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'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question

08 Apr 03 - 01:34 PM (#928783)
Subject: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: GUEST,Vixen @ Work


This one's for me *and* my dad. I'm trying to write down tunes I play on pennywhistle for my dad to play on harp. OK, so I've got the sequence of blow/draw for the scale, and so far, everything's gone smoothly. Now, however, we're getting into some tunes that go below the "blow 4" or Do, and he's telling me he doesn't have the notes he needs down there on his Golden Melodies. He says he needs "solo-tuned" harp to get those notes. He's got one, in C, and it looks pretty normal to me, so I go off to the music store to get him a G and a D. Too make a long story interminable, they don't have any. And the Hohner catalog doesn't have any. The closest I can get is a monstrosity of a "solo tuned chromatic" which seems to have every note in the Western scale inside. Definitely overkill. So what is this solo-tuned harp, and where do I find one? I've done a google search, and checked the 5 (can you believe only 5!) sites that came up under a "solo-tuned harmonica" search, and I'm still looking.

Any advice?

Many thanks,


08 Apr 03 - 01:45 PM (#928794)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: Peter T.

I think they are called "Melody Maker" harmonicas. Lee Oskar makes them, you could try the Lee Oskar site (search for it).

yours, Peter T.

08 Apr 03 - 01:51 PM (#928803)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: John MacKenzie

I use a Hohner Echo Model 240908. This has 3 octaves, and is drilled through between the cells which helps produce a full sound, and a tremolo effect. This is edequate for most solo work, although it takes a lot more blow than some models. Give it a try, I think mine cost about £21:00, which although not cheap, isn't the end of the world.. My problem is chromatic harps, I have one but can't see the point of it, or how it should be played, i.e what is it designed for.
We all have our problems.

08 Apr 03 - 05:06 PM (#928944)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: Sam L

Yes, I think there are some others that repeat the scale in the low end. Most of the models you find in music shops arrange the bass end for blow/draw chord pairs and bits.

I like the chromatics for the low bass, and you can play tunes with accidentals and passing tones, without bending to them, but they won't fit my rack, and I need another hand. Maybe I could hook the shifter to a garage-door opener, and do it with a footpedal.

09 Apr 03 - 03:27 PM (#929803)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: GUEST,Fifer

I reckon that the answer for your Dad is for you to get him a Chromatic harmonica. The scale is identical in each octave. That means that the blow and draw takes place in exactly the same place no matter where you are playing, high or low octaves. No playing in a different key to that of the harmonica,which is what is required on a diatonic tuned harp. There are many makes and different keys available, not all are horrifically expensive. The only thing required to play them well, is to get used to playing a single note at a time, and not a mouthful of them! This comes with practice, and you can get a full selection of nuances , from sweet to harsh, if you persevere. The ability to play semitones (sharps or flats) is permitted by the use of the button on the harmonica, and all of the notes you can find on a full piano keyboard are available to you when required. Great if you want to play some jazzy runs and slides!
I hope this helps, Good luck

10 Apr 03 - 02:40 AM (#930242)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: Bob Bolton

G'day Vixen,

I'll need to check the Hohner catalogues at home, but they used to do a few single note, non-chromatic models with the same layout as the chromatics - each group of four holes runs tonic - tonic' (eg C - c; c - c'; &c) with two adjoining tonic notes where each set meets. A 10-hole model gives you 2½ complete diatonic octaves ... and a 12-holer gives 3 full octaves.

This type of mouth organ doesn't give the inherent chords of a vamper harmonica (those chords are why it's called an 'harmonica') but lets you play an uninterrupted melody line ... in simple (eg 'folk') tunes - and makes a good primer for moving on to the chromatic mouth organ.

I seem to remember that there used to be models of this tuning in the "Golden Melody" line ... indeed, I should have one at home ... but I don't play this type very often, preferring the rich chording styles of the vampers - then grabbing a chromatic for melodic solos.

I'll post back when I get a few more details.


Bob Bolton

10 Apr 03 - 08:39 AM (#930348)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: Bob Bolton

G'day again Vixen,

Looking in my cupboards didn't help ... I know that mouth organ is in there somewhere ... but there are a lot more assorted mouth organs in front (on top ... around ...) it.

Anyway, I remembered that it looked like the Golden Melody, with curved-back ends and full width cover plates ... but the plates are in chrome, rather than gold anodised alloy - and the model name is Educator 1, Hohner stock # 1001/24. This was a 12-hole instrument ... only available in the key of C and ranging from G to f' ... 1 note short of 3 full octaves. The octaves are arranged in 4-hole groups ... with the additional dominant at the bottom.

This would let your Dad play any diatonic tune ... but only in 'C'. Hohner had a line of cheaper chromatics in the same styling as the Educator 1 - the Chromettas ... ~8, ~10, ~12 and ~14, 8- to 14-hole chromatics in a 'starter' grade and (?) price - and only in 'C'.

I have one of these somewhere, but it is not a favourite!


Bob Bolton

10 Apr 03 - 08:42 AM (#930353)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: silverfish

I've got a solo harmonica in C. It's a Hohner Marine band. Not easy to get hold of, as it doesn't seem to appear in the regular Hohner lists. It's okay to play but build quality isn't so good - I had to put filler top and bottom to protect my beard and moustache!
I generally use a chinese made solo harp now - it really is inexpensive and very good value as well as a great sound... sometimes on stage or for recording I use a chinese made melodica - now that's fun ! Best of luck.

10 Apr 03 - 09:45 AM (#930405)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: GUEST,Vixen @ work

WOW!!! Thanks for all the info!!!

Here's what I've found that I (and dad) think will do the trick. We've only looked at the picture, mind, and read the blurb, but it *looks* like what he needs.

Hohner SBS Solo Harp

Let me know what you think...

Dad has a couple of chromatics, but he doesn't play them much. He says they're heavy and take a lot of air. He used to play only Marine Bands, but then I got him into the Golden Melodies, and he likes those a lot. He's also got a few Huangs, and some little plastic ones, and an assortment of odds and ends. I've never heard anybody play harmonica the way he does...he does the melody and rhythm chucks, sort of simultaneously. Sounds like he's got a whole band going. He's a machinist, and he's making an aluminum-combed, brass reeded B-flat harp; I can't wait to hear what that sounds like...

Thanks again,


10 Apr 03 - 08:07 PM (#930764)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: Bob Bolton

G'day again,

silverfish: The big advantages of the Educator 1 arose from the moulded plastic body and completely turned in cover plates. There was nothing to catch ... and they were airtight. Chromatics were less forgiving ... and I developed a tidier (traditional 19th c. - "Newgate Ring") beard style to reduce the ramdom trimming of loose whiskers!

Vixen: The Hohner SBS looks like it might be the same Marine Band that silverfish has. As I read the description, it has two 4-hole octaves at the bass end - with 2 'C's adjacent at holes 4 and 5 ... then the traditional Richter pattern of the vamper harmonica for the rest. This is an interesting approach ... but I would have preferred the Richter chording at the bass end, for good "vamp" accompaniment and the "logical" melody layout at the top.

Actually, I find that a 12-hole Richter tuned harmonica works pretty well, for me ... but they only come in the clunky Marine Band style.

BTW: Your Dad's style sounds like the good old vamping style of the harmonica. The best I have ever heard of this style was on 2 old 78 rpm records of P.C. (Percy) Spouse: Mouth Organ Champion of Australia - (~) 1927, ~'29, ~'32 & ~'35 ... the only years he competed! A later band connection to a musician (flautist, Ray Grieve) who had a family collection to Percy led to Ray chasing up all 10 78s Percy made in the 1930s so his widow Gertie could have a tape of them in hospital.

Ray donated all the records to the National Library of Australia - who encouraged him to write a book on early (1900 - 1950s) mouth organ in Australia. This was eventually published as A Band in a Waistcoat Pocket and launched, with an accompanying 2-CD set featuring all 20 of Percy's tracks plus recordings from 1908 to late '50s ... by the late, lamented, Larry Adler, who was visiting Australia at the time. Unfortunately, it seems to be out of print, but I did manage to get a few spare copies of both book and CDs before they vanished.


Bob Bolton

10 Apr 03 - 08:15 PM (#930767)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: RangerSteve

I don't know the web address, but do a search for Kevins Harps. They have every kind of harmonica, along with detailed descriptions of each one. The harp you want is in their catalog.

12 Apr 03 - 07:07 AM (#931675)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: Bob Bolton

G'day again,

Vixem PM'ed me on a couple of issue ... and aked what the heck I meant by "Richter tuning" .... I had best explain:

This decribes what seems to most melodically inclined musicians as the "illogical" layout of the mouth organ/harmonica. It really revolves around getting a good set of basic chords ... and still letting you play a melody ... all in 100mm of wood/plastic and brass.

The three notes of the tonic major chord (C maj on a C harmonica) proceed across the 10 holes as 'blow' notes: CEGCEGcegc' ... a 10-hole/note C maj chord. The rest of the notes are 'draw' notes - lined up from hole 4 to hole 8, but getting 'out of step' beyond. Even worse, hole 3 has a B on the draw but there is no A (the "relative minor") and there is a repeated G on the draw at hole 2!

This is all about chords ... at the bottom end. The 'draw' G proceeds to B - then D = a G maj chord ... and the F makes it into a full G7 the "dominant seventh" of the key of C. This F plus its adjacent A is 2 thirds of the "subdominant" chord F ... and all of this adds up to the "three chord trick" that has sustained beginner guitarists for centuries.

As well holes 4, 5 & 6 - on the 'draw' give a D min chord (DFA) ... very important in the Dorian mode tunes that are so common in northern European and Irish music. Knowing what is there ... and how to slide the notes in between ... is what a grasp of "vamping" style is all about.

I hope some of this makes sense to you ... it took a few decades for it to make theoretical sense to me ... but I was happily playing it all for years before that!


Bob Bolton

13 Apr 03 - 09:58 AM (#932349)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: Bob Bolton

G'day again Vixen,

I had a 'phone chat to Ray Grieve, author of the book A Band in a Waistcoat Pocket, Currency Press, Sydney, 1995 - and compiler of the accompanying 2-CD set of the same name, Larriking Records, 1995 ... now Rouseabout Records (...?).

It seems I was a bit premature in saying they were out of print/pressing. Warren Fahey's new Rouseabout label has the CDs in his "Warren Fahey Presents Yesterday's Australia" series ... and Currency Press has kept the book in print. Ray also has a small number of copies of the 4-cassette collection, which adds his field-recording tracks of various old championship players doing their competition sets.

If you are interested in these ... the CDs can be bought from Trad&Now Folk Mag ... at (but overseas postage needs to be checked directly with the production manager at: The CDs are also available from the National Library of Australia: The book is presumably available from Currency Press ... but I have not been able to track down a web site or email for them!

Ray can offer a good local price on the cassettes plus the book ... but would have to work out the postage. His email is:


Bob Bolton

13 Apr 03 - 10:10 AM (#932355)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question

This product should take care of nearly any key or tuning problem.


13 Apr 03 - 02:43 PM (#932500)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: McGrath of Harlow

Would that harpjack thing mean you spin it round to change key, or would you walk around it so as to approach it from a different compass bearing?

I suppose some day the Japanese will come up with one where you just turn a switch to change key, the way you can with some keyboards...

13 Apr 03 - 08:25 PM (#932708)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: Bob Bolton


Unfortunately, having a whole pack of vampers still doesn't get around the problems of gaps in the melody ... except by whipping over to another harmonica that does have the missing note! If you ned to do that ... with vampers ... the better way is to plan ahead and have the second harmonica in you (say) left hand - and quickly grab the requisite note.

Back in the days of "Harmonica Orchestra" players might have one ... or even two racks of 12 vampers (one set in 'major' tuning and the second in 'minor' tuning. I have photographs of such orchestra with each player looking at nearly 30 instruments ... some more specialised. But, of course, this was when they cared about exact "written" harmonies.

McGrath: A MIDI harmonica is perfectly feasible ... it would only need to be a miniaturised, somewhat waterproofed, version of the button accordeon ("melodeon") MIDI kits sold by firms like WEM Music, in London. Not only could you switch keys, but you could call up any sound (from you MIDI interface/amplifier/speakers) that was in the lexicom of MIDI 'voices'.

Of course, it wouldn't fit in my waistcoat pocket!



14 Sep 09 - 09:26 PM (#2723809)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: Artful Codger

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.

15 Sep 09 - 08:18 PM (#2724477)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: The Fooles Troupe

Thanks AC, now I know why the instrument never made any sense after learning keyboards... ;-)

15 Sep 09 - 11:01 PM (#2724545)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: GUEST,.gargoyle

If you play with multiple groups.

If you already understand harmonica.

A slide chromatic (about 150 US) is a wonderful investment.

You can be anything ... to anyone ... anywhere.


Don't be a Dylan dweeb and go asking to swap spit with some stranger.

16 Sep 09 - 08:12 PM (#2725110)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: Steve Shaw

Odd. I possess two 364s, one in C and one in G. They are unvalved. I don't recommend these harps (sorry, Hohner). They are very fat in the mouth and they have wooden combs which are a real pain. Both mine needed an awful lot of tweaking to get them playable. Much better these days to use 10-hole harps in the Paddy Richter tuning. The XB40s referred to are wonderful as long as your bending technique is perfect and that you are able to resist the temptation to overdo it.

17 Sep 09 - 04:23 PM (#2725578)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: Artful Codger

Steve: Are you sure your 364s are both "Soloists"? Hohner's bare model numbers often refer to multiple models in a series. According to Hohner's web pages, the standard Marine Band 364 just has two more holes than the Marine Band, adding four notes to the top end, and comes in C, G and D, which would cover the ones you own. It is Richter-tuned.

It is not the Marine Band 364 Soloist I was describing. According to Hohner's site, this model is only available in C. Nevertheless, it likely does have all the usual failings of Marine Bands--plus those of the solo-tuning.

At the risk of going off-topic, why does your bending technique have to be perfect on XB40s, any more than on any other harp? And how is the 364 "fat in the mouth"?--have they widened the holes from the usual Marine Bands or are you referring to the extra length of the harp? Lately you've been making value judgments like this backed by attitude rather than explanation.

As for the superiority of the "Paddy Richter" tuning, the jury's out on that. But we've hashed this out elsewhere, and I'm not contesting that it's a useful tuning for purely diatonic, melodic work.

17 Sep 09 - 06:09 PM (#2725649)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: Artful Codger

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.

18 Sep 09 - 03:21 PM (#2726213)
Subject: RE: 'Solo Tuned' Harmonica Question
From: Artful Codger

I was mistaken about the layout of the Steve Baker Special (Hohner Marine Band 365 SBS): it replicates the low octave pattern, not the middle octave pattern, for the added bottom octave, and only adds 3 holes:

Cd Eg Gb | Cd Eg Gb | Cd Ef Ga bC | dE fG aC

This means that you do not have three (almost-)full diatonic octaves; rather, the gaps in the low octave remain. But on the plus side, you have instead two octaves with the low octave chording and characteristic low bends. Because of the gaps in both lower octaves, and the remaining gap in the top (requiring a tricky blow bend to fill), it's probably not a good choice for melodic work.