James F. Antaki, Ph.D. has recently attracted much publicity for his work with artificial hearts and he is currently Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh and Director of Artificial Heart Research for the McGowan Center for Artificial Organ Development. As well as holding several patents for his medical inventions, he has also turned his knowledge and expertise towards building better harmonicas. The fist fruits of this research are now available to harp players.
Prof. Antaki, or TurboDog as he is known to his fellow harmonica players, has several innovative products planned for the near future and with the TurboHarp/AX-S20 we get a taste of them. The AX-S20 is a modified Hohner Special 20 harmonica which has been fitted with what he calls the TurboLiner. Essentially this is a second layer fitted over each reedplate which helps to prevent air loss from the sides of the reeds, directing the air instead towards the tip of the reed to improve reed action and efficiency. I compared the sample harp I was sent for review with a stock harp in the same key. The effect of the TurboLiner is subtle, but noticeable. One the lower reeds, there is a slight change to the tone, reducing some of the higher overtones on these reeds, but the effect is most apparent on overblows and overdraws, which seemed much more stable with the TurboLiner. All in all, this harp seems to take substantially less effort to play.
Whilst the TurboLiner is doing all of its work hidden away inside the instrument, the most visible part of the TurboHarp is its cover - what its inventor calls the TurboLid. Instead of the usual pair of metal covers, attached with nuts and bolts, the TurboLid is a two part cover made from polycarbonate (the same material used for unbreakable glasses) which simply snaps together - no more small parts to get lost in the carpet! As well as looking simply stunning, the TurboLid is ergonomically designed to fit nicely into the hand and provide a funnelling effect for the sound of the harp, similar to the cover of the Hohner CX-12. It is designed primarily for players who hold the harp with their left hand and use their right hand for tone shaping and wah effects (although it could easily be fitted the other way around for "southpaw" players) and the bulge at the left end of the covers gives extra clearance for the lower draw reeds of the harp, as well as meaning that you will never again suffer the embarrassment of picking up your harp the wrong way around! Nor will rusting covers ever be a problem - a quick wipe with a damp cloth and the TurboLid looks and feels as good as new.
The AX-S20 is currently available in the keys of low F, G, A, B, Bb and C. The TurboLid is available separately and can be fitted to the Hohner Special 20, Hering Free Blues, Huang Frontier and similar harps. They currently come in the following colours: black, red, silver, translucent green, translucent orange and clear transparent and there are plans to introduce an adaptor kit to allow the TurboLid to be fitted to Marine Band style harps.
In additional to TurboDog's own designs, Antakamatics Inc. are also planning to market a version of Dr. Bahnson's Overblow harp. Many of you will recall this harp, which was based on a Hohner Golden Melody with a button that operated a slider to block off specific reeds in order to get clean overblows and overdraws. The TurboDog version of the Overblow Harp uses a similar system, but is based on a Special 20 and should be substantially cheaper than the previous version.
Products planned for the near future include the TurboHarp/AX and the TurboHarp/ELX. The AX is an AX-S20 taken to its logical conclusion. As well as the TurboLiner and TurboLid, this harp will feature complete redesigned reedplates and comb with a variety of patented improvements to provide enhanced airflow and reed response. The ELX is a diatonic harmonica with twenty integral pickups, one for each reed - allowing stereo mixing and applying different effects to treble and bass ranges of the harp, along with reduced feedback and a more balanced output from the entire harp. After trying out the AX-S20, I can't wait until these other innovations are available.
Since writing the above, there have been so many additions to the TurboHarp range, that rather than try to list them all here, I recommend you visit their website to see what's new.
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