Hands Free Chromatic and Ergonomic Neck Rack
Developed by Vern Smith

The HFC is an adaptation of Seydel's Chromatic Deluxe, 12-hole, 48-reed, 3-octave harmonica. You can easily play it "One-Man-Band" style in a holder while you also play a guitar or piano!

      Back    How it Sounds     How it Plays     How it Came to Be     Handicapped Musicians     Rack/Holder     Specifications     Warranty     Testimonials

How it Plays,

Because there is no slide, air leakage within the slide to adjacent holes does not occur. Although the mouthpiece is loosely attached, the player naturally presses it against the front of the comb to play each note. This unconscious action is enough to prevent air leakage. With less air leakage than the standard Chromatic harmonica with slide, the instrument is very responsive. It also presents some bending options not normally found on a chromatic harmonica.

The player must use a tighter "lip grip" on the mouthpiece to control its vertical position and substitute "down/up" for the "in/out" reflex used with the slide button. Some players can learn this motion in minutes and a few must practice for a few hours. All agree that it becomes natural and easy very quickly. Compared to the alternative of years of practice learning to bend and overblow chromatic notes on a diatonic harmonica, it is "a piece of cake."

Because the head is heavier than the finger, the player of a standard chromatic is likely to be comparatively slower on HFC with very fast ornaments such as halftone trills. "Flight of the Bumblebee" would leave you dizzy. Players have found that the nodding motion is fast enough for the the vast majority of music.

The use of the mouth to control vertical mouthpiece position makes "double-stopping" (especially octaves) more difficult. ("Double-stopping" is playing holes in both sides of your mouth while blocking air to the holes in between with your tongue) However, since you are playing a keyboard or fretted instrument with your hands, there are plenty of alternative notes available for harmony or rhythm.

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How it Came to Be

Vern Smith, retired mechanical engineer and creator of the HFC. Vern's grandfather gave him a "Marine Band" diatonic harmonica in 1938. The missing sharps/flats, and the missing "fa" & "la" notes in the low octave quickly frustrated him. He turned to the guitar. Later he discovered the chromatic harmonica that had all of the notes and could play any song. Since then, he has been interested in the problem of how to play chromatic harmonica on a rack and accompany himself on guitar.

Before the HFC, Vern used a foot pedal to push the button on a standard chromatic. Over the years he has experimented with many pneumatic, hydraulic, electrical solenoid, and push-pull cable mechanisms. Some worked fairly well but all had various problems with speed, noise, size/portability, cost, and complexity. A foot pedal prevents you from moving about while playing. If you are playing while standing, keeping a foot on the pedal can be tiring.

In November of 2001, it occurred to him that a mouthpiece might move up and down to connect the holes with the upper or lower row of reed chambers. Within an hour he had drilled a hole in a piece of plastic, gripped it in his teeth, and held it directly against the comb of a disassembled chromatic. When the notes sounded sweet and clear with no bothersome leakage, Vern knew that the HFC was feasible and it only remained to work out the details! Vern was elated that a simple 4mm vertical motion of the 1/2 ounce mouthpiece could accomplish that which had previously required pounds of external claptrap. After a few months he had designed the HFC and set up to manufacture them, a few at a time, in his garage. Since then, Vern has made some improvements not only in the HFC design, but also in the process for making them.

The HFC solves the mechanical problems of playing chromatic harmonica on a rack. Now only the musical challenges remain.

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Advantages for Handicapped Musicians

The chromatic harmonica is a full-capability instrument suitable for performing lively and beautiful music. Like the flute, it covers the 3 octaves above middle-C.

Virtuoso Robert Bonfiglio uses one to play the Villa-Lobos Harmonica Concerto and other classical pieces with symphony orchestras the world over. The late, famous virtuoso, Larry Adler, performed classical pieces including Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" as well as popular pieces. It is the instrument used by Stevie Wonder (recording as Eivets Rednow...his name spelled backwards) to play popular and jazz pieces. Toots Thielemans is famous for playing jazz. Many remember hearing the chromatic harmonica in trios such as the Harmonicats whose recording of "Peg-O-My-Heart" topped the charts.

The HFC can be used to perform classical, country/western, folk, popular standard, jazz, and other genres. It is no more or less challenging to play well and read music on than are other standard "C" instruments such as flute, recorder, oboe, violin, etc. However, there are many musicians who do not learn to read music but are able to learn pieces by listening to them and then play them "by ear."

Depending on the music, the HFC can require rapid movement of the player's mouth...4 inches side-to-side and 1/4 inch up-and-down. For amputees and others with impaired use of the hands, the HFC offers a unique opportunity for musical participation and fulfillment.

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Key: C is standard, other keys including C tenor are available.
Range: Three octaves, C4 to C7 is standard
Number of holes: 12
Number of reeds: 48
Width, left-to-right: 5.6 inches
Height, bottom-to-top: 1.25 inches
Depth, front-to-back: 1.6 inches
Weight: 5.5 ounces
Body or comb: Molded polyurethane plastic, with "buried" nuts to engage the screws that hold on the reedplates and covers
                        as an alternative for Seydel's wooden comb.
Reedplates: Seydel's Chromatic Deluxe, 1 mm thick, brass.
Covers: Seydel's Chromatic Deluxe
Mouthpiece assembly: Special HFC molded polyurethane movable mouthpiece with hidden, stainless-steel music-wire springs,
                                    replaces metal mouthpiece and 3-piece slide assembly with button.
Force to move mouthpiece: About 5 ounces.

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Harmonicas are not returnable.

For one year after shipment, I will repair or replace a defective HFC mouthpiece or spring.

You pay for shipment (if required) both ways.

Reeds and windsavers are not warranted by me.

If you have any problem with the HFC or ENR, let me know. I'll work with you to solve it.

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----- Original Message -----
From: "Bill Price"
Sent: Wednesday, August 21, 2002 8:33 PM
Subject: Re: [slidemeister] SPAH--Harmonicas
> >Oh, come on now. Is the Renny really that good ? How about Vern Smith's > >hands free chromatic?

> > Hi. Vern's hfc is all he says it is, and even doug tate will tell you > that. it's not to replace a regular chro, because it's not as fast as one > with a slide, however if you're gonna play with your hands full (guitar, > piano, typewriter) it is definitely for you, and does what he says it does. > Wm Gallison kicked kiester on it after about 2 minutes! while playing > guitar on some very intricate stuff, far more difficult than vern was > demonstrating.

> > Doug's Renny is to die for. Magnificent. Couldn't do a thing to it. Nothing > mortal comes close.

> > on list or off, that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

> > -bp


----- Original Message -----
From: "Romuald Nickles"
Sent: Wednesday, August 21, 2002 10:03 PM
Subject: Re: [slidemeister] SPAH--Harmonicas

> Ok - opinions.... I was surprised as to how tight Vern's hands free > harmonica was. One would think from first sight that it would leak, but > such is not the case. If you play another instrument with the harmonica, > it's useful, but I can't help remembering back to my youth (YES I was once > young) when I saw a fellow on the street with a hands free diatonic and a > banjo, dark glasses and a tin cup. Nevertheless, I think it's really a neat > idea and a well thought out design................

> .......What I liked best however, was the thought and design behind these > instruments. The inventiveness of these people is just amazing - you all > should be very proud to be associated with this kind of person.

> Romie

(from Douglas Tate, President of SPAH)

Vern Smith, my long time friend and adversary... What an amazing instrument he has come up with. I was privileged to be allowed to play his new "Hands off, You Don't Need a Button, Just a Mobile Head" harmonica. Vern's HFC harmonica is beautiful... it works, is natural to play. I spent a happy few minutes playing duets with him on it... I would say that the average player who is used to the idea of playing sharps and flats would take a couple of minutes to suss it out and about half an hour to become so used to it that you could forget the technique. Vern's claims about the airtightness of the instrument are absolutely correct, it is tight....................

Douglas Tate


----- Original Message -----
From: g-cziko@uiuc.edu


> So I just wanted to > see of anyone in this group had supplementary information > about HFCs and Vern's modification in particular.

Hi and welcome. At the 2002 spah convention, I shared an exhibit room with vern, therefore I spent almost all of the 'open' hours of the event alone in a room with vern and his creation.

Aside from the fact that vern only had two songs worked out well enough to play for the curious (he played guitar and HFC at the same time, a feat which I could NEVER do), the instrument played well, sounded good, and never failed.

Many people brought their bottles of alcohol and tried the HFC. I don't remember anyone saying that it didn't play the way it should. I do remember most being pleasantly surprised at the response and the airtightness. If you read vern's writings here and correspond with him, you know he's nothing if not a scientist and engineer.

Even Doug Tate stopped in, played the thing and said things like "That's very good, very nice," and other compliments. He was able to play it well (IMHO) immediately, and reallly had nothing bad to say about it. Considering that he and vern are "arch-rivals" in comic relief whenever they get together, I wished that the entire SPAH delegation could have been in attendance when those words were spoken.

Also, William Gallison (his recordings are available in all the big stores) was one of our headliners, and he played vern's guitar and vern's HFC for a LONG TIME, and like most others, played it well immediately, giving credence to vern's claim that the up and down operation is rather natural for a chromatic player.

So--that's as best and as straightforward a review as I can give you, since I didn't actually play it myself (I can't walk and chew gum at the same time, so a HFC would be wasted on me). Just don't tell vern that you think it would sound better with a wooden comb.

-bp (Bill Price) ________________________________________________________________________

Hi Gary,

I tried the HFC at SPAH in Denver and was very impressed with both ease and playability of this new system; also the airtightness Vern has achieved. I only played the thing for thirty seconds or so, but was pleased to see that it responded quite effortlessly to each half step with no more than slight hand move or head bob :o) I could see how this slick little mouthpiece could easily be mastered, not in weeks, but hours.

A.J. Fedor


----- Original Message -----
From: "William Price"
Sent: Saturday, January 11, 2003 10:25 AM
Subject: Re: [slidemeister] chrom C solo jazz playing ?

> .........Vern's idea of the hands-free chromatic (which works very well) could be > absolutely mind-boggling if used with well-played vibes. It would be hard to > imagine all of that coming from just one person. To me, vibes are such a > beautiful and expressive instrument that it's hard to imagine them NOT > sounding great!.......................

> best,

> > -bp


----- Original Message -----
From: "Pat Missin"
To: "Vern Smith"
Sent: Sunday, March 30, 2003 7:17 AM
Subject: Re: HFC

Hi Vern

Just a quick note to say that I am very impressed with the HFC. Although I do play guitar (it was actually my first instrument) and several other instruments, I almost never do the one man band thing. If I did, I would sign up for an HFC right away. I does everything you claim it does.

A quick question - has anyone managed to break one yet? The action feels so light I wonder if any ham fisted (or ham jawed?) people might manage to break or bend one of the springs.

All the best,

-- Pat.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Drew Hurd"
Sent: Friday, April 18, 2003 12:44 PM
Subject: Hands Free Chromatic questions

> Hello Vern, I though that I'd get back to you on the Hands Free Chromatic after several months per your request.

> > I'm really enjoying playing this instrument! I've got some of my rythm guitar playing back, and have learned a bunch of new standards including,

> > A Nighingale Sang in Barkley Square
> Speak Low
> A Waltz for Debbie
> I've Got you Under my Skin
> Polkadots and Moonbeams
> On a Clear Day
> > So far there have been a lot less problems with this than the traditonal chomatic mouthpiece. I keep expecting for something to go wrong and break (as with my expierences with trad chrom's) but have had very few problems at all. Very little sticking, no misalignment of any kind, and much more airtight than the coventional mouthpiece......

.................I also enjoy playing the HFC by holding the instrument. I can get the trill sound now by using my wrists, and holding on tight with my lips. The airtightness is FANTASTIC.

> Regards,
> Drew Hurd (HFC owner)

_____________________________________________________________________ ----- Original Message -----
From: "Mike Curtis"
> And list - I tried Vern's "original" handsfree chromatic. I was *very* > impressed with how well it worked, and especially the EASE of the "slide" > mechanism and how little it interfered with my normal playing motions (or my > motions with it). I founf myself playing it usably well immediately. And > he says the new one is even better!

> > I do enjoy playing chromatic. There are things you can do with a chrom that > you can't with a valved diatonic - and vice versa.

(Mike Curtis)


----- Original Message -----
From: Robert Paparozzi
To: harp-l@harp-l.com
Sent: Friday, August 29, 2003 9:02 AM Subject: Congrats Hoot & Spah! (convention report-long)

..................................Then, you get to "testdrive" all kinds of Harps and Harp related gizmos, Enrico did a great job with Vern Chromatic-Rack invention while playing masterful Brazilian Guitar. Bobbie G. let me test out a very "sweet" Renny that Doug was doing some major "Slide" improvments on.......and this goes on ALL week,-)))...............

...................Thanks Again to Hoot & SPAH on a Winner! Here's to another 40 years!!! If you are serious about the Harmonica, I implore you to join SPAH..............

all the best........rob paparozzi


----- Original Message -----
From: "Bill Price"
Sent: Sunday, August 31, 2003 1:59 PM
Subject: [slidemeister] SPAH part V

> I have always felt that Sousa's *Stars & Stripes Forever* was and is a > superhuman composition, and I still find it hard to comprehend that only one > mind conceived and set that piece to paper...................

> BTW, our own VERN (wood or plastic) Smith has learned that piccolo part on > his HFC (hands-free-chromatic) harmonica and plays it against the melody > line which he also plays on his guitar, (simultaneously, of course) which > involves the use of several fingers, a thumb or two, some lungs, lips, > tongue, neck and perhaps a diphragm (not to mention the improved tone > generated by his plastic comb). I congratulate him wholeheartedly (no mere > aortal congratulation here, bucko) because that is REALLY hard for me to > even comprehend. Bravo, Vern!

> Thanks to all who made it a great event

> > -bp


----- Original Message -----
From: "ozharp"
Sent: Sunday, September 07, 2003 9:40 PM
Subject: [slidemeister] SPAH/Hands-Free Chromatic
> .................. > I just watched some footage of Enrico playing 'Shadow of Your Smile' at this > year's SPAH, playing guitar and using Vern's hands-free chromatic, and the > performance was very, very impressive! It looks like Vern's modification > could open up a whole new world for players versed in both guitar and > chromatic harmonica.

> > Cheers,

> > Paul(Farmer)


----- Original Message -----
From: "the Leones"
Sent: Monday, September 08, 2003 8:53 AM
Subject: Re: [slidemeister] SPAH/Hands-Free Chromatic

> >In his report about SPAH Vern wrote:
> > > >"Enrico Granafei played > >twice using the Hands-Free-Chromatic with his finger-style guitar to play > >Brazilian songs with jazzy variations.

With only a few hours practice, > > Should read "almost NO practice". How do I know. Well, because when > one takes into account that he spent nearly all his time around the > piano (in the library) with "Fingers Bob Beck" and myself, there WAS > no time to practice.

> > This is a testimony as to two things. #1. The Hands Free Chromatic > is a WONDERFUL breakthrough. #2. Senior Granafei is a quick > learner.............



Product Review by Pat Missin

Vern Smith's Hands Free Chromatic and Ergonomic Neck Rack

The diatonic harmonica is one of a very select group of musical instruments that can be played without the use of the hands; all you need is some way of holding the harmonica to your mouth and your hands are free to play another instrument. The sight of the singer guitarist with his 10-hole diatonic in a neck rack is a very familiar one, but things are not quite so simple with the typical chromatic harmonica, all because of that pesky button. Of course, you could put your chromatic in a rack and simply restrict yourself to tunes that require no sharps or flats, but if you are going to do that, you would probably be better off simply using a diatonic. Not surprisingly, there have been several attempts over the years to provide a way of getting the sharps and flats whilst leaving the hands free, most of them using a foot operated switch connected either mechanically or electrically to the button on the harmonica. Equally unsurprisingly, these devices have generally been noisy, clumsy or both. Finally, someone has come up with a nice simple solution which is quiet and efficient and also has some unexpected beneficial side effects.

Vern Smith is a familiar name to anyone subscribed to the various online harmonica discussion groups such as harp-l and Slidemeister. As someone who plays both guitar and chromatic harmonica, and wanted to be able to do both at the same time, Vern has put a lot of thought into the problem and his remedy is the Hands Free Chromatic (HFC). The HFC replaces the standard slide assembly with a one-piece plastic mouthpiece held in position by a spring at each end. In its normal position, the mouthpiece allows the natural scale to be played; to play the sharps and flats, all that is required is a slight nod of the head. It sounds like this might be an awkward technique, but after having played the HFC for a while I was amazed at how quickly it began to feel very natural indeed. According to Vern the angle required to shift from naturals to sharps/flats is about 1.5 degrees and it takes about 3oz (85g) to push the HFC mouthpiece, compared with about 26oz (737g) to push a conventional slide button!

With very little practice I found that I could play trills and chromatic phrases almost as easily as I can using the conventional push of the button. With some real practice, I'm sure the HFC could do anything that can be done with the standard chromatic harmonica. At the SPAH convention last year, jazz harmonicist (and no mean jazz guitarist) William Gallison blew everyone away with some dynamite playing on the HFC accompanied by his own guitar, within minutes of first seeing the instrument.

At the same event, Douglas Tate also had the opportunity to try it out and had this to say: "Vern Smith, my long time friend and adversary... What an amazing instrument he has come up with. I was privileged to be allowed to play his new "Hands off, You Don't Need a Button, Just a Mobile Head" harmonica. Vern's HFC harmonica is beautiful... it works, is natural to play. I spent a happy few minutes playing duets with him on it... I would say that the average player who is used to the idea of playing sharps and flats would take a couple of minutes to suss it out and about half an hour to become so used to it that you could forget the technique. Vern's claims about the airtightness of the instrument are absolutely correct, it is tight."

This airtightness is the unexpected benefit I mentioned earlier. As you probably know, the standard chromatic harmonica is a rather inefficient machine. Much of the air that should be going through the reeds ends up escaping via several places, the slide assembly being the worst offender. Tighten it up to prevent air loss and the slide doesn't move freely; loosen it to achieve an easy slide action and it starts to leak again. A good technician can achieve a reasonable compromise, but the HFC sidesteps the problem completely. The mouthpiece is held loosely against the front of the comb, but as soon as you play the instrument it is pushed lightly but firmly into place, with no air leaks at all. For this reason alone, the HFC would be valuable to any chromatic player, even if they do not play a second instrument. Not having to push the button is very liberating in other ways - both hands become freed up to work on tonal effects or cupping a microphone, without having to make sure that one hand is in the correct position for the button. I also found myself playing with the HFC in my left hand, as I typed one handed at my computer keyboard!

After working with the HFC for a short while, I was struggling to come up with anything negative to say about it. It looks like it may be quite flimsy, but it is surprisingly robust. If you were to drop it on a hard floor, you might damage it, but the same is true of any harmonica, or indeed any musical instrument. I can imagine some players will not like the plastic playing surface or the round holes in the mouthpiece, but as a fan of the CX-12 I am very comfortable with both. About the only other thing can I say is that it would be nice to see a 4-octave version.

So, get one of these and all you need is a good neck rack to support the HFC as you play - and Vern has that covered too!

�2003 P.R. Missin.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Linwood Bell"
Sent: Sunday, March 14, 2004 7:58 AM
Subject: [SlideMeister] Re: My first attempt......

> ........................BTW the hands free harp looks very interesting. Lots of possibilites > there. What a wonderful thing you've done.

> > Linwood


From: LPre9@aol.com
To: jevern@fea.net
Sent: Monday, April 19, 2004 4:15 PM
Subject: From Lou

Hi Vern,

The HFC and neckrack arrived in the mail today! That was pretty good service, I think. I am having heaps of fun!...............This thing is really slick, Vern, and I am really going to enjoy it. ....................... Many thanks for such fast service on the order, and I can hardly wait to put it to use. Would like to keep in touch with you periodically. Stay well, and thanks again.




From: LPre9@aol.com
To: jevern@fea.net
Sent: Tuesday, April 20, 2004 7:18 PM
Subject: Re: From Lou

Hi Vern,

............You know, I took the HFC with me to a performance which we did at one of the nursing homes today, and I am going to use it sometimes in place of my "buttoned" chromatics, because my hands are small, and I either have to use my thumb for the button or move my hand completely out of position to reach the button. With the HFC, I can leave my hands where they are and not have to worry about being able to reach the button on the slide.

Will keep you posted on progress. Cheers!



----- Original Message -----
From: "Douglas Tate"
Sent: Sunday, July 25, 2004 2:14 PM
Subject: [SlideMeister] HFC was Re: Chord Substi-tootings
> At 15:36 25/07/2004,David L wrote:
> > . If one has something to share and it will benefit the SPAH community
> > and non-members too, why not. I just thought your product was a hot
> > seller, that's why I made that comment
> > Vern's HFC (Hands Free Chromatic) deserves to be a hot seller. It is > innovative, simple, and it works! Vern may know diddlysquat about how > materials affect the sound of harmonicas :)) but I think he has a winner here. > We have supported him at SPAH before and are doing so again this year.

> > If one thinks about innovation in harmonicas (melody types), what has > happened in the last hundred years (OK, 80!) ?? > The diatonic had another reed plate added and a slider. > I don't count different scales and tunings... they are just desperate > variations on a theme. > The XB is an innovation but one which may take a considerable amount of > work to make it a lasting one. > The Harmonetta,the Techs's nightmare, brilliant but flawed. > The HFC? Throw away a couple of screws, and a slider mechanism, put in a > simple spring & pivot and all of a sudden you have enabled some disabled > people, opened an easy avenue for people who are struggling with mechanical > monstrosities to do the same job. (and also provided a fun instrument for > the rest of us.)

> > Brilliant!

> > Douglas Tate


----- Original Message -----
From: Ken Leiboff
To: Vern Smith
Sent: Sunday, October 09, 2005 12:26 AM
Subject: Everything is fantastic so far
I got a good workout with (HFC) harmonica in traffic on the way home (much easier to play with one hand!) Been practicing with the rack for the last 2 hours and the rack is PERFECT. It far exceeds my expectations (you are not getting this one back). The stability is phenomenal and stays in place even while “bouncing around”. In fact, I can't shake it loose no matter what I do. It may take a few days to master the new mouthpiece . I think that I will need at least one more in the very near future……

In short:

You de Man !!!!!!




----- Original Message -----
From: "Ben Graves"
To: "Vern Smith"
Sent: Sunday, October 02, 2005 2:36 PM Subject: Re: Ben Graves 10/8/05 w/ Drums & Tuba

> Vern,

> > Yeah, I've gigged with it a few times. I usually only use it on a couple of tunes a show, but it > works great!



----- Original Message -----
From: "SAVAS"
Sent: Tuesday, May 02, 2006 3:24 PM
Subject: Re: [SlideMeister] Enrico Granafei (was GSHC FESTIVAL 2006) on Hands Free

> on 05/01/2006 02:36 PM, Gary Lehmann at hqr@cox.net wrote:

> >>
>> Jazz Stylist ENRICO GRANAFEI and his guitar & harmonica

>> >> When I went to Vern's on Easter Sunday evening and played his HFC (thanks >> Vern!), he also played me some video, including this guy >> http://www.trumpetsjazz.com/artists/Enrico_Granafei.htm >> Holy Ned! He's got this thing down! >> Plus he's a finger styled guy, so you get the walking bass etc on guitar >> Very impressive . . .

>> Hey, he's in New Jersey, and I'm gonna be in New York the week of May >> 20th--wonder if I can catch him at his club (!)

>> Gary

>> >> >>===================================================

> > Shely Lulov put ENRICO GRANAFEI on as the last act and I think he stole the > whole show. There aren't a lot of players that play on both harmonica and > guitar at the same time with incredible skill in both instruments. My take > on this person puts him on top of Mt. Olympus. with the absolute top > performers. This was the first time I ever heard anyone play Vern's Hands > Free Harmonica and must say, it belongs on top of Olympus as well.

> > John Savas


----- Original Message -----
From: "Ben Graves"
To: "Vern Smith"
Sent: Sunday, February 18, 2007 10:12 PM

> Hey Vern,

> .........Got some compliments on the harp (& my playing??) at my jazz jam session. > Played Skylark & had a couple of folks ask how the hell I was doing it. > You must just love that...

> > Ben Graves
> > http://www.bengraves.com
> http://www.itunes.com (search "Ben Graves")
> http://www.cdbaby.com/bengraves2
> http://www.myspace.com/bengraves1


----- Original Message -----
From: "Jonathan Ross"
To: "Vern Smith"
Sent: Tuesday, February 20, 2007 3:23 PM
Subject: Re: HFC order acknowledgement

> Since I was away the last two weeks, and the office was closed when I > got back on Saturday, I just got the HFC today (I could see the box > through the window Saturday, but since I have no key I could just > stand there with the feeling you get when you realize you don't have > the money to buy a candy bar).

> > Suffice it to say, this is fantastic. Amazing, really. I didn't > think it would be so easy and natural to use. It really is. Of > course, there is an satisfaction to stabbing that little button, but > I believe with a minimum of time all trills and the like possible on > a slider-instrument (at the same speeds) are possible.

> > But, the truly amazing thing is the airtightness. I have some very > airtight chromatics, but I believe this might indeed beat them all. > I didn't know the top notes would be unvalved, but I found out soon > enough when I attempted to bend the topmost draw note. I expected a > valved bend, but got an overdraw! And I'm not even all that good > with overblows. Similarly, the next hole is unvalved, and the draw > bend and overblow are both there, easily (though the overblow sounds > like crap--but then, all of my overblows sound like crap, as I'm > really just starting on that technique).

> > Just amazing. I've tried half-valving with other of my very airtight > chromatics (the CX-12, my CB-Tenor from Siegfried Naruhn, a wonderful > old 280 rebuilt by Pat Missin) and frankly I never liked it--too airy > without valves, even the top holes. Not the case with the HFC. I'm > not going to be ripping of the valves right away, but soon enough I > will be experimenting with various valvings, from half-valved to just > plain unvalved across the range of the beast (in part because I have > a valve material I prefer anyway). I'll let you know what I find in > terms of the feasibility of having this be unvalved (or half-valved, > though I tend to dislike the imbalance in those systems)--at least > how feasible I find it.

> >> After you get familiar with it, you will hardly notice whether you >> are playing the HFC or a standard chromatic. All of your invested >> practice time will be applicable to both types of harp.

> > It already is, really. I did some scales, and while I got mixed up > from time to time, it was nothing that a few days won't erase > completely.

> >> If you hold the HFC in your hands, you'll notice these differences: >> 1. You might have to adjust your grip so that your left thumb >> doesn't interfere with the downward motion of the mouthpiece.

> > I thought about this, and since I mostly play 64s anyway, I just went > with my diatonic style grip rather than what I usually use for > chromatics. Also, since my standard chromatic grip is rather unusual > because of how I play the button (basically with the knuckle of my > index finger) I find this is a nice adjustment--more hand-wahs and such.

> >> 2. Played on a rack, the HFC requires the player to nod his head to >> play the "black key" notes. However, when you hold it in your >> hands, you will find yourself using a rolling motion of your wrists >> and a reduced nod.

> > Yup. Right now I find it easy to do this one-handedly, but with both > hands holding it is a bit more difficult, and not as smooth. Of > course, I literally just opened the box, and am sure that within a > week I could move as swiftly with both hands holding as with just one > hand--and as swiftly as a slider-button arrangement either way.

> >> 3. Most people notice increased responsiveness that comes with the >> absense of leakage along the slide. This also makes valved bends >> easier.Excdpt for valves, It will play very much like a diatonic. >> I'll leave consideration of "half valving" to you and Brendan Power >> who did that to the HFC that I sent him for evaluation. He also >> removed the springs.

> > I don't mind the springs, but I can see why you might want them > removed. Depending on how it responds to various levels of > devalving, I could see usages where it might be good to not have the > springs. With a more standard tuning, I think having a "home" > setting as in the chromatic will be useful--at least during the > transitional stage. We shall see.

> >> 4. You will find that the halftone trills are slower. You just >> can't roll your wrists or nod your head as fast as you can wiggle >> your button arm & finger.

> > Perhaps--my initial playing doesn't confirm this, but then I haven't > really done many side-by-side tests of it. I'll wait a week or so > and then might try comparing the speed of trills then. I may have a > slight advantage here, in that I can trigger a nervous twitch in my > right hand which causes it to shake very quickly all-but > involuntarily. That may also be why right now my single-handed > trills are faster with the right then the left. I look forward to > finding out, in any event.

> >> You will have fun. If you decide to play it hands-free, you should >> consider an Ergonomic-Neck-Rack.

> > I shall. However, while I am very capable of watching TV, reading > and talking on the phone all at the same time, I have never been able > to play two instruments at once. The only place where I could see > using a neck rack would be in the car, but frankly I believe in > driving while driving--not playing harmonica, talking on the phone or > anything else. However, if I do want a neck rack--it will be the > ENR, if it is half as well designed and made as the HFC it would be > the best neck-rack I've ever seen.

> > Thank you so much for making this--it is a brilliant instrument, one > which I look forward to investigating more fully.

> > > > ()() JR "Bulldogge" Ross
> () () & Snuffy, too:)
> `----'

----- Original Message -----
From: bob linkmeyer
To: jevern@fea.net
Sent: Tuesday, July 10, 2007 2:36 PM

Hi Vern ::::: This is the neatest thing I have ever seen. I can see I will have fun with it. Just wait till my harmonica friends see this thing. Thank You very much for the lightening fast service.

Bob Linkmeyer


----- Original Message -----
To: "jevern"
Sent: Friday, October 26, 2007 8:44 AM
Subject: Re:HFC mailed

It's Arrived!! Fantastic !!! The blow bend in the low comes easily ANd WIth POWER, overblowing and overdrawing in the high the same!!! Absolutely the best big sound chrom I have played. (I have Suzuki Leghorn 16,and Magic Garden 14,Seydel DeLuxe 12,Hohner super 64/64x....).

Definitely the best solution for the richter tuning Chrom harm, half valved for the classic blues drawbend tecnic!

Thanx !!You are a Genius!!!!


Ps The HFC plays like A "killer"!!!


----- Original Message -----
From: Ken Leiboff
To: Vern Smith
Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2008 2:25 PM
Subject: more

"My Ergonomic Neck Rack and Hands Free Chromatics are the best musical purchases that I have made (in 40 years of equipment buying). Unlike a traditional wire neck rack, the E.N.R. is fully adjustable, extremely solid and very comfortable !

Using the H.F.C.’s (I own several), I can play exact melodies that were not possible with a standard chromatic or diatonic harmonica. The mouthpiece, springs and comb of this harmonica are very well engineered and built. I own 3 and have not yet had a mechanical failure of any kind.”

Ken Leiboff

Hear/see Ken play the HFC:
Auld Lang syne http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCXxya4ARU4
Wayfaring Stranger http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POZXo324Whk
Oh Susanna http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9OUFwAR4Xw
UkeMonica http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcNqbAaN4IU
June Apple (ukemonica) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_FreZ3j6hc
UkeMedley http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y19vDUGdl04
Guitarmonica1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcBlGdDqxFk
Guitarmonica Etude http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brfW2ZfY_zE


Hi Vern:

I love the neck rack! It came today and is absolutely the perfect thing. This is the most comfortable I have ever felt using a rack. It's solid as a rock and I feel like I'm playing better without the distracting uncomfortable feeling I've become used to. Thank you for coming up with such a brilliant piece of work!

Bruce (Kurnow)


Feb. 6, 2004
Hi Vern!

I have finally had a chance to try the neck rack out, I love it. Thanks for making a great product, there was a need for this. Will I see you in St Louis?


Mikael Backman, Sweden


Most neck racks currently available are rather flimsy affairs that look like they have been quickly cobbled together from an old coat hanger, many of them too small to hold a standard chromatic harmonica. Vern offers a heavy-duty, ergonomic harp holder that was designed with the HFC in mind, the catchall named Ergomonic Neck Rack (ENR). The ENR was made as adjustable as possible, allowing the harmonica-to-mouth distance to be varied, the height of the harmonica to be raised and lowered and the angle of the harmonica to be adjusted relative to the player's head. Hopefully this will put an end to all those strange contortions people seem to have to do whilst playing simultaneous harmonica and guitar (or piano, or concertina, or Theremin, or whatever...). The cost of the ENR is US$200, US shipping included. There is a $50 discount offered if you purchase the HFC and the ENR together.

�2003 P.R. Missin.


From: "Mick Erickson"
Sent: Wednesday, June 30, 2004 11:28 AM
Subject: RE: speaking of racks
> I have one of Vern's racks, and I can confirm it is the most stable and > comfortable rack out there. It's also built to mil-spec, and solid as a > tank. It will undoubtedly outlive me, and will be left to my > grandchildren.


March 2005

Hi Vern,

The first thing you notice is how substantial the ENR is compared with anything else available. At first, I thought those big black rubber knobs would have to go; but no, they serve some very desired functions. They stabilize the thing on your chest and they make tightening and loosening a breeze. So they will definitely stay.

The thing I like about diatonic harps tuned to 7-limit just intonation (did I get that right; I play Hering 1923s) is the beautiful chords and split intervals. The ENR makes all that possible. With standard racks I could never get the harp deep enough in my mouth for a consistent five-hole or six-hole stretch where three or four holes are tongue-blocked. The Bushman rack is particularly bad for that because the rubber "holders" cover half the cover plates. With the ENR, it's like playing with the harp in my hands, minus the hand effects of course.

I had a blast with the adjustment process. I got it now where the harp is just right there in a perfect position, and all I have to do is slightly tilt my upwards to sing.

I play the guitar using an exaggerated classical posture. The guitar sits on my left leg and I use a stool for the left foot. I also use a strap to raise the headstock to ear-level or higher. I find this comfortable, though it is a bit radical. In that position, the bare metal parts of the yoke that rest against your chest hit the back of the guitar. So to prevent them scratching the back of the guitar, I covered them with foam rubber. Problem solved!

For now, that's about all I can say. After I've used it a bit more, I may have some more comments. Anyway, a really great invention Vern. It seems to me every serious rack player in the world would want one. And I'm sure they do. I guess it's the price. But for me, $200 is well worth it.

All the best,



----- Original Message -----
From: Ken Leiboff
To: Vern Smith
Sent: Sunday, October 09, 2005 12:26 AM
Subject: Everything is fantastic so far
I got a good workout with (HFC) harmonica in traffic on the way home (much easier to play with one hand!) Been practicing with the rack for the last 2 hours and the rack is PERFECT. It far exceeds my expectations (you are not getting this one back). The stability is phenomenal and stays in place even while “bouncing around”. In fact, I can't shake it loose no matter what I do. It may take a few days to master the new mouthpiece . I think that I will need at least one more in the very near future……

In short:
You de Man !!!!!!




----- Original Message -----
From: Pauloscher@aol.com
Sent: Tuesday, May 23, 2006 6:47 AM
Subject: paul oscher video
Hey vern , Ive got a four minute video up on my website . I'm using the neck rack you made me , check it out www.pauloscher.com
___________________________________________ Most harp racks are much of a muchness. However one that stands out, is Vern Smith's Ergonomic Harp Rack


I have one, it is comfortable, has lots of adjustments to get it sitting just right. Unbelievably it can actually hold a harmonica firmly in place, so you don't have to chase after the harmonica as you apply any pressure. I'm able to play tongue block on diatonic and dig into it. It even fits chromatic harmonica, you can fit it with a 16 holer to play trad 3rd position blues.

There's a review here

http://www.angelfire.com/music/HarpOn/reviewscust.html#hfc Cheers,

-- G.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Mike and Beverly Rogers"
To: "harp-l"
Sent: Monday, July 31, 2006 9:59 AM
Subject: [Harp-L] Neck Rack review

I just bought Vern Smith's Ergonomic Neck Rack last week. It is a real joy to use. The rack is made of good, solid parts that will last as long as I do. It can be adjusted vertically, horizontally and the harmonica is on a cylinder, that can be adjusted to any angle. There are four "A" clamps that allow for two [diatonic] harps to be held at a time. the cylindrical bar spins for quick change from one to the other. Everything can be adjusted to the slightest degree and tightened to never slip on me. The rack is also padded and very comfortable.

This was a major investment for me, compared to the "stock" racks. But then, so were my custom diatonics, rebuilt chromatic and my old Martin guitar. They all reduce effort and make my playing more enjoyable for me and hopefully, for my audiences. My gratitude goes out to Vern for creating this.


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