Tribal Planet are a UK-based company well known for their innovative instrument cases who have decided to branch out into the harmonica business. This is not too surprising as the company was founded by a couple of people who previously had many years of experience in distributing instruments by a well known German harmonica manufacturer. Their first offering comes as a range of entry-level instruments bearing the name Planetone. Made in China and are aimed at the lower priced range of the market, there is nothing earth-shatteringly new about them, but there are some nice features such as nickel-plated reedplates and stainless steel covers on some models.
The Pocket Harp is a 10-hole diatonic reminiscent of the Special 20, with nickel plated brass reedplates (.75mm thick) fully recessed into a black ABS comb secured with seven screws. Reed adjustment is a little variable, as is the tuning, which seems centred around A=444 or so. Available in the keys of G, A, Bb, C, D, E and F. Although I can't see too many players retiring their Filiskos to play these instead, they certainly deliver well enough for something that costs not much more than couple of pints of beer. I could even see people buying these just for the stainless steel covers to upgrade their old S20s. Planetone also offer a 10-hole diatonic called the Super Steel, although I have not seen any of these yet. I am told that they feature phosphor bronze reeds on slightly thicker reedplates
The Folk Tremolo is a 24 note 48 reed tremolo with the common Asian-style note arrangement of notes, giving three complete diatonic octaves, plus a couple of extra notes. Available in the keys of C, D and G, this is a really nice instrument, with the nickel plated reedplates fully recessed into the plastic comb, rather than the typical sandwich style arrangement that has the front edges of the reedplates exposed. The reedplates are .9mm thick and secured with eleven screws. Reed adjustment and tuning are quite consistent and they have a light degree of tremolo ranging from about 2Hz at the lower end to around 6Hz at the upper end. One feature I really particularly liked was that instead of simply numbering the holes, the stainless steel covers are engraved with numbers that indicate the notes found in each hole - a 1 representing the key note of the scale, a 2 representing the second note, etc., with a dot below a number to indicate the lower octave and a dot above a number to indicate the higher octave. This will be very helpful to those who might be a little less familiar with tremolo harmonicas.
Planetone's other tremolo harp is the Folk Double and as the name suggests, it is a double sided instrument in C and G. It is tuned similar to the Folk Tremolo, but with a shorter scale of sixteen note per side. It has a plastic comb with sandwich style construction, plain brass reedplates (.65mm thick) and anodised aluminium covers.
The Octavia is a 48 reed octave harp, with sandwich style construction, plastic comb and .7mm thick nickel plated brass reedplates attached with eleven screws. The cover is made of stainless steel and slides on and off the comb without the need for screws or bolts, having the same numbering system as the Folk Tremolo. It is currently only available in the key of C, with the same layout as the Folk Tremolo - three full diatonic octaves, plus a low G and a high E. Reed adjustment and tuning are both quite good, the tuning based around A=444Hz.
Finally we come to the Planetone chromatics. The Chromatic 10 is a cross tuned 10-hole instrument with a plastic body, chromed covers and mouthpiece and .95mm thick nickel-plated reedplates held in place by eight Phillips head screws. It has no valves, which makes it feel a little leaky compared with their other chromatics and although the reed adjustment on this one is quite good, the tuning is somewhat variable, based around A=441/442Hz. There is also has an oddity in the tuning layout worth mentioning. It is a standard solo tuning up to hole 8, with hole 9 having a draw D and a blow E, hole 10 having draw F and blow G, the slide raising these notes by a semitone as usual. I've encountered this tuning before on older Bandmaster chromatics (which the Planetone Chromatic 10 resembles in several other ways) and it is quite a logical way to tune a 10-hole chrom, although it can be a surprise if you are not expecting it.
The Chromatic 12 and Chromatic 16 are more conventional instruments, fully valved with what look like phosphor bronze reeds on 1mm thick nickel plated brass reedplates, plastic combs, chromed covers and chromed mouthpieces with round holes. The Chromatic 12 is somewhat similar to the Huang 1248 and plays very nicely, with a clear, bright tone. The Chromatic 16 is essentially the same thing, but with four extra holes. Tuning on both samples is pretty good, at around A=444Hz. Both harps feel very comfortable in the hands and mouth, slide action is quick and reasonably quiet. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the Chromatic 16 has a straight positioned, short throw slide - something that Hohner abandoned on their 16-hole chroms some decades ago, much to the consternation of many players.
All in all, this is a very promising start. China has long been associated with somewhat less than top quality products, much as Japan had some years ago. However, as Japan turned things around and began to gain a reputation for manufacturing excellence, there are signs that China is starting to do the same. If these are the entry level offerings from Tribal Planet, then this bodes extremely well for the other harps they have planned.
For more information on the Planetone range, please visit www.tribalplanet.com/harmonicas.htm. For a glimpse of what they have in store for us in the near future, please visit: www.spiritharmonica.com.
Sadly, Planetone are no longer in business, following the death of their managing director. Some retailers still have stocks of certain Planetone instruments, but once they are sold out, that's it. This is particularly unfortunate, as the Planetone line was intended to fund R&D into some very interesting harmonica projects that will now never see the light of day.
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