I Impulse Bought a $250 Harmonica (Lesson Learned)

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! :joy:)


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? :thinking:

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.)


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! :exploding_head:

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.

Todd continued:

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.”


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. :wink:

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:

:point_right: your passion

:point_right: your education, and

:point_right: your musical equipment


You will REAP:

:+1: Inspiration

:+1: Knowledge, and

:+1: Musical excellence

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. :wink: (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.


Mmm thanks a lot! So now I have to have one. Sounds really good. I had a lesson with Alex. He said get a better harmonica. Is that a good enough excuse?


Yes @toogdog DO IT! If it’s not a financial hardship for you, then TREAT YO’ SELF!!! Late Christmas present. :wink:


Great story, Luke. I have yet to master an overblow. A $250.00 harmonica is a bit out of my budget right now. May get a YOLO moment and give it a go someday though. I remember the first time I learned about William Wilde’s custom tuned Seydel harmonicas and watched a video of him doing the guitar solo to Free Bird on one. OMG! I told myself I needed that in my life! Finally found the elusive item for sale on line and got it. Can I too do that Free Bird solo now?? Nope. but it is a nice addition to the collection and fun to use it during a jam session on certain songs. And, no, I still am working on mastering the Richard Salwitz (AKA magic Dick of J. Giles Band) over blow with little success.


Hey @peg_T right on my friend. Yeah, someone mentioned Arkia harps being good for overblows. Their production has been a bit backed up, but I’m hoping to get one soon so that I can compare it to a Joe Spiers harp.

I don’t think overblows should be attempted until draw bends have been mastered.

I could be wrong, but I don’t believe Magic Dick ever used overblows?

Rock on! :sunglasses:


Thanks Luke. I have never heard of Arkia brand harps. Will have to check them out.
I have been doing draw bends for quite a while, but never mastered the elusive over blow. If Magic Dick isn’t doing overblows on those high notes then do you know what technique he uses to get that signature sound of his?
have you ever heard of the Harmo brand harmonicas?


Ok, It’s my birthday soon so I’m ordering one. It isn’t only one you can order. Which one do you suggest.


Okay. How do you do a blow bend? Only familiar with draw bends. It would be great to learn this technique. Thanks


@Peg yeah somebody in the forum turned me onto them, I’m just ordering my first one so I’ll keep you posted.

Yeah overblows and blow bends are very different things. And I think blow bends are more fundamental and helpful. You can blow bend 8’, 9’, and 10’ and 10" (the 10" is what Magic Dick wails at the beginning of Whammer Jammer.)

It’s just the same technique as draw bends, just blowing instead of drawing. I say “kyuh” and the “y” part of the word bends the pitch down. But all the sam tricks for draw bends apply for blow bends.

If you can play the -6’, the 9’ is the same note an octave higher. So if you play -6 to -6’, then try and copy the same sound 9 to 9’.

@toogdog I"m so excited for you! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! So I’ve only played his Marine Bands (and all mine have Todd Parrott combs which are $40 + shipping from Todd to Joe, and then Joe deducts $20, so adds about $25 to the total price of the harmonica, BUT Todd has BEAUTIFUL combs and you can hand select your color the exact comb you want.)

Otherwise, the Marine Band will have a wooden comb a la the Marine Band Deluxe except Joe Spiers also customizes THAT to make it even more comfy and I know he’s very proud of the work he does on the combs.

I have a marine band on order (Cm Natural Minor) that is supposed to arrive in March, so I’ll find out what the SP20’s are but I know it’ll be AMAZING.

Sp20 has a bit darker, warmer, duller sound. Marine Band has a bit brighter (but not shrill) sound. The tone is amazing. I’m so excited you’re gonna treat yo self!

Yes, I just played my first Harmo harmonica to do a review, and sadly I’m not a fan. (I don’t enjoy writing bad reviews.)


I’m so happy that you got to meet Todd and got those Spiers harps like he has. I’ve actually been recommended by him to check those out myself and they are decently priced for custom harps. I never tried them though so I can’t testify for how good they actually are.
I recently got a few harps over the past month, one of them being a customized OG Golden Melody in Eb from Blue Moon Harmonicas that was gifted to me as a contest prize by modern harmonica legend, and a good friend of mine, Jason Ricci. It is All-American colored with a red, white, and blue acrylic comb made by Tom Halchak and American flag cover plates. She’s a real beauty and plays pretty good too. I had to adjust the four draw a bit in order to get the short staccato sounds I sometimes use, but I can do overblow bends on it. Sadly, I can’t use overdraws yet.


Thanks, Luke
I will be practicing this and maybe , just maybe, will finally master Whammer Jammer…or a reasonable rendition of it. Sorry the Harmo instruments are not worthy of a good review, but thankful to know beforehand.

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@KeroroRinChou I’m playing all the overdraws and overblows and I bought custom combs from Todd for mine, so I ended up paying like $345 a pop I believe. :flushed: BUT…worth every penny!!! :sunglasses::notes:

@toogdog sooo…are you gonna TREAT YO’ SELF???

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I’ve sent the first email contact form today. Excited about the order.
On a different nite I followed someones suggestion months ago and requested Tod Parrot lessons from his website and got no response. I guess he’s really busy or the timezone issue with western australia put him off. Not sure.


@peg_T I think he uses blow bends - but the only harp song I am familiar with by J. Geils is Whammer Jammer.

Challenging notes to play fast!

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Its ordered! Special 20 II. Delivered with his comb $384$au for any one interested. Delivery hopefully late April


Let us know how it goes @toogdog.
I seem to recall reading that you can choose the colour of the comb, is that correct or am I confusing it with something else?


Coloured comb is an add on from another party. I think Todd Parrot. I didn’t do that.