Test report

Firsthand test report on playing the NC 64 harmonica

img In 2003 my business partner and friend Lutz Nölle, his son Bernd and I decided to develop a chrom that would handle well, would be capable of a wide dynamic range and -- our main goal -- would noticeably improve the durability of the reeds.

On the instruments I have played until now, I have had to change up to six reeds and about ten valves every week.

In 2007, after many attempts with a wide variety of materials, we finally found a suitable material for the reeds.

We then developed a new process for the production of the reeds (they are cut lengthwise) and fitted them to the new reed plates, which we had already produced.

First sounds:

Fortunately everything seemed successful...except for the gapping, which was too small and difficult to adjust compared to what I was used to. Also, a few pitches required a different sound profile, because they were either too hard or too mellow. Since we were making and fine-tuning our own reeds, this problem was quickly solved.

The first tests:

I immediately noticed that despite its longer and stiffer reeds the NC 64 didn't require more breath, yet it still produced a larger sound.
My first rehearsal with my pianist confirmed this impression. Without knowing that I was playing a new instrument, the pianist said to me right away, after we played our first piece, "you have a much bigger sound today. And above all your tone quality is so different....so much fuller and rounder!"

After 30 hours of practice time:

The second pleasant surprise: I didn't have to adjust the tuning of a single pitch...and not a single reed had broken!

After 60 hours of practice time:

Exactly as above!

After 100 hours of practice time:

As above :)

After 500 hours of practice time:

Unbelievable---but...no problems at all!!
Just the opposite in fact. The chrom was getting better and better (of course I was adapting to it, too).

Five hundred hours without any trouble -- I'd never have dreamed it possible...but we've continued testing...and so now I'm at about 1200 hours of playing and practice time! -- WITHOUT once having to adjust the tuning and NOT ONE reed has broken.

There remained only a small problem with the valves:

About a year ago we were provided with a material for the valves, which turned out to be ideal. After about 50 hours of playing these valves sometimes began to stick...but...they can be cleaned with a detergent solution even when the harmonica is STILL ASSEMBLED!
Take off the cover (not really necessary), put the entire chrom in lukewarm water dissolved with a bit of detergent, leave it overnight, take it out the next morning, rinse well with clean lukewarm water, let it dry a bit, and that's it...the valves are as good as new! They don't curl up.
So that was how we solved the valve problem. I've been playing with the new valves for nearly a year. I haven't once changed a SINGLE valve!!--just "rinsed" them a few times. :)

An evaluation using the criteria of all my previous harmonica tests:

Workmanship and quality of the individual parts:

All parts are individually made.
They are manufactured on high-quality CNC machines and electric discharge machines to our specifications.

For the CNC machines Bernd Nölle specially developed the necessary software programming. The construction of the the reed plates and air chambers allows for a hermetic seal and prevents assembly errors. The plates (2 mm and 0,9 mm) are made of high-quality hard brass and are gold-plated. The sizes and the bores for the reed mountings are spark-eroded for exactness. The reeds are made of extremely vibration-resistant stainless steel.

They are cut longitudinally and are individually screwed on (M 1.6 high-grade hexagonal socket scews). The air chambers are made of nontoxic plastic. The cover plate is made of stainless steel, either polished or gold-plated. The mouthpiece is milled from a single block of brass and is gold-plated. The slider is made of brass, spark-eroded and chrome-plated.

Quality of assembly:

Because of the precision of manufacture errors in assembly are practically impossible.

Ease of repair:

Basically, all parts are screwed on and easily replaced. However, this would only really be necessary after extremely heavy use, after at least 1200 hours of playing (which is where I am now... and I'm still testing). Installing the reeds is a job only for really experienced experts, because the reeds are fitted to an accuracy of 0.02 mm. Caring for the slider is as with other instrument manufacturers.

Handling of the instrument through all octaves:

Even the lower registers can be played without the nose (with a bit of experience, naturally). The upper register plays easily, with EVERY pitch playing equally well.


At full volume a bit more breath is certainly needed, but full volume on this instrument is quite a bit bigger than on other instruments. So: playing at a volume level comparable to other instruments uses a comparable amount of breath. Highest volume:

Sufficient for all situations :)

Lowest volume:

Depending on gapping, can be extremely soft.

Tone quality (subjective opinion):

Full sound, rich in overtones.

"Bending" capacity (subjective opinion):

Lends itself very well to "my" type of vibrato.

Durability of the reeds:

In my comparisons with other instruments (playing at the same volume, same amount of practice time, same repertoire), the reeds have now lasted forty times as long without breaking!! (And testing isn't even yet finished.)

Durability of the valves:

Can't yet really determine, because cleaning them is so easy, but at the moment certainly much greater than other valves.

Durability of the slider:

Basically the same as with other manufacturers, however cleaning can be done in an assembled state together with the valves!

Instrument feel (subjective opinion):

Not counting the instrument's somewhat greater height (30 mm vs. 26 mm) and the slightly longer slider (8.5 mm vs. 7 mm), playing this harmonica takes a bit getting used to. But once you have become familiar with it, chords, octaves and fast chromatic passages are no problem. This is of course my subjective opinion, such as it affects my own playing technique.

General evaluation:

I don't think I would ever again play an instrument of any other manufacture :) The durability of the reeds and the valves are reason enough alone.

Suggestions for improvement:

With the NC 64 there may well be room for some improvement. And of course we will continue to research and test.