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Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Harp adjustments for overbending
Harp adjustments for overbending
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Tom585
127 posts
Mar 31, 2021
6:29 AM
Are there any adjustments to the harmonica that can be made to enhance overbends beyond moving the reed closer to the reedplate? Thanks.
florida-trader
1536 posts
Apr 01, 2021
9:00 AM
Oh boy - where to begin. Generally speaking, a huge part of harmonica customization is about making the harp airtight so that the air you move in and out of the chambers has noplace else to go except to act on the reeds. So anything you can do along those lines is going help with tone, volume, responsiveness, bending, overblowing and overdrawing.

Flat sanding the draw plate helps make an airtight seal between the reed plate and the comb. Flat sanding the comb while you are at it for the same reason. Embossing the slots along every edge, other than the fixed end, will increase the tolerances and reduce leakage. Shaping the reed properly so that the entire reed flexes through the slot at the same time increases the responsiveness. Gapping, of course, helps. There are a bazillion YouTube videos about all this stuff, by the way. In short, there is no one big thing you can do to make your harp better to produce overbends. It a bunch of little things. Kinda like death by a thousand cuts. It has a cumulative effect.
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Tom Halchak
Blue Moon Harmonicas
Blue Moon Harmonicas
Tom585
128 posts
Apr 03, 2021
7:44 AM
Thanks, Tom. That is what I thought. I overbend some, and I know technique is the most important part of overbending (or any skill). But I suspected that doing more than adjusting the reed gap will make overbending a bit easier, i.e., making the reeds react quicker and with less pressure.
ridge
806 posts
Apr 04, 2021
8:14 AM
Tom, I've plugged it before, but Andrew Zajac's blog on his website is, in my opinion, one of the best resources available for tips on improving your harmonicas: Andrew's Blog

This Reed Work PDF is helpful: Reed Shaping

This video on reed sighting is packed with information. It's not just a how to - it illustrates some of the important concepts that you see discussed.

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Ridge's YouTube

Last Edited by ridge on Apr 04, 2021 8:21 AM
Tom585
129 posts
Apr 05, 2021
11:25 AM
Thanks, Ridge. I will read and watch what you've posted.
ridge
807 posts
Apr 05, 2021
2:25 PM
I hope it helps you or someone else reading this forum. I started off the same as most others probably have by just closing gaps. This does work... to a point, but it's an overly simplified approach that neglects a lot of other factors. I think this leads people to the incorrect belief that they need tight gaps in order to overblow or have a harmonica that is responsive and dynamic.

Things like reed shape, how the reed closes, how much of the reed is activating have a much more profound impact as Tom Halchak alludes to above.

A basic analogy when sighting a reed is it should close like a door on a hinge. In this case the hinge is the riveted end of the reed. When you simulate how the reed "closes" as it goes through the slot you should aim for having light disappear simultaneously along the full length of the reed... or at least it should start to disappear from the riveted end FIRST.

I'm not a harmonica customizer, but I play one on TV.
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Ridge's YouTube
Tom585
130 posts
Apr 07, 2021
12:53 PM
That is helpful, Ridge. Thanks.

I have just closed the gap, gone back and forth til the reed doesn't got stuck (with varying success) and will overblow. But the overblow is inconsistent and at times takes too much pressure and is slow to react. I feel I should be better at them. I've worked on it for years and I'm starting to think it may at least partly to do with how the harp is set up.
florida-trader
1538 posts
Apr 09, 2021
4:00 AM
I first learned to overblow about 7 or 8 years ago. And of course, I have been setting up harps to overblow and overdraw for almost as long. In my experience, with regard to my personal playing, I find that the optimal setting for overblows and overdraws is a little bit of a moving target. There are two components involved in effective OB/OD-ing on a harp. They are the player, or more specifically, his chops or his embouchure, and the harp – how it is set up. The weaker the player, the tighter the harp has to be set up to make it easier to overblow. The tradeoff is that at a certain point, if the harp is set up too tightly, it will choke easily when playing standard blow and/or draw notes. However, as the player develops the embouchure and muscle memory required to play overblows and overdraws, he doesn’t need the harp to be set up so tightly. Tighter than a stock harp to be sure, but not so tight that the standard notes choke. The ability to not choke the standard notes is also a function of breath control as well. Every pitch that you want to produce on a harp has a sweet spot and part of becoming a better player is learning how to recognize and execute the embouchure required to hit that sweet spot. Sometimes guys talk about breaking a new harp in. I once read an article written by Richard Sleigh in which he said that he believes that we don’t break the harp in, but rather the harp breaks us in. By playing it an becoming familiar with it, we learn its subtleties. Parenthetically I will add that a large part of the objective when building a set of custom harps is to have consistent response throughout the set. Ideally, even though we know that the lower keys can be a bit more sluggish than higher keys, you want to set the harps up so that the differences are minimal.
So, in other words, over the years, I have found that the gaps on my personal harps have gotten a little higher because I don’t need them to be quite so tight. This is why I think it is so important for serious players to learn how to adjust their harps. Just my two cents.

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Tom Halchak
Blue Moon Harmonicas
Blue Moon Harmonicas


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