Fwd: XB40 vs Suzuki Valved Promaster MR350

I recently answered a very similar question on hartalk. See below for 
a copy of the reply.

- --- In harp-l-archives@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, "Chris Hammond" 
<dawgawntired@xxxx> wrote:

I have seen quite a few postings about this thing.  I have a Suzuki 
Promaster that I bought when they first came out.  The claim was very 
similar to the XB40.  The harp is valved such that blow bends are 
very easy 
to do on all holes. Question is, what is the difference, if any, 
these two harps?


Apples and oranges.

Put another way, bicycles and automobiles both have wheels, but
they're otherwise completely different.

The MR350 is a standard 20-reed diatonic with valves added. You can
buy valves and add them to any standard diatonic and you will have
the same functionality as the MR350V. Valves are central to what makes
a valved diatonic different to an unvalved one.

On a 10-hole, 20-reed diatonic, in any hole the higher pitched reed
bends down to just above the pitch of the lower-pitched reed. (For
instance, in Hole 4 of a C-harp, D Draw bends down to just above Blow
C). This occurs through the cooperation of both reeds sounding the
same pitch. one closes into its slot (the "normal" note) while the
other opens away from its slot, sounding higher than its normal
pitch. This cooperation of two reeds make the bend more stable and
richer in tone while also limiting its range.

However, on a 10-hole, 20-reed diatonic, the lower-pitched reed in
any hole does not bend at all - at least not with the presence of a
higher-pitched reed in the same air stream. The way to make these
reeds bendable is to remove the other reed from the airstream. This
is accomplished by placing a valve, a small, pliable strip of
plastic, over the slot opposite the reed you want to block. For
instance, again in Hole 4 of a C-harp, to make the Blow 4 C reed
bendable, mount a valve on the inside of the harp over the slot
opposite the draw reed. (The draw reed is on the outside of the
reedplate, so the valve does not interfere with it). When you blow
into Hole 4, breath pressure plasters the valve agains the draw reed
slot, sealing it off and sending all the breath to the blow reed.
This makes the blow reed a bit louder, and isolates it so that it can

Once the reed is isolated, it will bend down in pitch several
semitones, depending on the adjustment of the reed and the skill of
the player. For instance, that blow C reed in Hole 4 would bend down
to B, Bb, Maybe A or Ab or even G - pretty spectacular. The downside
is that the sound of the isolated reed bending is nowhere near as
rich as a dual-reed bend and is much harder to control.

The MR350V valves the draw reed slots in Holes 1-6 so that the blow
reeds can bend, and valves the blow slots in Holes 7-10 so that the
high draw reeds can bend.

The XB-40 includes valves, they are not central to the principle that
makes the XB-40 tick. It is possible to build a harp on the XB-40
principle without any valves at all - but you'll get some strange-
sounding chords during certain multiple-reed bends. While they have
been incoporated into the total design in an ingenious way, the only
reason valves are there in the first place is to keep the "hidden"
reeds from talking when they're not wanted.

With the XB-40 the single important fact is that it has 40 reeds
instead of 20, even though it has the same twenty "normal" notes
found on a standard 10-hole diatonic.

Instead of having only 10 notes that bend with full dual-reed bends,
the XB-40 has full bends on all 20 notes. Every blow reed and every
draw reed has an "enabler" reed whose sole purpose is to assist it in
a full dual-reed bend. Most notes bend down two semitones, except for
Draw 3 which bends down 3 semitones just like a standard diatonic. By
re-tuning the enabler reeds to lower pitches, you can widen the
bending range of any note.

So you gain richness and ease of control in bending all 20 notes. ON
the usual bending notes, you gain extra bending range. On the notes
that bend as valved notes on the MR350V, you may lose some extremes of
bending range while gaining ease and richenss. Are there any other
downsides? Depends on what you think of as a downside.

If you're expecting something that is identical to a standard
diatonic but has more bending ability, the XB-40 will likely take you
out of your comfort zone. It is patterned on a standard diatonic but
it is a completely new kind of instrument. It is about 3 times the
total volume of a standard diatonic, with a mouthpiece on the front
and holes about the same size and spacing as the holes on a
chromatic. If you're expecting a standard diatonic it will seem huge.
If you're used to chromatics it'll seem kind of small.

The XB-40 responds differently to a standard diatonic. Instead of
hard, inflexible blow notes that form a wall you can bounce off, all
the notes have that bit of bending give. This is true of the MR350,
but is even more pronounced on the XB-40. All the notes have that
sort of "how far you sink into the soft depends on how hard you lean
into it" feel. This means you can't slam hard into one wall as you
bounce off the other. All your breathing has to be done with this in

The bending technique on the XB-40 is a little different from a
standard diatonic, in more than one way. Not only do you need to deal
with all notes bending bendable, you must also deal with notes
bending farther than you're used to. You can't just hit draw 4 hard
to wail on a flat-5 bend. Because it bends two semitones instead of
just one, you have to be more precise in your bending - it's a little
like every note on the harp, blow and draw, bends like Draw 2. The
lowest blow notes I find challenging to bend. Doing an A-B comparison
with an MR-350 I find I can bend the unvalved blow 1 and 2 notes down
a couple of semitones fairly easily (Remember, I'm used to valved
bending) while on the XB-40 it's a struggle to bend them down a
semitone, even though these are notes that I can bend quite easily as
draw notes in lower-pitched harps.

I have XB-40s in C and G. On the G-harp the highest notes are no
problem. However, on the C-harp it has taken time to get these to
sound properly, and I'm still working on it. The tendency at first is
for the notes to struggle to sound, and to come in pre-bent. Others
have reported the same difficulty. Now that D-harps are becoming
available I suspect we'll hear the same thing about them as well.
Gapping adjustment may help, as will practice.

The sound that comes out of the XB-40 seemed to me, at first, sort of
tiny and faraway. Later, as I grew into it, I found the XB-40 to be
louder and richer in tone that a standard diatonic, and every bit as
quick to respond. I just had to start inhabiting the larger tonal
(and physical) space that the XB-40 offers.

When I first got my XB-40s I was deep into a project that involved
playing tongue-blocked chords and intervals in the top octave of a 10-
hole diatonic and was completely mesmerized by every aspect of doing
that. Against that backdrop, the XB-40 at first seemed like an alien
being when I picked it up, even though I'm comfortable with
chromatics. But over the last few weeks, as I noodle with it, it's
started to take on a life of its own in my imagination, and I'm
dreaming up lines for it - not only for its bending ability but for
its tonal qualities as well. I took it to a celtic session the other
day and was quite pleased with how its response and tonal fullness
stood up well to 15 or 20 fiddles.


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