The original Tombo Folk Blues was a plastic combed 10-hole diatonic very similar to their Major Boy and Minor Boy harmonicas and the Lee Oskar model. The Folk Blues Mark II is a very different instrument, presumably aimed at the more traditional players. The most obvious change is that rather than the plastic comb with recessed reedplates of the original Folk Blues, the Mark II features a traditional "sandwich style" construction with a wood comb, the reedplates secured with just two Phillips head screws. The comb is made of Japanese maple, the outer edges sealed with a dark brown finish. The fancily engraved covers are stainless steel, attached with a pair of screws and nuts. The end of each cover has a vent much like those on the venerable Hohner Marine Band, but unlike the Marine Band, the covers have built in supports at the rear to help prevent them being squashed if you ever sit down with one in your rear pocket. The harp is fraction longer than the Marine Band, at 4 1/16" (103mm).
The reeds are similar to those used on the Lee Oskar and the other Tombo diatonics, but they are mounted on reedplates a fraction thicker than standard at 1.1mm (0.043"). As with the other Tombo diatonics, long slot reeds are used on the key of C and below, short slot reeds on the higher keys and they will presumably enjoy the same sort of longevity for which Tombo harmonicas have a solid reputation. Manufacturing tolerances look pretty good, the reed adjustment is very consistent on all the samples I've tested and the tone is clear and bright. The tuning is an interesting choice. Unlike most almost all other Japanese made harps, the FB Mark II is not in Equal Temperament. Instead it uses unusual JI variation - the 5 draw is tuned so that it is a perfect fourth above the note in 4 blow, then the 6 draw is tuned to make a pure major third with it, the 9 draw and 10 draw notes being tuned similarly. This makes for a nice smooth partial chord to suggest the subdominant in the first position key, but it also means that the minor chord in holes 4, 5 and 6 draw is now somewhat out of tune, as the interval between 4 draw and 6 draw is somewhat narrower than a pure fifth. This could be a big plus in some first position playing as well as smoothing out some doublestops that might be used in second and third position work. However, I'm not sure that this would really be my own first choice of temperament for blues playing as sounding an A with any note other than F sounds a little harsh. All the review samples were tuned extremely consistently, rooted relative to A=442Hz. It is available in all 12 major keys, plus low F and high G and comes in a nice hard plastic box.
I did note one negative thing about this harp. The comb is quite narrow front to back compared with the length of the reed chambers. This means that there is only about 2mm (0.08") of wood at the rear of the chamber for the first hole and combined with the placement of the reedplate screws, this means that despite the flatness of the comb and the reedplates, in all the samples I tried there were visible gaps between the reedplates and the comb at the rear of the lowest chambers. As only one size of comb is used for all the keys, this problem affects the higher key harps as well as the lower ones. This could be cured by using a slightly broader comb and a better screw placement, but to be honest, I'm not sure how big a deal it really is. Reed response on all the harps I tried was still very good and it might even be that these gaps will seal themselves after the harp has been played for a while.
This quibble aside, the Tombo Folk Blues Mark II is a very good harp indeed, the Japanese retail price listed as ¥3,200 (about US$30). For more information on Tombo's international distributors, visit www.tombo-m.co.jp/eng/distoributor.html.
It's now a quarter of a century since Lee Oskar introduced the instrument that bears his name and he decided to mark the occasion by issuing a special version of the Lee Oskar model #1910 diatonic harmonica. This limited edition instrument has all the features that has made the Lee Oskar so popular with both amateur and professional players over the last 25 years, with the addition of beautiful gold plated covers with commemorative engraving. It looks simply stunning and comes in a special presentation box made of lacquered wood, with a velvet lining and magnetic catch. It will only available in the key of C, although of course you could fit it with replacement Lee Oskar reedplates in any key or tuning you wish. This special model will be available for a limited time and only 5000 of them will be available worldwide. Contact your Lee Oskar dealer for more details, or visit www.leeoskar.com
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