Greetings: I'm a little confused about tunings. I have Rockets and a couple of Crossovers. Really like the Rockets, but wanted to check on wood combs and had also seen some different opinions on tunings. From what I've seen, Marine Bands are tuned to be great for chords (Just tuning?) while the Rockets (and Special 20s) are optimized for single note playing. I started with Lee Oskars which are supposed to be definitely for single note work. As I'm going through the excellent Annie Raines course, she is focusing on chordal work. I'm trying to get some clarity on which is tuned better for chords - Deluxe, Crossover or Rocket? Also, can the temperament be changed by retuning the harp yourself? I am fully prepared to get into harp servicing, and just wondered if this can be done, if needed. Thanks!
When I think about temperament, I think in terms of black, white and various shades of gray.
On one end of the spectrum you have 7-Limit Just Intonation. The advantage of this tuning is the quality of the chords. The weakness is individual notes that are out or tune relative to other instruments. Our ears adjust to the flatted notes when we are playing by ourselves, but they stick out like a sore thumb when you are playing with other instruments. This is the original Marine Band 1896 tuning. We have to bear in mind that the Marine Band 1896 was designed as a folk instrument – not for playing second position blues.
On the opposite end of the spectrum you have Equal Temperament or ET. ET harps are tuned so that the individual notes are in tune, but the trade-off is that it makes the chords sound a little rough.
So, if 7-Limit is black and ET is white, Compromise tunings are gray. Compromise tunings are attempts to capture the best of both worlds. Mathematically speaking, it is impossible, but we can kinda sorta come close. There are dozens of Compromise tuning recipes (different shades of gray). Some are closer to 7-Limit and others are closer to ET.
So, let’s take a look at your question.
When you talk about the Marine Band 1896, it depends on how old the harp is. The current tuning is Modern Compromise Temperament. Pre-war Marine Bands are tuned to 7-Limit Just. And for a while, Marine Bands were tune to 19-Limit Just Intonation. I am not exactly sure which years. Rick Epping, who was the resident Harp Guru for Hohner for many years, posted this information on the subject:
The Marine Band Deluxe is also tuned to Modern Compromise, but the Crossover has its own tuning which is much closer to ET than the 1896 or Deluxe.
The Special 20 and Rocket are tuned to Modern Compromise.
Lee Oskars are tuned to ET as are Golden Melodys.
The Hohner MS-Series has another version of Compromise tuning. So Hohner uses a lot of different tunings.
Suzuki has its own formula for a Compromise tuning, which I dislike, hence I tune all the Manjis I build to Modern Compromise.
Seydel has its own version of Compromise.
There are plenty of charts available on the internet. Here is another excellent source I pulled up just by doing a Google search. It is Örjan Hansson's website. http://ohw.se/hca/tuning-theory/
The answer to your final question, “can the temperament be changed by retuning the harp yourself?”, the answer is ABSOLUTELY YES. I have personally built and tuned thousands of custom harps. I have never, not ever, come across a stock harp that was perfectly in tune straight from the factory. The closest that I have found are Seydels, which come much closer to their stated factory tuning than any other brand. I say this without bias, because I am not a Seydel Dealer. I am a Hohner and a Suzuki Dealer. So, what that means is, it would be beneficial, assuming you know what you are doing, to touch up the tuning on all your harps. If you want to change the Temperament, go for it. Once you know what you are doing, it is easy. You can even change the Tuning very easily. Tuning refers to the layout of the actual notes. Natural Minors, Harmonica Minors, Country Tuning, Paddy Richter Tuning just involve raising or lowering the pitch of a few reeds a half step or a whole step. It gives you all sorts of options.
That’s a comprehensive answer already. In terms of the original question, in summary: Marine Band 1896, Deluxe, Rocket, Special 20 are all tuned to the same formula. Crossover has its own standalone temperament, which is closer to ET than the others. In theory the Modern Compromise Temperament used for the 1896/Deluxe/Rocket/Sp20 should sound better for chords.
In reality you’re unlikely to find a harp perfectly tuned from the factory. I’ve had to touchup the tuning of every harp I’ve ever worked on. You can certainly retune.
Thank you all so much for the help. I am a long-time guitarist (53 years) and have learned to service my own guitars. I got into harp back in December on a whim (I always loved blues harp, and decided on a new project to keep me sharp. Plus learning different instruments multiplies the knowledge). I am glad to know that my favorite harps so far (the Rockets) are compromise tuning. I very much intend to learn to adjust my harps as my skills improve. I also think it will be worthwhile to send a couple to pros to see the difference. I do that with my guitars periodically. I will definitely check out the resources you all posted. I'm very grateful!
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