One of the harmonica's many unique features is that with the exception of the button of a chromatic, you don't need to use your hands to play it, which means that if you have some means of holding the harmonica in its playing position, your hands are free to play another instrument at the same time. Not surprisingly, harmonica holders go back a long way. In fact, they are possibly even older than the harmonica - the same basic idea has long been used in South America to support panpipes to free up the player's hands to play an accompanying instrument.
Hohner's new FlexRack is not a radical redesign of the basic neck rack, but it is substantially more solid than the cheap wire holders and offers a few additional adjustment possibilities. Rather than being made of wire, it's made of fairly substantial steel. The part that goes around the neck is covered with some sort of non-slip plastic and is quite comfortable. This part ends in a pair of joints connecting it to the upright parts that actually support the harmonica. These joints are encased in rounded plastic that happens to fit the front of my shoulders perfectly and can be adjusted to set the distance of the harp from the player's mouth. The harmonica is held in place with spring loaded jaws, again covered in plastic so you don't scratch your harps, with both the height and angle of the harp being adjustable. None of these adjustments require any sort of tool, simply loosen and reset the plastic knobs by hand.
The FlexRack is extremely stable in use and despite weighing in at a little over 13 ounces, I found it quite comfortable to wear for extended periods. It seems to fit most harps quite well, although some better than others. It didn't really work with the Hohner Golden Melody and I found the Suzuki ProMaster and an old (pre-MS) Hohner Blues Harp were not held quite as securely as I would like. Larger harps such as the Hohner 364 and 365, XB40, Marine Band Full Concert and Suzuki Baritone were held extremely securely, as were all the 12-hole chromatics I tried. Sadly, if you want to do the Little Walter no-button third position thing on a 64, you'll have to find another rack, as the FlexRack will only accommodate harps up to about 6 1/2 inches in length.
Overall, I was very pleased with the FlexRack, with just a couple of minor quibbles. The knobs for the adjustment points are black - which means that if you ever loosen them completely and drop them on a dimly lit stage, they may be hard to find. Of course, you simply should never loosen them that far, but people do odd things if they are onstage and a little nervous. Also, I found the springs on this particular one to be quite strong, requiring some effort to change harps. Of course, this also means that your harps are held securely and if you read this review, you will see that there is a nice easy way to add a quick change feature to the holder. This is a huge improvement over the cheap wire racks and retailing around $60 in the US and £50 in the UK, considerably cheaper than custom racks like Vern Smith's ENR.
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