The Hohner Highlander is a special version of the venerable model number 55/80 Echo Harp. This is a double-sided tremolo instrument with 20 notes and 40 reeds on each side, tuned in keys a perfect fifth apart. The Highlander is based on the model in the keys of A and D which has been altered to the specifications of Scottish harmonica maestro Donald Black. The D side of the instrument is left untouched, but the A side has had two pairs of reeds retuned,changing the G# notes to G natural. This means that instead of an A major scale, this side now plays the mixolydian mode rooted on A, making it the perfect instrument for playing Highland pipe tunes that require the flatted seventh note of the scale.
Some of you are perhaps asking why one would need such a tuning, as it is a simple matter to play the A mixolydian mode on a standard D harmonica - after all, blues harp players do this sort of thing all the time. Well, this approach certainly can be as useful on the tremolo harmonica as it is on the Richter harp. However, this tuning does has certain advantages for chordal work. If you play this mode on a D harmonica, you get the tonic and subdominant chords for the key of A (ie A major and D major). This works fine for blues-based tunes, but playing this mode in first position on the A side of the Highland gives you the tonic and subtonic chords (ie A major and G major), which are widely used in many Highland pieces, allowing the player to use tongue vamping to give strong harmonic support to the performance. Having the standard tuned D side available gives the opportunity for playing medleys of tunes in A mixolydian and D major.
The only other differences between the Highlander and the standard A/D Echo Harp are cosmetic. Although it has a nice green finish, the comb is the usual maple wood with nailed-on reedplates and the covers are the usual wrap-around design. I must admit that I would have preferred to see a construction that makes repair and maintenance easier (not just for the Highlander - I'd like to see all of their tremolo models with plastic combs and screws on covers and reedplates), but I guess Hohner felt the need to stick with the traditional. The tuning of the one I have is very good, with the rate of the tremolo progressing smoothly from about 3Hz on the lowest note to about 10Hz on the highest note. My one quibble is with the tuning of the D notes on the A side of the harmonica. These are tuned the same way as they would be on a straight A major tuning, ie they are tuned to make a smooth E7 chord. However, as the draw chord of the Highlander is not an E7 chord, this means that the D notes are considerably lower in pitch than they should be to make a perfect G major chord. I shall certainly be retuning mine at some point.
All in all, I think the Highlander would make a nice addition to the collection of any harmonica player interested in Scottish music and it would be cool to learn of Highland pipe players carrying one around as a somewhat more portable substitute for their main instrument.
Unfortunately, the Highlander is no longer in production, although at the time of writing, spare parts are still available from the Hohner C-shop.
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