Considering investing in a new harmonica for 2015 but want to know a bit more before you buy? Have a read of this and see below for more information and special offers:
I have written out below an extensive description of both diatonic Richter tuned harmonicas and ‘solo’ tuned chromatics that I hope explains itself ok. Sorry if its a bit long winded!
Standard Richter tuning is the normal tuning you have on a blues harp. In the early days there were horologists (clock makers) across Europe experimenting with many configurations, but most did not sit right with people. A guy called Richter however (circa late 17th century (not sure of his first name) came up with the standard tuning which became known as Richter tuning.
That one stuck to this day as the normal tuning for diatonic blues harps. The first 4 holes have a configuration that allows you to play major chords both on the blow and draw. Using tongue block techniques one could play a chord and play melody through the side of your mouth to produce melody with a vamping chord. Of course somewhere along the line someone realised that you can bend those notes and reeds that have a greater interval of a semi tone between two notes in any one given hole. Called double reed bending as the two blow and draw reeds in that one hole interact with each other. When you bend on the draw reed past a semi tone the blow reed kicks in and so your bent note on the draw is actually the blow reed sounding! Mad eh?
Capital equals blow and small letters represents draw i.e.
Diatonic Richter tuning:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Cd, Eg, Gb, Cd, Ef, Ga, Cb, Ed, Gf. Ca
The first hole you have two notes a whole tone apart (interval) so you can bend a semi tone between them. On the second hole you have E blow and G draw. Here on the draw you can play 3 notes. i.e. On the draw G, bent down to F sharp, and further to F natural. This continues on up the scale where you cannot bend hole 7 as there is only a semi tone apart.
That’s one difference between ‘Solo’ and Richter tuning. Solo tuning follows a standard scale configuration much like the holes on a diatonic between 4 and 7 to make up the scale. But in order for the tuning pattern to remain the same throughout, there are two blow C notes together. And so the configuration layout is different to diatonic.
Whereas on a Richter tuned diatonic the wind direction changes direction on hole 7 and continues with a reverse wind direction to finish the higher octave on a diatonic harps. But also you’ll notice that the B on the 9 and 10th hole is missing, so you have an incomplete scale. This is different to solo tuning as solo tuning maintains the same wind direction throughout and has complete scales.
So the possibility to bend notes on a chromatic solo tuned harmonica only arises in holes with two notes that have a whole tone between them. These notes you can only bend one semi tone between them as the interval apart is only ever one whole tone or a semi tone-which you can’t bend beside subtle micro tones. Chromatics are valved however and so double reed bending is not possible. But it is possible to bend almost a semi tone with the valves for expression. See below.
Solo tuning is a tuning you normally get on a chromatic harmonica in a configuration like this:
Hole: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12.
Note: Cd, Ef, Ga, Cb, Cd, Ef, Ga, Cb, Cd, Ef, Ga, Cb.
I hope that made sense to you! Of course there are physical differences too with shape and size etc. Also chromatic harmonicas are valved, unlike most diatonic blues harps (though Brendan Power came up with the half valved blues harps which are amazing, I will elaborate later!) Valves have two effects, they make the instrument more airtight and therefore louder. They allow you to produce what they call single reed bends which only allow a semi tone bend. This allows for nice expression however.
Brendan Power came up with the ‘half valved harmonica’ that Suzuki now supply. He is so clever that he figured out that you can use valves in certain hole on blues harps to make them louder and give extra notes of subtle expression than ever before. Reeds bend by interacting with another so you can’t valve both reeds, only one can be valved to allow for double reed bending. So the blow reed is valved but not the draw. This allows the draw to interact with the blow. Now however you can also blow bend the valved blow note a semi tone giving you that extra expression on the blow note.
Valves do not allow for ‘overblowing’ however. If you are a player that has mastered even somewhat, the extremely difficult technique of ‘overblowing’ much different to draw or blow bending. The so called ‘overblow’ is the reverse of draw or blow bending. Imagine draw bending hole 2 or 3 then blow bending them too! A phenomenon only fully utilised and realised and identified in the last 30 or 40 years.
There are different makes and different tunings available with chromatics. One is the ten hole ‘Slide Harp’ chromatic which is the same tuning as Richter tuning. Here you can bend notes as you would on a normal blues harp but you have the button for chromatic runs too and extra notes. I have one of these harmonicas.
I also have the ten hole diatonic richter chromatic ‘Koch.’ This unusual model is basically a 40-note chromonica, but tuned according to the Richter system. Pressing the slide changes the key from C to C#, like on the chromatic. However, note bending is possible in exactly the same way as with a standard Richter harp, offering the player a number of exciting new musical possibilities as well as the ability to play in different keys on one instrument. As with Richter Diatonic plus the Slide Harp is partially valved to increase air tightness.
Cathal Johnson 2015.
Cathal is offering refurbished harmonicas in normal Richter tuning, Paddy Richter tunings and Powerbender tunings. Other harmonicas are available on request. Contact cathal through his contact page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.