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Attn: Jews Harp Players

17 Nov 97 - 12:28 PM (#16303)
Subject: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Leanora (and Jon W.)

Subject: ADD. Jew's Harp Players From: Date: 15-Nov-97 - 09:51 PM

Jew's Harp players --Where are You ?? I would like to hear from you. I have some interesting news for you. Please contact me. Leanora.

I'm reposting the above message with a more pertinent thread title. Somehow it got mixed up with Memphis Minnie.

I can't claim to be a player but I've got a couple of the little buggers in my dresser drawer - so what's the news?

18 Nov 97 - 07:51 PM (#16356)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Jack mostly folk

Leanora and Jon W. Greetings and though I'm not a real jew's harper, Ican can connect you to the people who knows all about it. Nort America Jews Harp Festival,PO Box 92, Sumpter OR 97877. Try looking on the net. It seems they have a web site. I've attended the festival in Ricland OR now for three years and I'm here to tell you. They are serious musicians that take their instruments very serious. But FUN is their first and foremost goal. I highly recomend this annual free festival. mosly folk.............

19 Nov 97 - 12:07 AM (#16373)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Elwooddelta

Where I grew up they called them "Bruce Harps" and that was way before there was a thing called 'politically correct!' I guess folks from Arkansas were just over sensitive.

Just kidding around guys!

19 Nov 97 - 05:46 AM (#16378)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Sir

From what I've read Jews Harp is a corruption of "Jaw Harp". I'm glad to hear there is a web-site and a festical dedicated to this almost forgotten instrument. Wouldn't it be great to hear an orchestra of jews harps playing Beethoven's Eroica Symphony?

19 Nov 97 - 09:02 AM (#16382)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Earl

I wish I had more detail here, but I heard that was a corruption of a French word.

19 Nov 97 - 09:27 AM (#16383)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Wolfgang Hell

"To summarize, six words have been discussed as the original form from which the Jew's of Jew's Harp was corrupted: jaw's, jeu, jeugd, gewgaw, giga, gawe. The frequency and dogmatism with which the various etymons have been asserted vary from very great to very little."

copied from a jew's harp site: Wolfgang

19 Nov 97 - 10:30 AM (#16384)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Dale Rose

No one has referred to them as juice harps, as we did years ago. My guess is that is probably a corruption of jews', but you could also take it more literally, considering how it is played.

19 Nov 97 - 10:53 AM (#16387)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Jon W.

The website Wolfgang gave says "juice harps" is fairly recent, much more common among the younger generation (as being more PC) and an apt name considering the amount of slobber produced by amateur players. The site is well worth a visit and has some sources on recordings as well as festivals for those interested. Also names from around the world. Did you know the Italian name, "Scacciapensieri", means "Thought (or worry) chaser"?

19 Nov 97 - 04:47 PM (#16403)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Jack mostly folk

Leanora and Jon W I did'nt bother to elaborate on the political correctness but when you question the NAJHF folks, they are very careful to explain the origins and don't apologise for it's origins, it is called. "Jew's Harp" I must question, are you the same Leanora Too--- that attended Richland in 96'? from Florida? If so, you know as much about NAJHF as I do.Nice going, it never hurts to promote interest in such a bazaar instrument. A message for Sir... Dr. Fredrick Crane gave a seminar at the 97 fest that featured a Jew's harp concerto and backed by a full orchestra. Beethovin would be proud. I play striged instruments and voice songs and must admit that these harpers are skilled musicians and can make great sounds. I have three and keep plugging along and wonder if I will ever be accomplished at the Jew's harp. mostly folk.....

19 Nov 97 - 08:06 PM (#16417)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Tim Jaques

There was a rather pointed discussion on one of the Usenet folk groups on what this instrument should be called. The Jew's Harp people seem to have had the upper hand but there was some bitterness. You might do a Usenet search on Dejanews and read the debate.

I have often heard it used by French Canadians at their parties. There was a time when people used to play music on the trains here to pass the time, especially on the eastern runs, and someone always seemed to produce one of these things. I haven't been on one of the long-haul trains for years so I don't know if these impromtu jams still go on.

20 Nov 97 - 04:49 PM (#16443)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Sir

Since the Jews Harp only plays one note and depends on tone color to hint at melody how does notation for a Jews Harp Concerto look?

20 Nov 97 - 10:02 PM (#16455)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: GaryD

I found the etymology of "Jews Harp, etc.,etc., " fascinating but what I really want to know is how to keep the "Twanger"...(that's my technical term)..from smashing my teeth and the vibration on my teeth from sending shivers down my back.. Never could get the hang of it... maybe I just need to find an expert! (getting to that, are Jaw Harp experts really related to banjo players??.. Keep on the Sunny Side..Gary

21 Nov 97 - 10:53 AM (#16472)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Jon W.

Gary, I'm not much of an expert but I can at least answer your question.

It all has to do with proper positioning and pressure of the teeth against the jew's harp. In cross-section, the two bars of the jew's harp you press against your teeth are diamond shaped. Your teeth must be separated enough so that the inside lower and upper flats of the bars of the harp can be pressed against the biting edges of your front teeth. The lips should more or less seal above and below the harp. The teeth must not clamp down on the harp because that will force the two bars together and the twanger (I think it's properly called the tongue) will clack against the bars. Also make sure the hand you are holding the harp with doesn't press the bars together. This is more of a problem with some harps than others, as some have more flexible frames.

Be sure to press the harp firmly against your teeth so the vibration will be dampened by the mass of your skull (no, I'm not calling you hard- or thick-headed). Some people seem to be more sensitive to this than others, though. I think you've got to have good strong teeth to play the jew's harp.

Go to the web site Wolfgang mentioned above and snoop around a little. There are some good instructions there somewhere that may be more clear.

21 Nov 97 - 11:20 AM (#16473)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Jon W.

This whole thread has inspired me so much I couldn't help jotting down the following (semi-)true story:

Jon Whitney

Way back in the summer of Seventy Two,
O'Rourke and I bought a Jew's harp or two.
We learned how to play 'em in five or ten minutes,
Spent the rest of the summer driving our friend nuts.

We loaded up thirteen Explorers or so
In a Dodge Maxi Van, went to Old Mexico.
We entertained them with Ina-gadda-da-vida,
As they scarfed down Fritos and pop by the liter.

We played it so long that our fingers turned blue,
And we couldn't keep rhythm while dodging their shoes.
We put away our Jew's harps and tried learning guitars,
And drove ourselves nuts with those chords they call "Barres."

My apologies, that was truly dreadful.

29 Aug 02 - 04:49 AM (#773439)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Mr Happy

i was in a session/singaround at bridgnorth on sun night.

someone was playing an instrument i'd not seen or heard before. a sort of hybrid of jews harp & kazoo. he played it up by his mouth by singing/humming down it while twanging the 'twanger'- a unique sound produced.

also he plucked some attachment at the front of the instrument, which gave off a sound like a snare drum.

anyone else seen heard of these?

29 Aug 02 - 09:36 AM (#773571)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Pied Piper

Another name for the "Jews harp" here in Britain is the Trump. While this is perhaps more "PC", it has an unfotunate other meaning reffering to a "Trouser cough". All the best PP.

29 Aug 02 - 01:06 PM (#773726)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: GUEST,Songster Bob

Well, the "trump" calls to mind another name for it, in German, something like (my German spelling is atrocious) Jugdetromp, meaning "youth trumpet" or something similar.

Someone asked how they can play tunes on one note. Well, it has to do with overtones. That one note has harmonics, and you change the position of your tongue (and therefore the size of the cavity within the mouth) to catch, reinforce, produce, notes based on the harmonics. For that reason, some notes are easier to produce than others, since some harmonics are stronger than others (Octaves, then fifths, then what -- fifths of fifths, or fourths? Someone with scary knowledge of music theory can enlighten us.), and truly complex tunes are rarely done well except by the best players. You can try something similar with the old pounding-on-the-cheeks or pencil-on-the-teeth technique.

There have been some very good Jew's harp players around. Right now, there's a 78-rpm record of Jew's harp playing being auctioned on Ebay. Jon Wright, of England, a few years back produced a record on a French label called "La Guimbard," featuring himself and his wife, who's a singer. Incredible playing.

There have also been some good makers, in particular the Smith brothers of Renssalear(sp?), NY. Harps marked "I.R. Smith" or "J.R. Smith" are prized by players and collectors. I have harps from Nigeria, Afghanistan, Laos (bamboo!) and Siberia among mine, and am lucky enough to have about four Smiths in playing condition, plus one with (sigh) a broken tongue.

The instruction someone gave to hold the harp tight against the teeth is essential. You want the harp's tongue to vibrate cleanly, and if the frame is bouncing against your teeth, the tongue loses some sound at the same time your dentist is getting richer.

Bob Clayton

29 Aug 02 - 01:17 PM (#773731)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Art Thieme

I may have mentioned before that I have it on very good authority that this instrument (whatever it's called) was first invented as an I.U.D. for Catherine The Great. I learned that from the dyslexic Illinois state trooper who pulled me over checking for those. He gave me a breatalizer test. I passed----and he sent me on my way WITHOUT a D.U.I. citation-----------and without finding a I.U.D. too.

But I did learn to play the jews harp. Even busted a tooth on it. The dentist fixed it without giving me novacaine. I wanted to transcend dental medication.

Art Thieme

29 Aug 02 - 02:03 PM (#773764)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Mark Ross

OOOOOOOOOOHHHHHH! Art,you said a mouthful. From what I've heard, according to folklore(and we all know how reliable that is)the Jews' Harp was the harp that King David played. Larry Hanks is still my favorite player on that instrument. I have even heard tales of the time he appeared with a philharmonic orchestra as a soloist on that humble instrument, clad in (Larry, that is)white tie and tails.

Mark Ross

27 Oct 02 - 12:45 PM (#812522)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: GUEST,Ryan

Hi, Bob, I read in your post that harps made by J.R. Smith are prized by collectors. I was wondering, could you tell me when J.R. Smith started making jews harps? I can't seem to find anything on him.


PS Please email me at

Thanks again

27 Oct 02 - 01:48 PM (#812556)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Leadfingers

I know a guy in Oxford who has four welded together and plays the Trout Quintet

27 Oct 02 - 07:58 PM (#812796)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: reggie miles

Years ago, whilst warming up to play the least of gigs in a local Seattle neighborhood tavern, I was approached by a guy who introduced himself as Bob, just Bob. He wanted to know if he could sit in with us that evening. I inquired as to what instrument he played. He then stated he was the best Jew's harp player west of the Mississippi. I thought to myself, "That's a big boast, just Bob, but what have you got to back it up with?" The he says, "You know that song that fiddlers test their ability with, Orange Blossom Special?" I nodded. Then he began to play a rousing version of it at breakneck speed. Afterward I simply said, "You're Hired". He played another gig or two with us but then melted away into the ether ne'er to be seen nor heard of again. He was one of those mysterious living legends that just had to spead himself around I suppose. I guess that's why he moved on. Or maybe it was because we didn't make enough money playing those funky little neighborhood taverns to support ourselves much less the best Jew's harp player west of the Mississippi.

And that's the gospel truth, so help me Bob.

28 Oct 02 - 02:56 AM (#812926)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: georgeward

The other part of the answer to Sir's question about how the instrument is used in the Concertos is, as I understand it, that there is a one-handed playing technique which allows the player to switch instruments much as handbell players switch handbells. This allows use of instruments with different fundamental pitches. Simple in principle, less so in practise. I can't address the notation question.

J.R.Smith came to Troy, NY (or perhaps to Rensselaer, which adjoins) in the middle or later nineteenth century. He came from the English Midlands, as I recall. I believe his nephews carried on the company after him. When they went out of business, I don't know.

28 Oct 02 - 06:37 PM (#813240)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Desert Dancer

Mike Seeger, a fine player who has produced an instructional tape (with Homespun Tapes, but it doesn't seem to be available any more for some reason), when in concert introduced a tune he played on the trump (his preferred name for it) saying, "I'd like you to imagine along with me that I'm playing [whatever the tune name was]..." Seemed apropos to me!!

The latest issue (Autumn 2002) of English Dance and Song, the magazine of the English Folk Dance & Song Society, has an interesting article on the instrument.

~ Becky in Tucson

02 Aug 08 - 11:40 AM (#2403641)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: GUEST,Shawn Ireland

i have one marked I R smith and i dont know anything about it other than it belonged to my great grand father i was wondering if anyone knew anything they could tell me

03 Aug 08 - 12:57 AM (#2404143)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players

Is it I R Smith, or could it be J R Smith ?

JR Smith emigrated from the English midlands to Troy, NY, USA in the 19th cent. (post-Civil War, as I recall) to become one of the pre-eminent makers of jews harps in the US. He was a maker in England before then, I believe. His products are varied and generally really good. His nephews carried on in Troy into the 20th century.

Although I play JH, and live near Troy, NY, I owe everything I just wrote to Jim Kimball (Dr. James Kimball, State Univ. of NY at Genese NY). I reckon you could reach Jim through the University website, and might find a connection.

- George

03 Aug 08 - 04:05 PM (#2404455)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Jack Blandiver

So how many Jew's Harpers on Mudcat - and what are you playing?

My standard trump of choice is the Szilagyi Black Fire, across the range from hi-A to lo-D, though the lowest I have is a Szilagyi Tibet is an approximate low Ab.

For an idea of the other trumps I'm using... have a look at my Sundog page on Myspace.

04 Aug 08 - 03:33 AM (#2404679)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Splott Man

I can own up to be a player, though I rarely do it in public.

I'm not an expert, but don't think you are playing overtones, as it's possible to get complete scales.

Like other instruments with a drone, it's interesting to try tunes where the drone is not the root, say in Am on a G instrument.

Thanks for reviving this thread shawn, it's interesting.

Splott Man

04 Aug 09 - 05:54 PM (#2693817)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Jack Blandiver

Something pretty cool for a summer's night: 106 minutes of International Jew's Harp Music:

Go to the First Channel - August 03

05 Aug 09 - 04:55 AM (#2694007)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Piers Plowman

Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Suibhne O'Piobaireachd - PM
Date: 03 Aug 08 - 04:05 PM

"So how many Jew's Harpers on Mudcat - and what are you playing?"

All right, I confess. I've got two, a big one and a small one made by the Austrian company Karl Schwarz.

I'll have to determine what keys they are in.

I don't play them very often, because I don't seem to be able to get too many notes out of them. I was moved to buy them in the first place by the song "Huskin' Bee" recorded by the Yellow Jackets (1931, if memory serves).

I know from hearing great performances that there's a lot one can do with Jew's harps, and it hasn't really clicked for me yet.

22 Sep 12 - 10:22 AM (#3408661)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players

Just happen to run across all these posts regarding Jew's Harps made by J. R. Smith and Sons. If anyone would still happen to have any questions, I may be able to assist you. These gentlemen were my great-grandfather and William (son) was my grandfather. Thank you.

22 Sep 12 - 10:31 AM (#3408663)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: GUEST,A Dentist

How common are chipped and broken teeth as a direct result of playing this instrument ?

22 Sep 12 - 11:04 AM (#3408677)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: Jack Campin

Very. You can also get vibration damage to the root.

I know somebody who was told by his dentist that either the jews harp or his front teeth had to go. So he got the teeth taken out.

07 Jul 18 - 02:12 PM (#3935961)
Subject: RE: Attn: Jews Harp Players
From: GUEST,Julia

Hello. Hope someone can give me some guidance on a Jews Harp I have that I inherited from my father. It looks fairly old, but sounds great, just like it did when he played it. It is stamped JR Smith. Anyone know how much it might be worth? I cant seem to find one on Ebay like it. I would liketo rehome it to someone who would appreciate it.
Thanks for any help.