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Lee Oskar Natural Minor Harmonica

10 January 2013 | 2:58 pm | Chris Wilson

It takes a little practice to master this harmonica but the rewards are fantastic. It brings a unique colour to a tune and I highly recommend you give it a shot.

"In full flight, nobody goes near him. Any blues or soul singer, he can match,” said blues singer Kerri Simpson in the last issue of Muso about our guest reviewer Chris Wilson, who has been an essential part of the Australian blues and rock scene for over two decades. Whether fronting Harum Scarum, Crown of Thorns or belting out his own songs or classic soul and blues tunes, Wilson is an out and out Australian music legend and one of the finest blues harp players goin' around. He has just released a new album called Flying Fish and can be seen gigging regularly around the country. Muso is thrilled to have Chris onboard this issue as a guest reviewer. Visit www.chriswilson.com.au to learn more about him.

Lee Oskar came to prominence in the mid-'70s as the harmonica player in the legendary funk/r&b band War. You may recall them as the band behind Eric Burdon's hit, Spill The Wine, or alternatively their own classic Low Rider. Oskar's style was atypical of the harp styles of the day. He preferred a clean harmonica sound, which contrasted with the heavily distorted Chicago blues sound that many harp players went for. This allowed him to play clean lines with the reed player in the band or allowed him to double keyboard or guitar parts without cluttering the lean tight sound of his band. His style was innovative. He employed multiple tunings, often changing harps within the one song.

Around the early '80s Oskar began work with Tombo Harmonicas to produce a line of harmonicas that reflected his playing philosophy. The timing of this product's release was all important. Until this time Hohner harmonicas had held a virtually unassailable position as the premier harmonica of choice among players. Now they had a serious rival.

Oskar's approach was simple yet radical. He produced harmonicas in every key, including major and minor variations -  any scale that was playable on a ten-hole diatonic harmonica was manufactured. Any scale that could be played on the more cumbersome chromatic harp was also made.

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Which brings us to the product at hand. One of the first things you notice about Lee Oskar Harps is that the actual holes are larger than those of a Hohner harmonica. Whether the player prefers this is an individual matter; my guess is that this is to aid accuracy when playing. They are generally airtight, giving ease of playing, and this harp is no exception. The reeds are relatively light, giving a bright tone that cuts through a band's sound with ease. This harmonica was obviously designed by a player for players. Every aspect is designed to give the user the most creative freedom.

Traditionally harmonica players play in different modes to deal with major and minor scales in songs. These are called positions. Each of these positions has its own musical twists and turns requiring various playing techniques. Each position has its own flavor. With harmonicas like the natural minor harmonica, Lee Oskar gives the player another option when approaching a piece of music. It is built so that the player can employ all the skills of bending notes and tonal colourings that a player learns, whilst having the true notes of a natural minor scale available. It takes a little practice to master this harmonica but the rewards are fantastic. It brings a unique colour to a tune and I highly recommend you give it a shot.