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Hohner Finally Ships The XB-40 Extreme Bender

I came home Saturday afternoon and found a small package from www.Coast2CoastMusic.com that had the XB-40 Extreme Bender in the key of C that I ordered early this year. The XB-40 has been coming out any day now since first shown at Trossingen last year. It is billed as a diatonic harmonica that could bend both blow notes and draw notes on all the holes.

First impressions:

The XB-40 comes in a clear vinyl case. The paper inserts have a “tweed tolex” design as the background. (Gee - I wonder where they got that idea?) There are instructions inside in English and German. In addition to the usual Hohner “Tongue Block or Pucker” instructions there is a lengthy discussion of the abilities of the Extreme Bender.
The harp itself is large. The holes are larger than the holes in any harmonica that I’ve played. Strangely, this made it easier to play rather than harder. When I played my first chord with it, I was amazed at how loud the harmonica is. The big holes seem to increase the volume.
According to the instructions, the XB-40 uses 40 reeds instead of the usual 20 for a diatonic harp. The harmonica uses a special set of valves to direct air to the match pair of reeds, allowing bends in both the blow and draw of all holes. I tried it out for a while and found that I could, indeed, blow bend on the lower notes and draw bend on the higher notes. I found the blow bends on the high notes to be no easier than blow bends on a standard diatonic, in fact, they seemed a little more difficult to me. The typical draw note choking that occurs in the high registers of diatonics was not present. The high end draw notes were almost as easy to draw as the low end notes.

Bending Notes.

I found that bending notes in the normal way felt similar to a Special 20 or a Lee Oskar. In other words, the reeds felt light and flexible. In contrast to a Big River or a Marine Band, the XB-40 reeds were very easy to bend – too easy in my opinion. I like to play hard on a draw note and still be able to get a solid unbent sound. A hard draw or blow on the XB-40 almost guaranteed a bend. I found it almost impossible to play the 1-hole draw or blow without a bend. Punching the 3 or 4-hole blow resulted in flattening the note. You have to be very careful with the XB-40 if you want to punch a note and not get a bend.
In general, the bends were difficult to control. The easy bending made it hard to stop on the intermediate bends and very hard to play without a bend. Some notes bend too easy, where other notes are just as hard, if not harder, to bend. I believe a person with a Lee Oskar tool kit and some experience in adjusting reeds could make this a very usable instrument.
One last note, the valve system makes overblows impossible.

What bends do you get?

According to the insert, you get all of the bends in a normal diatonic harp, plus two blow bends on all holes. The blow bends are like the Jimmy Reed style blow bends on the high end of the harp and they bring down the note ½ step and a full step. The low-end blow bends are much easier to control than the high end bends. In addition, all draw holes have at least two bends - ½ and full, except for the 1-hole which only has a ½ bend and the 3-hole which has the usual 3 bends.
This gives you a few notes previously unavailable to harp players.
I am using the XB-40 in the key of C for the following discussion.
The blow bend in the 1-hole gives you the a# and b. The a# is an octave below the 3-hole first bend a# and the b is an octave below the 3 hole unbent. The b gives cross harp player the second and the a# gives the cross harp play the low flat third lower down. This is very cool.
The two-hole blow bends have the natural d that was already available in the 1-draw. The first blow bend is d#, which is the minor third in first position. First position was conspicuously missing this minor note and the XB-40 makes playing first position much more interesting. First position with the XB-40 can now have the rich minor sound that was available only in third and second position.
The 5-hole has the d# in the first blow bend and the second draw bend. Again, the first position play should be in hog heaven.
Third position players will find the f# in the 3 and 6-hole blow bends useful as a third and the f natural in the second blow bend as the flat third. This will make it easy to play major runs without that tricky 2 hole first bend (always a difficult note to hit straight on.)
In the 1 to 6 holes there are no new notes. All the new notes are all available, although sometimes at a different octave, in normal bends. Adding the a# and b to the low octave make for some interesting possibilities.
In the 7 through 10 holes, there are a great number of new combinations. It appears that a skilled user can play the entire chromatic scale using the new draw bends. The cross harp player can continue his blues scale up another octave and the first position player can get through the “no man’s land” of the 5, 6 and 7 holes without stepping on a land mine.

XB-40 Pros

Loud!
Big holes are a pleasure to play through.
Interesting possibilities in bending – especially First Position.
New low end and high end possibilities for cross harp players
Cool toy to fool around with.
It will make other harpers jealous.

XB-40 Cons

Too easy to bend.
Difficult to control bends.
Wide variation in bending ability.
Will need to be adjusted by expert for real usefulness.
Light reeds may not last long for a player who is hard in his harps.
At $79.95 plus shipping, I can only afford one or two keys.

XB-40 Extreme Bender Notes
Hole 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Blow Bend 2 a# d1 f1 a#1 d2 f2 a#2 d3 f3 a#3
Blow Bend 1 b d#1 f#1 b1 d#2 f#2 b2 d#3 f#3 b3
Blow Note c1 e1 g1 c2 e2 g2 c3 e3 g3 c4
Draw Note d1 g1 b1 d2 f2 a2 b2 d3 f3 a3
Draw Bend 1 c#1 f#1 a#1 c#2 e2 g#2 a#2 c#3 e3 g#3
Draw Bend 2   f1 a1 c2 d#2 g2 a2 c3 d#2 g3
Draw Bend 3     g#1              
Normal - not bent         
Normal - bent         
XB-40 - new Bends         
XB-40 - Totally new notes         

 


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