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Suzuki Harmonicas 4

Suzuki Manji M-20

Named after Mr Manji Suzuki, founder of Suzuki Musical Instruments Manufacturing Co. Ltd., the Manji M-20 is the newest 10-hole diatonic to be added to their ever increasing line of instruments and is a beautiful combination of both tradition and innovation. It features a typical sandwich-style construction, with a not-so-typical comb made from a wood/resin composite which looks and feels like wood, but which is totally impervious to moisture. I deliberately soaked the harp for a while, but saw no signs of swelling or warping. The covers are nicely contoured and feature minimal engraving, making them very comfortable in both the hands and the mouth. They are fastened towards the front edge of the mouthpiece to help keep the reedplates secure against the front of the comb, vented at the ends and wide open at the rear. The .9mm thick reedplates are made of plated brass and are attached with 8 Phillips head screws. The reeds themselves are of phosphor bronze, spot welded to the reedplates and tuned by laser, leaving the reed surfaces with minimal scarring. One of the claims that Suzuki make for this harp is the reeds and reedplates have the closest tolerances of any harmonica on the market. I don't have the equipment to measure this objectively, but on visual inspection it is obvious that the reeds fit their slots extremely closely indeed. Combined with excellent reed adjustment, this makes the Manji one of the most responsive out of the box diatonics I have ever played. In fact, some hard players might find this harp to be too responsive for them, but that could be easily fixed by just gapping the reeds a little wider, or simply be learning not to play so hard! Also I suspect that the close tolerances on this harp might make it easier to gum up the works with any stray bit of debris, so it's probably a good idea to heed the venerable advice about playing with a clean mouth and keeping it in its case, rather than carrying it loose in a lint filled pocket.

The close tolerances give the Manji a nice bright, crisp tone and on the sample that I tried (in the key of C) all bends, overblows and overdraws were very easy to hit cleanly right out of the box without any adjustment, including the pesky hole 1 overblow and hole 10 overdraw. My only criticism is with regard to the fine tuning, which seems to be a compromise temperament based around A=444Hz. On the sample I tried, the tuning was a little inconsistent and some intervals sounded a little harsh. However, as all the other Suzuki harmonicas I've tried over the past few years have been exceptionally well tuned, I would expect that this one is the exception rather than the rule. The Manji is available in all 12 standard keys, plus Low F and High G and replacement reedplates will be available. All in all, this is a superb instrument and not only is it better than many custom harmonicas I have played, it is also priced extremely competitively. The suggested retail price in the US is $59.95, but online retailers seem to be selling them for around $40. Pardon the cliche, but this harp would be a bargain at twice the price.


Update

Since writing the above, the Manji has been made available in all 12 major keys, plus Low C, Low D, Low Eb, Low F and High G. Additionally, they are available in harmonic minor, natural minor, country tuning (5 draw raised by a semitone) and seventh tuning (5 draw and 9 draw raised by a semitone). All four alternate tunings are available in the keys of G, A, Bb, C, D, E and F, the keys representing the blow note in hole one, rather than following Lee Oskar's convention of labeling certain tunings by the second position key. The price has also risen a little, the list price of the major keys being $69.99 and the alternate tunings $74.99, with them typically retailing around $50 - $60.


Suzuki G-48 Grégoire Maret Signature Chromatic

I assume a review consisting simply of the word "wow!" would leave readers wanting just a little more, so I feel obliged to write something slightly less succinct. Designed with input from the virtuoso jazz harmonica player Grégoire Maret, this is the new 12-hole chromatic from Suzuki and it is available in two versions - the G-48 and the G-48W. These two instruments are identical except for the covers, being dark blue finished brass on the G-48 and rosewood on the G-48W. This review is based on a sample of the G-48. First of all, the harmonica looks beautiful. The rosewood covers are similar to those use on the Suzuki Pure Harp diatonic and feel very nice in the hands. The chromed brass mouthpiece has a rounded profile which forms an almost continuous curve with the covers, making it very comfortable to use a deep embouchure for playing octaves. Players who like the shape of the Hohner CX-12 mouthpiece will probably like this one and that definitely includes me. The slide assembly is wonderfully simple. The U-channel for the slide is cut directly into the back of the mouthpiece and the backing plate is integral with the comb. Simple and efficient - the slider on my review sample works smoothly and noiselessly with no air leakage, no doubt helped by the slide itself, which seems to be finished to a much better straightness and smoothness than is typical of many factory made instruments. The harmonica is surprisingly heavy, weighing in at 10 3/4oz, a little over 300g. This is due to the presence of brass weights added inside the ABS resin comb, something that Suzuki claims adds to the tonal quality of the instrument. The weights are mounted with screws, so if you find it too heavy you could remove some or all of them, although that would no doubt void your warranty. The nickel plated reedplates are a little thicker than usual, at 1.3mm (.05") and are secured with eight Phillips head screws. The reeds are phosphor bronze and are spot welded to the reedplate and on visual inspection, the tolerances seem very good. The reeds have an interesting scale, with the lowest reeds being about midway in length between typical long slot and short slot reeds, but the upper reeds being much longer than typical long slot reeds. Tuning is excellent at around A=443Hz and reed adjustment is very consistent allowing from an even response over the full range of the harmonica. The valves are the standard Suzuki two piece design and work well without any unwanted noises, even when played cold. The Maret has a strong clear tone, but not overly bright and has a very wide dynamic range, even without any personalised adjustment. I think it would lend itself to a wide range of playing styles and types of music. Currently only available in the key of C, replacement reedplates can be obtained from Suzuki.

This is truly a superb instrument and I really can't find much to criticise about it. Some players will not like the fact that it is cross tuned and has the asociated long travel slide, but for many others that is not going to be a problem. Suggested retail price in the UK is £599.00 for the G-48 and £699.00 for the G-48W ($699.95 and $749.95 respectively in the US). Not exactly inexpensive, but that price gets you one of the best factory made chromatics I have ever had the pleasure to play. I am told that there were many prototypes built and rejected before they made one that Grégoire Maret really liked, but it has paid off. Both Maret and Suzuki can be proud to have their names on this harmonica


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