A New Harmonica Model

From “Harmonica World” Feb-Mar 2017

Most of us play “out of the box” harmonicas, based on standard Richter tuning. This 19th century system works remarkably well, we all know the sound. However some use different tunings, Charlie McCoy for example with “country” tuning, Brendan Power more recently Paddy Richter, Powerbender and others.

Around 20 years ago I developed Major Cross tuning for fiddle tunes, details are in the April/May 2015 Harmonica World issue. Major Cross harmonicas are tuned to a major scale in 2nd (cross) position, hence the name. Fast melodies are easier with Major Cross, as no bending is needed. However 7 notes must be changed, for this reason perhaps only a small group besides myself use this tuning.

This may change. Major Cross harmonicas are now available off the shelf, from Seydel.

We’ve worked together to create this new harmonica model. This is how it went.

Many of us are familiar with PT Gazell. I met him at SPAH in 2005, then later at the Asia Pacific Harmonica Festival. He plays Nashville tinged jazz standards, a style for which he is essentially without peer (if you’ve not heard his music, do so). And, he is the face of Seydel. He uses half valved diatonic harmonicas, the valves are a special material sourced by PT and available through Seydel, his “Gazell Method” harmonicas likewise. He emailed me earlier this year, and suggested a Skype hookup.

It turns out that Seydel were interested in working with me, PT was their contact. A further Skype hookup ensued, this time with Lars Seifert, the Seydel chairman.

A little Seydel history. Founded in 1847, they are the world’s oldest harmonica company. Their 19th century instruments were sold worldwide, from the 1920’s onwards they made the popular Australian “Boomerang” harmonicas. Based in Klingenthal, East Germany, their fortunes declined post WWII, and despite the 1990s German reinification they were ready to fold in 2004. An investor appeared at the last moment, a Klingenthal native and economist Lars Seifert was placed in charge, and the company was reborn.

More than a decade later, Lars is still there. The company is small, with around 30 staff.

Lars wanted to know if I would link my Harmonica Academy teaching site and its foreign language counterparts to the Seydel Academy, a portal to a range of harmonica teaching sources. This seemed a simple win win, I agreed. I considered other ways I might work with Seydel, one in particular came to mind.

The “new” post 2004 Seydel focus has been on quality, not quantity, their new range includes high end models, with prices to match. They are not alone here. The last decade has seen new high end models from all the major companies, providing better harmonicas for those prepared to pay a premium. A welcome change. Seydel have two further innovations, stainless steel reeds, and the “harp configurator”, which allows customers to specify their own custom tunings, via an online tool on the Seydel site. The harp configurator caught my eye, perhaps Major Cross harmonicas could finally be more widely available.

I suggested this to Lars, he agreed. The harp configurator allows any feasible tuning layout to be entered manually, however common tunings (Country, Paddy Richter etc) can be selected via a drop down menu. I sent Seydel a document with Major Cross layouts for all keys, which were then added to the menu. Major Cross versions of any Seydel 10 hole model can now be ordered, for virtually any key, via the drop down menu on the harp configurator.

Job done? Actually, no.

My experience with online sales is that simpler is better. Navigating the harp configurator could deter potential buyers. I asked if we could have a simple URL, pointing to Major Cross harmonica page, with supporting videos etc, and a simple ordering method. By this stage I was communicating with Bertram Becher, the Seydel product manager. He liked the idea, Seydel already had such similar pages for other products.

Better still, Seydel agreed to include an explanatory leaflet with the Major Cross harmonicas, and to provide the base model with a distinctive blue comb. This is all done, Major Cross harmonicas are available from www.seydel1847.de/majorcross (click the red “Switch to English” button to get the English version of the page).

So. A new harmonica model has arrived. Creating it with Seydel has most interesting. Germans have a deep engineering culture, this became apparent as the project unfolded. This new custom model had to fit existing components, processes, and marketing strategies. Bertram managed all this in an affable and efficient way. Given the small company size, Lars (the boss) was able sign off on ideas almost straight away.

Something else struck me as we worked through this. As well as being a small traditional German company, Seydel is also a bunch of good friends who make harmonicas together. I’m glad to be one of them.