History of X-Reed Harmonicas

X-Reed.com started out as a partnership with my good friend Zombor Kovacs, an inventive engineering genius from Budapest, Hungary. Zombor travelled to my home in Canterbury England in 2012 for an intensive period of Rn'D prior to launching the website in December of that year.

We started out with the biggest range of custom options and accessories for a whole new kind of harmonica: The Suzuki SUB30 UltraBend. The world's first commercially-made triple-reed harp, it's a good basic design but out-of-the-box performance was disappointing. Our customised versions fixed all the problems and turned the SUB30 into a harp players really loved (see the Feedback page). X-Reed ChromaBender

Six months later we launched our first own-design harp, the 12 hole ChromaBender, the world's first all-bending x-reed harp in Solo Tuning, for chromatic players who wanted to get bluesy with their familiar harmonica feel and scale layout.

In early December 2013 our second original harp arrived, the 10 hole ExtraBend with the revolutionary X-Reed Z1 Comb - the first 30 reed harp to extend our unique OverValve concept to all 10 holes.

The same month we launched our most radical and exciting harp yet, the X-Reed MB30. Made from two iconic traditional Marine Band harps ingeniously joined together with intricate CNC milling by Zombor to add 10 extra reeds, it was undoubtedly the most soulful & responsive 30 reed harp yet made. We partnered with legendary US customiser Richard Sleigh to make the limited edition MB30-S deluxe model. X-Reed OverValve Plate SUB30

Zombor returned to Budapest to take up a job offer with an American-based engineering company, communicating with me via Skype and doing X-Reed work in his spare time. We continued our partnership but after a while it got more and more difficult to continue the business whilst living in different countries. In the end Zombor decided to withdraw, and I took over X-Reed on my own for a while.

Inspired by seeing Zombor doing it, I taught myself CAD design and how to use amazing maker machines like 3D printers & laser cutters, which I started to employ to make all kinds of harmonica parts. These skills have allowed me to design new X-Reed harps independently. X-Reed ExtraBend

August 2016 saw the launch of my first own-design X-Reed harmonica: the AsiaBend. It was a radical new approach to the x-reed concept, featuring all-draw bending, no valves, and allowing overblows. It took x-reed bending expression to a new high but, because it was an all-draw harmonica, players found it difficult to understand. After a year or so I withdrew it from the market and focussed on other harmonica products at my own website. Zombor also continued selling the ExtraBend harmonica on his website, but the X-Reed partnership project seemed to have run its course...

Now in 2024 I'm happy to say it's been revived in my new X-Reed partnership with André Coelho! We have plenty of barrier-busting harps and accessories in the pipeline, so watch this space.

Brendan Power Sig

image from x-reed.com image from x-reed.com image from x-reed.com

December 2013: X-Reed proudly announce our second own-design harmonica: the ExtraBend, with Z1 Comb!

(Check out the ExtraBend Video)

The ExtraBend takes the small 10 hole Richter harp to an unprecedented new level of expression. The secret is a world's-first in comb design: the X-Reed Z1 Comb. Invented and designed by Zombor Kovacs, it extends our unique OverValve system to all 10 holes for the first time.

Dating from his 1989 prototype 30 reed harp, Brendan Power's original OverValve concept stops air going to the x-reed when the higher note in each hole is being played. This makes the harp as airtight as a standard harmonica, because only two (not three) reeds are in the airstream. Incorporated in our innovative OverValve Plate, it fixed the poor response of the stock Suzuki SUB30 in the first 6 holes (you can read about the OVP elsewhere on this website).

However, because of the change of tuning layout in the Richter tuning in holes 7-10, Brendan's OVP did not work in the top end - with the result that the upper blow notes still sounded somewhat more 'airy' than on a stock harp.

Zombor had the brilliant insight to extend the OverValve system to the high octave by actually incorporating it in the comb! Using his sophisticated CAD and CNC machining skills he has created the X-Reed Z1 Comb, a masterpiece of harmonica comb design. It is undoubtedly the most advanced comb ever made for the small 10 hole diatonic, and brings the Suzuki SUB30 reedplates to their ultimate level of performance.

Response of the revolutionary ExtraBend 30 reed harp is now as good as any high quality stock diatonic throughout the whole range, from hole 1-10. Add in 18 juicy bends, no worries about any dissonances on bent chords, strong comfortable covers, embossing on all reeds and The ExtraBend out-performs all others in terms of sheer expression. Try it yourself to experience the bluesy soul lurking within this technological marvel!

image from x-reed.com image from x-reed.com image from x-reed.com image from x-reed.com


Though our MB30 and MB30S took the small 10 hole x-reed type harp to a new level, they were really tough to make! The nesting lower reedplates required some very intricate milling, quite aside from the complex comb and valving. That meant the harp was very time-consuming to make and therefore expensive. After we shipped the initial 50 units we decided not to release a new batch of harps until we improve our processes considerably. Our aim is to make an affordable, great-playing harp as good as the MB30 available in all 12 keys, and we are still exploring a wide range of state of the art technologies, designs, materials for OVPs, valves, combs, reeds and reedplates to that end. It's not simple, and it won't be rushed. We don't have a release date yet, but will announce on the harmonica forums when the new version is ready.

December 23 2013: X-Reed Proudly Announce our most Exciting and Radical harp yet, the X-Reed MB30.

Introductory Promo Video    Playing Video with Tablature    
Maintenance Video 1    Maintenance Video 2         

In the last few years of the 19th Century a harmonica was launched that would quickly become regarded as the gold standard for harmonica tone and response. Remarkably, 117 years later, it is still equally revered around the world.

Over that long period, like other iconic products such as the Harley Davidson motorbike or the VW Beetle, the 1896 Hohner Marine Band has been lovingly hacked and honed by experts to bring its great intrinsic qualities to the peak of perfection. The reed slots have been embossed, it's had its reeds and coverplates re-shaped, and been fitted with a myriad of new comb colours and materials... But never before has it been so radically re-engineered as in our contribution to this tradition of loving customisation: the amazing X-Reed MB30.

The MB30 has all those earlier mods and more: By adding a third reedplate on the bottom, we've now given this legendary harmonica 10 extra reeds! That means 18 luscious, raspy, snarling bends instead of the traditional 8! It might look normal on the outside, but behind that innocent exterior lies an intricate warren of slots and channels cut into the comb and very reedplates themselves, to create a radical new 30 reed version of this iconic harmonica.

Using inspired creative thinking, expert understanding of reed interaction and tuning layouts, and the latest CAD design and CNC machining technology, X-Reed have created a harp that you will simply not believe: all that legendary tone plus 18 bends! Bend all the blow notes in the bottom octaves, and all the draw notes in the top octave in the same easy way you do on a normal harp. It's the stuff of harmonica players' dreams for decades, and it's finally arrived! We believe the X-Reed MB-30 will come to be seen as a watershed in the history of the harmonica, as the harp that finally brings the exciting new 30 reed all-bending concept to its full potential.

For the launch of this harp we partnered with the hugely respected USA harp tech Richard Sleigh, who is a big fan of extra-reed harmonicas. He has created his own model, the MB30-S, incorporating the long experience he has with customising the Hohner Marine Band. We shipped an initial Signed and Numbered Edition of only 50 MB30 and MB30-S, in the keys of A and C in February/March 2014. They have received great reviews, including from some name-players.

image from x-reed.com image from x-reed.com image from x-reed.com
December 2013: X-Reed Partner with Richard Sleigh to offer Discerning Players the X-Reed MB30-S.

For the initial release of the MB30, X-Reed partnered with the highly respected USA harmonica customiser Richard Sleigh. One of the earliest professional harmonica customisers, Richard's custom Marine Band harps have a very high reputation around the world.

Richard has long been a supporter of the extra-reed concept, and made some early prototypes himself. He showed a lot of interest in what we were doing, and tried one of our early version of the MB30 at SPAH 2013. He loved it, and we got talking. It felt natural to invite him to create a special top-of-the-line signature model, the MB30-S.

For those who wanted the ultimate performance and were willing to pay a little extra, they received an MB30 with the benefit of Richard's 40 years plus working on the Hohner Marine Band (the parts of which go into making the MB30).

Currently we are evaluating tweaks and improvements to the design. Our main focus is on simplifying the construction/assembly process and reducing the price, without sacrificing performance. Our aim is to make an affordable, great-playing MB30 available in all 12 keys. We don't have a release date yet, but will announce on the harmonica forums when the new version is ready.

We will be partnering with Richard again!

Here's what Richard had to say about the first version of the MB30-S:

" The MB30-S is a Hot Rod Harmonica that will take you places you've never been to. It is a secret weapon, the key to a new highway, and will make you grow new chops and question everything you ever thought possible to play on a harmonica. It will take some getting used to, but not as much as you may think. The response and tone for the most part are so natural that it quickly seems normal to play all sorts of new bends and note combinations.

Customizing a harmonicas is an art as well as a science. Because it is an Art, I cannot completely describe what I do when I work on the MB30-S. The short answer is - I work on it until it feels and sounds right to me. Reed plates are like snowflakes - no two reed plates are exactly the same. There is no single formula that works for all reed plates. I do whatever I need to do to bring out the full potential of the reeds. This includes slot reconstruction - burnishing or embossing slot walls, shaping reeds for response and definition, tuning for smooth chords as well as chromatic playing. It also includes making sure that all parts fit together right so there is no air loss between reed plates, cover plates, and the comb.

The other things I do that will be included on the MB30-S include shaping the cover plates for low end clearance and re-shaping the tabs on the back of the cover plates to increase strength and open up the "horn". I also pay special attention to rounding off and polishing edges to make the harmonica feel as comfortable as possible.

The MB30-S is a fine tuned instrument, and you should treat it like you would any other expensive hand crafted musical instrument. Like any harmonica with wind saver valves, it will work better when it is close to your body temperature before you play it. This is an extra special harp that deserves extra special care....

So there you go - I am doing everything I can to make this brilliant design a force to be reckoned with. I invite you to join me on the latest part of this long strange trip! "

image from x-reed.com image from x-reed.com image from x-reed.com image from x-reed.com

The AsiaBend (like the ChromaBender) is Brendan's baby, and is sold on his personal website as well. Here is his description:

I've always loved listening to Indian, Chinese and Arabic music but a few years ago started studying these great Eastern musical traditions more closely. What struck me about all of them was the use of microtonal bending on all notes in their scales (known as Ragas In Indian Music, and Maqam in Arabic). I was especially inspired by the soulful pitch bending in Chinese music, on such traditional instruments as the Erhu and Hulusi. But when I tried playing along on conventional harps, it just didn't sound right - not nearly enough bending available!

I found I had to create an entirely new harmonica to achieve an authentic sound for Chinese and other Asian styles. I first used it on my album New Chinese Harmonica - you can hear clips from it here. I soon found the harmonica was great for playing Western melodies more expressively too, and started using it on my gigs. The album and live shows generated many requests for the harmonica itself, so here it is: the AsiaBend!

Bending on the AsiaBend is exactly the same type of draw bending as on diatonic 10-hole harps. The scale is similar to the middle octave of a diatonic, or Solo tuning on chromatic, with a 3 octave range. So it will be easy for both diatonic and chromatic players to adapt to.

A moving picture is worth a million words, so please check out the demo video:

As you can learn from the video, this is a completely new harmonica type with a unique sound: an all-draw, all-bending soul machine! It has Patent Pending status for its many novel features. It employs sympathetic extra reeds (x-reeds) paired with active reeds of opposite breath direction to allow every active reed to be bent controllably in pitch. Unlike other harmonicas of similar ability (eg. the XB-40), my AsiaBend uses only draw breath direction throughout the whole instrument to create sound, and has no windsaver flap valves. Instead it uses the slider action of an airtight chromatic harmonica to isolate the reed pairs and select the bending function. Its scale layout is designed to allow the player to controllably bend every note of the diatonic scale up to and down from other notes of the scale, as well as microtones in between. The fact it has no valves means that the overblow technique is available on every hole to obtain extra chromatic notes.

BlueX Red Aluminium Comb SUB30 Reedplates with Manji Coverplates and BMH30 Aluminium Comb BlueX Black Comb and Harp BlueX Black and Red Combs BMH30 Black & Orange Combs BMH30 Black & Orange Combs Manji Coverplates and BMH30 Comb OverValve Plate on a SUB30 model close-up BlueX Chromed Brass Comb BlueX Black Comb and Harp BlueX Black Comb and Harp OverValve Plate on BMH30 comb BlueX Red Aluminium and Chromed Brass Combs OverValve Plate on SUB30 comb BlueX Red Aluminium and Chromed Brass Combs BlueX Black and Red Combs X-Reed Harps in Box X-Reed Harps in Box

X-Reed SUB30 UltraBend

The Suzuki SUB30 UltraBend caused quite a stir in the harmonica scene at its release in August 2012, because it is the same size as a normal 10 hole Richter harp, but offers 18 double-reed bends instead of the traditional 8. Currently it only comes in three keys and one stock configuration (full length covers on a plastic lipped comb). The SUB30 is a good basic design but it has some known playability issues (inferior reed response out-of-the-box, harsh sounds on some double stop chords) that have disappointed buyers. It doesn't have to be that way! We launched X-Reed by presenting a wealth of exciting options for the SUB30 UltraBend to make it a harp players would love to play: specially-designed solid combs, alternate tunings, extra keys, different coverplates, slot embossing... We're now focussing more on our own-design harps, but are still offering a more limited range of SUB30 custom options.
image from x-reed.com

image from x-reed.com

image from x-reed.com

image from x-reed.com

July 1st 2013: X-Reed proudly announce our first own-design Harp: the ChromaBender!

(Check out the ChromaBender video)

The ChromaBender is a brand-new harmonica never seen before. It combines the best features of the 12 hole chromatic harmonica and the 10 hole diatonic to create a unique hybrid harp that will appeal to players of both types.

The ChromaBender has the outward appearance of a chromatic but sounds like a diatonic! Its parts (covers, comb, reedplates and mouthpiece) and standard Solo tuning come from the chromatic, so chrom players can play it straight away. But the sound and playability is like that of a 10 hole blues harp! Instead of a slider, the ChromaBender uses internal x-reeds and draw and blow bending to give you buckets of soul and full, easy chromatic scales over three octaves.

This unique new harp allows any chromatic player to get bluesy without having to switch to a different tuning or smaller-size harp, and it allows blues harp players to get chromatic using their familiar, easy blow & draw bending technique. Many 10 hole diatonic players like to use a chrom for 3rd position playing. Now they can get those big octave tones plus draw and blow bending on all notes!

X-Reed designed the tuning and specialist reedplates for this harp, and chose the Brazilian company Hering to make it. After examining chromatic reedplates under the microscope we found that Hering have the best reed/slot tolerances of all, and that's important for this triple-reed design. Brendan travelled to the Hering factory in Blumenau, Brazil to work with Hering engineers to create this all-new 36 reed model.

We are sure the ChromaBender will open up a whole new harmonica sound as players from both the chromatic and diatonic camps bring their own experience and strengths to create a unique hybrid sound.

(Sound clips on this page recorded on the ChromaBender by Al Clark & Randy Weinstein. Check out Randy's interesting discussion of his experiments with the ChromaBender: Randy's music.)