As crossharp took hold, the harmonica's status as an instrument climbed. In the 1940s, Little Walter added the hand-held microphone for amplification. The loud-sobbing nightclub sound further propelled its legitimacy and popularity.
Around its 100-year anniversary, the harmonica found itself in demand. Blues harmonica soloists were needed to meet that demand, and soon market structures had become established to support the little rebel with the soulful, urban sound.
Meanwhile, the rebel Bob Dylan was carving out his own artistic and economic niche.
Dylan marks an interesting aberration in the harmonica's evolution. Because crossharp harmonica playing had become so prevalent by then, Dylan, for aesthetic reasons, intentionally sidestepped the crossharp path, deciding instead to play the harmonica straight. Though seemingly a step backwards for the instrument, a new pathway was ultimately created. Call this re-emergent "folksy" sound the "Roots" or "Americana" path.
Another important discovery emerged around the mid to late 70s--"overblowing." By doing just that, a skilled player found he or she could "hit" previously missing notes on the basic 10-holed, Richter-tuned harmonica. In the right hands, the diatonic harmonica today can be played fully chromatically.
This raises the question, though.
What exactly are the "right" hands for the harmonica?
Rebels feel illegitimate when they achieve legitimacy.
Along the course of its journey, the instrument seems to have become the tool of an "establishment," an establishment replete with elite artists, publics, professional go-betweens, educators, publishers, mass marketers and promoters. In its transformation to a legitimate musical instrument, the harmonica has lost something; namely, its innocence, accessibility and novelty. And this has cost it a portion of its mass appeal.
The little musical rebel that marched up out of the marsh now appears positioned for a fate worse than obscurity; call it irrelevance. That is, unless something new this way comes to revive the harmonica's status as an instrument of the people.
With the addition of flash memory, the harmonica's novelty status, certainly, is instantly reinvigorated in the FlashHarp. Trial is encouraged, too, and not just among hotshots in biker garb and mirror sunglasses but among new players from unrelated areas--some musical, some not.
In a way, ironically, the higher-touch FlashHarp returns the instrument to the magical hobo campground where its journey began--where nobody prejudged it or expected anything in particular from it, musically, at all.
FlashHarp's novelty aspect upgrades the harmonica to include something as valuable as music itself: usefulness.