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Tech: blues harp on racks

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GUEST,Fred Miller 25 Nov 02 - 09:47 AM
GUEST,Slickerbill 25 Nov 02 - 12:23 PM
GUEST,Fred Miller 26 Nov 02 - 09:21 AM
Les from Hull 26 Nov 02 - 06:00 PM
GUEST,Fred Miller 27 Nov 02 - 09:23 AM
GUEST,Wesley S 27 Nov 02 - 10:15 AM
wilco 27 Nov 02 - 01:14 PM
Fifer 27 Nov 02 - 01:56 PM
GUEST,vrdpkr 27 Nov 02 - 07:21 PM
CraigS 27 Nov 02 - 08:18 PM
ddw 27 Nov 02 - 08:49 PM
Hamish 28 Nov 02 - 07:53 AM
GUEST,Fred Miller 28 Nov 02 - 07:53 PM
Blues=Life 28 Nov 02 - 09:08 PM
GUEST,clydeonacloud 08 Jan 12 - 05:17 PM
GUEST,Tigger the Tiger 09 Jan 12 - 03:51 PM
GUEST,SirCoughsalot 09 Jan 12 - 04:20 PM
Mark Ross 09 Jan 12 - 04:29 PM
PHJim 20 Aug 12 - 10:35 PM
PHJim 20 Aug 12 - 10:38 PM
PHJim 20 Aug 12 - 10:49 PM
Jeremiah McCaw 01 Sep 12 - 12:04 PM
PHJim 22 Oct 13 - 11:34 PM
Big Ballad Singer 23 Oct 13 - 12:03 PM
Mark Ross 23 Oct 13 - 01:45 PM
Steve Shaw 23 Oct 13 - 07:36 PM
meself 23 Oct 13 - 09:58 PM
Big Ballad Singer 24 Oct 13 - 12:19 AM
PHJim 24 Oct 13 - 01:11 AM
Steve Shaw 24 Oct 13 - 10:55 AM
Big Ballad Singer 24 Oct 13 - 11:11 AM
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Subject: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: GUEST,Fred Miller
Date: 25 Nov 02 - 09:47 AM

Not really a tech question, but does anyone play blues harp on a rack? Most players seem to play straight if they're playing guitar also. Who should I listen to who does this particularly well?

I'm better with it, but concerned there may be a blues harp union rule, racking takes jobs from harmonica players.


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: GUEST,Slickerbill
Date: 25 Nov 02 - 12:23 PM

Yup, I use a rack. Plenty of times it's just to add a different "voice" to my sets. Often I'll just play more melody, but I have a few tunes where I play cross harp for more of a bluesy feel. You do give up some tone playing with a rack; can't do all that expressive stuff with your hands. But i haven't been busted yet, so I guess that's a good sign. It does seem there are different rules for different genres; folkies tend to get away with more it seems, thaan blues players. I'm in awe of the latter; how DO they get all those notes outta that lil thang??    sb


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: GUEST,Fred Miller
Date: 26 Nov 02 - 09:21 AM

I don' do much with my hands anyhow, except hold the thing snug, so the liquid sustain is very enjoyable to add to the dryer sound of the guitar.
Seems odd more people don't do the blues thing. I'm getting quite addicted to it, and even prefer cross-harp for many straight melodies, bending to reach the off-scale notes, gets that sax-like sound.


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: Les from Hull
Date: 26 Nov 02 - 06:00 PM

I hate to use a rack, I'm useless with it. But from this side of the pond the late Duster Bennett was a superb player with or without the rack. With the rack he also used guitar, hi-hat and bass drum - all at the same time. Good singer and writer, too, and sorely missed.


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: GUEST,Fred Miller
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 09:23 AM

Thanks over there! I'm finding it's one of few things I get better at with practice, and hope to hear to learn from others.


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: GUEST,Wesley S
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 10:15 AM

You need to give a listen to John Hammond Jr. The three times I've seen him live he's had his harps in a rack. I don't know if he records that was but the stuff he plays live is pretty impressive.


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: wilco
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 01:14 PM

Is a "rack" the same thing as a "holder?" I have a question. I have a Hohner holdre, and it the harps "slip." I got a "best Lil' Harp House" catalog today, and the Lee Oscar holdre looks like it would hold the harps closer to the mounth and not slip. Which holder do you recommend?


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: Fifer
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 01:56 PM

If you really want to get all the sounds and effects available from your harmonica or blues harp, then throw the "rack/holder" away.
If you just want to play along with yourself, then fine.
What I'm saying is, if you want the harp as your primary instrument ,then give yourself a chance to express all the colours and intonations available to you. You just CAN'T do the instrument justice on a frame round your neck.


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: GUEST,vrdpkr
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 07:21 PM

I like Lee Oscar racks and play Lee Oscar MM harps. It gives you a complete scale in cross position and, especially important for a singer, I'm usually inhaling at the end of a phrase, giving me a full breath to start singing. Harps give me that different "voice' , too. Also, as a singer, it gives me a chance to rest my voice with a long harp break. I've modified my rack (holder) by disassembling it and slipping clear plastic tubing over the part that goes behind your head. It will help pad the wire and helps keep it from sliding so much. I've also replaced the wing nuts with large (1"?) plastic Wing nuts that came from a weed wacker . If you go to a good hardware store (Ace in my case) there should be a variety of these. I'm not sure what the tech term for them is but it's much better than the skimpy wing nuts that come with it. You may have to open up the loop where the bolt goes through if you have to replace the bolt with a bigger one. Be sure to slip a toothed washer between the two metal rack pieces to help hold it where you tighten it. It sounds complicated but it is really very easy, cost me maybe $2 and works a lot better. Good luck.

vrdpkr


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: CraigS
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 08:18 PM

I tried it a long time ago and found that it's like singing and playing - to sound good in public, the guitar playing has to be well- practiced so that it can go onto autopilot. Also, as mentioned above, you can't do any fanning. You can't do the really dirty tricks that you can do by having two harps in your hand which the audience can't see, like playing cross one second then bent or straight the next. On the other hand, there are some examples of good harp players who have used a rack - Dr Ross is one, but if you do his stuff you've got to learn to play the guitar and TAPDANCE at the same time as playing the harmonica! I've seen Johnny Winter use a rack which mounted into a plastic tube and was fitted with a microphone for amplified work, but I don't know anything else about it.


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: ddw
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 08:49 PM

I second Wesley's suggestion that you listen to John Hammond -- he does play good cross harp with a rack. But in my opinion the guy who can get more out of a harp on a rack than anybody else I've ever encountered is Paul Geremia. Paul started his musical career as a blues harp player, then went on to become one of the hottest guitar pickers around and a pretty good barrelhouse piano player.

cheers,

david


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: Hamish
Date: 28 Nov 02 - 07:53 AM

I use a bent wire coat hanger. Honestly. It's great - no problems with wing nuts that loosen off. But modern coat hangers are made from wire that's not rigid enough - so you have to look though your parents'/grandparents' wardrobes.

I once left one in the Holiday Inn, and - guess what? - the chambermaid threw it away. "Just some old bent coat-hanger" she'd thought.


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: GUEST,Fred Miller
Date: 28 Nov 02 - 07:53 PM

Well, the one I have came with rubber tubing on the neckpiece, and works pretty well. One odd thing, I turned it backward from the way it was when I bought it, and it seems to work much better that way. I can't play the way I would with my hands, but tend to play different things, and I'm tending to do more muted percussive things on guitar than I would--it seems to sound good off the harp that way. I do have a natural twitch in my neck that helps me fan notes, not exactly like hand-fanning, but it's its own thing. Need to listen to these guys, for now the novelty of adding slithery lines is good fun.


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: Blues=Life
Date: 28 Nov 02 - 09:08 PM

I'll be honest, I have a lot of trouble playing cross harp with a rack. I only use a rack with my guitar when playing straight harp... folk, country, etc. The main problem is that I use an Astatic JT30 microphone when I'm playing the blues, and I can't figure out how to hold it, and play guitar at the same time! ;-)

When I play with a rack, I use a vocal microphone on a boom stand, and it seems to work fairly well. My problem, however, is that I have a fairly long neck, and I have a heck of a time getting the rack adjusted just right so that I can play well. (It's not always a GOOD thing to be 6'4"!) And when I get it right, the harp is so close to my mouth that vocals become difficult. Does anyone know of a better holder than the "Hohner" style? Is the Lee Oscar just a variation on the theme, or is it more adjustable?

Are there any other manufacturers out there?

Blues


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: GUEST,clydeonacloud
Date: 08 Jan 12 - 05:17 PM

Go to You Tube and look for Jon Gindick. He is an excellent harmonica instructor, has a lot of free stuff on the net, and plays with a rack a lot...different kinds of music including and especially blues


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: GUEST,Tigger the Tiger
Date: 09 Jan 12 - 03:51 PM

I watched Paul Butterfield lots and I do not think he ever could have performed with a rack. I never saw him try one.Of course he did not have to keep his hands free,but he used his whole body to play


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: GUEST,SirCoughsalot
Date: 09 Jan 12 - 04:20 PM

I play the harp in the rack, and usually play it crossed. I just like it better, most of the time. Of course, it depends on song. I've heard good blues players play the guitar and harp in the rack, I can't recall any names just now, though. There's no question that if I play the harp in my hands I can do it better than playing it in the rack, but then again, I really only play it with a rack because I don't have anybody to play with.


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: Mark Ross
Date: 09 Jan 12 - 04:29 PM

Check out John Hammond or Paul Geremia on YouTube. They are both incredible harmonica players, and I wish I could get the tone they get out of their harps.

Mark Ross


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: PHJim
Date: 20 Aug 12 - 10:35 PM

The late Willie P Bennett did a lot of rack playing. He could get a wonderful "throat vibrato" without using his hands.


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: PHJim
Date: 20 Aug 12 - 10:38 PM

Here's a clip of Willie's rack playing. He often used a rack when playing guitar or mandolin.

Willie plays Stardust


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: PHJim
Date: 20 Aug 12 - 10:49 PM

Here's Willie from 19 years ago when he had hair.
A little folkier/bluesier.


Working Man Blues


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: Jeremiah McCaw
Date: 01 Sep 12 - 12:04 PM

Any racks commercially available designed for short-necked people? None of the usual ones in stores are really suitable.


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: PHJim
Date: 22 Oct 13 - 11:34 PM

There are some racks that fasten onto the mic stand rather than around your neck. Anyone used these?


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: Big Ballad Singer
Date: 23 Oct 13 - 12:03 PM

I've SEEN them, but I've never used one. The problem with them is that in order to play harp on a rack (which I used to do before my neck and double chin started getting in the way), you need to get the harp WAY into your mouth for the best tone. That, of course, is true no matter how you play the harp.

The racks that attach to the mic stand run the risk of wobbling around on you if the stand isn't super steady or if, more likely, the stage or performance area is less than level.

Jimmy Reed ("Bright Lights, Big City", "Big Boss Man" etc) played harp on a rack while he played guitar. So did Slim Harpo.

The thing is, however, that most people think "bluesman" and they think that these guys were always playing what we recognize as "blues harp". Not always so; not at all. Perhaps by the time they were recorded, there was a certain stylistic expectation, but the bulk of their performing careers were spent playing a variety of styles and not just a narrow idea of "blues".

Men like Harpo, Jimmy Reed, Jesse Fuller and others who used the rack, often played ragtime, ballads, work songs and other types of music with the harp in a rack while they played guitar or banjo or mandolin. The sound was more often closer to something you'd hear in vaudeville or in a saloon at the turn of the century rather than an urban blues sound that we would call "blues" today.

Consider this: men like Jesse Fuller or Jimmy Reed were not going around thinking of themselves as "innovators" or future legends; they were trying to EAT, and trying to entertain people at the same time. They would have been drawing on songs that were old, recognizable and hum-able back in THEIR day, so they wouldn't have been playing Chicago-style urban, Little-Walter-Jacobs phrases on their harps. Reed was sort of in the transition period between the "songster/music man" tradition and the later "bluesman", so there's some continuity, but by and large, harp in a rack back in the day was more melodic than it was "bluesy".

Remember... where there's a will, there's a way! Whatever creativity it takes to be able to make your sound, you can figure it out! Someone did all this stuff first, after all! :-)

Good luck!


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: Mark Ross
Date: 23 Oct 13 - 01:45 PM

Hohner is making a new style rack, the Flex Rack;
"Only rack that can be adjusted at 3 separate points (position, angle and height) without any additional tools.
• Each adjustment is easy to execute, sturdy construction ensures stability and reliability during performance.
• Easy exchange of harps without altering rack settings.
• Adjustable spring loaded clamp with rubberized contact surfaces to avoid scratching harp.
• Fits all types of harmonica model up to a width of 16,5 cm (6,5 inch).
• Ergonomically formed non-slip rubberized neckbow ensures unparalleled comfort."

But it's lightly spendy, $60 or so. Just got one and it is nice to be ably to make the extra adjustments.

Flex Rack


Mark Ross


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 23 Oct 13 - 07:36 PM

Well it's true you can't get all the nuances of tone, etc., with a rack, but there are players who can really do a good job (Dylan ain't one of 'em). One thing to address is, especially if you're playing guitar as well as rack harmonica, is that many harps are not tuned to the equal temperament that most tuners provide for the guitar, so you may well be distressingly out of tune with the guitar. If you want to be in tune, avoid all Hohners (with the exception of Golden Melodies), and plump for Suzuki or Lee Oskar harps. They come ready-tuned to ET.


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: meself
Date: 23 Oct 13 - 09:58 PM

Playing with a rack is like a lot of things in music: if you put enough time into it, it becomes second-nature, and the differences between one rack and another don't matter terribly. Until you reach that point, they're all clumsy affairs. More or less. And while playing with a rack is different from playing with your hands, it doesn't need to be "lesser". If you can only get good tone with your hands and a microphone, you probably ain't got good tone. But keep at it; it'll come!


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: Big Ballad Singer
Date: 24 Oct 13 - 12:19 AM

meself has a good point. So does meself. See what I did there?

Tone from the harmonica primarily comes from three sources; one being the instrument itself and the other two being physical habits or techniques of the player, which are:

1) A good seal of the mouth over the harmonica, so that all of the tightly-controlled, directed airflow is sent through the harmonica and is not leaking out the sides of your mouth. Make sure your lips reach as much as halfway across the top of the harmonica and that the corners of your mouth are tightly closed. "Fish mouth" is a common description for the proper embouchre.

2) Breathing that comes from your diaphragm and involves flexing your entire torso as you breathe, not just your upper chest. Make sure your throat is as open as you feel it can be. You can tell how wide-open your throat is if you open your mouth WIDE and take a slow but DEEP breath. If your throat is really wide open, you'll feel the air you breathe in kind of cool down in your throat; it will feel like you've taken a good breath of brisk, dry autumn air outdoors.

Keeping the harmonica deep in your mouth and making sure you are breathing deeply through both mouth and nose into a wide-open airway will make for much more resonant tone.

Throat vibrato (which is actually a misnomer because it begins in your diaphragm) will help you get a bluesier and more interesting tone when playing in a rack, especially during "my woman lef' me" kind of songs.

Practice vibrato by breathing in slowly, then trying to "break up" or stagger the breaths. Don't stop and start breathing, just try taking the breath deeply, then, from your diaphragm, inhale and exhale while saying "ha ha ha ha" under your breath, like you're whispering it.

See how many times you can "ha ha ha" inhaling and exhaling before your breath runs out. If you're breathing deeply enough to begin with, you should be able to manage more than a few "ha ha has".

Remember that just like with any other instrument's particular techniques, you can vary these techniques on the harmonica to create a variety of sounds. The trick, as always, is to be creative and musical, not necessarily technically expert.

Good luck!


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: PHJim
Date: 24 Oct 13 - 01:11 AM

Willie P. Bennett, who played Stardust in the video I posted above, was a master of throat vibrato and playing a ten hole rack mounted harp. He played blues, folk or bluegrass equally well. He played with the harp held in his hands or in a rack while he played mandolin or guitar. He was also one of Canada's greatest song-writers and unsung heroes. He was also a great guy who passed way too early. He used one of the simple old Elton harp racks, the kind Jimmy Reed and Bob Dylan used.


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 24 Oct 13 - 10:55 AM

There's been many a heated argument about the alleged different "tones" of different harmonicas and the materials their combs are made from, be they plastic, wood or metal. No-one has ever convincingly demonstrated that any of it makes a scrap of difference. Tone is exclusively, or almost exclusively, the product of the players' technique, the desirable features of which are well described by BBS. Your abdomen, diaphragm, lungs, windpipe, throat, mouth and hands all contribute to the sound chamber that produces your volume and richness of tone. The harmonica is basically just twenty little flaps of metal shaking in the breeze. With a rack, your hands are not contributing. Also, the awkward design sometimes means that you're not getting the harp as snugly or controllably in the mouth as you would with hand-holding. However, rack-playing is perfectly good - if you're good!

I also think that someone with poor tone will not make it better with a mic and amp. Just louder bad tone!


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Subject: RE: Tech: blues harp on racks
From: Big Ballad Singer
Date: 24 Oct 13 - 11:11 AM

A fellow once walked past my table at a bar where a jam session was taking place. He eyed my $40 box of imported junk harmonicas with derision (he told me so later; I didn't notice him at first).

After I had gone up to play (straight through a vocal mic in the PA with no EQ alterations, pedals or whatever), he came and shook my hand and said "MAN! I can't believe the tone you got! I saw those cheap harps and I wasn't expecting much! Boy, was I wrong!"

Tone is tone no matter what kind of instrument you play. It's either listenable and musical or it's a flavor of noise.

Get harps that are comfortable for you to play and that are easy to blow (most cheaper harmonicas have covers that are slightly smaller in size than better ones, because smaller means cheaper to make). Practice having good acoustic tone with the harp in your hands.

Also, try getting one good single note (the 2 draw, for instance) and simply holding the harp in your mouth and letting your lips clamp it down and keep it in place. If you can breathe right, get your vibrato right AND keep the harp deep enough in your mouth while just using your lips to hold it, you're going to go a LONG way toward having a tone that will translate well in the rack.


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