Hohner harmonicas from the late 70's


#1

Hi there,

Back in 1979, traveling as a kid with my parents in Germany, we went into some music store and my parents decided to buy a harmonica for everyone, so we bought four Hohner harmonicas (one for each of my parents, one for me and one for my sister). I realized much later how weird that was since none in the family played any instrument (except for my mother who played a little piano), but I appreciate their good intention that we all should. However, the harmonicas remained in drawers for almost 40 years and were hardly ever blown, and certainly never played!

I’ve been playing other instrument (a string instrument, the Jarana Jarocha) for some years now and have enjoyed learning so much that I decided to look into harmonica. After reading just a bit I realized that my parents didn’t even buy simple harmonicas. For me, back then a 12 years old who never played a single note on any instrument, they bought what I now found to be a an Octave Echo 40 in C, banana shaped with a nice red “tube” box, that still looks exactly the same as in a 2012 Hohner catalog I found on internet, but not like the most recent catalog I found (apparently they changed the look and is now the “Unsere Lieblinge” which is not available in 40, but the Comet is).

I bought myself a basic 10 hole Silver Star in C (also Hohner of course) to start learning and kept my Octave for when I’m more proficient.

I asked my sister and parents for their (never played) instruments and all were missing, but I remember my father’s was just like mine, just bigger. My parents probably thought the thing worked much as in The Three Bears and Goldilocks!, so my father’s surely was the Octave Echo 48. I still have hopes it will show up one day at the bottom of some old box.

My mother however recently found hers and gave it to me. It puzzled me that I can’t find it in the catalogues so I decided to look for someone I could asked about this one, and found this forum. From the number on the plastic box (No.2409), and pictures on internet of the plastic box, as well as length (16.3 cm) and the ECHO engraving and two rows of 20 holes I can tell it must be a Tremolo Single Echo 40 (it also has the described vibrating sound). However it is stamped (and the boxed tagged) as tuned in F, and I don’t find that key available for this model in any of the recent catalogues (they don’t even offer the ECHO in 40 apparently).

Furthermore, the shape of the upper plate is not like anything I found, it has a “step” or ridge (see picture). What puzzled me even more is that the tuning does not match what I found an F tuned harp should be. The tuning charts for F in Hohner catalogs have the blow notes in this order FACFACFACF (but of course you know this), and my mother’s (now mine) starts with A so the blow order is ACFACFACFA, and the draw order is CEGBbDEGBbDE. The draw notes from holes 1-9 match what would be expected from the blow notes on the standard F tuning, but the draw note (E) on the 10th hole doesn’t, or does it?

I’m still learning the basics on my Silver Star but in due time I would like to get the most of these two (Octave and Tremolo) harps, that’s why I would grateful for what you can tell me about them, especially the Tremolo in F, and/or point me into reading material. I guess I can eventually figure things out, and that’s even part of the fun, but if there is anything I can read to start with it would be great.

I’m not planning to sell them, but I’d be curious to know also if they are old or rare enough to have some vintage value.

Thank you!


#2

Hey Rogelio, welcome to MyHohner. What you found out is most we can tell about these instruments. The upper harmonica is an octave harmonica with 4 reeds in the key of C. Two reeds of each pair are tuned exactly one octave apart, without the pulsating interference beats which characterize the sound of our tremolo instruments. We discontinued this model a couple of years ago. The tonal layout is the same you can find on the model called Comet.
The lower harmonica is an Echo 40 Tremolo. Their unique sound is created by using two reeds for each note, tuned very slightly apart to create an uplifting, gently pulsating tremolo effect. This harmonica is in the key of F and the tonal layout you found is correct.
In the HOHNER assortment you can separate octave and tremolo harmonicas very easy. The mouthpiece side of our tremolo harmonicas is flat. The mouthpiece side of our octave harmonicas is concave.
To my knowledge, there is no English written teaching material for tremolo and octave harmonicas. May be someone here in the forum knows more about it.


#3

Thank you Richard. I realized later that both my Octave and my Tremolo from the 70’s have actually the same layout, just in different keys (C for the Octave and F for the Tremolo). Compared to the standard ten-hole tuning they are “missing” hole 1, 2 through 9 are the same, and their hole 10 is again the major third for the blow tone following the same pattern for the blow tones (E for the key of C and A for the key of F), and the draw tone is one semitone below the root (B for the key of C and A for the key of F). So basically I would like to know what this design of removing the lowest pair of tones and adding this combination as hole 10 offers in terms of playability, different chords, etc. Do you know?

I guess as I keep learning the standard ten hole possibilities it will become self evident. In the latest catalogs it seems that the Tremolo 40 went back to the standard 10 hole tuning, but the Octave (Comet) 40 apparently kept this one, I guess there must be a reason.

Cheers.


#4

Hey Rogelio, the first blow notes on this type of harmonicas produce the tonic chord. The draw notes produce the subdominant chord. After this you can find the major scale on the instrument. This tonal layout was developed in the 19th century when the range of different reeds has been much more limited than today. This is the reason why you find inverse chords at the lower end on some harmonicas with an extended range. The F major chord is FAC. Because the low F wasn’t available in the older days the harmonica starts with the inversion ACF. Today we would be able to produce the misisng reeds but the old tonal layout became a standard and we decided to keep this for historical reasons.


#5

Thank you so much Richard, I understand now. Maybe my final question would be why the 10th draw note was picked to be one semitone below the root? It does not seem to help much, but again I’m no expert.

Had they picked the root note for instance (just one semitone higher of what it is) as draw 10, you could have the full IV Major chord in draw holes 8,9,10 (Bb,D,F in the key of F).

Cheers.


#6

I assume that when this tonal layout was developed, the intention was to complete the major scale at the top end. Harmonica chords sound fairly dissonant at this high pitch and the designer probably decided that the major 7th (the missing note in the top octave of the richter tuning) made more sense.


#7

Thank you Harpbaker, I guess that makes sense too. I just thought of something else relating these models that actually would also make sense with your opinion.

As I said on my first post I am going through the basics on my 10 hole diatonic (I bought a Special 20 now and it DOES sound much richer then the Silver Star), and had not touched the Octave or the Tremolo; in fact some tutorials suggest to avoid these larger models for starters, I assumed because they were harder to play but…

I’m dealing now with puckering and tongue blocking to play single notes and realized that the Octave and the Tremolo have actually “larger functional holes”, since each single tone is obtained by blowing or drawing from a set of 4 small holes that would be the equivalent of each hole in a 10-hole diatonic harmonica. These 4 small holes make a large hole, easier to puck at least, not sure about tongue blocking yet (still struggling with this technique).

So, even though you can still play chords, could it be that harmonicas such as the Tremolo and the Octave are actually easier to play especially for single notes? I guess that due to their size it is harder to play the effects with your hand especially on higher notes, maybe harder or impossible to bend notes, etc; but by just trying a bit it seems way easier to play single notes (I just tried).

In other words, could they actually be easier to play although more limited once you are a more proficient player? This may be why some do not recommend them for starters, since if you play on an easier but limited instrument you would be lazy to master the harder 10 hole diatonic.

But this also may be why they recommended these to my parents for their musically illiterate family almost 40 years ago; probably guessing we would not go much further (and they were right!).

If they are meant to be played mostly using single notes it would also make more sense to complete the major scale at the high end.

Any thoughts?


#8

In the western world, tremolo and octave models are rarely played by “serious” harmonica afficionados (the main exception being in the field of Celtic music). They are great for playing simple folk tunes and don’t necessarily require a command of single notes to create a pleasant sound. Here that is what they are mainly used for and this doesn’t really require a high level of skill. However, in Asia the picture is very different and there are numerous players in the Far East who play with exceptional virtuosity on these models, both as soloists and in ensembles up to full orchestras.

Regarding the tonal layout on such instruments, this is generally dictated by the fact that the interval between blow and draw note becomes greater the higher you go. After a couple of octaves you reach a point where it just becomes too difficult to play scale notes in sequence because you have to jump back and forth too far.

That said, the actual playing techniques needed to master the diatonic harp are more complex and in themselves more difficult to learn due to the fact that notes are created in a variety of different ways (blow, draw, bend, overbend), thanks to the unique qualities of the dual reed system found in these instruments. In the past, conventional wisdom claimed that the diatonic harp was a beginners instrument and the serious player was expected to “graduate” to the chromatic. Now it’s generally recognized that they’re completely different and each offers musical possibilities which the other does not. Basically however your analysis is dead right :smile: