Dylan Harp Trivia

I have gathered miscellanous comments, news etc. concerning Dylan and the harmonica, mainly from r.m.d.

First of all:

What kind of harp does Dylan use?

The short answer is: "Hohner Marine Band"

The long answer is:

Re: bob's preferred harp

From catherine yronwode <> Organization Lucky Mojo Curio Co. Date Thu, 18 Sep 1997 17:51:46 -0800 Newsgroups Message-ID <> References 1 2 3 4 5

Eyolf Ostrem wrote:
"> > Paul McEvoy wrote:
> > > > Just for the record-
> > > > SOme one mentioned that Bob played Marine Band. This might very well be true, but I found out recently that the only difference between MB and a "Blues" harp is that the blues harp is slightly easier to "bend" on, to overblow the reads to alter the pitch. On the other hand MBs are slightly more powerful in tone quality. SO if you aren't sure about it, it could be that he is playing Blues harps.

I'm sure.

But I have no real info regarding Bob, I just always thought that blues harps were tuned to a different scale.

No. Scale is the same. Only the name makes beginners think the Blues harp is *The* Blues Harp, (which doesn't necessarily make it a "beginners instrument" in any derogatory sense), which is really the Marine Band."

To clarify (i hope): the Hohner Marine Band harmonica is the standard harmonica played by folk, country, and blues musicians from the time of its invention to the present day. A couple of decades ago, when a lot of newbies wanted to earn to play harmonica in the blues style (crossing keys and bending notes) they found that this was a difficult task and took lots of breath control. So Hohner made a version of the Marine Band with, i believe, slightly thinner metal on the reeds, thus requiring less air to bend the notes (overblow the reeds). They called this new brand the "Blues Harp." As noted above, the Blues Harp does not have the powerful, clear sound of the Marine Band, so it has never been as popular with professional musicians. Bob Dylan, as far as i know, started out with the Marine Band and always has used that brand.

catherine yronwode

(as it turns out, the long answer was "Hohner Marine Band" too...)

Dylan's harp for sale

(From Mon, 13 Nov 1995 15:24:55 -0500)

Just in case you didn't know what to do with your paycheck this week, I found this in the Antiques and Arts Weekly:

(Auction at Christie's East New York Nov. 29 will feature a '49 Martin guitar once owned by Bob Dylan, est. $80/100,000. This is the guitar he played in the coffee houses from Minnesota to New York City, from1959 to 1961, and at his first public appearance at Gerde's Folk City in Greenwich Village.)

"Other Dylan rarities include the harmonica holder he used at his performances at Gerde's together with a Hohner Marine Band harmonica in the key of G ($7/10,000)."

And you complain about the cost of those replacement reed plates !

Dylan harp keys

(from Ronnie Schreiber ( Sun, 01 Oct 1995 15:18:58)

I found this posted by Patricia Jungwirth on She gave me permission to cross post.

>Could Patricia perhaps tell us what that book she mentioned, "The Harp Styles >of Bob Dylan", by Amy Appleby, has to say about this?

To answer Rick's request, the following information has been gleaned from Amy Appleby's book :

                             Song Key  Harp
Blowin' in the Wind          D Maj     D 1st position
Don't Think Twice            E Maj     A 2nd pos
Baby I'm in the Mood For You G Maj     G 1st pos
Rainy Day Women #12 & 35     F Maj     Bb 2nd pos
Just Like A Woman            E Maj     E 1st pos
I Want You                   F Maj     F 1st pos
I Shall Be Released          A Maj     D 2nd pos
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight    F Maj     Bb 2nd pos
All Along the Watchtower*    C#min     E 4th pos
Simple Twist of Fate         E Maj     A 2nd pos
Dark Eyes                    G Maj     G 1st pos
What Was It You Wanted*      C#min     E 4th pos

*Aeolian mode

[A more complete list can be found here]

"Each song is notated in the original key and position used by Dylan on the original album release. To play these songs, he uses a total of six harps: A, Bb, D, E, F and G. However since the arrangement of notes is the same for all ten-hole diatonic harmonicas, you may use a harmonica in a key other than that indicated in the legend of a specific song. Just be aware that you will have to figure out what key you are playing in and transpose the melody line and chords if you want to accompany yourself or play with other musicians."

Each song is accompanied by a quote from Dylan, notes on guitar tunings and illuminating comments on harmonica parts, guitar and vocal oddities - very interesting. Here's the accompanying quote and notes to 'Baby I'm In The Mood For You'.

>> "Most of the time I would blow out of the harmonica because everybody sucks in. The proper way to play is like Little Walter or Sonny Boy Williamson would play - which would be to cross it - and I found myself blowing out more because nobody was doing that in that area. And that's what defined that harmonica and guitar sound which I hadn't heard until that point. I just stumbled on it one day."

Recorded in Mid-1962 at the Freewheelin' Bob Dylan sessions, this song was officially released in 1985 on the Biograph album. This song provides an extended showcase for Dylan's considerable harp talent. There's an exciting high-energy solo after each of the four verses - and a short ending solo to cap it off. (Note that the solo after the third verse is four bars shorter than the others).

Dylan plays Baby I'm In The Mood For You in the key of G Major using a G harmonica (first position). These solos are built around blow notes - and display Dylan's virtuosic straight-harp style. In the last four bars of the first harp solo, Dylan introduces a chugging rhythm - a technique commonly used by old-time blues players to imitate the sound of a train. Follow the markings that indicate syncopated slurred tonguing and throat popping to get a feel for this chugging technique, which is used extensively in the three solos that follow. You may want to practice these rhythms slowly at first, but keep in mind that the train rhythms won't sound quite right until you bring them up to speed. In a couple of spots, Dylan punctuates his solos with a vocalized whoop - a device reminiscent of the great blues harp player Sonny Terry. >>

More of Dylan's comments on harps, braces and styles can be heard on the 'Folksinger's Choice' interview from 1962, where Dylan says he used to play the little Hohner harps which you hold inside your mouth - but he had to give them up because he had 'bad teeth' and they magnetized the fillings!

Details on the book:

Title: The Harp Styles of Bob Dylan: A survey of Dylan's unique approach to harmonica playing through transcriptions of twelve complete songs in standard notation and harmonica tablature. Includes historical and performance notes on each song, plus a complete discography.

Author: Amy Appleby

Publisher: NY, AMSCO, 1992

ISBN: 0.8256.1341.8

Order No: AM 87516

Re: Harmonicaless Bob

From Jim Kitzmiller <mybkpgs@MAIL.RKD.SNDS.COM> Date Tue, 9 Sep 1997 12:48:24 -0500 Newsgroups Message-ID <>

Justin Mando ( wrote: : I have a question. Why hasn't Bob been playing his harmonica lately?

I have a theory:

Just before he quit play the harp on a regular basis, reports of a back brace were circulating. Then he started playing the harp without even holding, let alone playing, the guitar. Now he is back to guitar with little or no harp.

Could it be that playing the guitar and harmonica is awkward and would cause back injuries after 40 years?

Occupational hazard? Maybe he'll apply for workman's compensation.


Re: Harmonicaless Bob

From Steve Lescure <steve_lescure@JUNO.COM> Date Mon, 8 Sep 1997 21:06:15 EDT Newsgroups Message-ID <> References 1 2

On Fri, 5 Sep 1997 19:05:54 GMT Ian S Goodman <isg1@JHUNIX.HCF.JHU.EDU> writes: >Justin Mando ( wrote: >: I have a question. Why hasn't Bob been playing his harmonica >lately? The >: question has plagued me for quite a while. I hope he hasn't become >sick of >: it and stopped playing it. I would love to hear him play it in >concert. >: Does anyone know the answer to this question?? > >: Justin Mando >: > he has said in interviews that he still doesn't feel that great after the illness, so I would guess no harmonica because it's to diffcult right now. Playing guitar is much easier physically than blowing a harp, especially if your 56 and have had a pack a day habit for 40 years.