A Limited Overview of Chromatic Harmonicas

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

A Limited Overview of Chromatic Harmonicas

Postby jawbone60 » Sun Feb 26, 2012 2:09 pm

i wanted to offer my thoughts and impressions on the few different Chromatic harmonicas i have owned and currently own and use. the only reason for this aside from having a few minutes is that someone may get some good from it. it is not meant to be an expert review but rather just my thoughts and impressions on one style of playing a chromatic. i should preface this all by saying that i'm a 3rd position player on chromatic almost exclusively, with my preference being blues and jazz derived closely from blues, like jump and swing genres.

hohner chrometta: i owned 2 of these, first an 8 hole which i had gotten on a whim and let sit in its box for years after initially noodling with it briefly. i don't remember any good reason for getting it other than maybe curiosity. after some years i realized that some of my harp heroes were playing chromatic. i bought a bigger chrometta, a 12 hole, and began trying to learn how to play like those guys. the chrometta was the first chromatic i made breakthroughs into 3rd position playing with.
a lot of players don't care for this harp. it's bulky and has been accused of being leaky, it's not made like a fine watch, it looks somewhat toy-like. it's also one of the least expensive chromatics out there. add to that the ease one can make a sound come from it thanks to very big holes. i found the chrometta to be a very useful and playable harp. as with any chromatic, drawing or blowing too hard can definitely render one useless. they have double the reeds of a diatonic per hole and windsavers or valves, which are subject to damage from misuse. i would play one of these any time again if i had need and didn't have my usual ones with me. i managed to damage reeds in both of mine a long time ago.

hohner 270: this is one of the industry work horse chromatics. hohner has not made any huge changes in them for a long time. my first was in D which when i look back was a mistake, but if i still had it i know i'd have a use for it in 3rd position with the root key being A. unfortunately i had a wild idea to seal the comb on mine some years ago and took it apart and promptly warped and broke the comb. i could have bought a new comb but was unaware of that at the time so i tossed the remaining parts. recently a fellow harper gave me a 270 in C and i accepted it more to be polite than any love for the brand and model. BUT i have been revisiting the 270, doing some research since i have "grown up" some as a player, and i do like it and actually have more respect and regard for it than i used to! while it is a cantankerous harp in some ways it has a very comforting tone and it's really not so hard to play once one gets used to it. the one i have has a place in my "active" case.

hering 48 series: my first of these was a charlie musselwhite special edition, the 7148, which was a straight up C mid range harmonica. i liked it a lot but wrecked a reed and ordered a replacement comb and plate assembly, which was the same as the 5148 series, and i liked that one as well. again i wrecked a reed. ( do you notice a pattern here? i had yet to learn not to hard bend on a chromatic!) i went on and got a baritono in C, which is a low register chromatic, and i love it to pieces. in addition i got a G 5148 as well, and rather quickly ruined a reed or 2 on it.

Suzuki Chromatix: i bought one of these in G to replace the hering G i had ruined. it's a really fine harp for the price- under $150 about a year ago. i have pretty much learned to treat a chromatic differently these days so as to not kill reeds!

bushman free jazz chromatic: this is a suzuki chromatix with a different name as far as i can tell. it's a good harp and i got a great deal on it when bushman decided to clear them out and get away from the chromatic business. for $50 i got a working middle range C chromatic, well built, plays a bit stiff but i can work with it.

there are a lot more choices in chromatic harps. one can conceivably spend up to $5k or more on one! or at least in the high hundreds. i am just a working guy who can't afford that kind of cash, so i have stayed with the work horse mass production chromatics with good reputations, and i'm fairly satisfied with their performance and affordability.

using chromatic harmonicas has been a challenge for me to learn, especially early on, when i was playing almost exclusively 2nd position on diatonics. i just didn't "get" 3rd position for a long time. once i made the initial breakthrough in my mind, it was a really great move to learn to play that way and incorporate it into my style. some good reasons to play chromatic are that there are so many more options to play a particular song, a much fuller sound, and a big expansion of one's "bag of tricks" as a harp player.

that's my 2 cents. anyone agree, disagree, have questions, want to add or subtract from this short review?
Last edited by jawbone60 on Thu Mar 01, 2012 11:41 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A Limited Overview of Chromatic Harmonicas

Postby bottleneck » Wed Feb 29, 2012 4:57 am

my chromatic playing has really improved over the past few years.

for years,i think since the 70's ,i used a 270 super chromonica.i believed that to be THE blues chromatic,afterall,isn't that what little walter,then george harmonica smith used?and at the time my chromatic playing was mediocre.

i tried a friends 260 once and it was way better than any 270 i ever had,but i am stubborn and stuck with the 270.

one day at a friends music store,about five years ago,he had a malfunctioning chrometta eight i knew i could fix.i didn't really want it,but knew he was hurting for cash.to help him out i bought it.

OMG,life changing decision,that.my chromatic playing soared.the chrometta was set up MUCH better than the 270's.

since then i got a hering ten hole in D,and replaced the insides of a couple of 270's with hering parts.i also got a chrometta 12 in G.

don't think i am knocking 270's.i think the right tweeker could make one right.but i prefer the herings and chromettas.

the herings sound better to me,and the chromettas you can thrash.

i think the price of chromatics has gotten to be crazy.i wish i had seen that bushman deal!!!!

www.shakeylee.com
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Re: A Limited Overview of Chromatic Harmonicas

Postby jawbone60 » Thu Mar 01, 2012 12:00 pm

in Kim Fields' book "harmonicas, harps and heavy breathers", some of those old harmonica group leaders talk about almost constantly having to work on hohner chromatics to keep them playable. i think they used to play the 270 and its 16 hole big brother as well.
re: the chrometta- before i knew what 3rd position was i had bought a chrometta 8 and just noodling around found i could do something really cool. which turned out to be 3rd position playing i later realized. at the time i had no real idea what the root key would be.
re: hering 48 series chromatics: this is what hohner should have become. in fact the hering brand is made in a former hohner factory in brazil. if my first 270 had been set up better and not been so leaky i would not have felt compelled to try and seal the comb with hot beeswax and as a result bake the comb into a twisted warped useless piece of oddball art. what drew me to the hering line was a gift from a friend of a hering free blues diatonic, which i used for quite a while and liked. when i saw the hering had gone to a lucite comb and what seemed to me to be a higher standard of manufacture and assembly i decided to try a 48 chromatic and i was not sorry for a minute. at that time i only knew of one distributor in the usa for hering and he was not very capable to say the least. so for some time after my first 5148 purchase i again shied away from hering since i was looking at long waits and not getting what i asked for. that guy went on to other things eventually and we now see some very good businesses working with hering to provide good products and services.

chromatics to me are such a wild beast to work on. the wind savers are a fragile but completely necessary part of the usual chromatic, but esp early on i would have one or 2 wind savers that would warp out on me and i'd get that rattle when i played certain notes. it was very distracting. i still don't know if that extra sound is something that can be hears even 2 feet away from the harp, or if it is picked up by a microphone.

i have more to think about here.
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Re: A Limited Overview of Chromatic Harmonicas

Postby jawbone60 » Tue May 22, 2012 11:22 am

along with the hering 5148, i got a deal on a suzuki csx harmonica a few years back. a diatonic dealer was trying to branch out and had bought some csx's with rebranded cover plates, then sold off the last of them for like $50 each. i got one in C and it laid in a drawer for a few years. meanwhile i was getting use out of the herings.
at some point i decided to try a csx in G, a 12 hole suzuki work horse harp. great harp, easy to play and a very good sound and feel. so i resurrected the one in C. for whatever reason i took the cover plates off and just could not get them to mount back up. the screws kept slipping through the holes in the plates! so i used a couple of hering covers instead and it works well for me although i don't use a standard C tuning much. i have a baritono C hering i like a lot.
meanwhile a fellow harpman insisted i take a 270 off his hands- for free. he just didn't "get" 3rd on a chromatic and wanted it to have a good home. trouble is it has a dusty old wood kind of flavor which makes it not so pleasant to play. even so i have worked with it some just for the experience.
my most used chromatic lately is the suzuki csx12 in G. this works great with an open tuned guitar playing in A. but i also use it with a standard tuned guitar in A as well although you have to be careful what part you play so as not to get too many minor notes into a major song.
i also occasionally try some 1st position on a chromatic but generally find that it takes a lot of air which i don't necessarily have.

i am hoping to have a video or two soon, of me playing some chromatic blues.
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Re: A Limited Overview of Chromatic Harmonicas

Postby Fishfeathersmacteeth » Mon May 28, 2012 12:13 pm

Plus one on the Charlie Musselwhite Hering Special 48...great harp...Airtight, responsive....Useable sounds

I also use the Hohner CX12...a great piece of work...durable, easily accessed to clean and maintain...also great sounds..

My Hohner 64 and "70 are now just spares in case the first two ever let me down...
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Re: A Limited Overview of Chromatic Harmonicas

Postby jawbone60 » Mon Jun 04, 2012 11:25 am

fish i think my first hering was a charlie special as well. but i could not tell a difference between it and a standard 5148 except fancy covers.

i have to add something here. some would say i am not much of a chromatic player since i don't use the slide for half notes. all i can say is, i do ok without it!
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