Double Weekly Roundup: Master Of The Harmonicaster Edition

There’s a great part in Alexander Pope’s Epistle To Dr. Arbuthnot where he sarcastically thanks the “Great”, meaning the titled aristocracy, for showering riches on the most servile and repugnantly talentless poets out there and, by making pets of them, sparing Pope the hassle of having to read their work. “May dunce by dunce be whistled off my hands!” he snarls, before remarking that the aristocracy chose to ignore the genius of John Gay. To be fair, Gay was offered some preference by the “Great”, but he usually turned it down. His goal was to succeed on his own merits by appealing directly to the public, and in this goal he was eventually successful.

In a nutshell, that’s how I feel about Ronnie Schreiber. He’s one of the strongest writers in the business, a tireless researcher, a polymath with the ability to converse intelligently on any number of subjects, and a true friend. Time and again I’ve seen great opportunities pass him by and go to various congenital liars, con artists, talentless emo hacks, and fat-assed bench racers. All those dunces, whistled off my hands into cushy gigs where they rewrite press releases or make up stories about shit that never happened. Meanwhile, Ronnie perseveres. A while ago, he was the target of a slander and harassment campaign that nearly drove him out of the business and cost him a couple of lucrative outlets. Instead of crying about it, Ronnie sat down and… invented an instrument.

The electronic harmonica isn’t a new idea by a long shot. A working electronic harmonica, however, has been unicorn territory. Until now. This past week, Ronnie debuted the Harmonicaster at Nashville’s Summer NAMM Show. I was there to help out a little and hang around a lot. The music industry’s response to Ronnie’s self-financed, self-designed, self-promoted, and self-marketed invention was little short of staggering. In the space of seventy-two hours, the Nashville crowd realized what the cowards at Hemmings and elsewhere couldn’t figure out in five years — Ronnie is a brilliant, inventive, tireless man. And now he has a patent pending for a genuinely new thing. The young harmonica players love it. They’ll remember Ronnie long after everything his detractors have accomplished vanishes into dust.

Which reminds me — last week’s “Weekly Roundup” did vanish into dust, courtesy of my attempt to stay ahead of my work and travel schedule while dealing with some pretty unpleasant injuries suffered at a skatepark. I’m not quite back on the horse yet, but today’s the day to start catching up.

At TTAC, I answered a Charger question, discussed the strange science of cost-cutting tire replacement, told a pair of tales about buying my new truck, and asked the readers about the socially unequal future of autonomous car use.

Brother Bark had a blockbuster article on the dealer-related issues faced by the Focus RS. Check it out.

For R&T, I talked about oil, suggested some strategies for brake failure during a trackday, and expressed my concern about the fate of high-end American sports cars.

Stop by this upcoming week; we might have a few contributions from a couple of new writers. Until then — if you would like to be one of the first fifty owners of a Harmonicaster, let me know and I’ll get you the details.

51 Replies to “Double Weekly Roundup: Master Of The Harmonicaster Edition”

  1. Harry

    Congratulations Ronnie on bringing your product to market successfully, I am sure it was much harder than you ever imagined when you had the idea.

    I hope you have continued success with it and that it brings you great satisfaction.

    Reply
  2. Jason smith

    Concerning your oil article: Have you tried redline in your race car? It’s POE chemistry is probably quite similar to motul’s higher end oils and is more readily available around here.

    Reply
  3. jz78817

    I’ve been most impressed by Ronnie’s drive to ensure history is not forgotten.

    being able to point to something and say “I made this” has its own rewards.

    Reply
    • Ronnie Schreiber

      Creating something has its own satisfaction, no doubt, but being able to point to something and say, “I made this and it pays my bills,” is even more rewarding.

      Reply
  4. Patrick Smith

    Hi Bark: Regarding your article about oil. I read an article on a Miata forum that said, that in the US, manufacturers were only allowed to recommend, in their owners manual, the oil that was used in the mileage test. They showed the US owners manual, which recommended one grade of oil, compared with the Australian owners manual for the same year and model, which recommended a bunch of different grades, depending on ambient temperature and, IIRC other factors.

    Reply
    • Disinterested-Observer

      I have on occasion run heavier oils than the watery crap Subaru recommends in my Outback but the already atrocious gas mileage suffers considerably. Although it’s probably better than losing a quart every 1k miles, which I seem to do.

      Reply
    • silentsod

      The 2017 Mazda 3 lists 0w-20 for the US and 0w-30 for ROW.

      I run 0w-30 and suffer whatever invisible mileage penalty there is for the car.

      Reply
  5. Duong Nguyen

    Cool product, but how long until some corporate schmuck at Fender gets bent out of shape about the name including “caster”?

    Reply
    • Ronnie Schreiber

      My pickup supplier, Lace, sells a line of guitars they call the Cybercaster.

      A little bit of guitar branding history:
      The guitar we know as the Fender Telecaster started out as the Broadcaster, until Gretsch said it infringed on the trademark for their Broadkaster guitar. Leo Fender had his employees use razor blades to remove that name from headstock decals. Those guitars are known as “Nocasters”. Then Leo came up with Telecaster, and later Stratocaster.

      Even if Fender were to claim infringement, the standard for trademarks is “likelihood of confusion” and it’d be a hard time that Harmonicaster causes confusion with a trademark for a guitar.

      Reply
  6. widgetsltd

    Congrats on your first Chevrolet. I didn’t see myself as a Chevy person, either, but then I leased a Bolt EV for my wife to use in her commute. It’s a good little car.

    Reply
  7. Ronnie Schreiber

    I can take credit for a lot of the Harmonicaster but I couldn’t have done it without the help of a number of talented designers, friends like Jack who have been ultra-supportive, people in the industry who have graciously let me pick their brains, and of course the good folks at Seydel and Lace, without whom I couldn’t have really done much of anything.

    If you’d like to check it out, details are at Harmonicaster.com (yeah, I know, it’s hard to read, I put it together quickly as I was getting ready for Nashville) and you can hear Carl Caballero of Detroit’s Boa Constrictors put it through its paces here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5TZS-ffRqo

    Reply
    • Felis Concolor

      Ronnie, I gape in awe at your cleverness.

      No one can speak for you, but I’ll say you were channeling Raymond Loewy to come up with those lines. They look like something which would have come right out of his studio, with the timeless elegance you see in a Shure Unidyne 55, an MXL R77, or a Telefunken U47. It’s something new which looks old as dirt.

      Your creation has me wondering just what sort of sound could be created by hooking it up to a Tube Driver pedal. B.K. Butler is a mere hour’s drive away, so it’s well within the realm of possibility.

      Reply
      • Ronnie Schreiber

        To be honest, not a lot of time was spent on aesthetics. I told the original designer to make it ergonomic with smooth lines since the original prototype was pretty much a wooden brick. I believe that I did say something about making the front grip have a retro-ish grille evocative of car grilles. Most of the form, though, follows function. The later prototypes were fairly rounded in shape but when I found out that my pickup supplier would make just the naked element, it allowed me to start shaving plastic from the outside. The resulting truncated trapezoid shape looked pleasing so I went with it.

        I’ve given some thought to how much modern products’ aesthetic looks are baked into the cake by Unigraphics and other modeling software. I’m sure it’s no different than how French curves determined how the Fender Stratocaster looks, but it’s something to consider. It’s quite amazing the way Unigraphics will make a perfect blend or a radiused edge, but there’s a bit of “uncanny valley” about the way the parts come out so obviously a product of digital design.

        As for pedals, the Harmonicaster is compatible with anything so I’m sure that the Tube Driver could create some cool tones.

        Reply
        • Felis Concolor

          Your comment regarding use of Unigraphics software reminds me of a discussion I had a couple decades ago regarding SAP’s business software and how it tends to force companies which use it along paths and towards corporate structures they weren’t necessarily planning for. Uncanny valley, indeed.

          Reply
  8. Steve Ulfelder

    The track-day piece interested me because I’m about to do my first one ever. I’ll be driving my street car, also a first for me – I’ve only ever driven true race cars on tracks. I imagine the need to get home in the daily driver will tamp down my bravery quite a bit.

    I envy drivers who are slick enough to pull their hands from the wheel just before impact. I’ve wrecked plenty in my career, and I always had a death grip on the wheel.

    Reply
  9. Paul

    Best not mess around with Corvette name. Corvette is something that while expensive in Z-06 and soon ZR-1 iterations, can still be had all day in 50-70k price range. While that is not cheap, for many who work a lifetime and have dreamed of attaining America’s sports car, it is within reach. Corvette is the working man’s super car. Honestly even rich guys that can afford Porsches and McLarens choose to buy Corvette. They don’t have the image problem of a Porsche buyer (normally a rich kid from some west coast internet company/startup) or show off (Lamborghini or Ferrari or McLaren). Everyone loves Corvettes. They get respect and admiration. If Chevy comes out with a mid-range Corvette, just call it the Zora Duntov edition. Keep the Corvette and Stingray names reserved for normal front engine Corvette. Make the Zora Duntov edition similar to Ford GT, a limited run or super car. If regular Corvette C8 is priced starting at 100k, Chevy will be killing the golden goose.

    Reply
      • Paul

        I assume you are referring to fact that it is owned by older people or that is treated as a toy more than a car. Corvette is at least a 50k-70K purchase, Safe to assume most young people don’t have the means to afford a vehicle that is usually not a primary means of transportation at those prices. So those sterotypes come with the territory of being able to afford a expensive toy.

        Reply
        • rwb

          That would apply to any expensive sports car, yet somehow only Corvettes are associated with time-out dolls and driving below the speed limit. Weird.

          Reply
          • Paul

            I believe the difference is how long people plan on holding to their sports cars. Cars like Porsche (or BMWs, or Mercedes coupes if you think of them as sports cars) are mostly leased. A leased vehicle is many times treated as a rental, people driving them recklessly, and a younger audience buys them and disposes of them.

            Compare that to Corvettes. Most Corvette owners buy/purchase those vehicles. In many instances (I think majority) they pay cash. And they don’t plan on trading them after 2-3 years (lease term). Corvette owners enjoy the ownership experience (clubs, grooming the car, driving in packs, going to shows and museums). Not so much in case of those other vehicles. It is an experience.

            As for Lamborghinis and Ferraris and McLarens, they are new money mostly (outside the highest end versions). Most low level Ferraris and Gallardos/Huracans are also treated as leased and because of complexion, are turned around often in 203 years(not so much the F12, or Murchilago/Avantador or top end McLarens). So again, disposable Italians are treated as such. While. Corvettes that often times trade at 1/3 to 1/4 the price original purchase price are retained and kept in garages and owners enjoy them.

            A Corvette is mark of achievement in life more than any other vehicle in America (next to a loaded F150).

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Plenty of droptop Vipers out there. Even the GenV is sold in some volume as a Medusa conversion.

      Reply
  10. NoID

    For those of us on the other side of the fence, let me just say that “Artisan” takes on a whole other meaning with it’s managed by an organization that avoids anything of the like in 99% of its other business dealings. If modern volume automakers have their way, we will be going the way of battle droids or a clone army for our production needs as soon as possible.

    This isn’t to be critical, just pointing out the challenge of running a proper hand-build operation in a culture of standardization and automation.

    Reply
  11. VTNoah

    Congrats Ronnie! I’ve always enjoyed your writing. Sounds like the Harmonicaster is off to a great start.

    Reply
    • Bark M

      Yeah, that was pretty much a blow-by-blow theft. I alerted my friends at Jalopnik, but Oppo isn’t under their control anymore. It’s disappointing, but what can you do? I mean, other than hunt the guy down and kill him.

      Reply
        • Bark M

          Yeah, I did. Thanks to Bozi Tatarevic’s typically outstanding research, we found a few other pieces that the same guy stole from TTAC.

          Reply
      • Scotten

        No idea Oppositelock and Jalopnik were separate now. Shows how much I keep up with that behind the scenes crap from other sites

        Reply
        • jz78817

          it used to be oppositelock.jalopnik.com until a couple of the dipshit Oppo kids got fraudulent press credentials.

          Reply
    • jz78817

      Despite the name, they’re made in Chicago. Reminds me of this exchange in The Naked Gun 2-1/2:

      Lt. Frank Drebin: Hector Savage. From Detroit. Ex-boxer. His real name was Joey Chicago.
      Ed Hocken: Oh, yeah. He fought under the name of Kid Minneapolis.
      Nordberg: I saw Kid Minneapolis fight once. In Cincinnati.
      Lt. Frank Drebin: No you’re thinking of Kid New York. He fought out of Philly.
      Ed Hocken: He was killed in the ring in Houston. By Tex Colorado. You know, the Arizona Assassin.
      Nordberg: Yeah, from Dakota. I don’t remember it was North or South.
      Lt. Frank Drebin: North. South Dakota was his brother. From West Virginia.
      Ed Hocken: You sure know your boxing.
      Lt. Frank Drebin: All I know is never bet on the white guy.

      Apart from that, I think I’ll be ordering a couple of pairs now. that’s really not a bad price for what it’s made from (and where.)

      Reply
  12. WheeTwelve

    My dad could play a mean harmonica, something I discovered by accident while we were visiting friends who had one. Why he never owned one, I’ll never know. He would have liked Ronnie’s harmonica.

    I used to have a 200 mile/day commute, and 199 miles of it were straight roads. When it came time to replace tires, I decided to go cheap-er with the Continentals that had specs similar to the OEM Michelins. I regretted it for every mile driven. While the Continentals were a little more comfortable (despite the higher load rating), they were just too … squidgy. No other word for it. It felt as if the car was setting into a corner twice, once for tires, and the second time for suspension. I’m not saying that’s what was happening, but it’s the only way I can describe it. Of course, the Continentals seemingly lasted forever, compared to the OEM Michelins.
    I no longer have a commute, so I don’t have to change tires with the same frequency. I’m back on the OEM tires, and I’ll be staying with them for as long as I can buy them.

    Reply

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