Brendan and Zombor sometimes develop their own X-Reed projects. The AsiaBend (like the ChromaBender) is Brendan's baby; 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.
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.
Check the Order page for current details.
CUSTOM COMBS & COVERPLATES
The stock SUB30 UltraBend comes with an ABS plastic comb. Many players these days prefer solid combs, and Brendan combined with two respected custom comb makers to create them in two forms: traditional un-lipped style, and lipped solid comb.
After experimenting on his own to find the best internal geometary for maximising the performance of the UltraBend, Brendan sent his designs to Tom Halchak of Blue Moon Harmonicas and Max Manganelli of BluX-Lab.
Brendan admired the stylish combs made by Max Manganelli of BlueX-Lab, and took the opportunity to work with him on creating a high-performance lipped solid comb for the UltraBend. With the same ramping system as the BMH30 and scrupulous attention to detail in every aspect, the BlueX-Lab PowerUltra comb was the result, available in anodized and chromed alloy.
UPDATE: X-Reed is now developing our own lipped comb for the SUB30, and no longer selling the BlueX model.
With Tom. Brendan created the BMH30, a traditional sandwich-style comb with some smart innovations: slotted screw holes so players could adjust the reedplates to their liking, and bevelled lower screw holes to accommodate the cratering effect of self-tapping screws. It was designed to take traditional short coverplates to create a bright-sounding harp.
UPDATE: X-Reed have now developed our own ExtraBend model with the advanced Z1 comb for even better performance in the traditional sandwich-style format, and we're no longer selling harps with the BMH30 comb.
Suzuki have offered the SUB30 UltraBend in only three keys: A, C and D. X-Reed.com is the first to expand that range, with four extra keys:
Bb, B, Db, Eb
These are hand-tuned and therefore come at a premium price, but they offer the serious player a total of seven keys available.
Zombor and his magnificent milling machine... (Millie!)
The Suzuki SUB30 UltraBend has revolutionary bending abilities, but it is intrinsically less airtight than
a normal 10 hole harp on half the notes. In a normal un-valved 10-hole harp you always have
two reeds in the airstream, a blow and a draw. When you draw, some air comes in through
the blow reed, and vice versa. On the SUB30, when you draw on holes 1-6 and blow on holes
7-10 there are THREE reeds in the airstream: the two active reeds and the auxiliary x-reed. This
means that the harp is less responsive in those holes than a normal harp as there is some
additional air coming in through the x-reed slot.
Compounding the problem is the fact that the upper reedplate of the SUB30 is particularly
leaky! Unfortunately Suzuki has not managed to achieve their usual high levels of reed/slot
tolerances on this new part. There are quite wide gaps around all the reeds on the upper
reedplate, and this is one of the main reasons the stock harp has such poor performance.
Reed-slot embossing reduces air loss by minimising the red/slot tolerances, thus improving
reed response and volume. We have perfected our own method of embossing using
microscopes and our own specially designed tools. After embossing more than 200 SUB30
harps (as of June 2013), we have the process finely honed and very consistent. You'll be
amazed at the difference embossing makes to the SUB30! It gives the harp a crisper tone and
sharper attack. We emboss the full reed: base, sides and tip.
We strongly recommend you select the OverValve Plate option when ordering an X-Reed
SUB30, as you get a guaranteed boost in performance and reliability in holes 1-6 while
retaining all the juicy new blow bends. You can forget worrying about glitches and strange
sounds and just play as normal, with full tone and volume. In addition to adding it to our
new custom harps, we can also fit the OverValve Plate to your SUB30!
But if you want the ultimate performance from the SUB 30 reedplates, check out
our new own-design model, the amazing
X-REED OVER-VALVE PLATE
The OverValve concept was invented by Brendan Power and incorporated on the
world's first working 30 reed harmonica, Brendan's 1989 prototype made from a
chromatic. Read the story and see photos
The OverValves work by cutting out the x-reed from the airstream when it is not
needed. This makes the 30 reed harp more airtight, as it reduces the number of
reeds in the airstream from three down to two - just like a normal harmonica! It
makes a BIG difference to playability.
When the Suzuki SUB30 came out, Brendan made the first experiments to adapt his
OverValve idea to the new harp. It worked, and he gave the idea to Zombor Kovacs
to design into a plate that could be retro-fitted to the SUB30. The result is
another world's first: the X-Reed OverValve Plate. See and hear it in action on
Our exclusive X-Reed OverValve Plate cures
two big issues players complain about on the SUB30:
1. The draw notes in holes 1-6 are less responsive than on stock harps
2. The SUB30 produces unwanted harsh sounds on some chords, especially when bending
The X-Reed OverValve Plate fixes those issues, whilst retaining all the SUB30's cool new
bends. The OverValve Plate is included in the buying options for our customised
December 2013: The OverValve concept has now been extended to all 10 holes,
in the revolutionary new X-Reed
ExtraBend harp! If you want the ultimate expression from the Suzuki
SUB30 reedplates, this is IT!
LET US TRANSFORM YOUR SUB30 INTO A HARP YOU'LL LOVE TO PLAY!
Many players are excited by the possibilities of the new Suzuki SUB30 UltraBend. However, when they receive their harp, there is a mixed reaction. For some the stock SUB30 is just fine, but others have been disappointed to discover that it doesn't play like the harps they're used to. We can help!
If you send us your SUB30, for a modest fee we will precision-fit our exclusive
Plate to cure the two big issues players complain about:
1. The draw notes in holes 1-6 are less responsive than on stock harps
2. The SUB30 produces unwanted harsh sounds on some chords, especially when bending
The OverValve Plate fixes those issues, while retaining all the SUB30's cool new blow bends.
We include Full-Reed Embossing as standard. Embossing makes a massive difference to the playability of the SUB30, and is widely recommended by SUB30 owners on the harmonica lists.
If you wish, we can also retune your SUB30 to an one of four extra keys of your choice: Bb, B, Db, Eb.
You can choose the options you want on the Order Page
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.)
Sorry, this product is currently not available to order.
December 2013: X-Reed proudly announce our second own-design harmonica: the ExtraBend, with Z1 Comb!
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!
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.
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.
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! "