Some Harmonica Reviews!

Okay, so you’ve hopefully read about the best places to buy your harmonicas – Parts One & Duex – And you may be thinking: “Hey, dude, you didn’t really say what you thought about all those harmonica sets you purchased, now did you?!”

Well, correct-o mundo, fellow harpsters and harpsterettes! <<<new words I invented. Pretty cool, huh? Anyway…>>>

Well hopefully you looked and read through Ian Chadwick’s reviews. Here again, if you haven’t:

Thing is, while his reviews are very well done and he did an outstanding job on everything – well, sure, some might think they’re a little dated.

Yes, well, I might agree to a point. Thing is, he really did his homework and wrote honest reviews to the best of his abilities. Kudos to him on that note!

And yes, it’s just one person’s opinion. And I’ll agree with that too.

I like reading reviews if and wherever I can find them. Especially when it comes to my laying out my hard earned money for harp sets is concerned.

So along with Ian’s insights, here’s my reviews of the harps I have:

Hohner Big Rivers

I like them. They’re sturdy, strong and very well made. Sound is great! And they are part of Hohner’s MS (Modular System) Class of instruments. The MS means that like Lee Oskars you can swap/change out bad reed plates with new reed plates; and at a much cheaper cost than buying a whole new harp, at that!

But just a few cautionary notes here though:

A) Because of their unique cover design (they’re concave and are rounder than a flat top harmonica) the first time you go to play one, your lips and mouth may just have one of those “Huh? WTF is going on here?” moments! I know mine did.

I thought ‘Oh, man, I just spent a lot of money on these harmonicas, and they’re funky feeling – How am I ever going to play these things?!’

Well, thing is, my hands liked the way the Big River felt in them. So with a little kind understanding to my lips and mouth, I gave it a shot.

And too – One of my Aha-Eureka! Moments was born!

Meaning, no matter what kind of harmonicas you get and start with – Whenever you change the harps and try something new and/or different – You will have to learn how to get accustomed to the harmonica all over again!

Yeah, I know it sounds a bit self-evident; but really it’s not. At least to me it wasn’t –Forgive me, Lord, but I’m/was only a truck driver for gosh sakes!

Except for a few reviews here and there, I really didn’t understand what they were talking about on how the Big Rivers “feel” when you first play them. And honestly, you won’t either, until you actually hold and play one for the very first time yourself.

And yes, if your lips and mouth experience that “Huh? What’s going on here” moment –Well, rest assured it will pass. I like my Big Rivers, for sure. But…

B) Yes, it’s true the reeds on them are stiff, or stiffer than most other harps you get right out of the box. And this is where and one of those times you do and/or should have to take the time to “break” in the harmonica.

Meaning, don’t go crazy and try to start bending right off the bat. You’ll really knock it out of tune and whack if you do so – faster than one of those China tin toys at that!

{Which reminds me: What’s the best ‘made in China’ BluesBand International Hohner harmonica I ever played? Easy enough – the one that’s still in its box! But I digress…}

So how do you break in your Big River then? Easy, by chugging on it! That’s right – Go to JP Allen’s dvd #5 – “Blowing the Roof off the House” and start in on those train track sounds! With just a bit of whistles added, you’ll break your harmonica in easy like.

And yet too, you can open it up and massage them stiff reeds up or down as the case may be. But caution: If you’ve never worked on harmonicas before, don’t start here. Am speaking from experience I am. Okay onwards and upwards…

Hohner Special 20s

I do like them. One of the first harmonicas I ever bought was a Special 20 C. I played on that for hours going down the road. Somewhere along the way I misplaced/ lost it. But have no fear – I now have a whole new set. Well, A, C, D, E & G. at least from MusiciansFriend.

These made in Germany harmonicas are very responsive (meaning, they’ll adjust to your breathing in and out easily). Yet, with anything, they will have to eventually be opened up and worked on. But luckily enough, they really do require low maintenance. (If only could find a girlfriend like that…but I digress! So onto…)

Lee Oskars

About the same time I bought my first Special 20, I also picked up an LO C. I still have it; as well have purchased a whole set to play on. A, Bb, C, D, E, F & G!

My feeling is, as JP discusses in his early dvds, they might have to be worked on out of the box, or shortly thereafter. Reason: You might find the reeds sticking more often than you care to. So you have to open them up and do a little massage therapy on them. But they’ll eventually, hopefully respond. Mine certainly do now.

Too, contrary to what one might think, TOMBO, who makes LOs is a company from Japan, not China. A little better quality there. So it is, so it goes.

That’s not to say either, that pros don’t use them. They most certainly do. And if you visit YouTube with any frequency, you’ll see them being played around on the vids.

Which now takes me over to:

Hohner Golden Melody (or Melodys)

Originally, I wasn’t going to invest in GMs. Yet Rupert Oysler worked on them in his classic ‘Harmonica Repair & Modification: Volumes 1 & 2’ DVD set; Steve Baker recommended them in his classic, and considered by many players, the bible of harmonica books: ‘The Harp Handbook’; as well as a lot of YouTube players played them too!

But the real reason I invested in GMs is because of Howard Levy’s ‘New Directions for Harmonica – Expanding Your Technique’ Homespun video now turned CD.

This is the ’92 classic, where if you’ve ever seen it or not, still, Howard looks like he was in a “throwback to the 70s porno Harry Reems’ looking” phase of his life or something. (No, really! Some reviews have said as much! Anyway…)

This, my introduction to the great Howard Levy – I wanted to learn what he knows; so he recommended getting Golden Melodys. Henceforth, I invested in them right then and there.

I have A, C, D, E, F, G and B (yes, an actual B)!

Yes, I do like them. Now that is, because here’s the thing one should know about GMs:

Like Big Rivers, they do take your mouth and lips time to adjust to them. Especially for this very reason: Ever so slight as they may be, the tops of the harmonicas have protruding/extended brass plates on either side.

What exactly does that mean?

Well, the first time you go to ‘tongue’ along the harp (and yes, tonguing helps in playing tunes and so forth) – if you’re not familiar with the harp and/or you have very soft mouth and lips, and who doesn’t – Bazinga! Ouch! You have to be careful with your mouth, tongue, and lips because those protruding/extended plates may/can slice you like a razor blade!

It’s true, fellow harpsters and harpsterettes! I did it; and I’m all better now, thanks for asking!

But yet too, I also wondered why nobody mentioned it before! I certainly never read anything on it. So, well, I’m mentioning it here and now!

Yes, I play my GMs; but I’m also aware of the built in Ginsu-knife effects from them too. As well you should be also if you invest and play them for the very first time.

{I’ll end these reviews here…And start another post after this one!}

{Reviews Part 2}

Yeah okay – so by all accounts one might think I don’t like made in China harps. Well nothing could be further from the truth. Because of the following:

Huang Silver Tone Deluxe

Truth be told, I only owned one HSTD in C and still do. <<<Just noticed the initials stand for Huang Silver Tone Deluxe not Herpes Sexually Transmitted Disease…but I digress…>>

Unusual is its top design, in that it’s not flat, nor ‘bowed’ out or convex like Big Rivers; instead it’s tapered/angled in such a way to fit the lips and mouth better.

While I like playing my HSTD, and found I was actually bending on it before I ever knew about bending – This being said, I did not invest in anymore of them. Here’s why:

Okay, in Norton Buffalo’s dvd set, the written material said that he played Huang harps for 13 years and endorsed them wholeheartedly. Fine, all well and good.

I’m kicking around on my other harps, and waiting for my sliced tongue to heal from the attack of the GM, when while surfing for information on SPAH (Society of the Preservation and Advancement of Harmonica) what appears but the announcement of Howard Levy’s new online harmonica school! Well I wasn’t the first one to sign up, but did so within the first month of its arrival.

Here’s the thing and the God’s honest truth: Having no other pictures of Howard Levy to go on other than his dvd which I owned, I really wanted to see if he was still looking Harry Reemsish! Really, really! Yeah, I know it sounds odd, but it’s just me!

And for $60 a quarter year, $20 a month – Well, maybe I could learn something from him too!

First thing I learned – well, after the fact he doesn’t look Harry Reemsish anymore, rather a very nice distinguished gentleman at that – is that Howard Levy no longer plays Golden Melodys. No, instead, he plays on Joe Filiskos.

For those who don’t know – Joe Filisko is/was a world-renowned harmonica customizer. To put it into perspective – Joe Filisko is to harmonicas what Antonio Stradivari was – A genius instrument builder in his circles. And in those circles, owning a Joe Filisko would be like owning a Stradivarius – or so I’ve heard!

I say this because Joe Filisko is now and has been for sometime retired; not from playing, no; but from customizing harmonicas. He virtually left everything and turned it over to his protégé, Richard Sleigh, a good man and harmonica maestro in his own right!

So Howard Levy says he now plays on Joe Filiskos. For me it was an Aha-Eureka albeit bummer moment!

Well, I couldn’t purchase any Joe Filiskos for one. But also, because Howard Levy had at one time endorsed Golden Melodys. And the key word here is ‘endorsed.’ So too, did Norton Buffalo ‘endorse’ Huangs. And hopefully they made a bundle for doing so; yet as well by the time I found this out – Mr. Norton Buffalo himself had passed on. (October 30, 2009! But his legend still lives on! Happy to say!!)

But yes and no, I still like and recommend Norton Buffalo’s dvd two volume set, but no, I never further invested in Huang either.

If you did or do and would like to post comments here, please do! Which brings me to:

Hohner Piedmont Blues

Okay, yes, these are made in China harmonicas. Yes, except for the reed plates, screws and nuts holding them together, they are virtually made of black plastic. Yes, they come in their own velvety crushproof box containing the all the keys – A, Bb, C, D, E, F & G!

And yes, I like them! So much so that I have two whole sets of them. Why? Because they’re inexpensive for one; but they’re also just plain fun harmonicas to have and play around with.

For those who want to learn the art and science of maintenance, gapping, etc. and need some starter harmonicas to do so – Piedmonts are a great place to begin. Plus, once you have them gapped and set properly (after giving them a rest, which you just may have to do more than once) – they do and will bend.

And if you don’t want to lug a whole box around with you, put one or two in lint-free lady’s socks and you have yourself a ready-made carrying case. It’s just that easy.

(One word about using lady’s socks though. My mother passed on recently and left amongst her clothes were her little feet socks. So I dropped a couple of Piedmonts inside a pair and carried them around. When I went to play them – Ooh, yuck! Yes, they were clean. However, the socks had retained the smell of the fabric softener used in the process. And this odor bled over to the Piedmonts. Well, I washed out the Piedmonts, as well as the socks with no detergent. Harmonicas, socks, and me are all doing fine now! Just saying…)

So I leave my Piedmonts laying around the house in strategic areas to pick up and play whenever. And my favorite going out ones to walk along with are A and Bb!

Which finally here brings me down to:

Mojo Deluxe Blues & Rock Harmonica

Yes, there’s actually a harmonica called Mojo!

And this, as far as I’m aware, is the exclusive US harp of the great teacher David Harp!

But what the heck is a Mojo?

Good question! Answer: It’s a little cheap ‘made in China’ harmonica.

If anyone ever orders and gets his “Instant Blues Harmonica” book, cd, with harp included – The Mojo in C is exactly what you’re going to get.

Thing is, I like David Harp’s harmonica books, tapes and cds. Long before there was the internet and JP Allen, there was David Harp. At least in the various music stores I’d visit in my travels. So I bought his books. Now come years later, and David Harp is still around. And so is his Mojo!

So along with buying a lot of his updated product line, I ordered up a whole set of: A, Bb, D, E, F, & G! Thing is, if you buy the whole set for only $7 per harp ($42 total) you can also get 2 Cs for only $10. How nice!

What the heck, right?! Fun enough!

When I get my next tuner, my plan is to start messing around with different tunings. Maybe even swap out some reed plates to create a Lee Oskar-type Melody Maker. And the Mojos will definitely be a big help in these projects. Will keep you posted on all that!

So these are the harmonicas I have.

But do I have any on my wish list?

Yes! I just ordered Turbo BX/20s from TurboHarp. Word has it that they’re Special 20s on steroids! Hopefully they’re right! Will let you know when I get them in!

Finally, I hope to eventually invest in Harrisons – The only harmonicas fully made in the USA.

Yet at around $200 a pop per; and an almost 6-month waiting list. Well, I can still dream, can’t I? If anyone here has a Harrison, please let us know what you think of it!

And finally, I hope to one day get into Chromatic Harp as well. But that requires more research on my part and still quite a ways off yet.

In any event – Hope my reviews help you in deciding what you want to play; as well as feel free to post your feedback on your own harmonicas too!

Keep on smiling!

Keep on harpin’!

Thanks for reading!