Big river harps

The lowdown on the Mississippi Sax. Just for Google, this section is about harmonicas.

Big river harps

Postby goldbrick » Sun Nov 25, 2012 5:57 pm

After years of dragging drum kits around-I started playing harp more and more

I really like the sound and feel of the Big Rivers for blues-in general I have not cared much for Marine band hohners but I really like these. I love my Lee Oskars for the clean sound but I can make those Big Rivers sound dirtier than the tip of a Blind mans cane.

Any body elese dig 'em? Seems like no one else around here uses them but I do get lots of complements on my tone.
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Re: Big river harps

Postby jeffl » Sun Nov 25, 2012 8:04 pm

I bought one of 'em about 5-6 years ago, and just didn't like it (compared to the SP20s I normally play). I have no specific complaint against them. When I first played Lee Oskars about 30 years ago, I fell in love with some of their characteristics, but then discovered that I didn't like their tuning, so I played primarily Marine Bands. When I discovered SP20s, the two things I loved about 'em were : a) the plastic comb, and b) the cover supports, since I usually crushed the covers on Marine Bands.
I still keep some LOs in my case for single note lead playin' on just a few tunes, but I also keep various other makes of harps because of their particular attributes for certain tunes.
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Re: Big river harps

Postby jawbone60 » Mon Nov 26, 2012 5:47 am

the Big River is definitely its own harp. slightly bigger than the standard hohners and seem to take a bit more breath, they do not leak as some would say. the chambers are a bit bigger and they do take a different style to play well. for a time i used them almost exclusively.
since they are MS harps the reed plates can be replaced. but imagine my shock when i spent more for a set of low F plates than i'd paid for the harp!
I just got a low D and it seems that the cover plates have been changed. my mustache hairs get under the left end of the top cover plate now. i will remedy this and add the low D to my case.
one feature i really liked about them was a kind of reed flutter i discovered on them and no other harp. i don't even know if it was hearable but it felt really cool.
Big River is one that gets my vote even though i have opted for the Manji as my go-to harp. many harps i would not buy any more at all but in a pinch a BR will end up in my case in a hurry.
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Re: Big river harps

Postby yidakipaul » Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:20 pm

I've tried most of the main stay Hohner harps, I'd say in terms of value for money the Big River is the best of the lot, that said:

They are slightly bigger than the Marine Bands, this coupled with the fact they have HOHNER plastered all over the back makes me think they where brought out specifically as a lower cost option to Siedel harps (I could be wrong)

I understand the reed plates are machine made, they have a nice brassy tone to my ears, they note bend comfortably. On the negatives mine didn't last as long as I would typically expect (I tend to play Special 20's) and after several months a reed blew out. Also (and this is purely a personal thing) I don't like the very heavy embossing on the cover (it some how feels weird on my lips)

Bizarrely being into blues the only Hohner harp I've never got on with is the "Blues Harp" I don't like the wooden comb (these can swell so the seal is poor - can also nip the skin on your lips (Ouch!)) - They feel clunky to play (to me anyway) - My biggest dislike is the brass reed plate protrudes over the wooden comb at the edges and if used for long periods they can rip into the corners of your mouth ( ended up looking like plague victim after playing one of these bad boys for a prolonged period).

My personal favourite's are the Special 20's - plastic comb / hand tuned reed plate / responsive / bright / Durable / easy to get into (standard slotted screw fittings) - I keep coming back to these Harps, for my money it's worth paying the extra £10 to upgrade form a Big River to a Special 20
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Re: Big river harps

Postby jawbone60 » Sun Dec 09, 2012 7:42 am

i used sp20s for a lot of years. partly my own bad habits blew a lot of reeds and i moved on in my quest for the indestructible harmonica- which i am sure does not exist. once i accepted that fact i realized i had to change how i addressed my instrument and had to use it more gently when possible, 9or keep blowing 4 draw reeds.
the hohner blues harp is now an ms harp which means the reed plated from big river and blues harp are the same. there was a time the blues was a mb with different covers.
i have a sp20 or two around, i think they are good harps, but my choice these days is the pricier- but imo superior- suzuki manji. i have tried a lot of harps over many years and for my money the best value is the manji. to date. i am still hoping someone will begin making a durable well made well tuned harp in the usa one of these days. that's affordable.
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Re: Big river harps

Postby yidakipaul » Sun Dec 09, 2012 9:01 pm

Hi Jawbone
I've no doubt blowing reeds is largely down to my own bad habits and general abuse (my harps are either in my pocket or clunking round my guitar case) - I never keep my harps in a the case's supplied (Last time I bought a harp I asked the guy in the shop to throw the case in the bin (I left with it in my pocket)
It's really lame but one of the reasons I like the SP20 is they are easy to get into - every now and again I need to pull bits of fluff out of the reeds.

Out of interest what did you do to reduce the number of reed's you blew - is it just a case of not bending the reed's too forcefully?
Do you use overblows? I've never cracked this technique but I believe it's heavy on the reed's
I've looked at some of the Suziki harps and to me they look far more sold than the Hohners - Is the tuning similar?

One of the Hohner harps I really like the physical feel of is the Golden Melody - I don't like the fixed intonated tuning (can't remember the technical term) - I did think about trying to tune them myself but that techy stuff ain't my bag. They do a "special edition" type one with a Gold rather than Silver cover plate, this has the blues type tuning that makes the chords sound sweet but it's only available in C.
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Re: Big river harps

Postby jawbone60 » Mon Dec 10, 2012 2:04 am

paul, if i overblow it's by accident. i am really mostly a gut player. scales are foreign to me and if you held a gun on me i could not tell you what notes are where on a harp or what notes are made with draws. instinct does have its advantages though. i am fairly accomplished even having said what i did. i am adept in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd positions. i have about 20 years of gigs under my belt and some cd projects and writing projects as well. i consider that thanks to my happiness at playing and doing things musical, i am a success in some limited way.

i came to terms mostly with the fact of a harmonica being comprised of tiny pieces of brass which would fail if stressed too much for too long. at one point i was blowing a reed on a harp within 2 gigs or 4 jams. not good odds. what i further came to realize was that my singing was pretty bad since i had no idea about wind or air column and how to make use of my torso, throat, mouth, tongue, and lips to enhance my singing and also my playing. once i made some discoveries along those lines and did some exercises, my singing and playing improved. i was using less air force and more air focus if that makes sense. result was i didn't blow my voice out by the end of set 2 of a gig, nor was i buying a new harp at least once a month. my big failing was the #4 draw reed. others went out sometimes but the most killed was 4 draw. i was using way too much draw force on that note.
what it also boiled down to for me was needing to actually work acoustically with harmonica and develop good habits and the resulting better tone. making a decision to play only as loud as the harp could be played without damage. using an amp later on to get the sound out with an electric band or in an amped duo setting. the core though was adopting some deep breathing exercises to give me better wind control. i use less air and have better focus these days and this results in longer lived harps. and much less laryngitis the day after a gig!
i keep my harps in a gig case and clean them every so often. i use mostly the suzuki manji since i like its construction, design, and the materials used. these factors result in a longer lived and nicely tuned harp. great volume acoustically as well, and i have yet to catch a 'stache hair under a cover plate!
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