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Little Walter Profile
Date of birth: 01/05/1925
Musical Style: Blues
Marion Walter Jacobs, more commonly known by his stage name, 'Little Walter' is widely regarded as one of the most innovative blues harmonica players of all time.
Born in Louisiana in the 1920s, Walter started performing on guitar and harmonica at an early age, working with older blues players, such as Sonny Boy Williamson II and Sunnyland Slim.
His major successes and innovations came in the post-war period, though. Following his move to Chicago in 1946, he became frustrated with the inability of his harmonica to be heard over the much louder amplified guitars and bass. Walter's solution was to cup a microphone around his harmonica (a technique now widely used by harp players) and plug in to a PA or guitar amp. Although some of his contemporaries are also credited with utilising this technique, Walter was arguably the first to purposefully overdrive the amp, to achieve the distorted harmonica sound that is still popular today.
Like many blues harmonica players of this period, his choice of harp was largely a case of expediency; in the 1940s and 1950s the range of harmonicas available was extremely limited, and many players just used what they were able to purchase at a reasonable price. In Walter's case, this was usually a Hohner Marine Band, which, at the time, featured 7 limit Just Intonation.
Many modern players seek out these vintage Marine Bands (often fruitlessly) or try to recreate the intonation themselves, in order to accurately replicate Walter's sound. However, it should be remembered that Walter didn't specify this tuning - it was just what was available at the time. It's also worth noting that differences created by intonation are slight; the player's skill, the type of microphone and amplifier will, ultimately, have the largest influences on the overall sound.
The modern harmonica that is closest in tone to Little Walter's Marine Band is, unsurprisingly, the Hohner Marine Band Classic 1896. This features the same construction and materials as Walter's harps, but has better sealing on the comb and significantly improved build quality. Players looking for a more durable harp with similar sound and feel should check out the Marine Band Deluxe or Crossover.
Want to sound like Little Walter? We recommend:
32 Keys availableThe Hohner Marine Band 1896 Classic harmonica is the original blues harmonica. Today it is still manufactured in much the same way as when it was first introduced in 1896. Its uniquely authentic sound has defined the role of the harmonica in the blues tradition and made it the benchmark by which all others are judged. The archetypal blues harmonica with the traditional HOHNER tuning. The Marine Band Classic is one of the few Hohner diatonics that is available in a full range of natural and harmonic minor tunings. For low tunings, we recommend the Hohner Thunderbird, which has been designed from the ground up as a low tuned harmonica, but still has similar tone and feel to the classic Marine Band. Should you wish to replace reed plates on the Marine Band Classic, we recommend upgrading to the Andrew Zajac Marine Band Conversion Kit, which replaces the stock nails with a bolted setup, and makes the process of changing reed plates significantly easier. Original cover design from 1896 ensures the classic blues sound Greatly reduced swelling behaviour through double-coated pear wood comb Reeds: 20 Brass Reed Plates: 0.9mm brass Comb: Pearwood, brown Mouthpiece: pearwood lacquered Cover surface: Stainless steel Made in Germany Check the Key for additional tuning options: Natural Minor & Harmonic Minor ... Read more
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