I unzipped my Melodica case last weekend expecting to honk out a fast and dirty dub solo line only to find that almost all of the keys were sticking rendering the incredibly economically priced instrument ($30.00) all but unplayable. That was the end of that recording session. Instead it was time to get busy with a screwdriver and see what was causing the problem - and perhaps more importantly to give you the reader a look inside. A picture gallery of the Melodica in various stages of deconstruction and repair can be found here.
The Melodica is a fascinating instrument the history of which can be found here, so there is little need for me to go into any great detail. Suffice it to say that this 'toy' instrument in the right hands and with the right production can produce transcendent music (Augustus Pablo) or in the wrong hands if left untreated by a pleasant wash of reverb and a nice delay can require surgical removal!
It didn't take very long to find that an adhesive foam material used for damping the keys when depressed was the source of the problem. I had no hesitation in removing the foam and discarding it. But that left me with a pile of keys looking strangely like a disorderly heap of pulled teeth. The reed frame of the melodica resembled a huge harmonica and the brass mounting plate and reeds were and still are surprisingly tarnished.
I packed everything away for a couple of days and intermittently pondered what I would use to replace the foam. Quickly enough I decided upon felt, purchased some fabric glue and got to work. It was actually quite a simple and painless operation, the most difficult part being the feeling of trepidation that it might not re-assemble quite correctly or would not play properly. Both doubts were quickly put to rest and the melodica once again plays perfectly.
During this process I sent an e-mail to Hohner, not to make a claim of any sort, but to politely inform them of the problem with the instrument. I received a reply the next day which was heartening but I was not thrilled with the response:
Since it is a mouthblown instrument , it does depend what goes into melodica when played. Very sticky saliva etc. can affect playing. If you like, please return melodica to Hohner Inc. at address below for inspection/correction.Two problems with this assessment: The damping foam beneath the keys would not be affected by whatever is coming out of the player's mouth as this part of the instrument is separate from the air passage that allows breath to be channeled to the reeds. It is not saliva that enters the instrument when blown (well, not through normal use) - it is breath vapour, condensation, water which should not be any stickier than what comes out of the tap. Anyway, in fairness they did offer to inspect and correct, but frankly I was not willing to wait around for them to do this - and I really wanted to have a go at fixing it myself.
I have given Hohner two further updates on my progress and hopefully my efforts will encourage them to try a better damping material in their manufacturing process.