Jaw Harp


Old world twanging

Nothing compliments a campfire like a harmonica, but if you’re looking for a new and challenging pocket noisemaker, I highly recommend the jaw harp. Much like a didgeridoo, you can create trance-inducing vibrations that will annoy some and mesmerize others. On its own, your mouth can learn to make some pretty great sounds, but it’s remarkable what can be accomplished with this little doohickey. Just the slightest change in breath and flickering of the tongue shapes the sound dramatically.

The history is part of the appeal. I purchased mine in rural Tennessee, but the harp’s roots are deeper than American folk. Some say the instrument was born in Asia and migrated to Europe around the 13th century. Archaic versions of these twangers have been found everywhere from England to the Philippines and Siberia (there are several names, including the “mouth” or “jew” harp, which seemingly bears no connection to Judaism). Pluck and listen, and time travel while plucking some more. When you get light-headed — and you will — do take a breather.

— Steven Leckart

I too was struck by the mesmerising sound of the jaw harp when I heard Mike Seeger play one. I searched around and finally decided on the Whitlow. At $25, this is a really good buy. It is hand made in America by one guy who learned to make it from the Whitlow guy who originally made them. I also purchased the harp mentioned above, because it is so cheap. But the Whitlow is just so superior I couldn’t stand the tinny vibrations and lack of resonance of the cheap one. The Whitlow plays like butter the first time you play it. It resonates for a long time and is really loud. Get the lowest key you can find. I have a low D. You can make some really haunting, low frequency sounds by breathing in and out while twanging.

— Larry Albertelli