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by Christian Wissmuller


Lee Oskar - Harmonicas Breaking Barriers

Harmonica players within pop and rock music are often a somewhat anonymous bunch, so far as "name recognition" by the general public goes. Unfair, no doubt, but - generally speaking — true. I'm not talking about singers who also "play harmonica" occasionally (apologies to Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler, Rober Plant, Shakira, Rivers Cuomo, et cetera), but about actual, accomplished harmonicists.


A select few practitioners of the instrument, however, have managed to achieve widespread recognition for their talents and achievements, including (among others) the likes of Magic Dick, John Poper, and Lee Oskar. Oskar initially gained real fame as the founding member of War, Eric Burdon's first significant post-Animals project, with his virtuosic playing becoming a signature element of the band's sound. Solo projects and other collaborations have kept him in demand as a player and recording artist through to the present day.


In 1983, Oskar launched Lee Oskar Harmonicas (LOH), offering instruments in a variety of tunings and applicable to any number of styles.

2015 has seen a number of significant developments at the company and MMR recently sat down with Lee to get the story ...


"The Music Is The Music"


There's a lot going on over at Lee Oskar Enterprises these days. Let's start by talking about the new Quick Start Kits.


Lee Oskar: The main catalyst behind the Lee Oskar Quick Start Kits was to help musicians of all kinds, styles and genres better understand the broad capabilities of the harmonica as a versitile instrument and to make it easy and natural for them to incorporate harmonicas into their music to embrace their artisitry and variety. While Lee Oskar harmonicas have been on the market for more than 30 years, for many years the harmonica has been primarily associated with blues and folks music. Musicians who fell in love with these styles would pick up a harmonica to play, and frequently would choose a Lee Oskar Harmonica because of its quality. Because people do not typically hear harmonica playing in other kinds of genres, they often do not realize that harmonica playing can belong in any kind of music. I don't think instruments have anything to do with genres. The music is the music.  With our Lee Oskar Harmonica Quick Start system, we are trying to break these outdated images and barriers. So, we have created a product to promote our products, which are the LOH Quick Start Kits and our educational website, which supports the Lee Oskar Quick Guide system. We are marketing our LOH Quick Start Kits to musicians of all kinds, including guitar and ukulele players, singer-songwriters, and other kinds of instrumentalists in the future, as well as the general public. Through our website we help people see that it's just easy to play a major diatonic as it is for other tunings which create all kinds of music.

The new site, leeoskarquickguide.com, also provides a wealth of resources for players — video tutorials, troubleshooting and maintenance tips, charts, and so on. When did the site launch and how long did it take to prepare?


The LOH Quick Guide website was developed in 2012, and has been evolving ever since to make it as informative and user-friendly as possible. We have set this up as an educational website, separate from Lee Oskar Harmonicas. This site is mirrored in different languages, so that musicians from many countries can benefit from these resources, geared for different kinds of instrumentalists.


Can you talk a bit about your online educational community, as well? How can folks register, what benefits do they receive?


Our online educational community currently includes a few thousand people registered from the USA and other countries such as the UK, France, Italy, and Canada. Slowly but surely, we are building out our site for all territories where LOH are distributed. We have a very easy registration process, which simply asks for basic information and allows you to choose a username and password. By creating an online profile, you gain more access to the educational tools that have been created. Once you're logged in, you can pick and choose from various educational resources we offer that are geared for guitar, ukulele and piano players. In the future, we will also connect other instruments with the harmonica, providing easy-to-follow instructions. We encourage people to check back with us from time to time as we add new resources to the website on a regular basis.


You've been working with Tombo for over 30 years now. What is the present-day arrangement between Lee Oskar Harmonicas and Tombo Mfg. of Japan? What's your current U.S. and International distribution  network?


Tombo is a world-class manufactuerer that has survived four generations of making harmonicas. They are very dedicated to manufacturing the best harmonicas in the world with their superb quality and expertise. I had first connected with the Mano family in the late '70s, a few years prior to launching LOH in 1983. We had many collaborative meetings in Japan, and discussed different ideas and designs. We came to an agreement, (all by handshake) to set up manufacturing of Lee Oskar Harmonicas. We've had a very rewarding relationship for 33 years. I am very honored to have done business with them for all these years creating our top quality harmonicas, which has earned me a place in their long family history of making harps. Lee Oskar enterprises is the exclusive distributor for Tombo in America. As for our current distribution network, we designate in each country a different distributor, including: KMC Music, a division of Jam in the USA, whichs sells to various distributors: B &J, another division of Jam in Canada: Bryer Music in Argentina: and various distributors in Europe which are listed on the website. Our policy is that we support our distributors only and do not sell directly to retail stores or to consumers. Our distributors sell to retail stores.

Any other new or upcoming products on the horizon that you'd like to talk about?


We are continuously thinking about different spins on products to promote our products. We are planning on coming out with a beautiful, innovative design for a new chromatic harmonica later this year. In addition, we are going to introduce Lee Oskar Tremolo harps with double reeds, which we are very excited about since Tombo makes the world's best tremolo harmonicas.


What are your expectations for the remainder of 2015 — both for LOH and the industry, as a whole?


My vision is that I see the market growing, with the music world using harmonicas more and more as people grow in their understanding of how the various tunings work so beautifully for differnent genres of music. With our marketing campaigns, we feel like we are going to get those seeds flowering, leading to a greater market share. On the whole, I see the musical world coming back to using acoustic instruments like harmonic and guitar, now with more and more singer-songwriters producing beautiful songs and music using banjos, harmonica, and guitar. This is an excellent time right now, when a product like ours can step it up and create better music.  MMR




Reprinted with the express written permission of MMR Magazine (Musical Merchandise Review)                                                       




Christian Wissmuller is an editor and journalist with substantial experience in all aspects of both print and online media. Focus on music/musicians (entertainment), musical instruments (MI) industry, and music education. Considerable freelance portfolio including traditional news reporting (daily and weekly newspapers), as well as one-off annual corporate publications (Zildjian Z-Time), website copywriting, and video game copywriting (Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero II). He is the Executive Editor for Timeless Communications for Musical Merchandise Review (MMR), School Band and Orchestra (SBO), Choral Director (CD), JAZZed, Music Parents America (MPA), and College Search Guide.

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