosion. If you are planning a trek through India during monsoon season, then this is definitely the harp to take with you, although I'm sure it's equally at home busking on a street corner on a rainy afternoon in London, or whilst grabbing some relaxed practice time in a hot tub in California!
It seems like hardly a month goes by without a new Seydel harmonica hitting the market! This time it's another variation on their 1847 diatonic with stainless steel reeds. Like the 1847 Silver, this harp has a white plastic comb, but where the Silver uses a sandwich-style construction, the reedplates of the Silver+ are fully recessed into the comb. Combined with the nicely rounded covers, this make the Silver+ very comfortable in both the hands and the mouth. As well as the reeds, the rivets and the covers are also made of stainless steel and the reedplates are made of a corrosion-resistant alloy, making this another "dishwasher safe" harp. Tuning and other specs appear to be the same as the other 1847 models. The retail price is €74.99, the same as the 1947 Classic and 1847 Silver. It comes with a nice leather slip case and is available in all keys from Low C up to standard F. Customised tunings for all of the 1847 series can be ordered from the Seydel website via their Harp Configurator:
Seydel Harp Configurator
The 1847 Noble features the same stainless steel reeds as the other members of the 1847 family, with a traditional sandwich style construction much like the original 1847. The key differences include attractive matte finished stainless steel covers with side vents and a black anodised aluminium comb. The corners and edges are all comfortably finished off, the aluminium comb gives the instrument a pleasant heft and the overall construction is nicely airtight. A particularly nice touch is the key label - a tactile oval bump on the right end of the harmonica which will significantly reduce the chances of embarrassment due to picking up the harp the wrong way around! The response of the sample I have (in the key of A) is very even across the full range, bends are easy to control and the overblows all kick in quite nicely. The overdraws would definitely benefit from a little tweaking, but out of the box, I think the reed adjustment would work well for wide range of playing styles. The tuning is Just Intonation, except for the 5 and 9 draw which are tuned sharper than would be the case with the traditional JI tuning. The blow chord is rooted relative to A=443Hz, with the draw notes somewhat higher. All the octaves are perfectly in tune and the harp has a lovely crisp tone. The Noble comes packaged in a nice hinged case, is available in all keys from Low C to High F and has a RRP of €95.95.
I think this now brings the number of variations of the 1847 up to five - 1847 Classic, Silver, Silver+, Noble and the Limited Edition 160th Anniversary model, giving you the choice of covers with or without side vents, shiny or matte finish, reedplates recessed into a plastic comb, or sandwich-style construction with wood, plastic or metal comb. Add to that the Seydel Big Six, which is essentially a six hole 1847 Classic, throw in the various keys and alternate tunings and there's got to be something for almost everyone in this range.
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