When thinking about other stuff that's my stuff and not clutter, I immediately thought about my harmonicas. I've been playing the bass guitar for over 20 years, but in recent years I've been focusing more on harmonica playing. I hate lugging around amplifiers, and when it comes to musical instruments, only the human voice is more portable than the harmonica. Still I've acquired a lot of them over the last several years:
These aren't all of them, either. I have at least 10 others in my car. Plus a real tiny one. That brings it to about 40 harmonicas. Then there's also the one that's 6 feet under, which I placed in the casket of a friend who passed away in 2007. Never mind all the harmonica books, two harmonica tool kits, and harmonica microphone I own. Boy, I should have taken another photo.
And now to address the two big questions that I'm sure everybody is asking:
1) WHY do you have so many harmonicas, Bill?
2) HOW did you end up with so many harmonicas, Bill? (In other words, why didn't you stop at 12 or 15?)
3) Do you actually play all of these, Bill?
The answer to the first question is pretty simple: most of them are actually different from each other. To explain this, I'm going to break it down into different harmonica categories:
- Diatonic harmonicas. The far majority of my harmonicas (and harmonicas in general) fall into this category. The typical harmonica has 10 holes and is tuned to the notes of a particular key. In "western" music, we have 12 keys. And by "western" I mean pretty much ALL popular music heard over the last 200 years from European language-speaking countries, as opposed to weird exotic folk music out of India or the middle east.
Most instruments like guitars, pianos, and anything you'd find in an orchestra are made to handle music in any key. Unfortunately, this isn't the case with the standard harmonica. Like I said, each one is tuned to one of the 12 specific keys. While it's possible to squeeze out chromatic notes from any harmonica, for all practical purposes it's much easier for a harmonica player to play a different harp for a different key. By the way, if you find a harmonica, chances are very good that it's a 10-hole diatonic harmonica in the key of "C". The "F#" is generally the highest pitched key you'll find, and the "G" is generally the lowest pitched key you'll find. "C" is in the middle.
12 keys means having at least 12 different harmonicas, so that you're ready for any key that a song might be in. The 12 harmonicas you see embedded in the case on the right-hand side are the 12 harmonicas I bring with me. Personally I prefer Lee Oskar's brand for their tight construction, rounded mouth area, interchangeability of pieces, relatively easier note bending, and wide distribution across music stores. Other players swear by other brands. I also have the Steven Tyler signature harp which they only make in one key. NOT a bad harp, actually.
- Chromatic Harmonicas. I have two of these. Unlike the diatonic ones, you can get all 12 chromatic notes out of a chromatic harmonica, thus the name. It's essentially just a diatonic "C" harmonica with a button on the side, which when pressed will raise whatever note you're playing by a half-step ("semitone" for you UK folks reading). So they can be good for playing those sorts of melodies. Unfortunately they don't really sound right for playing rock or blues. But I take along a chromatic harmonica in my case of 12 diatonics. You can see the big chromatic in the top right of the photo.
- Exotic scales. Lee Oskar makes a unique line of different scale harmonicas too. You can buy them as whole harmonicas, or just buy the replacement reeds to make your own out of an existing Lee Oskar casing. I have a minor-key harmonica, plus a harmonic minor one. They sound beautifully different.
- Novelty harmonicas. I threw these into the photo just for the hell of it. A couple of these are really crappy children's toy harmonicas. Though I also have an "echo" harmonica which has two rows of holes. Then there's the tiny harmonica key chain I got from the special edition of Aerosmith's Honkin on Bobo CD. It's hard to play, but it DOES play.
Now on to the other questions. How did I end up with so many? And do I play all of these? Well one of the disadvantages of harmonicas is that due to health laws, you can't really go to a music store and try before you buy. Some music stores have little bellows devices so that you can at least hear that a harp "plays", but that's sort of like only being able to drag a rake across some guitar strings to see how a guitar plays. You don't really get a "feel" for it until you hold it any play it properly.
Fortunately, harmonicas are a lot cheaper than guitars. So over the years I've bought different brands here and there to try out. That's mostly why I've ended up with so many (in addition to the fact that there are different keys etc., as I already explained). As for what I end up playing most of the time, it's just my case of 13 (what you see on the right side of the picture). I also have a back-up case of 7 crappy harmonicas I leave in the car.
So that's a look into my harmonicas from a "stuff" perspective. I'm sure I'll come back to this subject in the future.
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