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Harp Reviews

by Pat Missin


Boomerang Reissue

Most harp collectors will know of the Boomerang models and anyone who has a copy of Charlie Musselwhite's "Ace of Harps" album will have seen just one of the many varieties of Boomerang harmonicas. Finally, it is possible to get a brand new one. But first, some history...

C.A. Seydel Söhne have been making harmonicas in the Saxony region since October 1847, making them the oldest harmonica manufacturers still in business. In the 1920s they bought out the Carl Essbach company and were later merged with F.A. Rauner and F.A Böhm, all of them well-known names to harmonica collectors, with a period as a state-owned company before the fall of the Berlin wall. Over the years they have made harmonicas under the names Bandmaster, Clover, Vermona and more recently they have been the manufacturers of the Weltmeister and Bushman harmonicas.

Probably their most famous models are the various Boomerangs, which they produced for an Australian music store owner called Frank Albert. They ranged from 5-hole mini harps, through single reed diatonics and tremolos, to chromatics. Some were shaped like a boomerang, others had flared covers and yet others were regular instruments with the Boomerang name on them. As well as these models, there were a whole bunch of other harps made for the Australasian market with such names as Kia-Ora, Corroboree, etc. Five or six years ago, Seydel resissued some of the more normal shaped Boomerang chromatics, using the original stamps to produce the covers.

However, the most famous of all the Boomerang models is the 12-hole diatonic version as featured on the "Ace of Harps" cover and as I recently mentioned, there will be a limited run of 1,000 of these made available by Vintage Harmonica Editions. This will be the first in a series of limited runs of famous harps from the past.

I have been fortunate enough to acquire a pre-release sample for review and I have to say that I am quite impressed. It is a very faithful reproduction of the original, using the same machines that stamped out the covers 75 years ago and the same type of wood for the comb. The only obvious difference from the original is the use of eight Pozidriv screws to secure the reedplates. There has been a lot of hand finishing and the instrument is very comfortable to hold, with no sharp corners or edges. The covers are mild steel, plated with what I believe is a nickel-free process.

Obviously, with only 1,000 individually numbered instruments being made, this is being sold as much with the collector in mind as the musician. Still, judging it purely as a musical instrument, it's a good one. The 0.9mm thick reedplates lie nice and flat against the comb, the reedplate tolerances are good and the reeds are very well adjusted - all of which makes it a very playable instrument. Bends are nice and easy and mid-range overblows are there without having to tweak the reeds. I confess that whilst I have seen several Boomerangs, this is the first one that I have played and it is surprisingly comfortable in the mouth. The rounded comb partitions make a very nice playing surface, the extra length of comb to the left of the first (more than double what you would get on a typical diatonic) makes for very comfortable tongue-blocking and the V shape would make it tough for even a beginner to get lost in the 12 holes. The spacing of the holes is noticeably wider than on a standard 10-holer, but not quite as wide as on as a Hohner 364 or 365. Tuning is pretty good, all the octaves sounding without beats. It seems to use a light compromise temperament based around A=445/446, with the draw notes just a little sharper (perhaps just a fraction too sharp for my taste). The tuning appears to have been done by file, but without scarring the reeds too much.

The 12-hole tuning is the same as the standard 10-hole in C, with E and G added as extra blow notes in the top two holes and B and D added as draw notes. I am told the instrument will also be available in the key of A. They are certainly not cheap instruments, which isn't too surprising as I imagine they quite expensive instruments to make. Having said that, they are cheaper than buying one of the originals on eBay, plus you know that you are not going to have to deal with cracked combs, broken reeds or 75 year-old bugs hiding inside of them! As well as simply collecting them to display on the wall, they would also make a great visual prop for a gigging harp player.

You can order them from Isabella Krapf, founder of Vintage Harmonica Editions, speaks very good English and I'm sure she will be happy to answer any questions you might have. I hope the Boomerang reissue is successful enough to ensure that we get a steady stream of brand new old harmonicas coming from the Seydel workshops.


Pat Missin

Planet Harmonica - 2004