Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > overblow, harmonica usage ?
overblow, harmonica usage ?
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240 posts
Nov 29, 2018
4:17 AM
Just trying to get an idea how many people set their harmonicas for overblows and then never use them for overblowing etc.
I haven't come across any overblow songs that I am hot to learn, but figure sooner or later one will catch my interest.
So I got to wondering as many of us have extra harmonicas over the years. Kinda wondering how many folks have harps all set for overblows, that sit in a draw unused along with others.
751 posts
Nov 29, 2018
8:04 AM
The concept of finding an "overblow song" is not really an effective approach. I know because this is how I originally approached it.

The song I was hot to learn was "Sinister Minister" by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. The main riff uses both 6 and 4 overblow

-6 +6 -5 -4 | ^6 -6 +6 ^4

While I did more or less learn the song, it didn't teach me all that much about how to use overblows. I didn't really understand where they fit in. This was because I personally had a lack of understanding about what gaps I was filling in.

Fast forward several years and I started to put together the musical equivalencies that things that the 6 and 5 overblow afforded me.

If I had to do it again, I would have worked on building this mental map of harmonica shortcuts earlier; thinking about what was being played and learning to play the same thing in multiple places on the harmonica. Or at least theoretically understanding what needed to be played to achieve this doubling and tripling of licks.

Example equivalent notes
1 blow | 4 blow | 7 blow | 10 blow
1 draw | 4 draw | 8 draw
2 blow | 5 blow | 8 blow
2 bend | 5 draw | 9 draw
2 draw | 3 blow | 6 blow | 9 blow
3 half step bend | 6 overblow | 10 blow bend

Back to your original point, I think there are probably a great number of overblow set up harmonicas sitting unused. Hell, if the harmonic could have the upper 4 holes detached from it, those would probably sit in a drawer too!
Ridge's YouTube

Last Edited by ridge on Nov 29, 2018 8:06 AM
1384 posts
Nov 29, 2018
8:23 AM
Spderyak - I think you have a slight misperception of exactly what an “overblow setup” is. It is not like if a harp is set up for overblows you can’t use it to play non-overblow music. That isn’t the case at all.

There are a number of moving parts in play here. I hope I don’t create confusion as I try to explain this. First, if you can overblow, you can overblow almost any stock harp. It doesn’t need a super special setup. If a stock harp does not overblow easily, some simple adjustments of the gaps on the 4, 5 and 6 blow and draw reeds will quickly resolve that.

That said, I think you are referring to custom harmonicas that have had all the tolerances tightened to make the harp more airtight and responsive. Generally speaking, leaks rob harmonicas of tone, responsiveness and volume. So, painting with a broad brush, regardless of what a particular harp tech might do to build custom harps, the end result is going to be a harp that is more airtight than it was when it started. That usually includes narrowing the gaps. All of this makes it easier to do whatever you want to do on a harp – play softer, draw bends, blow bends and yes, if you are an overblower – to play overblows. The instrument is just a tool. The player is the operator of that tool. He can use it as he wishes – overblows or not.

I will add that once you start playing custom harps, there is a ratcheting effect that takes place. Custom harps won’t automatically make you a better player, but it will open doors for you that you didn’t know existed, or perhaps help you overcome barriers that you might have been struggling with on stock harps. Stock harps can be leaky and unresponsive so the “solution” for most is to play them harder. If you force enough air through even a leaky harp, you can get the reeds moving. You can bend the notes, but you really have to work to do it. It forces the player to develop a certain attack or method of playing. Some might say it leads to the development of bad habits. I am one of those who say that. What that often means is when you get a custom harp, you have to adjust your approach to playing. You don’t have to blow as hard. You don’t have to muscle or bully the harp to get it to behave. I equate it to the difference between driving a truck with no power steering to driving a sports car with power steering. If you steer the sports car the same way as you do the truck, you will oversteer and be all over the road. It is way more sensitive and requires much less effort. Your movements are magnified. Moving from stock harps to custom harps requires a period of adjustment. You have to get used to them. This is true regardless of whether you play overblows or not.

Finally, with regard to making music, if your goal is to learn the Chicago Blues classics, in which overblows are rarely if ever used, then you might never need or have an interest in learning how to overblow. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that and, in my opinion, is accurate description of a huge segment of harmonica players. If is good enough for Little Walter, it is good enough for me. However, if you want to add to your repertoire, if you want to play original music, then you might consider the addition of overblows to your arsenal. It is like adding another color to your palate. Some guys never use overblows and make great music. Some guys make extensive use of overblows an make great music.

But back to your original question. I don’t think there are a lot of guys who have custom harps sitting unused in their drawers because they don’t play overblows.

Hope this helps.

Tom Halchak
Blue Moon Harmonicas
Blue Moon Harmonicas
393 posts
Nov 29, 2018
8:49 AM

10-15 years ago I became obsessed with overblows and od. Doing them- setting up my harps for them etc-
Then it hit that I still didn't play all the normal notes well. so I mellowed the ob od thing out. Instead, I worked on playing the entire harp. Not just holes 1-6'

The Good thing about all that was-
1] in screwing up some of my harps [workin on them]- I learned how to replace ind. reeds
2] I learned what C3 vs C4 meant on the harp etc
3] I learned which companies sell ind. reeds and ones that
4] I learned to save all my old reed plates----hohner GM,
Sp 20, marine band and maybe crossover
have interchangeable reeds
--not masterclause
5] I learned which tuning I like, why and how to tune
6] I have a ton of instructional books and tools

7] Being a guitar player as well --I set up the action on
my guitars the way I like them---NOT THE WAY SOME FAMOUS
GUY DOES--but the way I like them

HARP FOR U] be REALISTIC--- do u play softly, med or hard
Pt Being; Learn to work on yr harps and or try a custom
Zajac--Speirs--blue moon etc harp---see what u think

I did have one D Gm that I set up and got lucky--456 ob popped easily--but I could still do fast ascending -decending runs w/out reeds sticking---I think 7 od as well---it sat around as a guide--

Im still not fluent enough at ob and od to do when gigging-maybe an occasional 6 ob-sorry but thats the truth

I would try 1 speirs --blue moon or zajac custom ---only 456ob and 7od forget 1 ob for now---in cross harp the 7od gives u another b5 very useful --if it will od

I also suggest only invest in 1 harp at a time--BUT
INVEST IN TOOLS not just for ob but everyday set and maint
I think their are a lot of players who can ob 456 BUT DON'T USE THEM GIGGING--IF THAT HELPS

Last Edited by snowman on Nov 29, 2018 9:03 AM
38 posts
Nov 29, 2018
12:59 PM
I had a whole bunch of unused harps sitting in a box BEFORE I learned to ob/od. I have played since 1973, mostly blues, jazz/blues, funk, swing and some reggae, strictly as an avid hobbyist. I began to love a lot of Latin jazz, particularly that of Brasil. I bought several keys of 12-hole chromatics and was soon playing along to some of my favorite bossa tunes. And I still wanted to learn ob/ods.

Along came Howard and the a bunch of others who just left me behind in the dust, my box of dullish harps sat for quite a while and I settled for second best.

FINALLY, after I made some important life changes a couple of years ago, I began to explore ob/ods with a passion, but first I had to learn how to do them. Suzuki Overdrives, the discrete comb, the XB-40, none of them were for me. Thanks to the aforementioned life changes, I have more cash on hand so I began my intense study of obs with a Stage 2+ Bb Special 20. Oh, I tried and tried but it still baffled me. Then, it came to me and I can say I own the technique though there is always more to learn, such as where and when to use the obs. As a lover of much jazz, I have found MANY places to use them. I have bought two more customs, same Stage 2+, Manjis in A and D. I should note that when one buys a custom, absolutely be real about how you play. I had my Bb SP20 set up for "medium breath" and am okay with that. I had the Manjis set up for "medium-soft" breath and I feel I should've stayed with the medium breath, possibly even medium-hard breath. I think that when one is "in the moment', you know, just going for it, one may play too hard sometimes and that means that a too-sensitive custom harp MAY not respond to the harder than tolerable breath at the moment. There are lessons to be learned there. Listen to the customizer if he tells you maybe you might not want a soft breath setup on your custom harp.

I have also learned that those ob/ods are just notes, parts of scales and they may be approached many ways. Ob/ods is one way, chromatic harps another, there's half-valved and partial valved, alt-tunings and any combination of the above. To put it mildly, I'm having a wonderful time finally learning all about this thing I've been honking on since I was 17 or so. Forget counting sheep when I go to sleep, it's usually scales, intervals and licks I'm rehearsing as I go into sleep.

Have fun with your harps, explore all the possibilites I mentioned, it is really quite satisfying. Cheers !!!
241 posts
Nov 29, 2018
2:12 PM
Thanks I see I have some reading to catch up on.
Mostly wondering if people accumulate overblow harps, just like any other.
I don't overly worry if I keep up with others on the topic for now it's more of a curiosity to me. I'm sure I'll learn more over the years.
thanks encore..

Last Edited by Spderyak on Nov 29, 2018 2:13 PM
John M G
280 posts
Nov 30, 2018
6:11 AM
I like a lot of what Jason Ricci does. That was my influence to look at overblowing and overdrawing. I really like a lot of what Jason does and one track of his “515 unreleased” really inspired me to learn. Not that there are a lot of overblows. But the ones he uses are essential to the piece. I think there’s only one 6 overblow in the middle solo on the Bb harp and a few more on the F outro
I now have almost a full set of custom harps that I’ve slowly got together over the last 2-3 years that are set up for overblowing and overdrawing. Not that quite a few of my stock harps won’t do it. Just that they aren’t reliable across any given harp.
I just wish I’d invested earlier in custom harps and have never regretted or counted the cost because they play so nicely
If this track is something you like, then maybe it’s worth pursuing overblows and overdraws. This is the track that started me out. I’ve got no idea what the lyrics mean. I just love the groove.
243 posts
Dec 02, 2018
5:03 AM
I haven't had the desire to listen to any of his stuff
as yet.
I'll check it out at a later time..perhaps..
The Iceman
3722 posts
Dec 03, 2018
10:20 AM
When first adjusting gaps for OB, a balance had to be found between ease of achieving them and danger zone of reed choking when using hard breath force. Some have 2 sets of harmonicas to get around this issue.

I advocate breathing the harmonica rather than blow/suck (letting the equipment/amplification do the heavy lifting). Then reed choking becomes almost a non-issue and one set of harmonicas set up for OB will do just fine.
The Iceman
2585 posts
Dec 03, 2018
10:45 AM
I got Tom Ball to play one of my diatonics at NAMM--when he was done, he said, "Not really set up for my style of playing."
So there ya go--gapped too low.

Oh, and I would like to thank him publicly for playing my (used) harmonica, hope he didn't catch what I have.
John M G
281 posts
Dec 03, 2018
3:54 PM
Iceman, the two sets is pretty much where I've wound up. I'm very careful with my custom harps.

I did a gig this Saturday night past with a loud 4 piece band. Great guys to play with, but loud. I still wound up with the occasional choking issues in this situation. I'm fighting off the temptation to open up the gaps!
The Iceman
3723 posts
Dec 03, 2018
6:45 PM
John...I'm curious.

Did blowing harder last Saturday night actually give you more volume, solving the loud 4 piece band issue, or did it just make some reeds choke?
The Iceman
2076 posts
Dec 03, 2018
11:33 PM
I use an occasional overblow when playing with a band.
If I am just sitting on a park bench unaccompanied playing a little harp, I sometimes play these tunes using overblows;

Ave Maria
Jesu Joy
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
The Christmas song
John M G
282 posts
Dec 04, 2018
5:01 AM
Hi Iceman, playing harder definitely did not solve anything, certainly not volume.
It's something I've found gives me grief when I can't hear myself properly.
Your natural instinct is to draw or blow harder which as you know is wrong!
The room wasn't ideal and I had limited set up space. I had to play right in front of my amp and was at almost full volume on my 200 watt quilter set up. I've got a Squeal Killer but was getting into fed back territory and this was while I was being told to turn up my volume but I had nothing left in reserve.
The choking reeds is something I really have to resolve.
The last time I played with this band I was behind my 200 watt quilter and used my 45 watt quilter with a 10" cab for foldback. That worked much better but I had no space this time to do that.
The Iceman
3728 posts
Dec 04, 2018
2:24 PM
John - common emotional human reaction - BLOW HARDER.

It's never worked for me either as far as having the harmonica cut through better, so I did spend some quality time relearning to relax in loud situations, fighting that emotion until I got it under control.

The result was much better harmonica tone and control overall. There is a point of diminishing returns at a certain level of breath force....in other words, using more does not get you any reward aside from ruining a harmonica.

In learning to relax in uncomfortable situations, I did mature a lot - even to the point of, when it gets too ridiculous, I'll just put down the mic and walk rather than fight an uphill battle that can not be won.
The Iceman
1335 posts
Dec 05, 2018
12:54 PM
"common emotional human reaction - BLOW HARDER."

I believe it was the 20th century philosopher Ronald Van Zant who said, "turn it up".

Get a large caliber amp and let it do the work.

Underwater Janitor, Patriot
MBH poseur since 11Nov2008

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