April 09, 2021
The harmonica has a long history. It began in China several thousand years ago with a bamboo reed instrument called the Sheng. This became a prominent instrument in Asian traditional music. The Sheng was introduced to Europe in the late 18th century and soon became popular.
Onward to Europe:
In the early 19th century the harmonica was developed further as European instrument makers began replacing the Sheng’s wooden reeds with metal.
In 1820, Christian Friedrich Buschmann developed ‘The Aura’ an instrument with metal reeds. This became popular, but was limited in only providing blow notes.
Around 1825, a European named Richter invented what was to become the modern harmonica. This consisted of two reed plates with 10 holes enabling the player to produce notes on both blow and draw. The notes Richter chose for his reeds are the same as today’s diatonic harps.
1829, Vienna saw the start of mass production. Clockmakers Mesmer and Weiss in Germany began producing harmonicas in their spare time. Mathias Hohner visited them, learnt the construction technique and began his own business. Hohner wasn’t a good harmonica player, but he was an excellent businessman soon buying out his competitors. The Hohner company is still based in Germany and were responsible for the development of the chromatic harp with a button on the side allowing all notes to be played.
Hohner introduced the harmonica to America in 1862. They were cheap to buy and easy to carry, perfect for the itinerant population of the day; enabling former plantation workers to wander from town to town earning a living. Juke Joints jumped with life, music, sex and booze!
Harmonicas became popular in the States in the 30’s and 40’s with players like John Lee (Sonny Boy) Williamson, becoming well known.
Chicago was a major centre for the Blues after W.W.2 with players like Sonny Boy Williamson II and Little Walter being early exponents of the art moving forward to players like George ‘Harmonica’ Smith and Magic Dick and Paul Butterfield.
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Harp Players Today:
Today players like Charlie Musselwhite, Paul Oscher, Lee Oskar, Jerry Portnoy and, of course, Stevie Wonder, have carried on the Blues tradition, maintaining it’s roots while moving it forward. New and innovative styles of playing are also being developed by people like Jason Ricci, Adam Gussow, John Popper and Brendan Power.
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While the simple harmonica has undergone few changes since the 1800s, technology has exploded onto the scene creating numerous ways to change/improve/alter the sound a harp player can produce. A vast array of pedals promise a multitude of effects, but what if you could achieve all of these sounds from one simple piece of kit?..... Check out the Kinubi PSV harmonica effects pedal to find out.
For more information check out https://kinubiaudio.com/
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April 16, 2021
Here is the scene where Hobo John first encounters Jacob onstage at a Juke Joint:
“I looked over at Travellin’ Man, his eyes closed and his feet stamping as he nodded his head to the beat. Next to him, Jacob stared at me, pulled a harmonica from his bandolier and raised his eyebrow. I nodded imperceptibly as I did my best to honour the song by one of the finest slide players ever recorded. “Nobody’s fault but mine”