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Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Diatonic PowerCombs & Stealth-Valves
Diatonic PowerCombs & Stealth-Valves
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Brendan Power
626 posts
Sep 02, 2017
8:12 AM
I’ve had to modify stock diatonic combs to take valves ever since I started playing half-valved back in 1980. I’ve now created a range of valve-friendly combs with other unique features, along with an easy valving system for many popular diatonic models.

3D Printed, 15 Colours, Valve Pockets, Slotted Screwholes, Personalised Name Option and... The LookDot!

Easy, fast system for valving many popular diatonic harmonicas. My laminated Stealth-valves are rugged, quiet and reliable.

Instructional Video 1

Instructional Video 2

Another reason to get these out is that they help my upcoming TwinDiatonic harmonicas work to their best.

All this has taken a lot of work to get ready! I'm touring in Ireland for a couple of weeks, but wanted to get them out there for pre-order before I left. All orders posted in the sequence they were received by the end of September.

Brendan Power
48 posts
Sep 02, 2017
8:54 AM

In Part 1, you mention that Hohner and other companies have just two sizes of their reed slots and reeds - one of higher pitched harps and one for lower pitched harps. I was surprised by that. So the only difference between, for example, an A and a B harp is the weight of the reeds? Is reed thickness also a pitch determinant (independent of weight)?

I know this is very basic but I really want to know how the harp works.

1192 posts
Sep 02, 2017
10:10 AM
Bravo! Congratulations. Well done.
Tom Halchak
Blue Moon Harmonicas
Brendan Power
627 posts
Sep 02, 2017
9:54 PM
Thanks Tom Halchak :)

@Tom385: reed shapes is a very interesting area, and where a lot of the 'mojo' of each harmonica company resides. There are different approaches to reed lengths in diatonics. Hohner have two sets of reeds, long-slot and short-slot, Hering used to have four (!), and Suzuki rely on just one set of reed lengths for all keys.

It gets especially wild when you factor in the extra low key harps several companies are offering, which have the same lengths as their range an octave higher. How do they do it?

You're right, it's a magical combination of thickness and weight that determines the pitch. That's called the reed's profile: its shape if sliced lengthwise and observed from the side. Companies put a lot of research and resources into controlling this, plus maintaining consistent reed widths and end shapes so they have tight tolerances in the slot.

It's the complexity and difficulty of achieving all this that is largely responsible for the relatively high price of harmonicas compared to other products that seem on the face of it far more complex - large ones with electric motors for example. My powerful workshop vacuum cleaner costs less than a Hohner Crossover! And so do many other electric appliances in my home.

You can learn a lot about reeds if you examine them under a microscope. The end shapes and gaps are very significant in terms of reed response and tone. Hohner reeds since 2002 are very good in this area, very consistent reed shapes and close end gaps from reed to reed. More recently Easttop have got this critical area well dialled in, which helps give their harps that pleasing crisp response out of the box that players love to hear.

There are 3 different ways of profiling reeds, which is another fascinating area - but maybe this is 'too much information' answering a simple question! I'm a bit prone to that ;-)

Last Edited by Brendan Power on Sep 02, 2017 9:58 PM
848 posts
Sep 03, 2017
5:38 PM
I have a half valving question. PT Gazelle gave me his pitch at SPAH. I don't feel like I need the missing notes: regular bending gives me what I need, and I don't think I'd use the extra notes. Its why I don't overblow, either. However, PT showed me I can get expressive bends on all holes. Now that seems pretty neat. Are there any disadvantages to half valving a harp? It seems like it would be more airtight, with all the bends in place.
49 posts
Sep 03, 2017
7:38 PM
It's not too much information, Brendan. Thank you for spending time on your response! I find all of this interesting and hope to keep learning.

Brendan Power
628 posts
Sep 03, 2017
11:54 PM
@ Philosofy: "Are there any disadvantages to half-valving?"

As someone who finds a stock un-valved Richter harp boringly stiff and unresponsive on most of its notes (12 out of 20 reeds don't bend - ugh!), I'm not really an impartial observer. I would turn the question around: look at all the disadvantages of un-valved harps:

1. No bending or even vibrato on most of the notes. SAD! (as Trump would say...)

2. Air loss: Low end blows and high end draws are airy compared to the low draws and high blows.

3. Uneven volume: Low end blows and high end draws are quieter compared to the low draws and high blows.

Half-valve the harp and all those problems are eliminated. The previously unresponsive 12 notes in your harp suddenly give you more volume, purer tone, real soulful pitch vibrato, and bending ability. What's not to like??

There are some trade-offs. The harp will sound less 'airy' on the blow notes because the valves stop air escaping through the draw reed slots when you blow. To me that's a good thing, but not everyone.

Adding valves to half the notes doesn't affect your normal bends, but it means you can't overblow. If that's important to you, don't do it (though in your case not, you say).

However, with practice you can get the missing chromatic notes that overblowing provides with valved bending, as PT has convincingly shown.

Personally I choose to use alternate tunings like PowerBender and Power Chromatic in half-valved setup, as these give most chromatic notes as standard draw bends, but even with Richter tuning half-valving will give access to chromatic notes - along with all its other advantages.

Of course traditionalists would argue that Little Walter didn't play half-valved and look what he achieved - but Walter was such an open-minded innovator, I bet he would if the harps were available when he was around. He was influenced by jazz, and they would have helped him express more of that side of his playing. Just speculation, but I can see him eagerly adopting anything that gave him more expression on the harp. As a general rule, it's the slavish imitators who come after the great innovators they idolise that become pedantic and set in their ways - not the innovators themselves.

Valves have a reputation for being troublesome, but that's derived from fully valved chromatics. If you choose good valves, like PT's ones from Seydel or my new Stealth-Valves, you should be able to simply install and forget they are there.

I've been playing half-valved for nearly 40 years, and I certainly wouldn't if it had been a hassle! On the contrary, good valves add so much expression to a harp that most who try them never go back to un-valved harps again.

I received a royalty for 5 years from Suzuki for showing them the idea when they brought out the first half-valved harp in 1990, the MR350-V Promaster. It's still going strong and is recently much improved with their new black tapered valves, with a soft gel underside. They are really excellent valves, and so is that harp.

Suzuki's old valves were noisy and the outside ones prone to sticking, but the new valves are quiet and won't stick. The stock is still transitioning, and you'll only find the new valves in the popular fast-selling keys. They've also changed the tuning from Tempered to Compromised, so chords sound sweeter.

(BTW I don't work for Suzuki any more, and don't get any royalty on the Promaster - just paying respect to an excellent diatonic harp that will give you a hassle-free way to try half-valving out).

If you do, adjust your breathing a bit. Go a bit easier on the low blow notes and high draws - they don't need so much air anymore. You'll soon get the feel and likely find that when you go back to an un-valved harp it will seem stiff and lifeless by comparison. If that's a worry, don't do it!

Last Edited by Brendan Power on Sep 04, 2017 12:15 AM
2302 posts
Sep 03, 2017
11:59 PM
Boy, I haven't seen the new black valves or the compromise tuned ProMaster--is that the case for the entire model line, including the Hammond?
Brendan Power
629 posts
Sep 04, 2017
12:19 AM
No, only the Promaster valved model, the MR350-V
Brendan Power
630 posts
Sep 04, 2017
3:04 AM
One more thought on the topic of 'airiness': there is a compromise possible.

Standard un-valved harps are more airy because when you blow, some of your air escapes out the draw reed slots. Half-valving eliminates that extra air loss and makes the harp sound purer on the blow notes, less airy.

But some players like that airy traditional sound, and won't use valves because the sound changes a bit.

Well, this is a rare case where you CAN have your cake and eat it too :)

PT Gazell shows the way with his Gazell Method valves, for Seydel. They are trimmed back from the end of the slot by about 1mm. This means you still get the bending/vibrato benefit of the valve, but the sound is more airy than if the valve covers the whole slot. You can trim any valve back this way to get the effect.

Personally I like the valves to cover the whole slot, but if you want a more traditional blues harp tone plus valves, just trim the valves slightly shorter and you'll have the best of both worlds!

Last Edited by Brendan Power on Sep 04, 2017 3:06 AM
Moon Cat
736 posts
Sep 05, 2017
11:46 PM
Pretty damn cool!
Brendan Power
631 posts
Sep 06, 2017
2:03 AM
Thanks Jason! BTW, despite my preference for half-valving as stated above, I just want to make clear that I LOVE good overblow playing on un-valved harps by such as the fab Mr. Ricci, Todd Parrott, Howard Levy, Carlos del Junco and many others. Just saying that there are alternative approaches, which are not mutually exclusive. You can overblow and play half-valved if you want :)
3462 posts
Sep 06, 2017
2:46 PM
Reasonably priced Reed Replacement and tech support on Hand Made Series Hohner Diatonic Harmonicas.

'Making the world a better place, one harmonica at a time.
Click MP for more info. Aloha Mark
93 posts
Sep 06, 2017
4:50 PM
I've been playing valved Promasters since 2011;I've often wondered what a fully valved diatonic would be like relative to a half valved one.
Brendan Power
632 posts
Sep 06, 2017
10:37 PM
@root: it would make all reeds, blow and draw, work as isolated reeds, as on a chromatic. Personally I wouldn't choose to do it, as all your interactive bending would be eliminated - which is much of what the blues harp is all about.

I think you'd miss that easily controllable bending and quickly revert to half-valved setup. But maybe not! Best way is to try it out.

The 20-valve kits I've created for 10-hole harps are mainly intended for people to fully valve the OctaHarp and TremoloHarp, a couple of types of my soon-to-be-released TwinDiatonic harps. They really benefit from it.

If they were used for fully valving a single diatonic, I'd see them as being most suitable for tunings with quite a few semitone intervals between blow and draw reeds - like Solo tuning, or David Fairweather's 4-Key tuning, or possibly Tony Ayers' Major-Cross tuning.

Semitone intervals (eg. blow E and draw F in the same chamber, or C/B) really benefit from both reeds being valved. That's because no useful interactive-reed bending is possible anyway, and valving gives you valved bending on both reeds.

Plus it reduces the tendency of the high reeds in these chambers to fail. It's often the draw F in hole 5 and the blow C in hole 7 that break on harps, because players try to bend them and they have nowhere to go.

Valve-affecting them (outside valve on hole 5, inside valve on hole 7) will protect the reeds, plus give you extra bending soul on those normally unresponsive notes.
Todd Parrott
1416 posts
Sep 07, 2017
12:15 AM
Would it be possible to invent some type of system in which you could still overblow and overdraw, but get the single reed bends when needed? I realize this is possible when playing without cover plates, by blocking reeds with the lips. For example, with no covers on the harp, if you block 6 draw with your bottom lip, you can then bend 6 blow. If this same type of thing could be achieved by pressing a slide (or something similar) which would close off the draw reeds, allowing you to bend blow notes 1-6 as needed, this would be the ultimate harp in my opinion. The same could be done for the draw bends on 7-10. I love the sound of overbends and the way they can be expressed or bent upwards, so I hate losing this option with valved harps. Likewise, I like the sound of valved bends like we hear PT and Brendan playing, but you can't get them on an overblow or standard harp.
21 posts
Sep 07, 2017
4:01 AM

I've thought about this before. One way would be to have values that can be disengaged at the press of a slide or button. Slides typically hurt airtightness, so I wonder about doing this electronically.

Basically what would be needed is a valve material that can stiffen to a shape when provided juice, and for it to go back to a regular valve state when not provided juice (or vise versa).
49 posts
Sep 07, 2017
7:15 AM
Todd - I think you can get it done using the Suzuki Overdrive harmonicas. The holes in the cover plate essentially allow you to play w/o covers. Pat Missin has an article about this.
Brendan Power
633 posts
Sep 07, 2017
8:25 AM
Todd, Gus is right: The Suzuki Overdrive gives you both ways to play. Kind of awkward to use, but it definitely works. A clever design, by Masaru Hashimoto.
Todd Parrott
1417 posts
Sep 07, 2017
12:17 PM
Yes, the Overdrive works, but I don't care for the tone of this harp, plus it is cumbersome to play. Reminds me of playing a flute.

I'm just putting this idea out here - I certainly don't have the skill to invent such a harp or system, but perhaps someone can/will. A slide was just mentioned as an example and I realize this may not be the best option.

Crazier things have been invented, so fingers crossed that someday something like this will be an option.
2305 posts
Sep 07, 2017
4:11 PM
What about the Bahnson harp?
I have never played one, but it should satisfy Todd's request.
BTW, Todd plays great gospel piano, had a blast the last night of SPAH this year!

Last Edited by Gnarly on Sep 07, 2017 4:12 PM
1 post
Sep 07, 2017
10:59 PM
Winslow's Discrete Comb also gives the option of isolated reeds for valved-type bending and easier overblows. But like the Bahnson and Overdrive, it requires manual manipulation to select the option you want, which could be tricky at speed.

I can't find it right now, but I did once see a patent for an interesting harp along the lines of what Todd mentioned: using your lips to block reeds. This had a flexible top cover, with enough spring to stay in shape under normal play but also the capacity to press down on the upper reed slots when you applied extra pressure with the top lip.

It had some projections underneath the top cover so you only needed to depress it a couple of mm to get them to block the blow reed slots.

Of course in this way it only gives you easier overblows and valved-effect draw reeds. If you wanted the valved effect on the blow reeds you'd need to block the draw reeds, maybe with a similar flexible cover.

Hmmm... It's got me thinking. You can buy flexible 3d printer filaments. Maybe I'll try making a diatonic cover with that stuff and see what happens.

LevelUp's idea is a good one too, in theory - not sure how it could be achieved. Furled valves that shot out to length like a snake's tongue or one if those party toys would be another (theoretical) approach. Lol - funny to imagine that going on inside your harp as you play!

This combo of valved effect plus overblowing seems very difficult to realise, but if enough brains get applied to this conundrum maybe a good practical solution will pop out :-)
9602 posts
Sep 08, 2017
3:16 AM
There is an old SBII video. It's popped up on the forum a couple times with people asking what exactly he was doing with his fingers along the back of the harp. After watching a lot of times on a very big monitor and listening a bunch of times through headphones, and experimenting, the best I could figure out was that he was essentially just blocking the back of the harp to shape the note a bit, but in the process of experimenting I tried a couple other crazy ideas. I took toothpicks and carefully used them on the reeds, kind of like the reed was a string in a guitar. You had to get the pressure just right, and have everything lined up, but you could do some really neat things with the sound and bends. I am pretty convinced that someone with more talent and patience and manual dexterity could make something musical with the technique.

Thread Organizer (A list of all sorts of useful threads)

First Post- May 8, 2009
Todd Parrott
1419 posts
Sep 08, 2017
2:02 PM
The Bahnson harp is a clever design, but it only seems to aid with getting overblows - I'm after single reed bends in addition to overblows.

Why would someone want both options in one harp? It all depends on the song. Sometimes the sound of the 6 overblow bend is desired, but is impossible if the harp is valved. A good example would be Glen Campbell's Southern Nights - a fun song to play on harp, but to make it sound just right you have to use valves and give up the 6 overblow, or play it on a Powerbender tuned harp, but even then I think you'd have to apply valves on certain holes to achieve the desired expression. (I'll have to revisit it on the Powerbender - it's been awhile since I tried, but I seem to recall running into a couple instances where the blow notes I needed to express weren't there without valves.)
1424 posts
Sep 08, 2017
2:20 PM
Todd Parrott asks "Would it be possible to invent some type of system in which you could still overblow and overdraw, but get the single reed bends when needed?"

My Discrete Comb does this and so does the Suzuki Overdrive.

-- You can have both the blow and the draw reed in the airstream for standard bends.

-- You can isolate any reed for easier overbending - you get 10 overdraws and 10 overblows

-- You can also isolate any reed for isolated reed bends (valved and half-valved bends are isolated reed bends).

So essentially you can access ALL the possible bending behaviors of all 20 reeds.

The Overdrive does it by building "tunnels" into the covers that terminate in portholes at the back, which you can block with your fonguers.

The Discrete Comb does it by dividing the comb into upper and lower halves (along with some channel shaping) so that you can tip the back of the harp up or down to isolate the top half of the hole (blow reeds) or bottom half (draw reeds).

Here's a recording I made nearly 20 years ago with a Discrete Comb harp. The harp is an A-harp in standard tuning, but I'm using it to play in A minor. Note that I could bend the 1 overblow up two semitones, and late int eh tune actually use bent-up overblows in Holes 9 and 8 (yes overBLOWS in 9 and 8 - by isolating the draw reed in each hole

The Tinge


Check out my blog and other goodies at winslowyerxa.com
Harmonica For Dummies, Second Edition with tons of new stuff
Join us in 2017 for SPAH in Tulsa!

Last Edited by WinslowYerxa on Sep 08, 2017 2:21 PM
Todd Parrott
1420 posts
Sep 08, 2017
2:33 PM
Winslow, that's pretty cool - I'd heard about the discrete comb, but didn't realize its possibilities. I'm definitely interested in learning more about it. I'll check out the recording. Is there a video demonstration online anywhere?
2 posts
Sep 08, 2017
10:10 PM
Todd, sounds like for some songs you want a certain kind of bending expression you can't get with overblows. That surprises me a bit, because for my money your overblows are about the most sweet and soulful around. But maybe you're referring to a desire to bend and get vibrato on the blow notes?

PowerBender does have a lot more notes available as draw bends, but still some missing which can be got as overblows or valved bends in half-valved setup.

If you're willing to get all notes as bends, then a well customised SUB30 will give you them in a more familiar tuning. Here is the sound in Richter (only 5 draw and 7 blow don't bend).


My new twin-diatonic X-Reed UniBender gives bends on all notes regardless of tuning, and can be made with two Hohner harps. You can hear it here from 8:40:


But your challenge is a good one: create a harp that gives overblows and valved-type bending. This will allow you to keep all your high-level overblow playing plus add valved expression when you want it.

The Overdrive and Discrete Comb do that, and there are some good examples online showing their effectiveness, but it's true to say neither has gained a lot of followers, despite bring around for quite a while. That's probably because both require the player to adjust from their standard hand/mouth positions, which can feel awkward. The ideal model would be simpler to use, I think.

Todd, your challenge is giving me a couple of ideas I'll follow up when I get home from Ireland. Thanks for the mental stimulation :-)

Last Edited by BeePee on Sep 09, 2017 12:23 AM
Todd Parrott
1421 posts
Sep 09, 2017
10:06 PM
"But maybe you're referring to a desire to bend and get vibrato on the blow notes?

But your challenge is a good one: create a harp that gives overblows and valved-type bending. This will allow you to keep all your high-level overblow playing plus add valved expression when you want it."

Bingo - You got it. Imagine for example, a Spiers overblow harp with all of the overbends available, but with an option to also get single-reed bends, mainly on 4, 5, 6 blow, and 7 draw. If there was an easy way to shut off the draw reeds when needed, you could then get the blow bends and/or add vibrato. I love the SUB-30 concept and sound, as well as the Power Bender. Sometimes these are the best tools for the job. But often I want the 6 overblow bend as well, and in certain contexts it's the best option. It will be interesting to see what you come up with!
4 posts
Sep 10, 2017
12:59 AM
I think it's doable in a user-friendly way Todd, we'll see! I would certainly love to hear you playing such a harp, so that's a big incentive to try :)

But, as with most things, there's more than one way to skin a cat. Another possible approach is an overblow-capable mini-chromatic without valves. It would give you different ways of getting the same note (these are called 'enharmonics').

For example, on a C harp in the middle octave, the Bb note could be overblow hole 6 or draw slide-in hole 6. The other overblows would have draw slide-in equivalents, and overdraws would have blow slide-in enharmonics.

You can hear a first test version of such a MiniChrom using two diatonics on this video from 3:10

I'm looking forward to seeing if this harp will give usable overbending ability when it's equipped with good overblow-setup units in the back and played by an accomplished overblow player.

I'm also working on making a slim overblow MiniChrom, which is not far away. This will have the same thickness as a normal harp and bring the player's mouth closer to the reeds.

Tuning a MiniChrom in a conventional way, with slider raising all notes a semitone, will give slide enharmonics for overblows and lots of cool new phrasing options. However you could tune such an instrument so the slide-in notes were a bit higher: the same as the scale notes above.

For example, tune slide-in draw 5 so it's the same as hole 6 blow: a G note. That would give you the G as a real soulful bendable draw as well as the normal blow, and it could be bent down a semitone to get the F#. You'd still have the overblow F# with slide-out also, but with slide in you'd get an overblow G#.

You could tweak all the slide-in notes to your personal preference, to get bendable versions of notes that don't normally bend, without any valves or valve-type damping.

I'm constantly amazed by the untapped potential of such a simple instrument as the harmonica, which has just a few component parts. Add a few technical changes to the high-level embouchure control developed by good players and suddenly there is world of new possibilities. But they have to be practical, user friendly, and not detract from the existing performance of the simple 1896 harp by an appreciable amount in achieving the extra functionality. That's not so easy to achieve, but possible - in more ways than one, I think.

In my opinion top overblow players like Todd, Jason, Howard etc have pretty much pushed the standard 1896 Marine Band-type harp as far as it can go in terms of performance. Of course you'll keep finding new licks etc, but not a step change on the level of the discovery of overbending itself. However I think that's exactly what's required right now - to give you overblow guys (and others with alternative approaches) 10-hole harps with greater potential to match your sophisticated embouchure control and fulfil what you hear in your head.

If you could have extra capability, like valved-type bending, or an entire second harp available in your mouth at the press of button, then think of all the new possibilities that will emerge! With the proliferation of knowledge from the internet and fantastic little CAD-operated making machines, I think we're on the cusp of that next step change right now. Exciting times!

Last Edited by BeePee on Sep 10, 2017 1:47 AM
52 posts
Sep 13, 2017
8:23 PM

I just got my first Suzuki MR350-V Promaster. If the valves are black, does that mean it is the new valves that you talked about above?
26 posts
Sep 14, 2017
3:28 AM
BeePee, you mentioned:

> slim overblow MiniChrom

This would do it for me, assuming airtightness. One half-valved harp, one regular OB harp, same key.
6 posts
Sep 14, 2017
6:34 AM
@Tom585: Yes!

@LevelUp: Interesting idea. It wouldn't be a chromatic harmonica, but would be another way to get the two setups in one harp. Will come back to you on it :)
8 posts
Mar 18, 2024
12:20 AM
To resurrect this thread a bit - nowadays I am back and forth with half-valving and overblows. I like how half valving allows me to get extra expression. My main harps are all half valved (stock Suzuki Promasters) and I have no troubles with valves. I (almost) never use half valved notes for chromatic playing though, maybe as passing notes, but I use 'bending into the note from below' effect very often.

On the other hand, when I occasionally play non-valved harp I find OB/OD sound so much 'nicer' and also closer to the 'normal note' sound for chromatic playing. Plus, position of the note (F# on C harp on 5th blow instead of F# on C harp on 6 blow on half valved) helps to get some licks faster / easer.

I've read in another thread (https://www.modernbluesharmonica.com/board/board_topic/5560960/2702363.htm) that @ToddParrot can get 'single reed' bends out of the non-valved harp. I've tried that as well but I can't get the real note, before I get to the pitch it's usually pops into OB, I guess that's just physics.
But even if you could play single reed bends on non-valved harp, another advantages of half-valved harp are still not there (blow notes sound more full / loud, you can add expressive vibrato on them etc).

I like @Todd's idea of somehow blocking the reeds, maybe it's possible to create some mechanism which would block reeds when harmonica is tilted?

So my question is - have this conundrum yet been cracked? Or do we accept that we have to choose one or another when we start the tune? :)
Or maybe there's an 'accepted' way of 'partial' half valving nowadays?

Last Edited by FingerSinger on Mar 18, 2024 3:02 AM

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