Re: Customised harps

Howard Chandler touches on some interesting points regarding custom
harmonicas.  For the vast majority of the time I've been playing
harmonicas they have been off the shelf stock harmonicas.  I've been at
it about 31 years now.  I was one of those people that wrote Hohner in
the 70's asking why their harmonicas were tuned so flat.  Actually it
turns out that only the 5 and 9 draw were flat and what's 31 cents
amongst friends?  Special 20's appeared and suddenly I wasn't vexed by
the to soak or not to soak question.  Blackie Shackner's first book came
out and I was now able to alter the pitch of those flat reeds although
by then Hohner had dropped the J1 tuning that had annoyed me
previously.  I was still being driven crazy by having to toss an entire
harmonica when one reed went flat.  Lee Oskars appeared on the scene,
replaceable plates and an airtight platform with alternate tunings, I
was pretty darn happy for a bit.  This in the midst of Hohner's bad
time, the machines were out of tolerance and good harmonicas were few
and far between.  I started reading American harmonica Newsletter
(thanks Al) and heard about a guy by the name of Joe Filisko.  Curious I
eventually contacted Joe and inquired about his harmonicas.  Specificly
the all brass ones, $80, you've got to be kidding.  Joe's a very
approachable guy if not somewhat of a cypher.  We did the dance and
eventually I plunked down my very hard won $80 and got a harmonica in
the mail a mere 3-4 months later.  Somewhere in the midst of all of this
I also attended a Lee Oskar workshop, tuning charts with keys and notes
for everything he brings into the country, all very useful and something
I refer to even now.  Playing the Filisko gingerly, not gigging with it
for fear of ruining it I slammed up against the grim reality of my lack
of tehnique.  Right about that time I started having problems with the
Lee Oskars, they weren't working so well for what I was doing.  Looking
back I'd guess it was the equal tuning more than anything else.  I saved
some money and bought another Filisko.  By now he was getting popular,
the second one took 6 months to arrive. As Joe's popularity rose so did
awareness of custom harmonicas and people like James Gordon and Richard
Sleigh started to creep into the corners of my awareness.  I was still
playing more than 75% stock but set up harmonicas.  All the while
learning to do a lot of this work myself while realising that it wasn't
at all cost effective.  Funny thing, my harmonicas last forever now. 
when they break I replace the reed for the first several then send them
back to get them in the ballpark.  It's always less than $25.  I
actually think it's worked out to be cheaper, previously I had boxes of
LO plates in a closet, scrambling to find the odd harmonic minors.  I
still use the LO minors but I'm slowly converting to Marine Band based
customs for those.  It suits what I'm doing right now and where my
playing is.  I'm no Walter Horton, never will be but I have a good time
playing and what Big Walter did or didn't do isn't really a factor in my
choice of equipment these days.  It's all been fun, a learning process
the entire way, it wouldn't have worked to have skipped a step.  

Thanks to Michelle for sharing a very interesting story.  Especially the
evolution of your fan base.  For people critical of her process I can
only say you don't live on the western slope in Colorado, it's a very
different world.  Walk a mile and all that.  fjm

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