[Harp-L] The William Kratt Company and Wayne Raney

     The William Kratt Company made a number of different harps in the past, in addition to the pitch pipes they continue to produce. Their first diatonic harps were virtual copies of the Marine Band, right down to the wooden body and the arrangement of nails attaching the reed plates and the cover plates to the comb. I own several, and they are great sounding harps.
     Back when I was a wee lad in the Fifties, I remember being able to buy Kratt harps in a variety of places besides music stores. These included candy stores, comic book stores, tobacco shops, drug stores, and even a couple of restaurant-bars!
      Kratt switched to plastic combs sometime after the formation of the Plastic Injecto Corporation, a subsidiary of the William Kratt Company, in 1952. This new design featured a red plastic comb with cover plates attached by a pair of nuts and bolts, long before the use of this system by any other harp manufacturer. Unfortunately, the reed plates were now press-fitted to the plastic body, eliminating any possibility of removal without destroying the harp. 
     In addition to producing plastic body harps and pitch pipes, the company was making an effort to tap into the expanding plastic toy market, and one of the items they produced was a nifty little thing called the Kratt Piano-Key Blow Accordion. Regardless of the name, it was played by both blowing and drawing, like a harmonica.
     Wayne Raney was an important force in exposing American radio audiences to the harmonica. He was a harp player, singer, writer, recording artist and radio pitchman who sold millions of his "talking harmonicas" through mail orders, and it was produced by Kratt as a specialty item. At it's peak production level, their regular line of harps included eight models of diatonics (two with eight holes instead of ten) as well as four models of chromatics. Wayne's signature model was a diatonic with flared cover plates that enabled the player to fit the harp into a large red plastic megaphone (called the "amplifier" by Wayne) to produce a variety of "talking" effects.
     In late 1999 I became acquainted with the individual whose plating company was formerly used by Kratt for their tools and dies. Through his connections with the company we were able to acquire a few examples of the plastic body diatonics and chromatics, assembled by an older member of the Kratt family from NOS parts that were still on hand at the factory. Since then this stock of parts has been scrapped. However, Kratt continues to produce quality pitch pipes.
     For a detailed look at some of the vintage Kratt sales literature, a comprehensive Wayne Raney discography, and the story of Wayne's life in and out of the music business, interested parties can order a copy of "Wayne Raney - That Hillbilly Boogie Boy, Country Crooner, and Born Again Gospel Guy with The Talking Harmonica" from me. 
Pete Sheridan
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