My heart is shaped by the sound of bamboo. Friends of this blog will know I am deeply fond of the Chinese Xiao flute and the infinite voices which resonate throughout its eternal chambers.
Hitherto, as a Blues Harpist on the side, I have likewise always been on the search for a wooden instrument, able to produce the natural resonances and tonal colours so commonly associated with a flute.
A decade later, after flirting with various wooden combs and cover plates, all of which would eventually warp and crack, little did I expect a Blues Harp to be created from actual Bamboo.
Furthermore, little did I expect it to keep its shape. In fact, the shape of the Suzuki Manji is a very special wonder indeed.
This revolutionary new diatonic harmonica is named after Mr. Manji Suzuki, the company’s founder.
Manji Suzuki started with a single hand-built model over 70 years ago, and has since built Suzuki up into one of the world’s premier harmonica manufacturers. Harmonicas are Mr. Suzuki’s passion and his life’s work. The fact he is putting his own name on the Manji Harmonica is because those 70 years of dedication to perfection have finally become divinely embodied into this one exceptionally impressive instrument.
I will get to the Manji’s special shape in a moment, but let me first explain the wonder of this harmonica’s Bamboo heart.
The comb, that being the sound chamber through which your breath travels, is made of a revolutionary Bamboo composite. This composite is effectively an ABS Resin combined with a fusion of Bamboo wood fibres.
The Manji’s comb material simulates the tiny cavities that occur in natural wood. Whilst the placement of these cavities were adjusted somewhat for durability, this revolutionary new comb produces not only a most dazzling exotic voice, but a stronger, thicker tone than the sound of any common all-plastic comb, found in most other harps.
Anyone who has played a Suzuki Manji will testify the exact same phenomena as all those before them:
“It feels as if the comb vibrates with the reeds!”
Listen ~: Calcutta by Christelle Berthon.
Needless to say I myself am unreservedly IN LOVE with this harmonica, but let me assure you, it doesn’t end there.
As the title of this article suggests, I am passionately devoted to the LOW tuned Blues Harps. These are harps which are tuned much lower than “Middle C”, in fact oftentimes these can go as low as two octaves beneath.
The reason I play Low is all to do with completeness of an all encompassing repertoire. In short, I only like to play one harp. I am not a guy who will keep all harps in all keys to hand. I only want one.
The problem here is that the diatonic Blues Harp is not by nature a chromatic instrument. Whilst it “can” be played chromatically, many of the “missing” notes can only be achieved through several complicated and different techniques.
Furthermore, the hardest technique, known as ‘Over Drawing’ or ‘Over Blowing’ – not to be confused with bending – very seldom produces the gracefully warm or gentle tone required for many tunes I like to play.
Enter… the Manji ~ Low Eb.
I can bend. In fact, I can overblow too ~ um, sometimes. But overblow and overdraw tones are not “naturally resonating”… they are “forced” or, if you prefer, unavoidably hard sounding.
These kinds of expressions are terribly destructive to say, a piece of soft Jazz or Classically orientated music.
A solution can be found by bringing the key of your harmonica down by almost an octave. This makes the higher register, where full major and minor scales are found, to be more appealing due to their now, easier to hearken, lower natural resonance.
The problem however with LOW tuned harps is that the longer length of the metal reeds means they end up rattling against the underside of the metal coverplates.
However, with the Manji salvation is at hand.
The revolutionary Suzuki Manji solves this problem by means of a uniquely “flared” coverplate design. Hereby, the lower side of the harp is widened to accommodate for the longer LOW reeds.
Of course this is a personal choice. The fifth of this key is Bb and any learned Jazzophonist will know all about that.
Yet in truth, I tend to play all kinds of music and solo most of the time, from Classical, Romantic, Baroque, Celtic, through to Indian, Persian, Jazz, Rock and Blues. I play everything.
Like mentioned before I can play chromatically, it’s just my professionalism does not extend beyond traditional bending techniques. I can bend very well and even seamlessly integrate chromatic notes into the most foreign keys, as if they were purely and naturally already there.
But… there is one very special tune to me which I can only play in 5th position. If you don’t know about positions, these are different to keys and relate to the specific hole number you call your “Root”.
Whilst the perfect fifth “Key” of Eb is Bb, the 5th position on a Blues Harp is the key of Hole 2 BLOW.
On a Low Eb harp this key is G, both Major & Minor.
The tune I so very much adore is indeed famous, yet not only for its composer’s creativity, but because it is one of very few exceptional jazz ballads which miraculously dances between the Major and Minor as if they were both naturally the same key.
To perform bluesy jazz phrases in both the Major and Minor equivalent keys, throughout three octaves, complete with Eastern sprinkles… all on a single Blues Harp… and WITHOUT overblowing even ONCE… your only position is 5th.
The tune…? Well it’s All Blues, isn’t it. Cheers Miles… and thank you once again, Your Greatness Manji Suzuki.