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Author Topic: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.  (Read 12276 times)

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Offline simonjandrews

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What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« on: May 04, 2006, 10:53:15 AM »
What type of harps did the lates and greats use when they played. e g little walter and sonny b williamson.
    Also i have hearda rumor that some people soak their harp in water, how does this affect the sound.is there anything i can do to improve thre sound of my marine band.cheers.

Soper

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #1 on: May 04, 2006, 11:54:41 AM »
Most of the old-timers played Marine Bands-- that was what was available.  I used to play Marine Bands exclusively and, yes, I soaked.  Soaking makes them louder, easier to bend notes, and swells the wood, which makes them not so leaky.  Soaking also shortens the lifetime of the harp and makes it next to impossible to play if you don't soak the harp before you play it.  Note that soaking only works on wood comb harps.

Personally, I've quit playing Hohner harps.  Their quality control has gone to hell in the last 10 years, and their reeds don't last for squat.  If you want a wooden comb harp, I highly recommend the Hering 1923-- they seal the comb, which means they don't leak like Marine Bands.  If you wanna spend the bread, also look at Suzuki Promasters.  They have aluminum combs, which means a bit brighter of a tone than Marine Bands, but the reed plates last forever, and the harps come with replaceable reed plates and are easy to work on.

Cheers,
Dennis

Orb Mellon

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #2 on: May 04, 2006, 07:27:06 PM »
Like was already noted, the old timers all pretty much played marine bands, which incidentally are not the same as current marine bands. Sometime in the 80s, marine bands started being tuned in a slightly brighter tuning. Check with the experts for details.

My very high recommendation is bushman delta frosts. They are really amazing harps. They are not wood combed but they play easy, sound great and are reasoanbly durable

Offline WestbankAl

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #3 on: March 26, 2010, 11:48:09 PM »
There is a photo of Rice Miller (Sonny Boy 2) playing an Old Standby. He also used the big 364 and 365 Marine Bands-12 and 14 hole harps.

Offline Richard

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #4 on: March 27, 2010, 12:50:24 PM »
Keep going weenies, this one has not been aired before. I'm no harpist and know damn all about the subject so it's very interesting stuff  :)
« Last Edit: March 27, 2010, 12:51:29 PM by Richard »
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #5 on: March 29, 2010, 02:24:18 PM »
Why bother tryin' to play the harp anymore when I can call up Joe Bellulovitch and he'll come do it for me much better than I could? Nevertheless in the years before I knew Joe and his predecessor in my sometime musical adventires Sailor Bob Schmidt, I played in a rack and even occasionally behind other people. I started like everyone else with Marine Bands which seemed to have about a six month life span back in the sixties if you soaked 'em, then again they only cost $6,50. One day however I stumbled across what was then a Navy Band Harp (now Golden Melody) which has a red plastic comb, a streamline easy to cradle but hard to put in a rack shape and was virtually indestructible. It also sounded GREAT! I highly recommend these harps even though it takes a little more sucking power to get them moving.
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Offline Mike Billo

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #6 on: April 01, 2010, 10:02:44 AM »

     Harp construction and materials have changed a lot over the years, beginning with Hohner opening a factory in Hicksville NY.
     
    The Marine Band, which was once the "industry standard", is now, way overpriced and not a very good Harp.

    I've found that *some* of the Suzukis sound quite good, but others don't. They seem to have a problem with uniform quality control.

    I've settled on Hohner Big River Harps (They still have brass reeds and are still made in Germany) Special 20's and Golden Melodys.

  I keep a few Old Standbys around as an "at home practice" Harp, but wouldn't perform with them.

Offline WestbankAl

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #7 on: May 11, 2010, 10:48:22 AM »
I think most of the greats probably played Marine Bands as well, but it's hard to say. They probably used whatever was available, especially pre-war. Certainly brands like Pohl and Hotz made quality harps back then.
Regarding the Navy Band/Golden Melody/Delta Frost:
The Kratt company was making harps with bronze reeds and plastic combs starting around 1950. The best one IMHO was the Kris Kratt Super Philmonet, quite possibly the best mass produced harp ever made. They also produced a "Navy Band" model, distributed by John Luellen & Co., which may be why Hohner had to change the name of their plastic comb harp to "Golden Melody". Country harp greats Wayne Raney and Lonnie Glossen played and endorsed Kratt Harmonicas. Of course, they also hustled them on their radio shows.

Offline BlueInGreen

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #8 on: May 27, 2010, 05:12:11 AM »
For pure tonal quality in the earliest recorded prewar players, my favorite is Noah Lewis, particularly on his second position playing. It would be nice to know for sure what he used, but I assume it was Marine Band. Just listen to his plaintive tone:


I've been into playing prewar style harp for a while now. To get the most authentic prewar sound for my own playing, I use mostly Marine Bands. I haad several Hering 1923 but the Marine Bands seem to last much better. The Hering's have an issue with reed fatigue IMO. They go flat very easily. I also use Seydel 1847 harps customized by Ben Bouman of Holland. These use a compromise tuning so they work well for single notes and chording, and they play like butter for me. They also have stainless steel reeds. I've had two for years and they have yet to have any tuning issues or reeds go bad. They give a brighter sound to my prewar playing.

One of the original questions on this thread was, "Can anything be done to improve the sound of my Marine Bands?". I personally love the sound of the stock Marine Band harps. I think it is more a matter of developing playing technique and skill to make them sound as good as possible.

This is something of mine that is probably closest I come to Noah Lewis sound. Played on a stock Marine Band:
http://soundclick.com/share?songid=7534389

« Last Edit: May 27, 2010, 05:25:30 AM by BlueInGreen »

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #9 on: May 27, 2010, 07:24:03 AM »
I haven't a clue about playing mouth harp myself, but that last post mentions a couple of my favourite players. Noah Lewis is, for me, the best pre-war, i.e. unamplified exponent. Ben Bouman is an astonishingly talented harmonica man. I've seen him several times here in the south of England with the Marble Tones. The band claims to have broken up, but fortunately for us they keep reforming to do a mini-tour of SE England each year.
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Offline BlueInGreen

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #10 on: May 27, 2010, 09:33:41 AM »
Hi Parlor Picker, that's great that you've seen Ben. I met Ben online through the harmonicajam.com site. He's a great guy. When I went to San Francisco on business a few years ago, he was there with the Marble Tones touring the Bay area. I saw them play a great show just a 2 minute walk from my hotel. Ben gave me a prototype of his first customized 1847 harps at that show. I still have it and it works great!

Here's a recording collaboration I did with Ben years ago. He's on the harp and I'm on vocals:
http://soundclick.com/share?songid=5772957
« Last Edit: May 27, 2010, 09:36:09 AM by BlueInGreen »

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #11 on: May 28, 2010, 01:49:57 AM »
Yes, Ben is a true master of his instrument and has this great ability to play fantastically well whilst simultaneously leaping all over the place, jumping up and down and interacting with the audience.

As part of their act, the Marble Tones some times take off on a walkabout and the pictures below show them having arrived behind the bar, but still playing.
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline chaoszen

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #12 on: September 11, 2012, 12:23:48 AM »
Little Walter played a variety of Harps. Even a Chromatic. Back Track. Song key: F, Bb Harp, 2nd position.
 Blues With a Feeling. Song key: A, D Harp, 2nd position.
Boom, Boom Out Go The Lights Song key: E, A Harp, 2nd position.
 Can't Hold Out Much Longer. Song key: G, C Harp, 2nd position.
 I Hate To See You Go. Song key: G, C Harp, 2nd position.
 Juke. Song key: E, A Harp, 2nd position.
 Just Your Fool. Song key: A, D Harp, 2nd position.
 Mean Old World. Song key: F, Bb Harp, 2nd position.
My Babe. Song key: F, Bb Harp, 2nd position.
You're So Fine. Song key: E, A Harp, 2nd position.
 

Offline chaoszen

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #13 on: September 11, 2012, 12:26:10 AM »
Little Walter is my hero and teacher. Been perfecting my Harp since I was 10. And still can't match Little Walter. Although I'm getting close..

Offline blueshome

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #14 on: September 11, 2012, 08:29:35 AM »
Noah Lewis is the blues.........

Offline Westside

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #15 on: September 11, 2012, 07:18:50 PM »
Within the last couple of years Hohners quality has gotten a lot better again.  If you want a more airtight Marine band that won't swell, I would suggest the Marine Band Deluxe or the Marine Band Crossover.  Most of the pros that I know are currently playing Special 20s, Melody Makers, Crossovers, or the Suzuki Manji. Also, if you want to sound like Little Walter, Big Walter, or Sonny Boy, then tongue blocking is a must!

Offline frailer24

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #16 on: September 25, 2012, 01:17:11 PM »
Do not remember who, but I believe at least one artist used chromatics back in the day?
That's all she wrote Mabel!

Offline dj

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #17 on: September 25, 2012, 04:15:03 PM »
I'm not sure what you mean by "back in the day".  Off the top of my head,  I can't think of anyone playing chromatic pre-war, but Little Walter certainly played one in the 50s.  The first verse of Flying Saucer (March, 1956) is an example.

Offline frailer24

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #18 on: September 25, 2012, 09:37:21 PM »
Little Walter, that's who I was thinking of. I was speaking of 20's to 60's era.
That's all she wrote Mabel!

bayrum78

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #19 on: April 27, 2013, 07:54:34 AM »
This thread has been dormant for a while, but thought it worth sharing that since Hering Vintage 1923's are getting really hard to come by (I  think  the company went belly up a couple years ago), if you want a just tuned  harmonica to achieve the prewar sound,  give the Hohner Blue Midnight a try. I really like them. The chording sounds great and the two I bought from Sam Ash are responsive, the reeds easily bend, and they don't rattle like lungs with whooping cough. They are significantly cheaper than the MB Crossover's ($70 vs. $30) and since don't think I'll ever need overblows, I'm going to crossover to the blue midnight. I can't yet comment on durability since I bought my first two this week but so far, so good. Like the 1923, they are a little thicker than the MB, but unlike the Hering, doesn't make you gape like an anaconda with unhinged jaws in order to consume a large goat. Another difference  from the Hering 1923, is the look.  The 1923 looks like it sounds,  but  the BM looks like it traveled back in time to warn mankind how ugly the future will be. Actually,  I secretly like the translucent blue comb and inexplicably, like holding it up in the sunlight and looking through it (pretty dumb, I know).  I really do despise the look of the cover plate even though it is smooth on your lips like a woman's leg just after being chemically shaven with Nair.  I'll also add that unlike the hering, it doesn't taste like being downwind from Chernobyl, although honestly, I kind of like the metallic, industrial aftertaste. But then again, I think WD-40 ought to be marketed as a hair conditioner (no wonder my hair is falling out).   Perhaps one day I'll experiment with pimping my diatonic ride and retrofit the hering with the blue comb. I'll call this anchronistic and fishy looking sea monster  "Old Bluefin".

Offline frankie

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #20 on: April 27, 2013, 08:25:42 AM »
nice review. you and o'muck been drinking outta the same well, or what? :)

Offline sustaireblues

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #21 on: April 27, 2013, 11:41:48 AM »
Put a smile on my mug!

Offline Westside

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #22 on: April 27, 2013, 12:48:10 PM »
If price is an issue when choosing a harp and you like a plastic comb, I would save up a few extra bucks and pick up a Special 20.  The Blue Midnight is of Hohner's MS series and is very leaky. I guess if you like harps from the MS series then the Blue Midnight might suffice, but for a few bucks more the Special 20 is quite an upgrade.  The Special 20s are more airtight and generally gapped better out of the box. 
« Last Edit: April 27, 2013, 03:49:25 PM by Westside Ryan »

bayrum78

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #23 on: April 27, 2013, 07:19:27 PM »
Mostly agreed Westside, but my main reason for recommending the  BM's ( that sounds gross) is for the JI-7 tuning.  The chording is a little smoother sounding and the tuning is closer/identical to the prewar tuning. I agree they aren't quite as airtight as either the CO or the S20 but still, I wouldn't classify them as leaky. If you want a leaky piece of junk blow on a Bluesband. the only sound you will get from one arises from either a coughing fit or the thud of your head hitting the floor after becoming excessively lightheaded endeavoring  in vain to sustain a tone for more than half a millisecond.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #24 on: April 28, 2013, 07:45:15 AM »
This isn't for those in the know who are posting some interesting stuff here, more for the clueless like me who are following along with interest. When bayrum78 referred to JI-7 tuned harps, I googled and came up with this page of information:

http://www.patmissin.com/tunings/tunings.html

Offline unezrider

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #25 on: May 05, 2013, 07:31:44 PM »
hello friend,
thanks for the link, uncle bud. i wasn't aware of those things either.

for what it's worth, i just bought a hohner marine band 1896, & comparing it tonally to my hering vintage 1923, (both in the same key) the differences are negligible. the hering weighs a bit more, which makes it feel a bit more sturdy. but i'm not sure that that means anything. & i found they both play with the same amount of ease, as well.

i turned up this, too, which may be of some interest.
http://www.patmissin.com/ffaq/q38.html
"Be good, & you will be lonesome." -Mark Twain

bayrum78

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #26 on: May 06, 2013, 08:25:26 PM »
Hearing the differences between harmonica tunings can be quite subtle, particularly when a compromise tuning  is close to either  Just intonation or equal temperament.  Here is a link with an example that illustrates a noticeable difference  between  equal temperament tuning and just intonation. There is also an example of the more subtle difference between a compromise tuning that leans towards JI tuning such as the current tuning of the 1896 Marine Band and JI. http://www.patmissin.com/tunings/tun9.html

Keep in mind that there are many compromise tunings - not only between manufacturers but sometimes even between the models of a given manufacturer.  Here is a an excellent web site that explains harmonica tuning better than I can and actually charts the microtonal differences between models of harmonicas in cents (100th of a semitone) http://www.angelfire.com/music/harmonica/hohnertuningsbyepping.html

Here is a site that explains the fundamental an d historical problem of harmonizing a given note between between keys (the frequency of the pitch actually changes!).  Basically, JI preserves the harmonic integrity whereas compromise and ET do not. http://www.justonic.com/history.htm

Again, if you want to match to the original prewar harmonica tunes you HAVE to play a JI model of harmonica. I am of course assuming most, if not all prewar players  were  playing a Marine band 1896  or other JI tuned harmonicas. It would be interesting to research rival harmonica companies and the tunings they used. If other non JI tunings were commonly available then, It might be be worthwhile to listen for hallmark tuning sounds to potentially identify non JI pre-war diatonic harmonicas. With practice, an expert might even  be able to identify a  manufacturer/ model being played ( assuming the tuning was unique to  a model or manufacturer) and prove it based on the unique "fingerprint" or cent layout.  Admittedly making these extremely subtle tonal distinctions would require a discerning ear but hey, it's not like weenie members aren't up to the challenge!
« Last Edit: May 06, 2013, 08:29:52 PM by bayrum78 »

Offline frailer24

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #27 on: May 07, 2013, 01:48:44 AM »
If I had the extra time, I would do just that. My old Johnson harps are at least 2/3 sharp of the key indicated.
That's all she wrote Mabel!

Offline Lastfirstface

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #28 on: May 07, 2013, 06:22:08 AM »
This thread inspired me to attempt a 7-limit JI retuning one of my Lee Oskar's. I'll report back on my results.

bayrum78

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #29 on: May 07, 2013, 09:10:18 PM »
You brave soul! Altough I don't have the exact cents comparison between an ET Lee Oskar and JI-7, I know it is far afield and a serious undertaking. Outof sheer laziness. were I to undertake such a task, Iwould start with compromise tuned harmonica  to minimize the tuning. And belive me until realizing the Blue Midnight had rplaced teh Hering 1923 as the only JI model on the market, I was scheming on how to retune sonce it seemd inevitable. Can you share your methodology? Isit hard to do and are you using a chromatic tuuner? 

Offline iantonionni

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #30 on: May 08, 2013, 05:10:27 AM »
Hi,
I would recommend Richard Sleigh's book Turbocharge your Harmonica, it lists methods, tools and various tuning setups. Richard also has excellent videos on his YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/rsleighharp?feature=.
I use Marine Bands mostly, I have a couple of Crossovers, which I prefer to the Marine Band Deluxe, too many sharp edges on the MB deluxe. I also use Seydel Silver. I used to use the Hering Vintage, but the reeds did not last. I rarely blow out reeds, but was regularly blowing out the vintage ones.
I obtained a range of Blue Midnight harmonicas, but was not impressed, they have that leaky feel, like all the other MS series. Also the tuning was not great out of the box, definitely not JI, the chords can sound particularly sour.
Cheers
Anthony

Offline Westside

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #31 on: May 08, 2013, 10:38:29 AM »
Quote
Hi,
I would recommend Richard Sleigh's book Turbocharge your Harmonica...
I would second that recommendation.

Offline Jimmy J

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Re: What type of harps did the lates and greats use.
« Reply #32 on: May 08, 2013, 12:01:14 PM »
I added harp on a rack to my busking act last year, and it's proved to be a tremendous asset on all levels. Recently, I find I'm getting comfortable enough with harps that I can stretch out a bit with my tin pan alley songs. It's cool to not really know how I'm going to play any particular song, today.

I never really liked Marine Bands. They would swell too quickly on me to become unplayable. So, I started using Special 20's. And I've stayed with them ever since.

One thing that is of importance to me is the harmonica holder itself. The Hohner holders are too big and  bulky for me. I don't have a six-foot frame, alas. So, I find the Dunlop Harp Handle is the best choice to hold my Special 20s.
 
I recently bought a Hohner Flexrack. It gives me all the ability of the original Hohner rack, but allows me to adjust it to my shorter stature. Also, it allows me to put just about any type of harp, including chromonicas in it. So, I might start exploring with checking out a Suzuki or two. The problem with the Suzukis for me is that they won't find in the Dunlop Harp Handle. One other downside to this new Flexrack is its bulk. But, it may be worth it if I decide to switch to playing Suzukis.
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