I Impulse Bought a $250 Harmonica (Lesson Learned)
I recently wrote about making my maiden voyage to SPAH, the world’s largest harmonica convention. (If you missed it, check it out here.)
I’d like to follow-up with the story I promised you of how/why I chose to impulse buy a harmonica for $250… without even having first talked to my better half. (Come to think of it, she actually called in the middle of the transaction, and I confessed what was going on! )
STEP 1: THE SEED IS PLANTED
It all started with an innocent dinner… when my new friend John told me the story of his recent acquisition of several Joe Spiers harmonicas, and how happy he was with them.
Before this moment, I had never even heard of Joe Spiers or his harmonicas.
John had shelled out $250/harmonica + endured a 6 month wait for his set of customized Special 20’s. His rationale for shelling out the dough and waiting so long? He’d NEVER have to wonder if HIS HARMONICA was the obstacle to ANY TECHNIQUE he wanted to learn.
He’d always know, if there was anything he couldn’t do, it was because he simply hadn’t yet mastered the technique.
OK. I can understand the logic. Still though. $250 for a harmonica?
Here’s a selfie we snapped outside the restaurant where we had dinner that fateful night…
That’s John on the right - the culprit who first planted the seed in my head. (So yeah, my impulse buy is kinda his fault.)
STEP 2 - THE PROOF IS IN THE JUICE
The next day in the vendor hall I bumped into Todd Parrott. He played overblows and overdraws (a technique employed to get the 6 notes that don’t exist on the harmonica with regular draw and blow bends) but with tone and expressiveness that I’d never heard or known possible. He was bending in and out of them, adding vibrato - all the same kinda things you’d hear done on regular bends. WOW!
When it comes to my own personal journey with overblows, I’ve written extensively about it in the forum, but suffice to say that a little less than a year prior to SPAH, in Sep ‘22, I wrote a post declaring that I’d made a QUALITY DECISION NOT to waste any more time pursuing the use of overblows in my playing.
Standing here now face to face with Todd Parrott and actually hearing him play in 2nd position, ripping soulful, bluesy lines in the upper octave that I’d always only dreamed I could play, I found myself reconsidering my Sep ‘22 decision.
I asked him how in the world he was getting that kind of tone, vibrato, and expressiveness on his overblows and overdraws. Todd replied:
“Oh I wouldn’t be able to play these on any stock harp. I can only play like this because I’m playing a Joe Spiers harmonica.”
There’s that same fricken name again! I thought.
“You can’t race in the Indy 500 with a Toyota Camry. You can’t play overblows and overdraws on a stock harp. That’s just what it is. You gotta have the right tool for the job. And the right tool for overblows is a Joe Spiers harmonica.”
STEP 3: OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS
A couple hours later I was at Jerry Pierro’s amazing class listening to excerpts of his childhood lessons with the inimitable master Sonny Terry (by the way, if you like funk at all I highly recommend Jerry Peirro’s Mudbone Live album - I’ve had it on repeat for a few months. You can buy it here.)
At the end of the class he says, “by the way there’s a guy here named Peter who bought a whole bunch of Joe Spiers harmonicas just so people could buy them WITHOUT HAVING TO WAIT 6 months. He’s got one from the batch left: the key of C.
If anyone wants one, LMK and I can put you in touch with him. It’s $250."
Guess what I thought to myself?
I gotta get that harp before someone else grabs it!
I’ve always only half-jokingly said that the musical journey is a mystical journey. And this didn’t feel like a coincidence, but more like an appointment with destiny.
I marched right up to Jerry Fierro and let him know I wanted to purchase the harmonica RIGHT AWAY.
Todd Parrott was sitting there eating a sandwich, and in between bites, he gave me pointers, and right then and there, for the first time in my life, I started playing overblows and overdraws that sounded good.
A couple weeks after I returned from SPAH - for the first time in my life - I actually used overblows on a gig. I got to play notes I’d NEVER played on a gig in my entire life.
Inspiration has come home to roost.
So what’s the takeaway here? Do I think you should go spend $250 and learn overblows?
NO! But as harmonica players, if our goal is inspiration, we have to invest time and money into instruments and other resources to inspire us.
Here’s the principle:
When you INVEST in:
your education, and
your musical equipment
You will REAP:
So invest wisely, yes. Just don’t fail to invest at all.
For me, in this case, it was a $250 Joe Spiers harmonica, and continuing now with some $40 lessons with Todd Parrott.
What is it for you?
How will you fuel your inspiration?
Maybe it’s upgrading your instrument, or maybe it’s investing in my Beginner to Boss course. (couldn’t resist.)
Oh, and btw, re: Joe Spiers harmonicas, I’m going to keep investigating them and putting them to the test, but I’m inclined to think they may be my new favorite “most expensive” harmonicas.