modular marine bands
IN referring to the cheaper modular harps I had played, I was referring to the
Big River Harp, and to the special edition harp that came
in my registration packet at the World Harmonica Championships in Trossingen
I was less snobby about the Big River Harp than some of the people who also
received them at the NAMM trade show in January, but I did find some
problems with it. It doesn't overblow worth a darn- squeaks and makes all
kinds of shrill noises. And, frankly, it lacks carrying power.
I *almost* used it when I was in a production of the Broadway musical Big River
in April. The harmonica opens the overture, and it was very tempting. But when
I looked out at that 600-seat hall, to which I was playing acoustically, I
didn't feel that the Big River would carry, and I ended up using a Golden Melody
instead (I tried them both in the empty house first).
I found myself in a similar situation playing the overture to the second act,
where fiddle, guitar and harmonica play from the stage. It's a very fast part,
and you need to punch it. I found that the
Special 20 in D I was using wasn't up to it, so I switched to a Golden Melody,
which was better but still not right. I've since found an original series
MeisterKlasse that would be perfect if I ever had to do it again - bright,
loud, and fast action.
You're right in your observations about Hohner's quality control on traditional
instruments. Many players who can't abide the action or sound of the new
modular instruments or of Asian instruments (Lee Oskar and Huang) are also
disgusted with the inconsistencies of the traditional Hohner production, and
they have to tune and readjust the action on all their new harps. Yet
I don't believe it's snobbery to prefer these harps to the modular series.
For one thing, a blindfold listening test is irrelavent to the guy who is
actually playing the instrument. If it sounds wrong to him, he's
uncomfortable and distracted because he's trying to compensate, or, at worst,
gritting his teeth. Ditto for the action. If the instrument doesn't respond in
the way he expects, it feels like the instrument is out of control, and he's
going to be fighting with it, or at the very least, struggling with his own
response to it.
For another thing, the design is simply better. Which is, as you pointed out,
is more important than the means of production. What Hohner did was to
design the modular series with an eye to cutting production costs, at the
expense of good sound and response. And it's always preferable to make
corrective adjustments to a well-designed but sloppily-built instrument than
to try making compensatory
adjustments to a badly designed instrument, no matter how well-built.
Of course, what constitutes good design is a matter for debate. In general,
those who like traditional Hohner harps prefer the narrowerer, thicker reed
response to that of the wider, thinner reed design used in Asian harps.
The Asian style reed is brighter, but, to many ears, lacks depth of tone,
and doesn't overblow well. Also, I have in hand computer simulations of
of reed response by Australian harmonica scientist Robert Johnston, which
suggest that this kind of reed is more sluggish in response.
I know that my experience thus far with the modular harps is that they don't
respond as well as either traditional Hohners or Asian harps (they're slower to
speak, the feeling of control on bends is that they are somehow "distant",
rather than being hand-in-glove with the tongue - sorry for the mixed
metaphor)and that the tone, while bright, is rather thin.
By the way, you don't name any particular "other" manufacturer when you claim
that they use "modern" methods, but do you happen to know how Tombo
(Lee oskar) manufactures their harps? I don't and I've never heard anyone
describe their production methods. I do know that Huangs are produced under
fairly primitive conditions in China, and I personally know that their quality
control is much worse than Hohner's (although I did use one of their low F harps
on the aforementioned Big River gig).
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