Years ago when the only harmonica worth while for playing
blues was the venerable Hohner Marine Band. It sounded great
but leaked air around the wood comb which made them play inconsistantly.
There were some musicians that would soak their harps
in a glass of water and there are even some stories
of soaking them in whiskey! I’m sure most of us have
heard of this at one time or another.
These musicians would soak their harps to get better tone.
While this is true, what was actually happening is that the
moisture from the liquid would cause the wood comb to swell
up sealing any gaps along the reed plates thus
producing less air leakage and a fuller tone and greater volume
from their harp. The water did just fine and as far as the
whiskey goes, it probably did more harm than good by gumming up the
reeds and inducing corrosion on the reedplates.
Today we don’t need to do this and I don’t advise soaking
your harp, wood or otherwise in any liquid. I know there
are some that even soak their plastic comb harps! This really
won’t do anything except make them corrode and wear out quicker.
Modern harmonicas including the Marine Band are much better constructed
and the new Marine Band Deluxe and Crossover harps have sealed
combs so the wood expansion is no longer an issue.
Keep your harps clean and tap them on your leg or hand
when finished playing to get the moisture out and you’ll
have your harmonica for a long time.
Here is a paragraph that pretty much sums up how fantastic a musical instrument the harmonica is. From the classic John Steinbeck novel The Grapes Of Wrath…
“A harmonica is easy to carry. Take it out of your hip pocket. Knock it against your palm to shake out the dirt and pocket fuzz and bits of tobacco. Now it’s ready. You can do anything with a harmonica: thin reedy single tone or chords, or melody with rhythm chords. You can mold the music with curved hands, making it wail and cry like bagpipes, making it full and round like an organ, making it as sharp and bitter as the reed pipes of the hills. And you play and put it back into your pocket. It’s always with you.”
John Steinbeck, The Grapes Of Wrath
There was a nice piece today on Charles Osgood’s Sunday Morning tv show about harmonicas. He paid a visit to Harrison Harmonicas in Rockford, IL and showed Their outstanding harmonicas that are state of the art. Fabricated by hand with the aid of CNC and laser machines to cut, bend and engrave the metal, the Harrison B-radical harmonica sounds great and is very strong and well made. The only downside is there is a 6 month wait to get one so if you want a B-radical harmonica, better put your order in now! During the interview Mr Harrison said “If we can get the harmonica into pop culture, we win” How true! That is also one of the purposes of this blog and my websites, to get the word out that playing the harmonica is a fun and worthwhile endeavor. Here’s a link to the Harrison website: http://www.harrisonharmonicas.com/
As a harmonica player, it’s easy to get caught up listening to a few blues harp players. We all have our favorites, mine being: Little Walter, Big Walter Horton,William Clarke, Charlie Musselwhite to name a few.
If I only listened to them, I would certainly get fantastic lessons in blues harp but I would be missing out on all the great music played on instruments other than blues harp.
Listening to players of other instruments is an important part of learning to play music. There is so much to learn about phrasing, note choice, tone and many other aspects of playing music. In addition, by listening to players of other instruments, You will most likely be introduced to other positions on the harmonica and even specialty harmonicas such as the Lee Oscar minor key harps. I have them available here at my harmonica store : http://www.harmonicasongs.net/Harmonicas2.htm
So as an exercise, try taking a song you like with a laid back melody and a solo played by a trumpet, flute or saxaphone and figure out how to play it on your harmonica. Occasionally it might take 2 or more harmonicas to get through a song and that’s fine but in most cases, once you figure out the key and position to play, you’ll be able to play it using one harp.
By learning songs and solos played by other instruments, you will be learning not only a lot about your harmonica but also about the big world of music. Jam On!
I’ve been playing the new Hohner Marine Band Crossover harmonicas for a couple of months and absolutly love playing them!
I’ve been playing Hohner Special 20’s for many years because it was a more comfortable harmonica for me. Hohner improved upon the venerable Marine Band a few years back by creating the Marine Band Deluxe. This harp is a very nice harmonica that solves the comb swelling problem by sealing the pear wood comb from moisture.
Now, with the introduction of the Crossover, Hohner pushes the envelope a little further by using a bamboo comb. Not only does it not swell, it makes the harmonica loud, really loud!
The harmonica is very responsive and fairly easy to overblow out of the box. This is a custom shop harmonica at a retail store price. I still play my Special 20’s because let’s face it, they are great harps for playing blues but when I want to play jazz or blues with a little more finesse, I reach for my Crossovers.
I have the Marine Band Crossovers available in all keys at great prices. Most times I can beat the big name stores on price and you can deal directly with me and ask questions if needed.