The performances of a good custom harp for the price of a factory harp
Available on www.arkia-harmonica.com for 80€ + shipping cost
Finally a real improvement on this good old Richter diatonic harmonica design!
Playing chromatically on a diatonic harmonica thanks to bends and overblows/draws is now common. A new generation of players is approaching the instrument as any other instrument: they learn how to produce all the notes, study music theory and improvisation far beyond the blues.
But there is no factory harmonica really suited to overblows. All of them need some customization to unlock overblows/draws and this customization requires a lot of effort and time, which raises the price of the instrument.
These overblows ready harmonicas have been so far regular Richter diatonics with customization to compensate the instrument flaws (reeds profiling, plates flattening, etc …).
The Arkia Origin is another beast. It uses reed plates and covers made by Kongsheng but a completely custom comb, designed and made by Jean-Noël Kulichenski and Jérôme Peyrelevade.
Jérôme Peyrelevade (well known by Planet Harmonica readers) is one of the most advanced diatonic players in the world. He plays a versatile jazz, influenced by a lot of different musics: world music, folk, blues but also complex jazz-rock. And he plays all these musics on a diatonic in C (only). His music clearly requires an highly responsive harmonica.
His engineering background incited him to study the impact of the airflow on the overblows/draws and to try several new designs to improve the instrument response, helped in that adventure by Jean-Noël.
This research led to a brand new comb design (called Airflow Control Comb) + an add-on piece on the reed plates (called Airflow Control Plate). Their function is to change the airflow and ease the bends and the overblows/draws.
A basic reed gapping is also performed in factory on all the reeds and nail polish is added on some reeds to help stabilizing the overblows/draws.
Does it work? Man, it does! All the overblows come easily and the overdraws are extremely easy to obtain. 1° and 7° (probably the most difficult notes to produce) are particularly easy to play.
The player can really shape his notes and apply vibrato on all of them.
The sound of the Arkia is on the bright side. A bit too much for my taste. I prefer the sound of Arkia Signature model (which reeds are Hohner Marine ones). But it is clearly a matter of personal preferences.
This harp is clearly perfect for Chromatic playing, be it complex jazz or blues with a few overblows. It is perfectly suited to experienced players but also particularly useful for intermediate players. Any player above beginner level will benefit from having an instrument optimized for bends and overblow. They’ll progress more quickly with such an instrument.
Here are two phrases (with extensive use of overblows), played on the Arkia Origin:
The Arkia Origin clearly is the best playability/price ratio we’ve seen. This actually the playability of a good custom, at the price of a factory harmonica.
Usual disclaimer, though: the player of course still has to master the technique. There is no magic!
At 80€ + shipping, this harmonica is a blast.