What is your background in harmonica?
I bought my first one when I was about 9 years old, in the 1950s, from a toy store, and learned the songs on the little piece of paper. After that I always had one with me, and eventually I discovered Blues, Folk Music, cross harp etc. and taught myself. Later I developed a group teaching method, trained myself to read music with chromatic, and took (long distance) lessons from Robert Bonfiglio and Stan Harper. Eventually I returned to total focus on the diatonic.
What first got you to start tinkering around with harps?
Early on I began to take them apart when reeds would stick etc.Then when i was in college in the 1960s a guy upstairs knew how to tune chromatics with solder, and some other exotic things, and I learned some stuff from him. Later, when I got serious about the chromatic, it became necessary to really learn how to replace reeds etc. just to keep them going. Later when I re-focused on the diatonic I began to do things to make advanced techniques like overbending more possible.
You have some home-made tools in your kit. How did you make some of those?
I just used crude methods with a hacksaw on piece of old reedplate, and then finished them with files and sandpaper etc.
Why is it necessary for players to learn some customization tehniques?
I think it helps everyone's playing to be able to adjust the harmonica to their individual lips/breath/air column/attack etc. For advanced techniques like overbending it is almost essential to make some adjustments to the harp. Even just understanding HOW the harmonica works, what reeds are doing etc. seems to help anyone play better.
What gave you the idea to make your video?
I was answering questions, and getting a lot of requests for visits etc. and I thought there has to be an efficient way to transmit this information, rather than hours of one-on-one, and some way that people could take the information with them to refer to as they went through the inevitable learning process of mistakes/practice etc. I really wanted to share this with other people because I thought it would improve their individual playing, and also raise the whole level of playing possible on the harmonica.
Can you give us any details about the production of the video?
I wanted it to be more than just a home video, because i felt that it would be something that people would keep referring back to through many years (and that has turned out to be true) , and I wanted it to be entertaining, since the subject matter is pretty inherently boring. A local production company helped to put it together.
Are there any techniques that you've learned since the video was made that you prefer over the ones you demonstrated?
The videos really show a lot of different experiments, and are meant to hopefully get people experimenting on their own to find out what they like and what they will use. I still do a lot of those things, and also have experimented with chamfering the edges of reeds, as described by Rick Epping on Harp-L. I've made some little additional tools too, like a little wooden piece that holds the base of the reed down, since my finger would wear out when doing many reedplates.
Which customization technique was the hardest to learn, and why?
I think the hardest thing is probably just the patience to do anything to a whole harp. Because once you've refined one reed/slot combo, now you've got to go on and do that to 19 more...and many times redo and redo and redo....
What playing advice would you give to new harp players?
I would say to have fun, and continue to revisit whatever sources/sounds inspired you to take this up in the first place, and to continue to delve deeper and really listen and realize the incredible depth that is available in this tiny instrument. And be as earnest and serious as you can (within your enjoyment) to reveal some of that depth in your playing.....
Any last words for HOOT?
Congratulations on being there! Organizations that help promote the harmonica, and provide ways for interested players to interact and share and learn are a terrific benefit to everyone. And thank you for your interest in my work.