Hey all! New guy here, from Maine USA.
A few weeks ago I found a vintage Hohner 48-chord for sale locally online. For years I have dreamed of owning one, after seeing a YouTube video of The Harmonicats performing “Peg-O-My-Heart” on the Ed Sullivan Show, 1952. I’d never heard of a 48-chord harmonica, but the moment I heard and saw Al Fiore playing that intro, I was enthralled. It’s such a fascinating oddball instrument. Such an enchanting sound, and it looks so hilariously impractical to play. I really wanted one, but the pricetag for a new one is… frankly more than I paid for my last car.
Then recently I spotted one I could afford for sale nearby and I jumped on it. When I got to the seller’s house, I told her about the Harmonicats video, her eyes lit up. She told me Al Fiore had lived nearby, she had been his close friend and bandmate for the last decade or so of his life. When he died, his widow gave her this harmonica as a gift. It was his prized pre-war reverse-layout Hohner chord harmonica, his #1, THE actual instrument he played on TV 71 years ago. Surreal.
It’s in my possession now, it’s in good shape, I really want to learn how to play it, but it feels too… special? Important? Like if there was a harmonica museum, maybe this belongs there.
I figured this would be the place to ask, I’d appreciate anyone’s input/advice. Thanks!!
Cool story. Great find.
Hello @wheezin_and_cheezin, welcome at our place! This is a truly special find! I think there are some Asians on YouTube who play these mega long harps very well. It may look strange to us, but these harp players have a good handle on these harps. Regards from Astrid
Oh my goodness @wheezin_and_cheezin that is absolutely amazing. Thank you for sharing this heartwarming story.
I think instruments are for playing! But I’d be inclined to ask my friend Boaz Kim. His thoughts on it… Let me see if I can get him…
Hi @wheezin_and_cheezin , it’s so great that you were able to buy one. 48 chord harmonicas are fun to play and can be a show stopper. I play and teach the 48 chord harmonica professionally (amongst the other harmonica types), repair/customize, and also know a bit about estimating the age of the old Hohner chord harmonicas. If you could include a few more photos of it, that would be helpful.
Just from the only photo posted, it’s at least in good-okay shape. One chamber is broken in the comb. Otherwise I think (pretty much for sure) that this chord would probably have been made after the 1940’s or even after the 1950’s, so it’s not “pre-war” but possibly uses one of the older layouts of chords that Hohner originally used.
Al Fiore went through a bunch of chord harmonicas in his 45+ year career spanning before and after his time in the Harmonicats. He started on one of the Hohner chord harmonicas that had that old chord layout. Because the Harmonicats became very famous in 1947 and stayed in the spotlight for a while, Hohner continued to make them in the older layout just for Al Fiore whenever he wore one out. Every other chord player had to learn the newer (and current) layout or find/maintain the very old chord harmonicas. Al Fiore was known to giveaway/sell his chords when they were used up so there are more than several still in existence.
Post more photos of it and the case it came in if you can. Otherwise, if your chord harmonica doesn’t smell odd like mold, and looks to be pretty clean, I’d say keep it to play and learn on. You’ll probably need to have it professionally cleaned and serviced, which is what I would do.
I hope that helps!
Wow @Boaz_Kim_Music thank you so much for posting all this info! Hopefully @wheezin_and_cheezin will post more photos for us?