If you are new to the chromatic harmonica or are considering the purchase of a Seydel chromatic, this article is for you. The chromatic is a great instrument and the ability to hit every note on the scale means fewer struggles on bent notes, overblows, and other uniquely diatonic harmonica techniques. But before taking off on a chromatic harmonica journey, the player should accept a basic concept that every experienced chromatic player will state. All chromatic harmonicas – even new ones – require some simple maintenance. There is no way to enjoy playing the chromatic harmonica unless you are willing perform basic and simple troubleshooting and repair techniques. You should familiarize yourself with basic troubleshooting and the associated fixes before you play that first note on your new chromatic.
The chromatic harmonica is a complex design of reeds similar to a diatonic harmonica with some very key differences. Unlike the diatonic harmonica, the chromatic has side-by-side reeds as opposed to over and under reeds. Because the reeds sit side-by-side, some air used to propel a reed is wasted through the slot of the non-sounding reed. The solution to this is a wind saver which is also referred to as a valve. A wind saver is a strip of synthetic material that covers the slot on the opposite side of a reed. This material acts as a 1-way stopper that prevents air from entering the slot from the wrong direction.
The wind savers which are made from a 2-ply synthetic material are the headache of every human that has ever blown a chromatic harmonica. A variety of factors – namely moisture – cause these wind savers to make annoying noises when the harmonica is played. Best described as a popping or buzzing noise, the wind savers become slightly moist and weighted causing them to slam down on the reed plate while vibrating. Moisture on the wind savers accumulates because you have a synthetic material that sits atop a metal surface. Rapid changes in outside temperature compounded by moist air from the players breath cause condensation like reactions on the wind saver and reed plate surface. Many times this is so significant that it will even keep a reed from playing. This is just as likely to happen on a brand new chromatic as a used one. Fortunately, the moisture built up on the reed plate surface and wind saver will eventually evaporate. Experienced chromatic players use a technique called “warming” to prevent excess condensation from forming inside the harmonica. Many will hold the harp up against their body for a few moments before playing, especially when it has been exposed to cooler temperatures. The harmonica should be played at a temperature between the temperature of the human body and room temperature to reduce excess condensation from building up on the reed plates.
New chromatic players should also be aware that blow and especially draw notes on a chromatic will not respond like the notes on a diatonic. An improperly played diatonic harmonica will still generally play because the reeds can actually work together to produce a sound. The wind saver design on a chromatic prevents this. The new chromatic player should play with an open oral cavity and concentrate on producing an even column of air that is parallel to the reeds. It is not uncommon for diatonic players to be unable to produce clear tones on a chromatic because they habitually play using diatonic techniques.
In addition to dealing with the occasional wind saver problem, the chromatic harmonica player will need to become familiar with the operation of the mouthpiece and slide mechanism. Inside the mouthpiece and slide you have several pieces of moving metal which come into contact with each other creating friction. Moisture from the air and your breath will provide some lubrication to the slide assembly. However, this moisture will also attract dust which will increase the friction. Additionally, particles of saliva from your breath will remain on the slide and begin to dry immediately after you stop playing. The effects of dried saliva will be most noticeable on expensive harmonicas because the slide mechanisms are built to the highest tolerances. This can be so significant that in some cases the slide will be locked or frozen. To deal with this, there are two (2) tensioner screws on the front of the chromatic. All good chromatic players have a phillips head screwdriver handy and will make micro-adjustments to these screws when their slide starts catching or locking. The goal is to have these screws as tight as possible to insure a snug fit while allowing the slide assembly to move freely. In addition to making adjustments to the slide tensioner screws, chromatic players should rinse excess remaining saliva and any accumulated debris by soaking the slide assembly in a sauce pan of water. The video demonstrations below show some basic slide maintenance.
As you begin your chromatic journey, you should also learn to perform basic troubleshooting and maintenance. Just as a new car owner has to adjust his seats and a marksman adjusts his sights, a chromatic player should be comfortable making slight adjustments. The video below is a more detailed demonstration on basic chromatic disassembly.
If you have found this article to be helpful and are considering the purchase of a new Seydel chromatic, I would like to help you make the right choice. I am a full service Seydel dealer and am also the factory technician for Seydel. I can help you with many of the common chromatic nuances and I can also service your Seydel chromatic when the more serious problems arise. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for stopping by! Greg