The Story of Seydel: How the Oldest Manufacturer of Harmonicas Returned from the Dead

Mention the name Hohner to the average non-musician and they’ll probably have some dim recollection of it being a musical instrument manufacturer. Those with more than a passing interest in Dylan or the blues will connect it with the harmonica in some way (although they’ll probably use the now slightly archaic phrase ‘mouth organ’ in their answer). Others will incorrectly conflate it with the near homonym ‘Hofner’ and talk about awful violin-shaped basses, that, despite their ugliness and poor tone, changed the face of modern music in the hands of Paul McCartney. The point is, most will have some awareness of the Hohner brand, despite it being, like a nightclub I once encountered in Phuket, which proudly proclaimed itself as the ‘second best nightclub on the island’, the second oldest harmonica manufacturer.

The title of the oldest harmonica manufacturer, or, at least, oldest extant one, actually lies with Seydel, or to give it its full, and suitably Germanic title, CA Seydel and Sönne, which has a good ten years’ seniority over its compatriot and chief rival. Despite this, it remains a brand familiar to few outside of the immediate harmonica community. In fact, even fairly keen harmonica players are sometimes unaware of Seydel’s history, which can lead to them favouring the default producer that is Hohner.

So, how did a company that had a significant head start on what is now the market leader lose out? The answer lies in an interesting history that takes in politics, World War 2 and a considerable amount of poor luck.

Small Beginnings

The Seydel family were originally miners in Saxony. When this activity ceased to be cost effective, the brothers Johaan and Christian Seydel began to make musical instruments, eventually leading to their being approved by the court of Untersachsenberg as harmonica manufacturers (these being the days when doing anything other than scraping a living in subsistence agriculture seemed to require official approval from some court or other).

Expansion continued with the incorporation of Christian’s sons into the business, who, unlike many heirs to industrial revolution era manufacturing companies, didn’t gamble or drink away the fortunes made by their parents. In fact, with their connections to North America, they significantly increased sales for the company, to the extent that by the start of the 20th Century Seydel harmonicas were being sold in most developed countries.

The Great Depression

Great Depression

Between the wars Seydel suffered quite badly, as did many similar companies, as world demand for consumer products dropped in the wake of the Great Depression. They did, however, find a burgeoning market in Australia, where gimmickry (a boomerang shaped harmonica), a partnerhip with a major music retailer, and some rather suspect, albeit, of-its-time, marketing (‘King Billy’ – a crude aboriginal, harmonica-playing character) led to unexpectedly high sales.

Post War Blues

After the Second World War, Seydel was in the unfortunate position of finding its manufacturing facilities on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.  East Germany (or the German Democratic Republic, as it was then rather spuriously known given that it was a communist dictatorship) had something of an inferiority complex. West Germany was close enough that inhabitants of the GDR could pick up its radio and TV signal and see the array of consumer products that were available to their decadent western neighbours. The GDR needed to compete, and it did so by nationalising and merging companies, then decreeing exactly what they should produce for the citizens of the country.

And so Seydel was absorbed into the snappily titled ‘VEB Klingenthal Harmonica Works’ – a sort of communist harmonica version of British Leyland, which did for harmonicas what BL did for cars in the 1970s (for those of you unaware of the horrors of the BL era, do a quick search for ‘Austin Allegro’ or ‘Austin Princess’). For those of a curious nature, Seydel harmonicas from this era regularly appear on online auction sites, often at bewilderingly high prices, given that significantly better vintage Hohner equivalents usually fetch about half the price. One can only assume that GDR aficionados are responsible for these inflated values, as the tone and build quality of these harmonicas, which were usually produced under the Bandmaster brand, is fairly poor.

Bandmaster harmonica
Bandmaster harmonica

The Wall  Comes Down

It wasn’t until well after the Berlin Wall had come down and David Hasselhoff had vacated the number one spot in the West German singles chart with the soft rock awfulness of  ‘Looking for Freedom’ that the Seydel facilities were handed back to the original family. The only problems with this were that the family hadn’t been involved in the industry for 50 or so years and the tooling and designs of harmonicas being produced were somewhat antiquated. Despite this, with the help of the works manager, Karl Pucholt, who designed a new harmonica around a Special 20 style plastic comb, and identified niches, such as custom tunings, Seydel began to be taken seriously again. Not seriously enough, however, to avoid insolvency in 2004.

The Present

Fortunately, the company soon found new owners in the shape of Niama Media, who placed Klingenthal native, Lars Seifert in charge, leading to a significant turnaround in Seydel’s fortunes. Today, the company operates as a small, dynamic team, with a focus on the quality end of the harmonica market. One of their particular USPs is the use of stainless steel reeds in many of their products. These tend to last longer than the more commonly used brass reeds, and provide their harps with a distinctive sound and feel.

Seydel Session Steel Blues Mouth Organ
Seydel Session Steel Blues Harmonica

To view the complete range of Seydel harmonicas, including diatonics, chromatics, tremolos and octaves, please click here


Seydel Harmonicas – Buyers’ Guide

In our series of buyers’ guides we look at the various models produced by the major harmonica manufacturers. This time it’s the turn of German brand, Seydel, or to use its full name, CA Seydel and Sohne.

A Long History

Back in the late 90s and early 2000s I had the good fortune to work in the then nascent dotcom industry. At the time, amongst the overspending on parties, table tennis tables in the board room (yes, really) and other frivolities, there was a great deal of talk about the advantages of being the first to market in a given area. This was thought to be the key to unlocking significant venture capital cash, which would subsequently be blown through at a rate usually reserved for the wives of Premiership footballers.

The evidence that being first to market could be correlated with long term success however, proved to be illusory. Few people today will have anything other than a distant memory of early search engines, such as HotBot or Excite; fewer still may recall using the music sharing service, Napster,  yet these were the early icons of the internet.

Seydel, on the other hand, has managed to buck this trend. It may not be the largest manufacturer of harmonicas, but it is certainly the oldest extant one, with a date of establishment that is earlier, even, than their compatriots, Hohner. The date of their incorporation, in fact, is hard to ignore, given that they produce a whole host of harmonicas featuring the requisite year – 1847 – as their prefix.

Let’s take a look at the various models and help you to determine which ones best suit your needs.

Seydel Diatonic Range

Session Standard

Seydel Session Standard Harmonica

This is the entry point to Seydel’s harmonicas. Unlike many of the other major manufacturers, Seydel doesn’t outsource production to China, so, although this entry level harmonica is priced higher than the base models from many of Seydel’s rivals, it’s made in Germany and should be viewed as equivalent to a Hohner Special 20 or Rocket rather than cheaper harps, such as the Blues Band.

It’s similar in construction to the pricier Session Steel, with a plastic comb and stainless steel covers, but unlike the Session Steel it features brass, rather than stainless steel, reeds. A great introduction to Seydel harmonicas, and keenly priced, given the quality.

Session Antique

Seydel Session Antique Harp

This is a variant of the Session with ‘antique -coated’ (bronze/brown coloured) cover plates. Otherwise identical.

Solist Pro

Seydel Solist Pro Harmonica

Unlike other Seydel models at this price, the Solist pro has a wood, rather than plastic, comb. The comb itself is treated to multiple coats of sealant to mitigate against swelling, and features half flat stainless steel covers. Reeds are brass.

Session Steel

Seydel Session Steel Blues Harmoncia

The Session Steel ups the ante a little with Seydel’s signature stainless steel reeds. Seydel claims that these can last up to five times longer than some brass reeds. Whilst we’ve not empirically test this assertion, we have received plenty of positive feedback from customers on the longevity of these harps. Also available in a Summer Edition, which features a new colour of comb for each year of release. Many players like to pick up a new Summer Edition model in a different key each year, as it enables them to build a set in which the keys are easily distinguishable from each other by the comb colours.

Orchestra S

Seydel Orchestra S Harmonica

Although the Orchestra S shares a similar construction with the Session Steel, it is solo tuned, with the note layout being similar to that of a chromatic harmonica. This makes it particularly suited to playing melodies.


Seydel Favorite Harmonica

The Favorite is similar to the Session Steel, with stainless steel reeds, but replaces the plastic comb with an anodized aluminium one, giving a clear, bright tone.

1847 Classic

Seydel 1847 Classic Blues Harmonica

This harmonica harks back to Seydel’s first production diatonic with stainless steel reeds, but updates it with modern precision manufacturing techniques. The maple comb is coated with multiple layers of sealant and the cover is made of extra strong stainless steel sheet.

1847 Silver

Seydel 1847 Silver Blues Harmonica

Shares many of the features of the Classic, but with a plastic, rather than maple, comb and silver reeds.

1847 Noble

Seydel 1847 Noble Blues Harmonica

This updates the Classic with an aluminium comb and an optimised cover plate design.

One70 Anniversary

To celebrate the 170th anniversary of Seydel, this harp takes the Noble’s construction and adds gold plated covers.

Seydel Octave/Tremolo Range

Club Octave

Seydel CLUB Octave Harmonica

Plastic comb, 40 brass reeds and a curved shaped for playability. Available only in C.

Concerto Solo 40 Octave

Seydel Concerto Solo 40 Harmonica

Richter tuned, 10 hole, 40 reed octave harmonica with a plastic comb and brass reeds.

Sailor Steel Tremolo

24 hole tremolo harmonica with stainless steel reeds. Plastic comb and German silver reed plates.

Skydiver Steel Tremolo

Seydel Skydiver Steel Tremolo Harmonica

Solo tremolo tuned harmonica which provides three complete octaves, making it particularly suited to playing melodies. Plastic comb, stainless steel reeds.

Seydel Chromatic Range

Deluxe Chromatic

Seydel Chromatic De Luxe Harmonica

12 hole, 48 note chromatic harp featuring an acrylic comb, brass reeds and stainless steel cover plates. Available in a number of keys.

Chromatic Deluxe Steel

Seydel Chromatic De Luxe Steel Harmonica

Not to be confused with the Deluxe Chromatic, this 12 hole, 48 note harp uses a CNC milled acrylic comb, stainless steel reeds and a silver plated mouthpiece. Available in a wide range of keys, and can be ordered in solo or orchestra C tuning.


Seydel Saxony Chromatic Harmonica

Professional level 12 hole chromatic harp. German silver reed plates, stainless steel reeds and an aluminium comb for a clear and bright sound. Available in a range of keys and can be order in solo or Orchestra C tuning.


Seydel Symphony ACRYL Grand Chromatic case

This sits at the top of Seydel’s chromatic range, and has a stunning array of features, including a case that plugs into a USB port or a vehicle’s power point and heats the harmonica to the optimum temperature for playing. The recessed reedplates are precision cut from anti-corrosive German silver, and the 64 stainless steel reeds are hand tuned. The valves have less adhesive than conventional ones, which facilitates precise control. The slider, made from 1mm German Silver, has an ergonomically convex-shaped, silver coated slider button with a soft surface. Available with an acrylic or aluminium comb.

Seydel Custom Tunings

Many of Seydel’s harmonicas are available in custom tunings, including Paddy Richter, PowerBender, PowerDraw and Orchestra C.  For an explanation of these different tunings have a look at our guide here: Harmonica Tunings Explained

CategoriesHarmonicaHarmonica PlayersNews

Blues Harmonica Legend, James Cotton, RIP

James Cotton at Monterey, 1981
James Cotton at Monterey, 1981

It’s a sad feature of the modern world that a significant event can easily be overshadowed in the popular consciousness if it happens to coincide with a different event that is deemed more newsworthy by the media.

Recent history is littered with examples of this kind of “popularity Top Trumps”, not least of which were Mother Theresa’s death being eclipsed by Princess Diana’s fatal car accident, and Groucho Marx’s passing away being dwarfed by the untimely demise of Elvis Presley.

And so, in the week that has given us the death of Chuck Berry, one of the true pioneers of early rock and roll, it is, perhaps, inevitable, that the loss of blues harmonica legend, James Cotton, has been somewhat overlooked.

Cotton, who was known for his virtuoso harp work, both as a solo artist and on recordings and performances with a range of blues and rock acts, died of pneumonia on Thursday 16th March 2017 in Austin, Texas, at the age of 81.

Early Life

Born in Tunica, Mississippi, but later moving to West Helena, Arkansas, where he met and was mentored by blues harmonica player and songwriter, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Cotton actually began his musical career, albeit the amateur part, as a drummer. It soon became clear, though, that the harmonica was where his talents lay, resulting in him being recruited, in the early 1950s,  to Howlin’ Wolf’s band, where he remained for a number of years.

In 1953, he recorded his first solo record – Straighten Up Baby – for Sun Records, following this with a second single – Cotton Crop Blues.

From Blues to Rock

After a stint recording and touring with Muddy Waters, Cotton, by then nicknamed “Mr Superharp” in honour of his talent on the harmonica, fronted a number of eponymous bands, including the James Cotton Blues Band. During this time he released a range of live and studio albums, including 100% Cotton, High Energy and Live and On the Move. He combined this work with his own bands with forays into blues rock territory through collaborations with artists such as Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin and Santana, amongst others.


In the 1970s he resumed his work with Muddy Waters, which reached its zenith with the Grammy award-winning Hard Again LP, released in 1977. The 1980s brought further Grammy nominations for his Live in Chicago and Take Me Back albums, then in 1996 he received a Grammy in the Best Traditional Blues Album category for his Deep in the Blues LP. His work in the 2000s included Grammy-nominated studio albums, Giant and Cotton Mouth Man.

He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2006 and in 2010 was honoured by New York’s Lincoln Center with an all-star concert. The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal paid tribute to Cotton with their 2015 B.B. King Award for his contributions to the blues.

Later Years

Cotton continued to tour, even  as a senior citizen, and credited this as a means by which he felt younger:

“That’s because I like to see people dance and have a good time,” he told one interviewer. “I like to keep it up, keep it moving. I always liked people like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Santana. I don’t sing much anymore but I don’t let it bother me too much, I just concentrate on blowing harp more.”

Playing Style

 As a blues harp player, Cotton was renowned for his explosive style, precise choice of notes and tonal variety.

The New York Daily News described him as, “The greatest blues harmonica player of all time.” NPR Weekend Edition offered a similar tribute: “Conjure up a list of all-time great blues harmonica players, and high up on it you’ll see the name James Cotton.”

Primarily a diatonic harp player, Cotton tended to use various types of Seydel 1847 harmonicas, including the 1847 Silver, which can be heard on many of his live recordings.

Seydel 1847 Silver Blues Harmonica
Seydel 1847 Silver Blues Harmonica, as used by James Cotton


Cotton’s hard-blowing style has influenced generations of harmonica players, and his work with Muddy Waters was particularly significant in the impact it had on later rock bands, such as the Rolling Stones.

He is survived by his wife, Jacklyn Hairston Cotton, two daughters, a son, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.