Blue Cross Tuning ~ Diatonic Harmonica

Blue Cross Tuning by Jepps
Blue Cross Tuning of a Suzuki Manji
For generations Blues Harmonica players have been experimenting with different reed tuning setups for their instrument, to increase the musical possibilities in their repertoire.

To name just a few there is, Paddy Richter, Country or Super Country, Harmonic Minor, Natural Minor and even patented tunings by famous musicians such as the Wilde Rock Tuning by Will Wilde.

Why do these different tunings exist and why is there not simply a standard tuning which suits all styles of music?

Well it is quite a detailed discussion, but essentially it all comes down to the fact that the standard tuning of your common 10 hole blues harp was originally designed for playing chords and Major melodies as an accompaniment to band parades.

As such its chromatic capabilities or range of native keys is extremely limited.

Of course, since the discovery of various employable techniques such as bending and overblowing, these ‘limitations’ have almost, at least for the most part, become extinguished by a new ‘class of embouchure expertise’.

The once merely diatonic harmonica, became with the evolution of study and collaborative research, practically 100% chromatic ~ purely from embouchure technique alone.

Yet a hard truth remains.

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Suzuki Manji ~ Low Eb

Suzuki Manji
The Suzuki Manji features a Bamboo composite comb which produces a most exotic bluesy voice.
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.

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Vanilla Gershwin Grand ~ Turbolid Custom Covers

Vanilla Turbo Lid
Behold the Vanilla Gershwin Grand, my personal choice of Turbolid combination.
All my life I have taught people a blessed miracle of music, that whence the passion of creativity resides within one, an orchestra can be painted from a pallette of only three colours.

This is one reason I prefer the ten hole Blues Harp over the grander twelve hole Chromatic Harmonicas.

At least it certainly has become so ever since I discovered ‘Country Tuning’, a gentle change in pitch of the 5 draw to a sharp note, creating a Major 7th chord in 2nd position. Miraculously, this simple change in the pitch of a single reed actually harbours, unto the dedicated artist, a whole library of jazz chords and phrases.

Yet the reason I am writing today, is to spread the word about a fabulous company in the USA, Turbo Harp, who, amongst their many revolutionary innovations in harmonica evolution, created the Turbo Lid, a specially shaped ergonomic cover lid for your ten hole blues harmonica.

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Suzuki Overdrive ~ Start Your Spaceships

Simon Jepps' Suzuki Overdrive
The revolutionary Suzuki Overdrive is a quantum leap in the evolution of biological Blues Harp chromatics.
The Suzuki Overdrive is both ingenious and beautiful.

One merely has to take a glance at its facade to appreciate that this is no ordinary Harmonica. Yet the real beauty of this instrument may well come as a surprise to you… for it is, the final frontier of authentic Blues Harp chromatics.

I have blogged regularly about the next evolution of the Blues Harp, or to be more technical, the Diatonic Ten Hole Richter Tuned Harmonica.

Most specifically I have addressed the argumentative concept of chromaticising its tonal range. This is the idea that by altering its tuning, installing valves, magnetic switches, spring loaded slides, or even extra hidden reeds, one might accomplish the seemingly impossible task of making an instrument which was born to weep, dance as if it had never cried.

And yet doing this doesn’t make any sense.

For whence it comes to the aspect of sacreligious change, I have always believed it to be imperative that a Blues Harp retains its original philosophy of design in order to be considered authentic and praiseworthy. Its music is about making the most out of what little you have and finding the fruition of a miracle within one’s own determination.

So, I feel many new designs aimed at “chromaticising” the Blues Harp, whilst revolutionary and ingenious, only find themselves eventually stripping the instrument of its ancestral belonging and in turn its very own appeal to be played.

Instead all that is accomplished, is a precision engineered technological monstrosity which only feels like you are cheating at life when you attempt to play it.

And so here, a paradox looms.

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Tenor Harp ~ Authentic Terminology For An Authentic Harmonica

Tenor Harp Hohner CX12 Jazz
Hohner CX12 Jazz Tenor Harp
Here is an interesting story of how about I came to play the Tenor Harp.

Those familiar with my blog will know that I am originally a lounge pianist, who has performed in many locations such as the Royal Palace, Turin.

Yet since returning to England shortly after the turn of the millennium, it began to become ever moreso apparent to me that the Piano was only a burden on my freedom.

Whilst passionately in love with the instrument since only a child, it would become both the heartbreak and the revelation of my musical destiny.

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Keytoy ~ Radioactive Styling By Jepps

Keytoy ~ Custom Styling By Jepps
Theatre grade glow in the dark tape applied to sharps and flats, whilst black electrician tape softened surrounding case appearance.
I simply adore my Hohner Superforce 37. In fact I adore it so much I decided it was time to give it a manicure and custom artistic makeover.

The result? A finely tuned and responsive, totally radioactive Keytoy.

It had been begging me to do it. In fact the day it arrived the first thing it said was, “Please don’t call me a Superforce 37…”

Damn right. Whilst my favourite Keytoy, or Melodica, or whatever you want to call it, the name SUPERFORCE 37 has never settled with me on any particularly personal level, at all.

Hence, in addition to the reed adjustments I spent a good couple of hours undertaking, the abominable logo has now gone from its now most graciously decorated face.

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Stranded In Sweethaven

This is a song I wrote for Blues Harp, composed to the tune of Popeye. It is completely Ad Libitum, as most blues harmonica songs are.

Chorus

Well I’m stranded and I’ve got the blues,
Well I’m stranded and I’ve got the blues,
Can somebody ship me over to Sidney,
‘Cos I’m stranded and I’ve got the blues.

~ 4 bar harp solo ~

Vrs 1

Well I’ve met Dwongo d’Orangutan,
Well I’ve met Dwongo d’Orangutan,
He don’t need pyjamas ‘cos he eats bananas,
Yeah I’ve met Dwongo d’Orangutan,

~ 2 bar harp solo ~

Well I’ve met Isac The Third the Parrot,
Well I’ve met Isac The Third the Parrot,
He keeps all his feathers whatevers the weathers,
Yeah I’ve met Isac The Third the Parrot.

~ 2 bar harp solo ~

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Special 20 Country Tuned

Special 20 Country Tuning
Paint the country blue… or erm, illusive copper.
I recently blogged about the Seydel Big Six and how the attempt to chromaticize Blues Harmonicas only destroys the very philosophy of its own original voice.

That philosophy, born from the oppressed good black folks of America, speaks of the strength to make the most of what little you have and the meditation therefore, to create more from less.

It is only natural then of the Blues Harpist, to recreate or arrange melodies from other genres in a way that satisfies both the instrument’s demands and the listener’s ear.

More than often this means not only an alteration of style, but to manipulate the existence of notes which are not naturally sounding in the Harmonica.

This is a technique called ‘bending’.

Whilst they may sound harsh if held too long, or whence unnaturally forced to support a piece of weighty Bach, whence employed as careful “passing notes” they can often convey a very subtle beauty of speech.

Yet therein, due to their unnatural sounding, there is an element of truth in what modern harmonica players say, that sometimes if just one note of their instrument were changed, then so would their entire world.

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The Big Six

Seydel big six harp
Less… art… more…
I had spent many years researching new and innovating Blues Harp designs, specifically focussing on alternate tunings or reed configurations, which allow an otherwise regular harp to be played chromatically off the bat.

There are many.

Most notably the Suzuki Sub30 which actually incorporates an extra ten reeds into the same 20 reed infrastructure, acting as silent “sympathetics”, only sounding when the player instructs them through embouchure.

Yet whilst it was my frustration with an instrument’s limitations that led me to this decade long investigation, it would soon come to pass that this very disposition of the Blues Harp’s design would be the very thing that solves my paradox.

All my life I have taught people a blessed miracle of music, that whence the passion of creativity resides within one, an orchestra can be painted from a pallette of only three colours.

That is to say, music is not the art of playing as many notes as possible as quickly and as loudly as possible… it is the art of creating masterpieces out of only the air, or thus from a flute without even any holes.

Enter… The Big Six.

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