The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #58633   Message #2723809
Posted By: Artful Codger
14-Sep-09 - 09:26 PM
Thread Name: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
The only substantive difference between a Golden Melody and a regular diatonic is that it's tuned to equal temperament (like a piano) rather than a modified just temperament. So the chords aren't as sweet, but it plays more in tune with other instruments. It does NOT overcome the usual limitations trying to play melody on a diatonic harp.

A "solo tuning" harmonica is a 12-hole tuned like a chromatic but without a slide. The chromatic tuning uses the same layout for each octave (set of four holes):
    Cd Ef Ga bC (uppercase = blow, lowercase = draw)
Note that there are adjacent C blow holes for adjacent octaves, and every natural note of the lower and bottom and top octave is present; hence the need for two more holes. Note also that you can play octaves for every note using tongue splits.

Hohner makes the Marine Band 364 Soloist, just one of many offerings in the Marine Band series. It is only available in C. I don't believe it is valved, so the upper note of each hole can be bent, providing C#/Db, F-, G#/Ab, and C- --not the most useful notes, unless you're playing in cross harp position. (Note that the C bend is a blow bend, the others draw bends, in each octave.) If you're really good, you might be able to overblow/overdraw some others. You give up the draw chording that the Richter tuning provided, but you can play octaves for every note using tongue splits. For playing diatonic melodies, it's a peach; for anything else, probably not the best choice, which is why it's so hard to find. Shell out a bit more money and get a chromatic, or a Hohner XB-40 (where every note can be bent by nearly a whole step!)

The Steve Baker Special (Hohner Marine Band 365 SBS) is a good option. It extends the range (downward) to four octaves by replicating the middle octave tuning:
    Cd Eg Gb Cd Ef Ga bC Cd Ef Ga bC dE fG aC
So the former "low" octave now has all the natural notes and can be played exactly like the middle octave. This gives you three fully diatonic octaves (excepting high B, which can be blow bent)--and you have some luscious bass notes as well. It's available in the most popular keys. You give up the characteristic blues bends in the lower octave unless you drop down another octave.

The Lee Oscar Melody Maker takes a different approach: It is designed to play diatonic melody (duh) in the cross-harp position: that would be the key of G on a C harp, although the Melody Makers are identified by the cross-harp key, NOT the bottom note. To achieve this (taking a C harp as a starting point), the low draw G is pushed up to A (providing the missing second of G) and the middle and high Fs are pushed up to F# (G minor seventh to major seventh). Now every note is in the G scale, and you're only missing high B (available by bending C) and low F# (available by bending G). You have notes available below the low tonic, above the high tonic, two full octaves in between those tonics, the usual blues bends in cross position, and more bend on the middle seventh (F#). But at the expense of the chords, as the name implies. Melody Makers are available in the most popular keys, but you're limited to the one Lee Oskar model (fortunately, it's a good'n, often preferred to similarly priced Hohners, and you can get hefty discounts online.)

Melody Makers also have replaceable reed plates, so when your harps develop problems that you can no longer correct, you can just swap plates, for half the cost of a new instrument. (You can also "test drive" any of the four Lee Oskar tunings by just buying the reed plates for that tuning and sticking it in another Lee Oskar body.) Hohner does the same thing with its MS (modular series) harps.

Another popular approach is the Country (Major 7th) tuning. Like the Melody Maker, this is designed for playing in cross-harp position, and differs from a regular diatonic only in having the middle F (on a C harp) raised to F#. (Note that you can still play C diatonic by bending the F# back down to F.) But for melodic playing, the Melody Maker is a better cross-harp choice. Hohner offers Special 20s in country tuning, but oddly there is no MS version of this harp--yet. Fortunately, it only takes a screwdriver and a few scrapes to modify any decent diatonic harp to country tuning.

Bob: They were called harmonicas even before Richter got the idea of having one hole equipped with both a blow and draw reed (originally they only had blow reeds) and devised the now-famous chord-oriented layout.