Different Tuning Harmonicas

Welcome to the exciting rabbit hole of alternate tuned harmonicas!

OK, so besides regular tuned harmonicas, I have lot of experience playing the NATURAL MINOR harmonicas.

Of course, I’m a Lee Oskar guy right now so I’m playing LO’s, but Hohner also makes NATURAL MINORS. These tunings are so great not only for playing minor blues, but also for playing harmonica with a lot of Reggae, Hip Hop, Pop, and Latin music, to name a few, that are in minor keys. You can hear me playing one on a hip hop track here.

You can ask @brodie how much fun they are. He just got his first Am, which is the first key I recommend trying. These harps are labeled in 2nd position. So an Am harmonica is in a comparable register to a standard D harmonica but is tuned so that when you draw it’s an Am chord (rather than an A) and when you blow it’s a Dm chord (rather than a D.)

Another very popular harmonica tuning is Brendan Power’S PADDY RICHTER, which is similar to Lee Oskar MELODY MAKER The feature that these tunings share is the blow 3 is a whole step higher. This tuning is absolutely FANTASTIC for country, Celtic, and many other styles.

For BP’s Paddy Richter Tuning, that’s the only difference between it and standard.

The Lee Oskar MELODY MAKER takes it a step further and also raises the -5 and -9 a half-step. These changes enable you to play a major scale in 2nd position without having to do the bends and overblows you’d have to do to otherwise achieve the same scale.

Any song that you’re soloing for a long time over the V chord, it’s so nice to have that 3 instead of having to do the difficult -3". And on the MELODY MAKER it’s nice to have the -5 as well. And, of course you can still bend down the -5 a half-step to get the blue note that you get on a -5 in 2nd position normally. I recently played one on a song for the Dan Horne band that will be released soon, and I’ll post a link once it’s released.

But, as Lee Oskar states on their website, MELODY MAKER’s are not ideal for blues.

Lee Oskar also makes a HARMONIC MINOR which is labeled in 1st position key, and has a more eastern, mystical quality to it. I love it, but hit it has rare applications in western music (I’ve never used mine on a gig or recording session to date.) Check out JP Allen shredding one here.

Brendan Power makes several other tunings. The POWERBENDER looks so fascinating to me. I haven’t played one yet, but it’s tuned where the top half is like the bottom half where the draws are higher than the blows. I can’t wait to try one of these! @slim do you have one of these? Brendan Power says it’s the main tuning he plays. 10 reeds’ tunings have changed. Every single draw note bends on the harmonica. You can see Brendan. demonstrate it here.

I’m a little confused on the difference between the POWERBENDER and the POWERDRAW. I want to get them both and check them out. You can see Brendan Power playing the POWERDRAW here.

Also from Brendan Power’s website, here is a list of various tunings so you can see them all next to each other and compare the differences.

You can see from this chart that there are many other tunings I haven’t explored that are mentioned here. So what about you? What tunings have you explored? What are your favorites?

Aloha,
Luke

Hi Luke,

I have my Lucky 13 models as PowerDraw models. This layout is probably easiest for most players to quickly adapt their playing style as the hole 6 is exactly as you expect (e.g. on a C harp: 6 blow = G, 6 draw = A). Things only change for holes 7-10 (which are exactly like the layout found in the PowerBender models).

My preference has changed, however, and I now enjoy playing the PowerBender models more than the PowerDraw. For me, at least, they are easiest for jazz (not that I am all that great at playing jazz, but it at least makes things easier for me). The biggest adjustments (in my opinion) for those moving from a standard blues harp layout to the PowerBender (using a C harp as my example):

  • Hole 5: blow = D, draw = E (permits Eb via a simple bend!) – Hole 4 draw is also (still) a D.
  • Hole 6: blow = F, draw = G (bending is now possible!)

As I mentioned holes 7-10 are the same layouts on both PowerBender and PowerDraw – and let me tell you: you can really have some fun bending those draws up there – especially the holes 7 draw (B to Bb), 8 draw (D to Db) and 9 draw (G to F# to F)!! The high note bends might sound a bit shrill at first, but with good technique (= practice!) you can make them sound quite nice – for example: don’t try to play them too loudly, but rely on your amp for volume!! :point_left:

Overblows are seldom required with the PowerBender (or with the PowerDraw, for that matter). Examples where overblows are required with the PowerBender:

  • Hole 1 overblow to get Eb – nothing unusual for regular harp players.
  • Hole 6 overblow to get Ab (not Bb as usual – Bb is now a simple draw bend on hole 7)
  • Hole 8 overblow to get Eb

I play Seydel PowerBender models. :sunglasses:

Regards,

– Slim

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Hey Slim - thanks so much for clarifying the difference between the POWERBENDER and POWERDRAW tunings.

Wow, both these tunings are so revolutionary. I’m really looking forward to checking them out. I can see why you, like Brendan Power himself, might like the the PowerBender better.

With the -6 being the root note in cross harp, you can bend into it in a similar way that you can bend into the -2 (of course you can only bend it down a half-step instead of a whole-step though.)

The biggest drawback to that tuning I can see would be not having that great iconic blues trill between -4 and -5. But, as you said, much easier to play jazzier stuff on. I wonder what percentage of the time you find yourself picking up your PowerBenders vs. your traditional tuned harps?

  • Hole 1 overblow to get Eb – nothing unusual for regular harp players.

Speak for yourself Slim! :joy: :rofl: As of the date of this writing, this harmonica player has not yet learned overblows!

Well I have actually successfully done overblows on the 6 of my F harmonica, but that’s as far as I’ve delved into the technique thus far…

Thanks again for sharing, Slim!

Aloha,
Luke

Hey Luke! Don’t get the wrong idea: I’ve never been able to do a +1o (hole one overblow) :rage: :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes: – but I keep trying in the hope that someday something wonderful will happen! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

I can say that I use the PowerBenders and the “normal” diatonic harp almost equally often (50-50).

You are right about the -4/-5 trill – I miss it too! I seem to only manage reasonable chord playing down in the low end on the PowerBender and PowerDraw harps – but higher up on my “normal” diatonics I never really do that so much anyway, so I don’t miss that on the Power-Harps: I’m more of a single note player (inherited from my first instrument: the flute).

Best regards,

– Slim

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OK, cool, that makes me feel better. :wink: Most of my favorite harp players I grew up listening to don’t use overblows (with the notable exception of harmonica overblow and overdraw master Howard Levy, of course.) So I don’t really sweat it too much.

There was a time in my life that I felt really committed to learning the technique so that I could finally get those “missing notes.” But, what I gathered from scouring forums and what not, the reeds really need to be gapped close.

Of course closely gapped reeds can choke if too close. I found I could get the harp to overblow, but it would choke sometimes when playing normally, or I could get it to never choke, but then I couldn’t overblow, lol.

WOW! 50/50 between PowerBender and Normal tuned!! Okay your fueling the fire for me to finally pull the trigger on one!

Aloha,
Luke

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I know exactly what you mean – it’s what I refer to as the “gap trap:laughing:

I don’t actually use overblows much at all – and I never have really mastered an overdraw so that I could use it and /or make it sound good … which is why I like the PowerBender and PowerDraw harps.

BTW, you should also check out (in case you have not already done so) the Wilde Tuning that Seydel makes for the English harp star Will Wilde. It’s an interesting variation on the PowerBender layout that you might like.

Regards,

– Slim

Hi Luke and Slim,

I have an IronWorks set of harmonicas that I was tricked into buying because of a sale. I have the Honer Blues Band I got with Happy Harpin’, and a C G A set of Horner 20 Specials - I use the C for the Beginner to Boss course. I also got a Lucky 13 in F because I play the Blues on my Ukulele in C and maybe someday I can put those two together. I like the low bass on the Lucky 13s and am leaning towards. I feel like that would be a good way for Single Man Banding. The Blues is my driving force but I also like to play other songs always looking to put a swing or blues feel to it. For example, playing Amazing Grace in 4/4 with a Boogie Woogie feel is awesome and Luke’s version of Amazing Grace in the course rocks. With that said, I think the Power Draw would be the best way to go but to be honest I don’t really feel like I have a clue. It would allow me to continue learning the blues in Break Through Blues in cross harp and it would only require some minor tweaks when playing other songs in the upper range. Any advice would be great and if I’m way off please tell me I won’t be offended - I only know what I know but want to know more.

Cheers,
Kevin

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It sounds to me like you are doing well without me adding anything additional. :sunglasses: However, if you ever have specific questions I’m sure Luke, myself or someone else will be glad to assist you.

When I was still living in the USA I played in various joints around the Atlanta, GA area (mostly as a duo with a super guitarist/singer) and we played many “Gospel” (or traditional) songs with nice bluesy swing to them – and I think that the listeners really enjoyed it (I know I did!).

Keep workin’ on the Beginner to Boss course as I’m sure you can’t go wrong there!! :+1: :notes:

Regards,

– Slim

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Hey Kevin - yeah, exactly. I think you’re right on track here. I haven’t played a PowerBender yet (hoping to soon) but from what I gather, you’re correct in thinking that everything that you’re learning in the bottom half of the harmonica will become playable in the top half as well.

Rock on, man.

-Luke

That’s cool to learn about you Slim. I have a friend who is a great guitar player, and we are talking about trying to record some spirituals later this year.

You’ve probably said before, but where do you live now?

Aloha,
Luke