It's still early in my learning, and I guess my driving force is I like options instead of just putting Binci in everything. Don't get me wrong, I like Binci, and their reeds are top notch for response and power. Sound quality is a personal preference thing, and I find my preference depends some on mood.
But on preference, I really like the tone of the older Hohners, and some of the Sterlings and Monarchs I've heard (not all), but those reeds are not good quality. Their response is poor, not much power, and they break easily. How well those old players played with those old boxes speaks for their skill, but the old boxes were harder to play.
So in searching for reeds that approximate those old German reeds in sound, but hopefully better performance, I did not find it among the available Italian reeds. I've tried Binci, several grades of Ciccarelli, and Voci Armoniche, all hand made. They have a clean sound and incredible responsiveness. Binci seems a little louder and more bassy, the Cicc's even better response and cleaner sharper ringing tone. I even tried mixing Cicc and Binci sets to get some aspects of both. I liked the mix but it's not startling in difference.
Jeff is the first to mention to me about Harmonikas, then I found a lot of discussion on them on the Melodeon.net forum. The Dix are sold as copies of the old Saxony reeds, which is what was used in the old German boxes, so I get a set a try, and was elated. Had that rich ringy tone of the old boxes, with noticeably better performance. Even available on zinc plates like the old ones. But like the old ones, the quality seems lacking. They require much more than normal reed tinkering and adjusting, and don't hold tuning as well as premium reeds after initial tuning, which I also bet was an issue with the old reeds. They don't have quite as good a response and punch as the new premium reeds, but I'd say better than the old ones. The pitch on a reed is not as stable as premium reeds with varying pressure, making it harder to tune, but you can make some unique sounds in playing, which you can hear sometimes on old recordings. So I consider them good reeds for those really locked in on wanting a box "like the old ones".
The Dix reeds are in a class themselves, and they don't carry any of the normal appearances of being hand made. They truly look like the cheap reeds put in the old boxes and I'm not sure how much hand work goes into them. The main difference makes it look like there is some degree of hand fitting is the reed/slot fit is very good.
Harmikas has 3 grades of hand made (a mano), #1 is Nastrino, #2 is Super, and #3 is Professional. I tried the Professional, and have an order in for the Nastrinos. The website lists the Super as being stainless steel, but I learned from a Euro builder who has visited the factory that that is a internet translator mistake. I cannot make out from their website descriptions what the differences between the 3 are. Additionally,they have other grades and types of reeds.
Another attraction for me in dealing with Harmonikas, is they have good customer service and prompt in every dealing I've had with them. Their prices are better than the Italians. The Italian parts get more expensive every year, their service unreliable, especially for small timers like me, and have high minimums for orders. You can order one bellow and one set of reeds from Harmonikas to try out. So if their premium reeds have the performance I'm hoping for, they already have the sound I like, they will be my choice. But as a builder, I'll still need to keep Italian reeds on hand for the people who just want Binci.
Here is Harmonikas' site.
Thanks so much for taking the time to write down such a detailed and interesting answer.
So what do you think of the Harmonika A Mano #3? Do they come close to capturing the old ringy sound with better response and volume?
Also, how good are the Dix on the bass side?
I find them old Hohner reeds hard to beat on the bass / chord end.
It's a little hard to tell being new reeds comparing to old well broken in reeds, but they definitely have strong hints of the sound I was hoping for. They have a nice punch and good volume, absolutely on par with premium Italian reeds. I feel a very slight hesitation in response, which I'm hoping the #1's do not have.
If you're in La, the accordion with the #3 (a mano professional) reeds is on display at SOLA in Lafayette, Anya Burgess' violin store. I left it there for people to try out and give me feedback. I'd really appreciate anyone's opinion.
I think the side on both Harmonikas sets I've tried are good. They have a bigger big base reed, which gives it a little more honk. The hallmark sound of the old German boxes that I love so much is the chords, which are small chord reeds on a single plate. I wasn't able to get Harmonikas to understand what I wanted, or they just didn't want to, on ordering the chord reeds like that. So I have been attaching the chord reeds together to try to capture that sound. It is close but not quite the same. I also have been using 4 chord reeds instead of 3.
What about the Sappo and the Antenelli reeds? Are they still available? I had old Master accordions with them at one time. The best tone I ever had was my first Sydney Brown with the Hohner tupelo reeds but I broke several at every gig. My Bincis in my Falcon are the workhorses but lack the clarity and brightness.
Salpa reeds are not available anymore. Antonelli are, that's what Elton Doucet puts in most, if not all, of his. I think the Ciccarelli are close to Salpa, but he's become very unreliable.
Somewhat of false advertising. I buy parts from FRM. I asked Frank about his advertised Salpa reeds. He said they're not Salpa, but the company who took them over, which I believe is Voci Armoniche.
Seems to be true but SALPA "pattern"