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Playing Chromatically

The Discrete Comb


Tested model: Discrete Comb with Big River MS reedplates in G

Some time ago I received a Discrete Comb, made by Winslow Yerxa. The Discrete Comb (DC) is custom machined on a CNC milling machine. After that, the comb is sanded with abrasives to smooth sharp edges, remove cutting marks, and, most important, make the surfaces that contact the reedplates as flat as possible for purposes of airtightness.

Winslow came to the idea of building a comb with separate chambers for each reed when he played and examined a little banana harp that had a single reedplate with a blow and a draw reed side by side, each in a single hole.

After learning more about opening and closing reed action and dual reed bends he decided to build a DC with each of the 10 holes divided into upper and lower halves so it was like having two rows of holes in a vertical stack. This allowed him to bend every reed in a single reed bending action.

The comb I reviewed was made from clear acrylic...almost the same dimensions as any other diatonic "bluesharp"... The length and width are "normal"...but the comb is bit taller.... I came to think of a XB40 .

It was built to mount Hohner MS reedplates so I used a set of Big River MS reedplates in the key of G. No customizing, just reedplates out of the box.

I play diatonic and chromatic harp and maybe that's why I didn't have to get used to the shape of the comb.

The harp played like a standard Big River...maybe a bit more responsive. All regular draw bends and blow bends came loss of air.

BUT..... the DC can do much more! It is built to be able to play overblows and overdraws in a single isolated reed action, simply by tilting the harp a little and directing the air stream to the other half of the hole. So...blow on hole 1, tilt the harp a little to isolate the draw reed on hole 1 and the overblow comes very, very easy. The same goes for all other overblows/overdraws. Another example, draw on hole 7, tilt the harp a little, draw on the blow reed and the overdraw is there. It works as described in the booklet that came with the harp, very helpful because of the well-explained different reed actions.

It is possible to play isolated single reed bends on every hole....draw bend, blow bend, overblow, overdraw.... It took little time to get used to the tilting action; I only had to adjust my embouchure a little. The isolated reed bend allows the player to bend up (overblow) a reed more than 1 or 2 semitones. I could overbend some notes 6 to 7 semitones...the same with overdraw.

I haven't played the harp much but I'm sure that with practice its possibilities are almost unlimited. Bending up goes fluidly; overbends+vibrato - no problem.

The sound was fine, pretty loud, and to my ear like a customized Big River or even a more expensive customized harp (Marine Band/Golden Melody or my own Bending Machines, Hering Vintage 1923).

My next experiment will be to mount a set of customized MS reedplates (customizing= embossing reed slots, changing reed curve, chamfering reed slot at the tip of the reed, regapping, tuning).

I get the feeling this will improve the harp more and allow me to (maybe..!!) bend up notes a whole octave.... I'm really looking forward to play a DC during a jazz jam session....think of all the amazed looks from the saxophone and trumpet players.....:-)).

The price of a DC is $25 plus shipping and this is a more than fair price...simply buy a set of replacement MS reedplates (which are better than the original MS plates!!) and you'll have a fine looking and unique harp with unlimited possibilities

Ben Bouman

Planet Harmonica - 2005