Mostly Water Chromatics MIDI

Spence Pearson asks about chromatics, and about an electronic
MIDI harmonica.

The MIDI harmonica exists, at least in prototype. That's the good
news. The bad news (at least from your point of view) is that,
while it was originally developed with a 12-hole chromatic
"interface," the developer decided that for marketing reasons it
made more sense to configure it as a 10-hole diatonic.

For more information, contact

Ron Schille
701 Mills Avenue #3
San Bruno CA 94066

The problem you mention about slow response on the bottom octave
of your E chromatic is typical of lower-key 12-holes, and often
of sixteen hole instruments. The reeds often require very gentle
activation. This can be altered somewhat by setting the gap
between the reed and the reedplate (the offset) a little higher.
If leakage is the problem ("around the stop" is how my download
reads, and I'm not sure what that means), you might try
tightening the screw that holds down the mouthpiece on the left
side. If you tighten it too much, the slide won't move, so you
have to find the optimal level.

Have you checked to make sure all the windsaver valves are
intact? Valve removal can also cause the kind of poor response
you describe. Windsavers are little strips of plastic mounted on
the opposite side of the reedplate from a valve, glued down at
one end. When air is blown into a hole, it pushes the draw
widsaver shut, preventing air from escaping through the draw
reed, and vice versa.

The whiney problem you're experiencing on your CX-12 is something
that's difficult to diagnose without actually hearing it, and I
don't own one, although I've tried them out. The the top octave
on a chromatic has no windsaver valves (air leakage isn't a
problem up there), and thus the blow and draw reeds interact as
they would on a diatonic, which makes the timbre much brighter,
and makes the draw reeds bend easier. This could be part of what
you're hearing.

You might try playing long, soft, straight notes, with your throat open
and your tongue relaxed. Concentrate on getting a large, rich
sound. This will require a different resonant cavity (throat and
tongue position) and different breath control from what works in
the lower register.

As far as different models of chromatic, there are lots of

I haven't played the Suzuki Leghorn (as in Foghorn P. Leghorn,
the Rooster who wouldn't shut up?), but stories abound that it's
the same as the Huang 1248, with different tellers claiming that
one or the other mfr gets the good ones and leaves the bad ones
to the other. I have no idea who's right about this stuff.

I had a Huang 1248 for awhile. It had a bright tone, and was very
responsive - almost too much for me, as I tend to play fairly
hard. Also, being used to Hohners, I found that the slide seemed
to require a different length of press, which meant re-learning
all my slide reflexes. After a few months I lost it in a taxicab.

Hering, a Brazilian company, has an old Hohner factory where they
make 12 and 16 holes chromatics. These are inexpensive, and the
16-holers are a wood-comb (not plastic) built to the specs of
pre-war 64's, and very popular with older players. I have a couple
of Herings, and while they're nice in some ways (round holes,
even on the 12 hole instruments), they have quality control
problems, both in materials and in the musical response of the
instruments (poorer tone, inconsistent response and timbre from
note to note).

The Toots Hard Bopper is supposed to be better and more durable
than the regular 270 Super Chromonica. It does have thicker,
nicekl-plated reedplates, allowing for louder playing, and copper
beryllium reeds, which are more durable. However, my experience,
and that of others I've spoken with, is that they break rather
quickly (reeds go bad). For the difference in price and
performance, I'd choose the regular 270. By the way, Toots
doesn't play this instrument - he isn't a loud player. He does
play the Toots Mellow Tone, which no music store seems to carry -
they all have the Hard Bopper.

16-hole instruments, made only in C, have not only that
wonderful, dark bottom octave, but also have a bigger, darker
sound throughout their middle range. They're the instrument of
choice for blues playing, which is based on the D minor draw
chord, although you will see players like William Clarke playing
12-hole instruments in the same position, in other keys - he has
a Bb that that he likes to play in C, for instance.

With the exception of the Hering 64, Hohner seems to have the
16-hole market to itself. The basic #280 64 doesn't seem to be
played much nowadays. (It's the classic, but in name only -
Hohner keeps fiddling with the design and has pretty much ruined
it.) The Larry Adler models, by the way, are just the regular 64
and the 270 in disguise - the only difference is the box and the
coverplates. I see people walking around at conventions with
Super 64's and the black-and-gold 64X. The Super 64 is a nice
harp but tends to be leaky. I'm told you can fix this by sanding
the top and the bottom of the comb - carefully, in one direction,
and without rounding off the edges - to smooth it out for better
contact with the reedplates.

The 64X has a clear plexiglass comb, thickened reedplates, and
copper beryllium reeds. When I first got one, I sat with it in one
hand and my Super 64 in the other, playing first one and then the
other. I was initially underwhelmed by the difference in sound,
but when I played the 64x in a gig that night, I was really
pleased with the sound and response - smooth action, no problems,
great sound.

Tim Moody mentioned the CBH 2016. This is no longer made, and
anyone who has one to sell will probably want an astronomical
price for it. It's a striking harp to look at - all matte black,
futuristic angles, with finned individual air chambers on the
back. It has great airtightness and slide action, and a huge
sound, but some complain that the tone is too plastic-y,
especially when close miked. This latter is not a problem when
playing in the chordally-based D minor Chicago Blues Chromatic
style, but becomes quite noticeable when playing single-note
lines. I have a couple of them, and have always been somewhat
ambivalent because they've always had reed and valve problems
that I don't expreience on other harps. It's sort of like a
Jaguar -a great car when it isn't in the shop.

Winslow Yerxa

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