Another Chromatic Query
Spence Pearson asks about the Toots Harp Bopper.
It's sort of ironic that Toots' name is on this one. There is the
Toots Hard Bopper and the Toots Mellow Tone. You can often find
the Hard Bopper in stores, but I can never find the Mellow
Tone. Yet Toots plays the Mellow Tone (he really does - the first
time I ever saw one was in his hand, and when I've checked out
his gear at gigs and record dates, his harps are always Mellow
Tones and 270's. Come to think of it the *only* times I've seen a
Mellow Tone, it's been in the presence of Mr. TT.).
Toots like to play very softly, and the Mellow Tone is
characterized as being for "ballad playing." The Hard Bopper, on
the other hand, is built for loud playing, something Toots never
does (he's asthmatic, doesn't have the wind, built his style
and his chops around breath conservation).
So does the Hard Bopper live up to the hype?
It has thicker reedplates than a 270, and they're chrome or
nickel plated, I forget which. This makes their surface harder,
and the greater thickness gives the reeds more swing, which means
more loudness (and greater dynamic range). It also means greater
reed fatigue. The reeds are *supposed* to be copper molybdenum
for longer life, but my experience, and that of some other
players I've talked with, is that the Hard Bopper reeds wore out
way too fast for such an expensive and supposedly high quality
William Galison attributes this problems to one of Hohner's
shoddy periods - they seem to go through cycles of bad quality on
particular things - around 1988, for instance, I had a lot of
trouble with slide springs breaking. In fact William
characterized the reed problem as something of a mini-scandal.
This was in a discussion we had nearly two years ago, and seemed
to be in the past then, so you may not have a problem. It will
definitely be louder than the CX-12, and to some extent louder
than the 270.
As far as a "vicious attack," I'd say you might want to look to
your technique and adapt it so that you can get a vicious
*sounding* attack without actually being vicious. Respecting the
limitations of an instrument will generally get you farther than
ignoring those limits.
Which is not to say you shouldn't try to push beyond them. But
often brute force won't work (sometimes it will :->). Finesse in
approach, distinguishing the means from the end, and working on
the instrument itself will yield better results.
The one thing you may be able to do to the instrument itself if
it's choking out on a hard attack is to raise the offset of the
reeds in question - widen the gap between the tip of the reed and
the reedplate. Raise it too much and it won't respond to soft
playing, but you may be able to find a happy medium.
You might also want to work on the size of your oral cavity - the
resonant chamber - when playing the bottom octave. It may be too
small, thereby militating against an easy activation of the
Also work on playing louder without increasing the breath volume.
Work on your sharp attacks starting at a very low level, then
gradually increase the intensity so that you can attack it more
abruptly at greater loudness. When you max it out, back off a
little, and work on refining your control at that level for
awhile before going on.
Do a little each day, and keep it up. This stuff doesn't come
from "cramming" overnight.
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