Generally speaking, tremolo harmonicas are available in two different types of tuning. The time honoured Viennese style, as used on most tremolo harps from Hohner, Hering, etc., uses essentially the same sort of tuning as Richter diatonics - in order to give accompaniment chords in the lowest octave, certain notes of the scale are omitted. Then there are the typical Asian style tremolos, as made by Suzuki, Tombo and the many Chinese manufacturers - these sacrifice the chords in order to get full diatonic scales in every octave. However, both types of harmonica still have one feature that frustrates many players, namely that the layout of notes is slightly different in each octave. A solution to this is the Solo tuning, as used on most chromatics. This gives up the chords in the lowest octave, but gives complete diatonic scales that are laid out the same in each octave. Only a few makers have offered tremolos in Solo tuning and these have mostly been limited to the key of C. Now Hohner have issued the Tremolo Soloist, a solo tuned version of their popular double sided Echo tremolo harps. Each side of this harp gives a full two octave scale: one side in C major, the other side in G major. Like the rest of the Echo series, the Soloist features a maple comb, but this one is treated with a nice blue finish that should help reduce any moisture problems. Also like the other Echo harps, the reedplates and covers are attached with nails, which is a real drag for those of us who do our own tuning and repair (probably less than 1% of the total harmonica market!), but on the plus side this one appears to have stainless steel covers, so rust shouldn't be a problem. Like most of the other Echo harps, for most of the range of the harp, the upper and lower chambers are connected with a small hole in the horizontal divider. This means that it is not possible to isolate one row at a time to get a non-tremolo sound, or to allow blues style bending. (Those of you who didn't even realise that this is possible on tremolo harps should read this page.) Tuning and reed adjustment on the sample I have is quite good. The blow notes appear to tuned to give justly intonated major triads; I'm not sure if the draw notes are intended to be in either 19-limit JI or Equal Temperament, but either way they avoid the "flat" sounding fourth of the major scale that you get in the other Echo harps. The sample I have for review has quite an intense tremolo sound - in the following audio clip I play a scale and a blow chord on the C side, then on the G side:
Although these are probably aimed mostly at folk musicians, I enjoyed playing some nice third position blues licks on it and chromatic players could adapt to this instrument with a minimum of fuss. I hope it sells well enough for Hohner to consider making adding one in the keys of A and D, which would be more useful for Scottish and Irish music. I'd also love to see a version with three octaves on each side, which would dramatically expand the range of tunes that could be played. In fact, while I'm compiling a wish list, how about three octave solo tuned tremolo harmonicas with plastic combs and screwed on reedplates and covers? Some solo tuned octave harps would be nice too, but in the meantime, this harp is a very welcome addition to the Hohner range.
Apparently, the Tremolo Soloist didn't sell well enough for more keys to be made available. In fact, it didn't sell well enough to be kept in production at all, being discontinued just a few years after its debut.
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