Re: [Harp-L] harmonetta - why it's unique and in some ways superior

Bob Herndon is *not* the last Harmonetta player. Jouko Kyhälä of the all-harmonica group Sväng in Finland has been making excellent use of the harmonetta:

In addition, as Ben Bouman pointed out, the Harmonetta is being used by Bill Barrett in Hazmat Modine.

The Harmonetta button board is very logical - it's laid out so that you can play a chord with one finger by pressing three buttons in a triangular cluster.  That's something that doesn't require "an advanced degree in physics". And it's something you can't do on the Melodica. Have you acutally looked at the Harmonetta button board?

The Harmonetta does sound different from other harmonicas. Just listen to the Youtube examples. Or listen to Bob herndon at Buckeye.

And yes, the Harmonetta can do many things that are impossible on the standard chord harmonica:

- You can play *any* *chord* you can think of. You're not limited to the 48 chords that the chord harmonica gives you. The 48 doesn't even come close, even with combining adjacent chords and blocking out unwanted notes.

- You can voice chords any way you want- notes clustered together or far apart, with any note you want on the top, bottom, and in the middle - that's entirely up to the player or arranger/composer. This allows you to smoothly lead from one chord into another (voice leading) something the chord harmonica can't do.

- You can play MELODY with ANY HARMONY YOU WANT. *No* *other* *harmonica* can do this.

- The melodica is limited by its linear piano-style keyboard. That keyboard has many disadvantages when compared with chromatic button boards. Why do you think so many of he best classical and jazz accordionists choose the five-row chromatic button board over the piano keyboard? Piano-based manufacturers have sold the public on the notion that the piano keyboard is superior to other systems, when its only real advantage is familiarity.


Winslow Yerxa

Author, Harmonica For Dummies ISBN 978-0-470-33729-5

--- On Mon, 8/31/09, Philharpn@xxxxxxx <Philharpn@xxxxxxx> wrote:

Much as I admire the harmonetta playing of Bob Herndon -- and I've never 
heard him miss chord -- I believe he is one of the last in the tradition.

You can do everything on a Hohner Melodica (now celebrating its 50th year!) 
that you can do on a harmonetta -- and you don't need a degree in physics 
to figure out how to play it.

Anybody who can play keyboard can play a Melodica.

Even if you CAN'T play keyboard, you can still play it   because they keys 
are right in front of you.

Plus, with the optional trumpet mouthpiece, you can sound like an ENTIRE 
sax section-- triple tonguing with the best of them.

The problems are twofold: (1) Very few people can repair them (keeping them 
in tune is only one of several issues and (2) Even fewer can play them.   
and (3) of course, they are no longere manufactured.

What is the harmonetta's appeal? 
Is it the sound?
Or the rareness and difficulty of the instrument?

1. Does it have more chords than the traditional two-foot chord harmonica?
2. Does it have better or different chords than the chord harmonica?
3. Does it have a different sound than other harmonicas?

The harmonetta is a safer instrument; there are no reports of anybody 
chipping a tooth (or fingernail) on it.

But if a free-reed sounding instrument is what you want, a 36-key Hohner 
Melodica may fill your need. (Other firms offer the same thiing under 
differrent names: Melodion, Melodika, Melodia, Melodihorn, Pianca.)

The Melodica has a hand strap on the back to hold with the left hand. But a 
sax strap lets you play two-handed. The Melodica comes with a kind of 
whistle shape detachable mouthpiece. To this you can add the trumpet mouthpiece, 
hook it up to half-plastic tubing and place the haal trumpet mouthpiece that 
allows for a more purcussive attack than the standard whistle shape.

Originally, the Melodica had an optional microphone -- but it too is no 
longer available. Amplified, the Melodica can sound like a Hammond B3. 

I would LOVE to find a harmonetta in good condition at a reasonable price. 
But I don't think there is any such animal.

Back in 1970, I purchased a 36-key Melodica (along with a bluesharp, 
autoharp and 10-hole solo chromatic because it was the only portable keyboard I 
could afford at the time as a starving newspaper reporter. 

And if the standard issue 36-key Melodica seems too geaky, try one of the 
new red or blue. The "black" keys are red or blue and the white keys are 
black:. Fire Melodica and Ocean Melodica. 

In a message dated 8/31/09 9:14:06 AM, dmatthew@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 

> These could well be the harmonica group Messiahs foretold by the 
> prophecies of the Oracle of Smokey Joe Leone. For years, Joe has said somebody 
> needs to come along and do something totally new with a harmonica group to keep 
> the whole concept of such groups alive after the folks who listened to 
> Murad back in the day died off. This is exciting.
> I listened to a few of Svang's numbers, I can see this harmonetta is a 
> totally different kind of chord instrument. I can hear that the chord 
> structures are way more complexified in how they evolve and change. You don't have 
> to have the sudden chord changes like you do on a 48 chord.
> The tradeoff is, besides the fact I kind of like the sudden chord changes, 
> the chords themselves don't sound as good to me. The Harmonetta is a 
> virtually limitless instrument and the only downside that I see to detract from 
> it is the very thing that makes it so versatile... The chords sound too 
> smooth. You don't have that sweet tension of the sound energy that you get 
> from an individually tuned chord. I'm thinking especially of Wally Peterman's 
> chord harmonica, tuned to absolute perfection by Wally. When I hear it, it 
> shakes my bones. The harmonetta sounds very interesting and magical, but it 
> doesn't shake my bones.
> But I can separate my own personal tastes from the equation and say while 
> I like the sound of a good 48 chord better, they are equally good ways to 
> play chords.
> There is one department that the 48 chord takes the cake hands down - 
> entertainment value the element of danger brings. When you look at a guy 
> playing a harmonetta well, you think, "wow, how does he do that?" When you see a 
> good 48 player, you think "wow, how does he do that?" AND "Oh my God, 
> somebody is going to die before the show is over" as he wields this 
> two-and-half-foot-long double harmonica with a seemingly total disregard for the safety 
> and welfare of anyone in striking range, including himselves. I broke one 
> tooth on a 48 chord at gig last week. Wally's broken six.
> I've seen Fiore move the chord harmonica so fast that he couldn't be 
> hitting a particular chord for no more than two billionths of a nanosecond. He 
> must have broken like a million teeth. And probably nobody but Fiore and 
> maybe Wally could tell that he hit the dang chord. I'd say he did a lot of 
> that stuff just for show, but OH, what a show!
> We need more groups like Svang, what's truly important here is keeping the 
> concept alive.
> Some comparisons:
> Svang
> HARPBeats/Wally Peterman
> Al Fiore
> Philharmonicas
> Dave
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