I have a lot of respect for Jim Antaki and the TurboHarp ELX, which Jim has billed as the “world’s only truly electric harmonica”. The TurboHarp ELX uses optical sensors that read the frequency of the vibrating reeds and then uses electronics to process that signal and create a usable musical tone. While the ELX is an admirable piece of harmonica technology, I’m not alone in believing that the Harmonicaster is a more practical musical instrument.
To begin with, the Harmonicaster sounds like a harmonica with a cool electric tone. It’s not the same as with a bullet mic, but the clean tone of the Harmonicaster into a clean amplifier still sounds like a harmonica, only new and different. Though it’s compatible with any kind of pedal or effects, with just the Harmonicaster and a good tube amplifier you can dial in a very bluesy tone.
In contrast, I was told by one world class harmonica player that the ELX is a “sin wave generator”. Apparently the optical process is a noisy one and the signal has to go through a noise gate to get a usable tone, which I’m told doesn’t sound much like a harmonica. I assume that’s why the ELX is sold with an effects pedal or DSP belt pack.
The ELX is advertised as taking just 15 seconds to swap out keys, by opening up their custom coverplates and replacing the comb/reedplate assembly. It uses any Hohner Special 20 harmonica, but their website says that they do not recommend using anything higher pitched than a D harp, because the optical sensors have trouble with very short reeds.
In comparison, it takes less than five seconds to change keys in the Harmonicaster and it is compatible with all of Seydel’s stainless steel reedplates, from Low C to F. Currently, Seydel’s higher pitched reedplates, High G and above, use brass reeds. Should Seydel start making high pitched steel reedplates, they will be compatible with the Harmonicaster system.
Speaking of reeds, with the TurboHarp ELX, you have to handle exposed reedplates and somehow store the comb/reedplate assemblies without damaging the exposed reeds. The Harmonicaster’s Key Cassettes have our own custom coverplates that protect the reeds in addition to mating Seydel’s combs/plates to the Harmonicaster system. Those coverplates are contoured to let you use our Key Cassettes as conventional harmonicas, something you can’t do with the ELX’s exposed reeds without coverplates.