[Harp-L] double richter update - tongue slap

philharpn@xxxxx philharpn@xxxxx
Mon Sep 5 22:37:21 EDT 2016

The bad news is that Hohner is discontinuing the Steve Baker Special double richter harp based on the Hohner 365 Marine Band. 

The good news is that Brendan Power has just launched a 13-hole double richter harp in 12  keys. This is like a 10-hole harp  but 3 holes longer.

Recently I've been using a double Richter harp (two sets of the first three notes). In the Seydel 12-hole version I have, the first three notes are an octave lower than the second set. It lets you draw bend the notes 1-3 and 4-5 just like the holes 1-3 on the standard Richter harp (blues harp).

This configuration was first commercially introduced as the Steve Baker Special tuning based on the Hohner 14-hole Marine Band 365  in 1991.  I have a complete set (SBS keys of C, D, F, G & A but somehow my C SBS got separated the rest, so  I had intended on buying a C SBS at SPAH this year because I had heard/read that the SBS  harp was being discontinued by Hohner. No success.  So I ordered a C when I got home on the internet (they are scarce!) and it has a blue snap case. (The originals have red snap cases.)

 I purchased the set many years ago from H & R Farrell thinking I might find some use for them. I really never did. The 14-hole 365 is a big honking harp as wide and thick as a standard chromatic. So it is not much like the standard 10 hole. My 12-hole double richter Seydel is the same thickness, depth and hole separation as a 10 hole--only two holes longer. 

On the C harp (my new SBS) bending on the first low octave (1-3) is really a bear to bend. The second octave (4-6) is just as easy as bending on a standard harp. At the time I purchased the SBS harps I did not tongue block much-- if at all. Just like playing second position started as a happy accident back in the day -- somebody stumbled upon it and realized its possibilities. Later, other people listened to records and realized what was possible and set about trying to figure it out. 

Some people think discovering second position took some kind of genius. Naw. Anybody could have figured it out -- and probably are still figuring it out. All it takes is a few hundred hours of playing the harp and sooner or later it dawns on you. (That's why the five-minute instant harmonica lessons don't work -- if you're a beginner. If you've been playing a few hundred hours, you become familiar with the harp layout and some of its possibilities.)

Hohner used to insert a tiny sheet in each harmonica box that showed how to play a folk song in tongue block (corner playing out of the right side of your mouth). I never could get the technique under control until I earned how to play octaves (put the tip of the tongue on the bar between hole 2 and 3 and the air goes around the tongue and hits holes 1 and 4. This is not a precision movement. This is a sloppy just-put-your-tongue somewhere between the 2 and 3 holes and you get an C octave. 

After I got the octave under control -- try it about 20 times and you get it -- I was able to adjust it a bit to the left to open the right corner of my mouth. At this point I was able to play chords notes for folk songs. 

>From this point, it was only a matter of time before I was able to master the "tongue slap." This is a grace note/chord before tongue blocking the single note.  You simply play the chord (open mouth 3-4 notes) very briefly before hitting that tongue blocked note. After doing this about 50 times -- no time at all -- you have mastered the tongue slap. Remember, you only play that chord very very briefly before that single note. 

This is how those Chicago guys get that cool crunch when they play leads. Now if you don't want to sound like these guys on Chess, ignore all this chatter.

So where does the double-richter layout come in? On the standard 10-hole harp this tongue slap only works on hole  4 and above. That's because there is no chord to slap. Sure, you can tongue block hole 1 or 2 or 3 but you don't have a chord to vamp against.

So if you tongue block -- or might be learning to tongue block -- you can double your pleasure and double your fun with a double richter (SBS) layout harmonica.

I think Paul Davies told me about the fun he was having with double richter harps on the 10-hole body a few years ago. It was then I remembered by SBS harps in a drawer. And I ordered some double richter harps from Seydel.

I was curious to see what Steve Baker said about his purpose of the SBS in his book, The Harp Handbook. Basically, it says the additional holes allow an expanded use of second position. But he says nothing about tongue blocking and tongue slapping. In the book he says, "I don't personally use tongue blocking as a rule, except when octaving or splitting notes...." 1995 2nd editn. 

My point is the SBS probably was not designed to enhance tongue slapping or chord  vamping on what are holes 1-3 on the standard harp with the addition of the extra octave (3 holes).

Whether he did  intend this use or not doesn't make any difference. It's just an added value for tongue blocking. And if Steve didn't figure it out, we'd have to wait for someone else to do the job. If you want a real SBS harp better hurry before the remaining stock is sold out!

What about fake chord blocking?

On a chord block vamp, the highest note is on the right side if you are playing the harp right side up. There is another way to get the chord note chord note pattern. Lip purse the note, then open the mouth (for 3 notes) so that the melody note is in the center with a note on either side. This gives you a note and chord pattern but your melody note in not the highest note in your chord -- so it doesn't sound as good as the tongue blocked note as the highest pitched note.

 Steve Baker shows the layout for 10 and 12 and 14 hole models. Then he writes, "Ideally, I'd like a 13-hole plastic body since the 14th hole is actually superfluous, but first 'the demand would have to justify the necessary
investment.' "

If you've been reading the Harp List or attended Brendan Power's seminar at SPAH in Texas you already know that the 13-hole double richter is now on the market. In all 12 keys. Check the website, 


Cost is about $60 a harp.  Five keys G A C D F+ PowerDraw harp about $250. 12 keys+ PowerDraw harp about $450. Check website.

I don't have any -- yet.

Hope this helps. 




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