The Victory Chello (which I assume is a phonetic rendering of "cello") looks something like an overgrown tremolo harmonica. In fact, as the tremolo is by far the most popular type of harmonica in the Far East, this is no coincidence. The lower row of notes of the Chello gives the C major scale in a typical tremolo-style layout, however instead of the upper row adding the same notes tuned slightly higher, it adds the sharps and flats.
My only previous experience of Victory harmonicas was their cheap tremolo harps, so I was not too sure what to expect from this one. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that it was in fact very well made. The tolerances of the reeds are pretty good, the reeds are all nicely adjusted and the tuning is accurate, equal temperament pitched at A=443 (despite the accompanying leaflet claiming A=440). The tuning work has been neatly done along the length of the reeds, leaving no nasty file gashes, but it's too early to say what the reed longevity is going to be like. The reedplates are secured to the body in a sandwich fashion, using 13 brass screws - in fact, the only steel used in this harmonicas are the rivets used to fix the reeds, so corrosion is not going to be much of a problem. The covers are plated brass and attached using brass nuts and bolts. The comb is black plastic (looks like ABS to me) and the harp weighs in around 320g (about 11.5 oz) and measures 235mm x 42mm x 14.5mm (about 9" x 1.75" x 0.5"). It comes in a nice zip-up black nylon carrying case.
The harp has two rows of twenty holes each, covering a range of three octaves, starting on the C below middle C (the same note as the lowest note of a 64 chromatic). However, unlike the Tombo and Yamaha slideless chroms that use exactly the same note layout in each octave, this one has a layout very similar to the typical Far eastern tremolo harps, where the upper and lower octaves are laid out a little differently from the middle octave. If you have played any of the Suzuki or Tombo tremolos, it should be familiar to you, but if you are new to this kind of harp, it may take a while to get used to it. Thankfully, it comes with a leaflet with a diagram of the tuning layout. In trying to keep this layout regular, there are a few compromises made, which means that the lowest octave has no F or Eb. The F is playable as E#, so that is no problem, but the lack of the low Eb could be a little inconvenient, although you could bend the E down a semitone if you needed it.
The holes on this harp are much larger than on the Tombo or Yamaha, measuring 8mm wide by 6mm high and unlike the Tombo and Yamaha slideless chroms that use a slightly thicker vertical partition to mark the start of each octave, all the vertical partitions on this harp are the same thickness, about 1mm. The partitions between the upper and lower holes are about 2mm, which is thinner than the Tombo or Yamaha, but I didn't have any problems isolating a single hole using either pucker or tongue-block embouchure, but again, if you are new to this type of harp, it may take a while to get the hang of it. The tone is nice and rich, the lack of valves making it sound more like a low-tuned diatonic than a standard chromatic. Using the techniques described above, the bends came in quite nicely. Not surprisingly, it is difficult getting dual-reed bends out of the very lowest notes, but the single reeds bends work well over the full range of the harp, although they can be a bit squeaky on the very highest notes (see FFAQ17).
If I were forced to make some criticisms, I would say that I would have preferred the lowest octave to be juggled to give a low Eb instead of the low B#. I may even make that alteration myself. Although the front edges of the reedplates are nice and smooth, there are a few rough bits at the ends of the harp, but no worse than you would get on a Marine Band or similarly constructed harp. Of course, it's easily fixed with a bit of abrasive paper. Finally, the upper cover on the sample that I got had a slight air leak, but this was easily fixed by twisting the cover slightly, so that it fitted perfectly into the slot along the top of the reedplate. Aside from these points, I have to say that I am quite impressed with this harp and that any of you who are interested in alternative harp designs should think about investigating it.
The US distributor is J.L. Dyer Music. Victory also makes a bargain price bass harp and several different chord models - if they are as well made as the Chello, they might also be worth investigating.
At some point, this harmonica was discontinued.
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