The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #58633   Message #2725649
Posted By: Artful Codger
17-Sep-09 - 06:09 PM
Thread Name: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
Gargoyle: yes, a chromatic is a good option to consider. (And is solo-tuned, so I'm staying somewhat on-topic). But it does have drawbacks:

(1) Most models are only available in C--a less common key for music these days, due to the strong bias toward guitar and fiddle. Therefore, you have to do a lot of slide work to get the natural notes in very common keys, like D, A and E. Consider getting a Super Chromonica in D--the slide always sharpens, so it's mentally less confusing to play sharper keys than flatter keys.

(2) You must learn a different playing pattern for each key. It's a liability shared with most other instruments, but NOT with diatonic harps. On diatonics, you mainly need only two positions for major (first and second), and you just switch harps for other keys. Even if you use harps with altered tunings, the positions remain the same. This consistency is a huge benefit, since harpers tend to play by ear, in reference to a tonic and scale, rather than from dots.

(3) When you play in other keys, your playing range shifts, whereas it remains constant when you switch diatonic harps. However, the range shift can sometimes be an advantage, and four-octave chromatics are available, if relatively pricey.

(4) Chromatics are equal-tempered. This is a plus when playing with fretted instruments or piano, which are also equal-tempered. But when playing solo, with other harmonicas, with fiddle or with more just-tempered instruments, you might be better sticking to regular diatonics (which are also available in equal-tempered models, by the way).

(5) You sacrifice some draw chording in C major, due to the missing tonic in the V7 chord. You sacrifice most or all chording in other keys.

(6) Notes can only be slightly bent, since the reeds are valved.

(7) Chromatics have larger holes and are generally leakier, due to the slide mechanism. The valves ("windsavers") compensate for this somewhat. More expensive models are tighter and more comfortable to play, but you have to go to a CX-12 and forego a fourth octave if you want a base key other than C.

(8) You may be daunted from performance-tweaking them due to the cost.

On the plus side:

(1) The chromatic has a consistent octave pattern (like the middle octave of a Richter) across the entire instrument. It's less confusing, there are no gaps to dance around, and whatever you can play in one octave you can replicate, exactly the same way, in another. You can also play octaves on every note (including accidentals) with tongue splitting.

(2) Every note, draw or blow, natural or accidental, is slightly bendable--at least hypothetically.

(3) You can do semitone trills using the slide.

(4) You don't need as many chromatics; one or two may suffice. Online in the US, you can get a three-octave Super Chromonica for under $135--about the price of 4 decent diatonics. A CX-12 will run you $175.