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The Harmonica Company.

Here’s a helpful and great website by the Harmonica Company:

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A Review of Brendan Power’s “Powercombs!”

Fantastic optimally shaped harmonica combs 3D printed combs. Newly invented modern combs for optimal playing:

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The Coxes Boot Stomper with Cathy Maguire!

Check out this footage of Cathal and Cathy Maguire playing recently at Vantastival festival in the Walled Garden area in Belurgan Park. Spontaneously without any rehearsal Cathy joined Cathal on stage for a couple of country songs led by Cathy. This was a great opportunity to catch a glimpse of Cathy live, rare these days as she spends her time in New York working and recording with some of the best in the business. Cathy gave a rousing performance which got the everybody singing and dancing. Its appropriate that Cathy joined on the night as Cathy is herself from Coxes, Dundalk. Maybe you could say she is an honorary member. Well we certainly hope it wont be the last time Cathy plays with The Coxes Boot Stompers!

Kenny & Dolly roll over, here's Cathal and Cathy. With Cathal Johnson at Vantastival

Posted by Sean Fegan on Sunday, 3 May 2015

Thanks to Sean for the clip.

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Vantastival May 2015 Cathal Johnson Bagpipe harmonica Belurgan Park, solo performance.

Vantastival may 2015 Cathal Johnson bagpipe harmonica belurgan park solo performance. Cathal Johnson as the Coxes Boot Stomper at Vantastival in Belurgan Park. Here playing his Bagpipe harmonica he tuned up himself to give this lovely drone effect while playing a tune.
Thanks to Marko, Eddie in the Walled Garden for having me there. Also a big shout out to the crew and volunteers at Vantastival who worked so hard to make it happen this year, thank you so much! Also thanks and praise to James T and Cairan Smith (Smithy) on sound. James got a great sound on the night considering the guitar pick up wasn’t great. James managed to compensate it on the night.

After a few miss haps on the way there Cathal ended up doing a solo performance but later was joined by the imitable singer that is Cathy Maguire. See below next post for a clip of them performing a couple of classics.

Picture taken by Sean Fegan, thanks Sean!

The Love Caravan

Thanks must also go out to Sean Fegan for the pictures and recording the clip below and accommodating us in the caravan and Francesca Lalor for recording the gig on the night. We look forward to hearing it!

ever heard of a harmonic that thinks its a bag pipe. you have now. Cathal Johnson gives a master class at Vantastival

Posted by Sean Fegan on Sunday, 3 May 2015

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Considering investing in a new harmonica for 2015 but want to know a bit more before you buy? Have a read of this and see below for more information and special offers:
I have written out below an extensive description of both diatonic Richter tuned harmonicas and ‘solo’ tuned chromatics that I hope explains itself ok. Sorry if its a bit long winded!

Standard Richter tuning is the normal tuning you have on a blues harp. In the early days there were horologists (clock makers) across Europe experimenting with many configurations, but most did not sit right with people. A guy called Richter however (circa late 17th century (not sure of his first name) came up with the standard tuning which became known as Richter tuning.

That one stuck to this day as the normal tuning for diatonic blues harps. The first 4 holes have a configuration that allows you to play major chords both on the blow and draw. Using tongue block techniques one could play a chord and play melody through the side of your mouth to produce melody with a vamping chord. Of course somewhere along the line someone realised that you can bend those notes and reeds that have a greater interval of a semi tone between two notes in any one given hole. Called double reed bending as the two blow and draw reeds in that one hole interact with each other. When you bend on the draw reed past a semi tone the blow reed kicks in and so your bent note on the draw is actually the blow reed sounding! Mad eh?

Capital equals blow and small letters represents draw i.e.

Diatonic Richter tuning:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Cd, Eg, Gb, Cd, Ef, Ga, Cb, Ed, Gf. Ca

The first hole you have two notes a whole tone apart (interval) so you can bend a semi tone between them. On the second hole you have E blow and G draw. Here on the draw you can play 3 notes. i.e. On the draw G, bent down to F sharp, and further to F natural. This continues on up the scale where you cannot bend hole 7 as there is only a semi tone apart.

That’s one difference between ‘Solo’ and Richter tuning. Solo tuning follows a standard scale configuration much like the holes on a diatonic between 4 and 7 to make up the scale. But in order for the tuning pattern to remain the same throughout, there are two blow C notes together. And so the configuration layout is different to diatonic.

Whereas on a Richter tuned diatonic the wind direction changes direction on hole 7 and continues with a reverse wind direction to finish the higher octave on a diatonic harps. But also you’ll notice that the B on the 9 and 10th hole is missing, so you have an incomplete scale. This is different to solo tuning as solo tuning maintains the same wind direction throughout and has complete scales.

So the possibility to bend notes on a chromatic solo tuned harmonica only arises in holes with two notes that have a whole tone between them. These notes you can only bend one semi tone between them as the interval apart is only ever one whole tone or a semi tone-which you can’t bend beside subtle micro tones. Chromatics are valved however and so double reed bending is not possible. But it is possible to bend almost a semi tone with the valves for expression. See below.

Solo tuning is a tuning you normally get on a chromatic harmonica in a configuration like this:

Hole: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12.
Note: Cd, Ef, Ga, Cb, Cd, Ef, Ga, Cb, Cd, Ef, Ga, Cb.

I hope that made sense to you! Of course there are physical differences too with shape and size etc. Also chromatic harmonicas are valved, unlike most diatonic blues harps (though Brendan Power came up with the half valved blues harps which are amazing, I will elaborate later!) Valves have two effects, they make the instrument more airtight and therefore louder. They allow you to produce what they call single reed bends which only allow a semi tone bend. This allows for nice expression however.

Brendan Power came up with the ‘half valved harmonica’ that Suzuki now supply. He is so clever that he figured out that you can use valves in certain hole on blues harps to make them louder and give extra notes of subtle expression than ever before. Reeds bend by interacting with another so you can’t valve both reeds, only one can be valved to allow for double reed bending. So the blow reed is valved but not the draw. This allows the draw to interact with the blow. Now however you can also blow bend the valved blow note a semi tone giving you that extra expression on the blow note.

Valves do not allow for ‘overblowing’ however. If you are a player that has mastered even somewhat, the extremely difficult technique of ‘overblowing’ much different to draw or blow bending. The so called ‘overblow’ is the reverse of draw or blow bending. Imagine draw bending hole 2 or 3 then blow bending them too! A phenomenon only fully utilised and realised and identified in the last 30 or 40 years.

There are different makes and different tunings available with chromatics. One is the ten hole ‘Slide Harp’ chromatic which is the same tuning as Richter tuning. Here you can bend notes as you would on a normal blues harp but you have the button for chromatic runs too and extra notes. I have one of these harmonicas.

I also have the ten hole diatonic richter chromatic ‘Koch.’ This unusual model is basically a 40-note chromonica, but tuned according to the Richter system. Pressing the slide changes the key from C to C#, like on the chromatic. However, note bending is possible in exactly the same way as with a standard Richter harp, offering the player a number of exciting new musical possibilities as well as the ability to play in different keys on one instrument. As with Richter Diatonic plus the Slide Harp is partially valved to increase air tightness.
Cathal Johnson 2015.

Cathal is offering refurbished harmonicas in normal Richter tuning, Paddy Richter tunings and Powerbender tunings. Other harmonicas are available on request. Contact cathal through his contact page or email

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John Murray Show

You caught Cathal on RTE’s John Murray show this morning, right? Well if not, here’s a link. Cathal talks about his workshops, harmonica repairs and lots of other stuff relating to the “humble” harmonica (including the possibility of a convention next year). Well worth a listen.

john murray

Respect to John for letting Cathal loose on his listeners!

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Breathing New Life into The Harmonica

Harry Browne and photographer Barry Cronin came to my house a couple of weeks ago to interview me about me harmonica workshop for an article in the Culture section for The Sunday Times called “Breathing New Life into The Harmonica”.

I’ve posted the article itself (click for full view version) and some photos from the shoot below for your viewing pleasure! Don’t forget to come see me at the National Gallery on 19th…


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Cathal at The National Gallery

Cathal will be playing The National Gallery of Ireland on the 19th of September for Culture Night:

Music Acts (6pm to 9.15pm)

Solo performers and vocal acts will entertain visitors in the Wintergarden Café, including upcoming talents like Gemma Doherty, harmonica maestro Cathal Johnson, and the Cappella Choir.

  • 6.00pm Gary Tiernan Vocals & guitar
  • 6.30pm Gemma Doherty Vocals and harp
  • 7.00pm Cathal Johnson Vocals, harmonica and guitar
  • 7.45pm Emly Vocals & piano
  • 8.30pm Vincent Whelan & Cappella Choir

For more info, please see


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Eddie Clarke Fashion

Probably the first recording played on a custom D C-sharp chromatic harmonica in an the legendary Eddie Clarke fashion/style, this is a must for traditional Irish music enthusiasts everywhere! Check out this article on Wicklow harmonica player Sean Walshe (click for fullscreen) written by me for this month’s Harmonica World magazine….

HW June July 13 Walshe

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Cathal & Friends at Vantastival 2013

Great festival at Vantastival over the long weekend congrats to all the crew. Really enjoyed playing in the Melomania stage as the Melomaniacs! Thanks to Aindrias, Thierry-Antoine Faure/Jacques, Sean on banjo! and Ken for making up the band.

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Renewable and Environmental Award for Cathal Johnson Harmonicas

Cathal Johnson Harmonicas were delighted to be shortlisted and go on to win an award in the ‘Renewable and Environmental’ category from Louth Enterprise on Monday the 5th of March 2012. Woop!

Cathal has been steadily working towards building his business in recycling and renewing old or existing new harmonica, alternative tunings repairs and maintenance, set up for harmonica for customers and customization of harmonicas. To prevent a throwaway society in regards to the harmonica Cathal Johnson Harmonicas aims to fix them and keep them in circulation rather than been thrown in the bin! What a waste and how could you!

Cathal Johnson started after finishing college in 2010 in Applied Music. He then attended business courses to look into creating his own work, as he could not find any work available anywhere else he decided the would create his own. He applied for a Feasibility Study from Louth Enterprise in 2011 to further investigate the possibility of starting up business. After this he decided to do one more business course and go for it. The Study and Business course led him to creating a customer base on which to build. Since then Cathal Johnson Harmonicas saved hundreds and thousands of harmonicas from the bin! And hopes to go on saving thousands and tens of thousands from the bin!

But not only that the customers receives back a harmonica that sounds better than what he or she bought it in the first place as the reeds have been fine tuned and octave tuned and maybe tuned into an alternative tuning or customized for Overblow harmonicas. Or simply that their harmonica is now set up for them to play to suit their own individual style or playing.

Now Cathal Johnson Harmonicas is looking to build on his award winning status and expand into a workshop base, to produce a commercial CD recording of music arranged for the harmonica and other interesting projects too. Hopefully the wave of recent good luck will continue and not only create a job for him but for others too. Watch this space!

If you would like to get in touch with Cathal call him on 0877854120 or email him at

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