[Harp-L] Bending Hole 7 Blow notes in MB 30 (The "hole" story...)

Questions about Bending #7 Blow in X reed or MB 30 harmonicas

In answer to the question about the MB-30 & MB-30 S harmonicas:

"Does hole hole 7 blow bend down a tone?
If not, I'm not interested."

I have two answers to this question. The short answer is: You cannot bend hole 7 blow down a semitone in a 30 reed harmonica in the design of a SUB 30, or an MB 30, or MB 30 S.

If you want a harmonica in a Richter tuning that allows you to bend down hole 7, the XB 40 is the only one I know about that lets you do that.

If that is the only thing you are interested in, you can stop reading now….

For me, badass blues harp tone and my ability to shape that tone directly with my breath and my hands, is more important than having multiple options for playing chromatic runs. 

Here is the rest of the story:

When it comes to choosing options for playing chromatically on the harmonica, there are 5 main things I can think of to focus on:

- the notes available and the techniques you need to play these notes

- the overall tone of the instrument

- the amount of control you have over bending notes and the shades of pitch you have available

- the amount of control you have over shaping the tone of the notes you are playing

- The complexity of the instrument - number of moving parts, and the amount of things that you need to tune, adjust and maintain

If the only thing you are interested in is the ability to bend all notes, the XB 40 allows you to do that. Because it has 40 reeds, and the pairs of reeds for bending blow notes and draw notes are completely separated, you can also tune the enabler reeds down to allow you to bend any note as far as you want to. So if you want to bend down 3 half steps everywhere, (or more) - you can do that.

The XB 40 has a mouthpiece that directs the air stream into a chamber that has valves that open or close pairs of reeds in additional separate chambers. It has 20 wind-saver valves, 2 for each hole. One valve directs the airstream into the blow reed chamber and the other valve directs the air stream through the draw reed chamber. 

So instead of one chamber with all the reeds in it you have three chambers. One chamber that has the wind saver valves and two other chambers with pairs of reeds.

This system creates a different overall tone compared to the traditional diatonic harmonica.

My reference point for "the traditional diatonic harmonica tone" is the Marine Band harmonica. In other words, how much does the harmonica sound and feel like a Marine Band?

The XB 40 is a lot larger than a Marine Band, it feels a lot different and it sounds different. I can't control the hand effects as well as I can on a smaller harmonica, so I don't have the range of tone that I have on a Marine Band.

I play the XB 40 at times for Celtic Music and in some other situations. 

But for stone blues, I play Marine Bands and Super 64x harmonicas 99% of the time.  

Why can't you bend hole #7 blow down in a SUB 30 or MB 30?

First you need to understand that the SUB 30 and MB 30 have one chamber with three reeds.  Two of the reeds are tuned like the standard richter tuning layout. The third reed is lower in pitch than the lowest of the other two reeds and allows you to bend that note down with the sound and control you use for double reed bends.

OK, time out, take a deep breath and then we will continue...

In order to keep the rest of this article simple, I will describe a 30 reed, 20 valve harmonica. In other words, not a stock SUB 30. The stock SUB 30 uses reeds pushed into slots to make them resist playing when you don't want them to play. So you have two different ways to isolate pairs of reeds - valves and reeds pushed into slots. 

A 30 reed 20 valve harmonica has more parts, but is easier to describe, because the pairs of reeds are isolated by the same thing: valves.

The new X reed harmonicas are 30 reed, 20 valve harmonicas. So are the MB 30 and MB 30 S.

so in hole 1 of a 3 reed harmonica in the key of C you have:

1. A reed tuned to D as the main draw reed

2. A reed tuned to C as the main blow reed.  

3. A third reed tuned to Bb that is the "extra reed" that allows you to bend the C reed down to the note B. 

4. Two wind saver valves that isolate pairs of reeds. When you play draw notes, you isolate the D and C reeds and can bend down to Db. When you play blow notes you isolate the C and Bb reeds and can bend down to B.

You are using the C reed when you blow or draw - it also allows you to bend down the D reed, and serves as the starting pitch for the blow note.

The C and D reeds are the notes in the main note layout. The Bb reed is the extra reed that allows the additional bend down from C.

You can re-tune the extra reed or third reed and change the bending range of the instrument without changing the note layout. 

You can't change the other two reeds without changing the note layout of the instrument. 

This is the reason why in a 30 reed richter tuned harmonica, you can't increase the bending range of blow 7 without changing the note layout of the instrument.

In that hole the extra reed or third reed changes the draw bend, not the blow bend.

You get the same bends that you can get in a standard Richter tuned 20 reed harmonica. If you want to change these traditional bends, you need to do the same thing you do with standard 20 reed diatonic: change the note layout.

You also get a series of bends that are not available on the standard 20 hole diatonic harmonica. You can change the range of these bands by re-tuning the extra reeds or third reeds, When you do this you DO NOT change the note layout.

To review:

If you want bad ass blues tone typical of the Marine Band, you need a harmonica that is as close to the design of a Marine Band as possible.  The Marine Band has two reeds in one chamber for each hole. 

The next closest thing to this that allows chromatic playing is three reeds in one chamber for each hole.

To completely isolate pairs of reeds for bending, you also need two valves in each hole.

There is one way to get an extended bending range for Blow 7 in a Marine Band type harmonica:

4 reeds with 4 valves for each hole. This is the only way I know of to completely isolate pairs of reeds in a single chamber. This design was originally patented by Rick Epping. 

You could build your very own version of this harmonica with chromatic harmonica reed plates, Rick Epping's first patent as a map, and a good machine shop. You probably could do this in a couple years in your spare time for about the price of a complete set of MB-30 S harmonicas, less if you own the machine shop or you are really good at this sort of thing.  This is just a guess...

So it is possible to build a diatonic harmonica with 4 reeds per single chamber per hole, but you now have 40 reeds and 40 valves. 

So here are the options:

- standard 10 hole diatonic harmonica - 20 reeds 10 holes, no wind-saver valves.

- stock SUB 30 - 10 holes, 30 reeds, 10 wind-saver valves

- x reed SUB 30 - 10 holes, 30 reeds, 20 wind-saver valves

- MB 30, MB 30-S - 10 holes, 30 reeds, 20 wind-saver valves Plus reed plates from Marine Band harmonicas.

- The theoretical 40 reed 40 windsaver valve harmonica that does not exist yet because it would be a lot more expensive and complicated than any of the other options…..

To me, adding 10 more reeds and doubling the number of wind saver valves to be able to bend the blow note on hole 7 down a half step or more on a richter tuned diatonic is not worth it.

But I would love it if someone could prove me wrong on this point….

Thanks for your interest in this project!

Richard Sleigh


This archive was generated by a fusion of Pipermail 0.09 (Mailman edition) and MHonArc 2.6.8.