jh staff

How a Gang of Harmonica Geeks Saved the Soul of the Blues Harp

In Blues Harmonica on August 15, 2013 at 10:26 am

Harmonica players will suck and harmonica players will blow, but mastering the harmonica is tougher than its diminutive size and simple mechanics suggests. “The harmonica is actually pretty hard to play well,” says harmonica virtuoso Mickey Raphael, who has shared the stage with Willie Nelson for the better part of 40 years. “If you have a harmonica in the right key for a song, you can play any note and it’ll sound good. But to be able play melody on it is a whole different skill set.

Of course, it doesn’t help if your harmonica is so poorly designed that you couldn’t play it well even if you were a pro, which describes the state of the instrument from the mid-1970s until the early 1990s, when Hohner, the largest harmonica manufacturer in the world, made a single, seemingly small change to its ubiquitous Marine Band harmonica. Hohner’s bottom-line gambit was to slightly enlarge the slots through which a harmonica’s reeds vibrate. It made the instrument’s pair of reed plates cheaper to assemble but the instrument itself virtually impossible to control, thanks to all the extra air that was now being blown into and drawn out of it. Hohner eventually corrected its error, but it took a ragtag group of harmonica customizers and music geeks from around the world to force the 150-year-old German firm to face the music…MORE

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