11 Hole Version
My harp case from the early 1980s, with a full set of 11 Hole harps in Power
Regular Breath Tuning.
Note the use of Half-Valving: it was pioneered on these harps and first recorded
on Country Harmonica, 1984.
Various covers on the 11 hole harps. Most were Hohner, and all combs
were made from Special 20s,
but I made some using the early Suzuki Folkmaster reedplates with welded reeds
In addition to their unique tuning and size, these harps include other new
features now in common use:
They were the very first
I'd bought a chromatic not long after starting to play, but found it
unresponsive compared to my diatonics. Chromatics come fully valved, but I
discovered I could make some of the notes bendable in the same way as a
blues harp if I removed half the valves. Thus half-valving was born.
I liked the effect
and soon transferred it to my diatonics by adding valves to affect the low-pitched notes in each
hole. Now I had harps that kept all their traditional bends but added some
bending expression to the other notes as well! What wasn't to like? From this point on (about 1980/81), ALL
my harps (chromatics
and diatonics) were half-valved. (you can see the valves in the harps in the
2. The first
use of Blu-Tack as a quick, reversible re-tuning method.
I had been using solder to lower reed pitch, but one day around 1980 thought of
trying that blue putty used for sticking pictures on the wall: Blu-Tack. I found
that it stuck really well, and stayed there for years, decades even! Not only
that, it was reversible, so you could stick it on and remove it at will. This
was a great way to try new tuning ideas quickly, or have several tunings in one
For example, I
could raise the 5 draw a semitone (from F to F# on a C harp), then apply enough
Blu-Tack to lower it to its original pitch. If I wanted the F I kept the Blu-Tack
on, if I wanted the F# I removed it and stuck it on the rivet pad for later use
to lower the reed again. Nice!
Check out the
photo below, of the same early 80s harps as above.
You can see a reservoir of Blu-Tack on the blow reedplate and bits on some of the reeds.
Thin beads of Blu-Tac were also used to attach and seal the extra reedplate
segments. Since I started publicising it on harmonica forums, Blu-Tack has
become quite commonly used for harmonica retuning now.
To get the Power Regular-Breath Tuning, I sliced the Blow reedplate at hole 7
and inserted an extra reed (either
the same as blow 6 or a tone up). The draw reedplate stayed intact but had an
extra reed added on hole 11.
Note the primitive reedplate attachment with bent wire. I had yet to discover
the benefits of self-tapping screws!
The first customised coverplates with flattened backs and drilled side vents.
After the bright sound of my first Marine Band harps, I found the Special 20s I
used for the 11 hole Strech Harps sounded a bit dull. To overcome this I hammered
the rear of the coverplates flat and drilled holes in the sides, for better
projection, louder volume and a crisper tone. Today just
about every custom harp has these features, but as far as I know my 11 hole harps
from 1980/81 were the first to use them.
The harps had some innovations
common today: holes in the ends of the covers for a brighter sound, and
flattening the backs of the coverplates for better projection. Of
they're rather old and bent now!