Rocky LOK INCREDIBLE Harmonica Collection
Rocky Lok is a true lover of the harmonica. He has dedicated his time performing with the King's Harmonica Quintet, the Hong Kong Harmonica Association and has collected hundreds of harmonicas over the past decades. I was thrilled to ask him a few questions about his journey. Enjoy!
In being a part of the legendary King's Harmonica Quintet known to perform classical string quartet music at the highest level for over 30 years, how do you go about choosing what pieces to play for a performance?
For standard and established classical pieces, I listen to the available recordings to get the correct and/or intended feel.
This way, I also learn how others may interpret the same pieces (knowing that sometimes, interpretation could be quite different).
Since we are arranging 4 parts into 5 parts, there are considerable re-alignments (sometimes inverting, sometimes dubbing for enhancements etc, but never simplifying).
Take a look into www.khq.hk/repertoire.
Winding the clock back a little, how did your love affair with the harmonica begin?
With the Hong Kong King’s College Harmonica Band* (Est 1951), there had been a tradition of senior alumni teaching junior alumni, junior alumni teaching senior students, senior students teaching junior students.
I attended my earlier harmonica classes under such a tradition and culture. My first teacher is my elder schoolmate and together with some other senior and junior alumni who now may have abandoned harmonica playing. I took and still take harmonica as a serious musical instrument. I took music theory courses and readings.
I learned double bass seriously until University graduation and I took Accountancy and I am now a Chartered Accountant at Corporate.
* The Hong Kong King’s College is an high school, not an University
How many harmonicas do you have in your collection?
At this time, I believe I have as many as 30 different brands with a total of 700+ in my personal collection. Of these, chromatics are some 400+ while the rest being orchestral, souvenirs, toys, memorials, minis, ornaments etc while all are blow-able.
Of these 400+ which range from standard factory models, prototypes and highly customized ones, to some of the most unique ones in this world. They consistent of various materials and different stages of evolution.
400, though a good number to remember, my collection continues to grow!
What are your top 5 Chromatic Harmonicas?
1/ Polle Concert Harmonica
Both my original of 2002 and my latest one of 2020 are on Hohner Silver Concerto Reedplates / Reeds.
Such is a masterpiece appraised by all owners absolutely and naturally.
(A) While the original 2002 is made of Sterling Silver 925 (Comb, Cover & MouthPiece), the latest one 2020 is made of Titanium (Comb & MouthPiece being Titanium though Cover still being Silver while Reedplate also as Titanium mounted with Hohner Silver Concerto Reeds).
(B) Both the Reedplates of both versions are upgraded with Quick Change measures in a way that there are cut-outs along the Reedplate Screw Holes so that one can afford only to screw off 2 screws with the rest being only half loosened, the Reedplate could be taken out for servicing, particularly for the filing of the blow reeds that are on the inside facing the comb.
(C) The slide is equipped with special line openings at the 4 corners of both ends. I was amazed when that was first opened for my observation in 1998 by Sigmund GROVEN in Hong Kong when we were rehearsing for a concert. Those special line openings are for engaging air, when mixing with the natural moisture of the player's breathing, as the automatic lubricant for the slide motion.
(D) There are long lines engraved on the MouthPiece as well on the Cover at the side closer to MouthPiece. These are for trapping the adequate but not excessive moisture of the player, tackling to soften the lip sticking challenge.
(E) The outer Wooden Case can be opened 180 degree flat. With the soft cushion inside, such becomes the operation theatre bed for the Polle during servicing.
(F) The Upper & Lower Covers and thus the Upper & Lower Reedplates can be screwed off independently.
While precision is of super high level, air tightness is accomplished amazingly. With slide motion smoothened, chromatic playing is seamless.
Onto responsiveness, there had been special folding onto the open ends of wind-savers, avoiding any un-welcomed bulbing at times when moistures are unavoidably trapped thus leading to that scenario. Sound is a nice balance of power and sweetness.
2/ Kepler Stradivarius
I have 3, namely Stainless Steel, Titanium and Platinum Silver as Comb while Sterling Silver 925, African Black Wood and High Performance Wood as Cover; while MouthPiece optioned as Regular and Power type, all from Hong Kong since 2019.
(A) On Hohner Meisterklass 14 Reedplates as touched up. Another masterpiece combining artistic, functional and engineering design enhanced on top of the original Meisterklass.
(B) Comb is made of Platinum Silver alloy which is of a higher grading than the normal Sterling Silver 925.
(C) Cover is made of High Performance Wood normally engaged for belly of string instrument (The designer indicated that that wood had been left dried for decades, capable of standing for another long period of time in range of decades).
(D) The Mouth Piece is of the Power Type made of Solid Silver, enabling the player’s lip to be slightly closer to the comb and thus Reedplate, accomplishing un-matched air tightness.
(E) The slide had been enhanced on the 4 corners moving into and out of the Slide Chamber, achieving super high smoothness.
While being another artistic piece, sound is of a good and wide range of power and sweetness. Absolutely into the elegant class, and thus the title Stradivarius, of Chromatic harmonica. The outer box engages Pelican, a humidity controlled with military grading level of shock absorption, capable to stand against accidental dropping of meters at heights.
3/ JT enhanced 2022 ALL Sterling Silver 958
I have the full line of Acrylic, Gold plated brass, Stainless Steel of Long & Short versions, Titanium with and without Titanium Mouth Piece, also from Hong Kong gradually since 2005. JT (Johnny & Tommy) is the very first Asian top customizer after the Norwegian counterpart (Polle since 1997).
With the brand as COMB PLUS replacement solution offer, loads of efforts had been instituted into the various elements within a chromatic harmonica 14, as follows :
(A) Slide is enhanced with 45-degree on all openings and inner corner rounding to smoothen air flow,
(B) Slide button shaping so as to make pressing a comfortable experience,
(C) Mouth Piece lowered to narrow down the distance between the player’s lips and the comb body, enhancing air-tightness and thus volume,
(D) Inner profiling of the Mouth Piece to enhance the smoothness of Slide Motion,
(E) Since 2005, being the very first customizer to make the comb embracing the Reedplates on all 4 sides
(F) The comb body is en-lengthened by 5-8mm longer away from the Mouth Piece, enhancing the solid resonance
(G) Also since 2005, both upper and lower Covers and Reedplates can be serviced independently,
(H) All screws for Covers, Reedplates as well as the Cover Supporter are replaced with heavy duty equivalents,
(I) Computer engineered profiling for each of the 28 channels are tailored to the frequency of the respective reeds all over the 14 x2 different ones,
(G) Also since 2005, the very first one to have eliminated the Blank and Flange (Flange combined to Mouth Piece, Blank combined to Comb).
The 2022 ALL Silver represents the first ever wholly re-engine-ed JT Meisterklass Chromatic except Reedplate.
The more note-able feature is the Mouth Piece as mentioned in (C) & (D), the upgrade to Sterling Silver 958 on Comb and Cover, the more rounded shape of the Cover that enlarges the sound box effect, as well as the special openings on Cover at the side of the lower registers that give extra tone colors on these low notes.
The testing was thoroughly done in 2021. While it is being finalized at factory at the moment, I expect the delivery in mid to late 2022. The sound was unforgettably sweet with power.
I have to stress again the strength coming from the rounder covers and the special openings at the low note side of the cover. Simply nice mix.
4/ CREMONA (Japanese) AW64P
I started my journey along CREMONA since 2012 and more deeply onto the path since 2016. Now I have all the ALL WOOD and ALL SILVER 12-14-16 with Silver Concerto, Meisterklass and S64X Reedplate applications.
The possession of AW & SS as a pair on a model enables me 4 possible combinations of Comb vs Cover and Wood vs Silver. The addition of this latest AW64P in 2022 is for appreciation of that extra Lower Blank.
All Cremona models are specially designed and unmatched while engaging factory supplied Reedplates at the choice of buyers.
(A) Wood is ebony while Silver is Sterling Silver 925.
(B) Mouth Pieces are Silver as well.
(C) The Slide mechanism is all of 4 pieces (Mouth Piece, Flange, Slide and Blank … while Mouth Piece is made of Silver, all others are Stainless Steel).
(D) The addition of an extra Lower Blank was simply to close the tiny gap between the difference in engineering thoughts & concepts between the Cremona Slide Mechanism vs the factory supplied standard S64X Reedplates. Upon the trial, it was a totally amazing, astonishing and pleasant experience when running along passages along the different ranges.
(C) I engage CREMONA SW64P (P stands for the special Silver Plate on the inside of the Wooden Cover) already since 2016, before this enhanced version, in my Tenor playing within the King’s Harmonica Quintet as well as in the Hong Kong Harmonica Association Orchestra … imagine such being the viola part.
While the forgone (I), (II) and (III) mentioned above are seen and taken as solo instruments, this (IV) is more or less an Ensemble, Chamber and / or Orchestral ones.
Nevertheless, I will also use my CREMONA AW or SW (Silver Comb with Wooden Cover) or WS (Wooden Comb with Silver Cover) for Solo pieces calling for a wider range of tone color from Power to Mellow.
From an instrumentalist’s and / or musician’s point of view, a good blending of Wood and Silver is always good (See the western orchestral Woodwinds vs the Chinese pure Wood Dizi).
I have to stress again that, all these features are well noted audibly when NOT engaging microphone with the Palm Cupping method. On the contrary, all source tone color will be standardized / unified / masked when coming out of the loud speakers via the microphone.
As final words, so many manufacturers and customizers are working on WOOD solution, CREMONA is the only one touching my heart ever since my first encounter in 2012, much deeper surfing since 2016 till now.
5/ Will’s Make of China.
Starting with comb replacement solution, it rolled out to a number of lines in less than 3 years since late 2019. One of the lines is the Magnet Lock (ML, both 1.0 & 2.0) with me putting in much thoughts into the loop for realization.
The one I am now describing in it the ML 2.0 S64X AW & SPB pair (AW is All Wood while SPB is Silver Plated Brass). This is a series of 12-14-16 as a complete line (Silver Concerto, Meisterklass and S64X Reedplates). Special features are :
(A) All screws of the Covers are removed, and replaced with Magnet Lock,
(B) Special lining onto the Mouth Piece and the Cover similar to Polle,
(C) Special openings at the 4 corners of the slides similar to Polle,
(D) There are special openings on the covers similar to the CBH 2016, allowing much wider dynamics from palm cupping playing to total opened playing,
(E) Detachable resonance bar so that when not installed it is of the same similar state to a normal chromatic but when installed it can produce the effect of what the above JT en-lengthened comb can produce.
Probably the most powerful feature of this pair is that the covers can be swapped within seconds (Thanks to the Screwless) while resonance bars could be swappable within a matter of 15-20 seconds.
The ultimate beauty of this pair is that with 2 Chromatics … Comb, Cover and Resonance Bar being as Wood and Silver Plated Brass … a possibility of making up 12 combinations within seconds … the mathematics work as 2 Combs x 2 Covers x (2+1) Resonance Bars (+1 means null, empty) =12.
Some heartfelt advice to chromatic players who want to select the best harmonica...
In fact, there is NO SUCH a BEST HARMONICA of whatever combination. It is also about situational and contextual. A better mix of makes of Comb, Cover, Reedplate etc to a man is sure not the one for a lady.
Similarly that best one for an adult is certainly not to the one for a teen. A best one for a powerful piece (Such as a Rhapsody) calling for volume is certainly not the one for a romantic piece (Such as a Serenade) calling for warm sound. It is not unusual for a harmonicist musician to possess a line of some 8-10 chromatics.
The best harmonica for a powerful piece such as a rhapsody which needs a lot of volume is certainly not the one for a romantic piece such as a serenade which needs a warm sound.
Thank you, Yvonnick, for this
fine article re Mr.Lok’s obvious and enduring love affair with the harmonica. He is to be congratulated on his musicianship…and it is remarkable how the harmonica is in the process of being elevated to its highest design level yet in 2022.
It’s sobering to remember that
Charlie Parker paid a fraction of the price of any Kepler or Cremona
for his horns…
Happy 4th of July!
This opened my eyes to the wide range of harmonicas that have been built. Mr. Lok has collected so many of them, and obviously many have been built with great attention to detail, artistic touch, and precision. Mr. Lok is keeping an ongoing tradition playing an instrument that is not regularly present in the Classical Music world. I enjoyed reviewing the material!