Harmonica Workbench: News Flash! X-Men Nemesis, Magneto, Likes Harmonicas
with Kinya Pollard
Every superhero has their unique gifts that they can choose to bring forth good or evil into our world. For years, I thought Marvel Comic’s Magneto character was one evil dude—little did I know there is a softer side to him. It turns out he’s a harmonica buff!
So with the X-Men movie prequel hitting the theatres, I couldn’t help but make the correlation between Magneto and TurboHarp. Both have a fascination with magnetism and continuously look for unique ways to manipulate metal.
For twenty years now, fans of TurboHarp have come to know owner and founder, Jim Antaki as a pioneer of innovative harmonicas and accessories. Jim continues to think of new ways to bring comfort, versatility and better sounding harmonicas to the marketplace. Check out www.turboharp.com and navigate around the web site. My personal favorite is the research page. Here you can download the white paper, “Acoustical and Physical Dynamics of the Diatonic Harmonica,” written by Dr. Henry T. Bahnson and Dr. James F. Antaki. Don’t forget to view the X-Ray/Ultrasound video. Here you’ll witness the harmonica player “tuning” his mouth to match the pitch of the desired note (a.k.a. bending).
I think I speak for the majority of harmonica players out there when I say that most of us are drawn to the diatonic harmonica because of the incredibly organic, soulfully expressive, notes that we can produce on this instrument. “But wait!” you say. Finding all the missing notes can be challenging on the diatonic harmonica. The Howard Levy’s of the world not withstanding, the typical diatonic player is limited by the layout of the standard Richter tuned harmonica. This frustration usually prompts the player to experiment with the chromatic harmonica. After all who wouldn’t want all the notes at their disposal?
Unfortunately, due to the mechanics of the chromatic harmonica—think of it as two harmonicas under the hood (the second set of reeds are tuned one semi-tone higher) with a button to jump from one set of reeds to the other—the transition of pitch tend to be more abrupt and mechanical than what most diatonic harmonica players would prefer. Jim saw this problem as an opportunity.
Who said anything about missing notes?
The blow notes located inside the red borders are available without bending!
Jim Antaki’s latest innovation is the TurboSlide. A new type of harmonica that may carve out a permanent niche in the ever-expanding field of harmonicas. With his expertise in magnetism, it appears that Jim may have found a way to bridge the gap between the diatonic and chromatic harmonicas.
From this rear view, you can see the carriage of magnets that rest on top of the blow reed plate.
Jim’s magnet strategy softens the springy-ness of the reed. He explains it this way:
Taking it to the Bench
The TurboSlide TS-003 is based on the Seydel 1847 Silver model. A logical choice when you consider the Seydel harmonica features stainless steel reeds. This ferrous type of metal reacts favorably to magnetism.
With the cover plates removed, I was able to expose Jim’s brilliantly designed plastic carriage with ten embedded magnets. Note, all the activity is located on top of the blow reed plate.
Close up view of the high powered embedded magnets and spring assembly.
High quality plastic molding…
There is no carriage on the draw side of the reeds. Jim explains the reason why this is the case. Jim states,“The draw reeds, at least on the lower register, are already easy to bend. Therefore there is not as big an advantage of a slide. On the other hand you might ask, why no use the magnet in the opposite direction, to make the note sharper? this is indeed technically possible, but more difficult. We therefore plan to add this feature in a later version of the TurboSlide harp.”
An area where I believe could be improved upon is the coverplate opening for the slider button. Little attention was used in the design, which resulted in a poorly cut and finished component of the TurboSlide. It took away from an otherwise handsome looking instrument. Although it was easy for me to remedy the jagged edges with a dremel tool, it should not have been necessary for me to do it in the first place. I’m sure future models will be cut with more skill and care.
As for describing my experience with the $149 TurboSlide, I am of two minds;
- As a harmonica player who happens to like how the stock Seydel 1847 Silver plays, the TurboSlide clearly diminished the playability of this instrument for me. Volume and tone were compromised. The carriage assembly “held back” the capabilities of this instrument. The longer blow reeds would click against the carriage during intense playing. It was challenging to play (hit) the new found flatted notes directly—In other words, it was much easier to slide (gliss) into the note. Adjusting the reed offsets (gapping) may fix this issue.
- Having said that, I am glad that I purchased a TurboSlide and I plan on keeping it. As I wrote at the onset of this article, I believe Jim Antaki is on to something. Being able to manipulate the characteristics of a reed with magnetism is very intriguing. Using the slide as a “whammy bar” was fun, I must admit.
James F. Antaki, Ph.D. is a Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. He also holds adjunct faculty positions in the Departments of Surgery and Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, where he was formerly Director of Artificial Heart Research. He has a B.S. in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1985) and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh (1991).
He was profiled in the December, 2000 issue of Design News, was recognized in Pittsburgh Magazine’s cover story of Pittsburgh’s top “40 Under 40,” lauded as a “Who’s Who of Leaders for Pittsburgh’s Future in the areas of Medicine, the Arts, Business, Cuisine, and High Tech.”
James F. Antaki’s work on Streamliner, an innovative maglev heart-assist device has gained him much attention internationally, as well as locally. His work on Streamliner was recently featured in a cover story of the Wall Street Journal, and a feature article in Design News and most recently appeared in Scientific American. Dr. Antaki holds six patents related to artificial organs and three related to the harmonica.
Many readers of the HarmonicaSessions.com®, by nature are a curious bunch. TurboHarp offers a 30-day money back guarantee, so why not give Magneto’s favorite harmonica a try? www.turboharp.com
“Play the notes people want to hear” © 2008
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