When Al Lawrence was made redundant by Yorkshire Coast College, he took stock of his life to assess his next move.
“I was a part-time musician and harmonica player,” he said, “and I thought to myself, what can I do with my existing skills? So, I opened a harmonica shop online.”
“There are two main types of harmonica, chromatic, like Stevie Wonder uses with a little button on the side, and diatonic, which blues players use for note bending, that’s where I specialise.”
Honkin-harmonica-shop.co.uk stocks a wide range of harmonicas. The instruments can be bought in all keys as well as low and high registers. The shop supplies a full range of additional items including cases, amplifiers and vintage microphones.
“It’s hard to find a good harmonica amplifier,” said Al with a smile. “So I found a manufacturer who could produce a clone of a 1950s amplifier that was initially made for guitarists and was often used by blues harp greats.”
The cloned amp was successful and Al went on to launch a second website for guitarists, Juketone. “Juketone specialises in meeting a customer’s needs,” he said. “We listen to what our customers want and offer a personal service. We always try to provide what they ask for.”
“I had one customer who called me up and explained what he needed his harmonica for, I was able to help him find exactly the right kind of harmonica from his description. It was used to play Kharma Chameleon by a player on tour with Boy George.”
One of Al’s most popular amps is a clone of an old 1950s Fender Champ amp. It’s made to exactly the same schematic as the original. “Fender do occasionally re-issue them,” he said, ”but when they do they are around £1,200, our clone retails at less than £300.”
When asked if it’s the same, Al explains there have been minor improvements to the design: “It has a stronger handle, and protective corners to avoid damage, but other than that it still looks like the original. It has the original style tweed cover, and inside it’s hand wired like the 1950s version.”
Al, who plays with local band The Railroad Hobos, has supplied amps for a number of well known names in the music industry, including local legend John Hutchinson who played with David Bowie and was the 12-string guitar player and co-writer on Space Oddity.
Al also supplies American folk rock artist Lissie, who has just completed a tour of Europe, fuzz pop band Beach Riot from Brighton and award-winning country act Backwoods Creek from London, as well as a handful or recording studios.
Adding to the range, Al also supplies empty cabinets for DIY musicians who like to put their amplifiers together themselves.
The new product in development is a clone of an amp called the Orange Tiny Terror. “It’s a really exciting side step for us to make a version of that amp,” said Al. “We’re planning on calling it the Juketone Trailblazer, because that’s what it was when it originally came out.”