Re: Little Walter played vintage XB-40s

Date: Wed, 10 Sep 2003 11:25:39 EDT
From: IcemanLE@xxxxxxx
Subject: XB bending vs Overblowing

The "vs" seems to imply a contest - not unlike the old "diatonic vs
chromatic". The last thing we need is another line to be drawn dividing the

XB is different than OB. Learning one is different than learning the other.
Both lead to more note choices for the diatonic - this is a good thing. Each
demands time spent on mastering the techniques needed and learning where the
notes are.

Will the purists suggest that XB is not relevant to blues because Little
Walter didn't use one?

The Iceman

Now you mention it Iceman, I'm quite confident Little Walter played the Vintage
XB-40s almost as much as he played the prewar marine bands with plated brass

I don't think any lines need to be drawn because it was integrated in his
playing, half the recordings up until half way through his career have him
playing these.
Although apparently they were known as (Handmade) Vintage Tricell Vampers.  They
had pearwood combs, nailed on reedplates, metal mouthpiece, plated brass covers,
leather valves, they only had a semitone bending range on every note
instead of the new modern development of two semitones, this had the advantage
that it was easier to play any of the bends in tune.

As was true of most Hohner diatonic harmonicas of the time they were tuned to
Just Intonation 13 Limit so they tended to be used in second position mainly
except for some of those Jazzy Horn lines Little Walter used.  They had a real
warm tone that can only come from wood, plated brass and leather - not like
these new fangled plastic toys.

I believe manufacturing started sometime in the late 20's after some inventive
unnamed cotton picker took a koch harmonica and figured out how to make it have
dual reed semitone bends across the range, though his diary showed he called it
"Th' Better Band Harp", the diary has been lost for some time now.

According to that diary he sent one of them to Hohner in the hope for money
which he'd use to escape his impoverished conditions.  No one knows if he ever
got anything for it, but there is no trace or record of him for years after that
date and he did turn up a decade later for a while in down town Chicago as a
drunk vagrant who very rarely could put together a coherant sentance and not a
harmonica to be seen. Nothing more is known.

These harps were discontinued sometime in the mid 60s due to poor
sales (probably because of the growing popularity of the electric guitar) and
increasing manufacturing costs, this was of course before Hohner introduced
"compromised twelve octave divided evenly" tuning and the short slot reeds of
the 80s due to the property market crash.  These harps are rarely found these
days because most of them must be rotted out and deteriating under sewage
outlets and landfalls.

Once someone reported a rare event where Little Walter and Sonny Boy
Williamson got pickled after a gig, got into an argument and had a knife fight
in a dark alley out back.
Then were followed only to see them sit out by the river side bleeding and
laughing about the fight. They were chucking their Vintage Tricell Vampers (I
guess they floated better than Marine bands) into the slow river and betting
their loose change on which one would reach the sewer outlet first, this led to
another fight that ended with Little Walter limping away clutching his stomach
and Sonny Boy Williamson puking his guts out, apparently he passed out in a
stupour before someone yelled for help.

I was hoping they might resurrect the production of this harp around 2000 when
they were bringing out other Hohner golden oldy harps, even if they only did in
key of G and C. Big shame really, must have been nice instrument, great tone and
bluesy feel.

You can see a rare image of one here sitting in its velvet lined wood box:
This page also details its layout for one in key of C.  I've tried searching the
patents but came up blank and it is interesting that Rick Epping's patent
doesn't refer to this model. But then I haven't been able to track down the
Super Chromonica patent either so who knows how these things worked back then.

Perhaps BBQ Bob might be able to tell us more about this instrument, he seems to
know quite a lot of things like this.

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