Playing Chromatically on Richter based harps


The aim of this article

Playing chromatically on Richter based harps is the current challenge in the harmonica world. New players seek the new harmonica holy grail: being able to play any note easily, as on a chromatic harmonica but to keep the diatonic 'blues harp' sound

The harmonica manufacturers and private customizers have recently offered brand new designs or major improvements of the existing ones as Brendan Power explains in an article published in 2001 on Planet Harmonica. There are now many different products and the technique needed to play them can be very different from one product to another. This, in addition to the fact that these instruments are more expensive than the standard bluesharp, make the choice of a new instrument difficult for the intermediate player seeking chromaticity.

So we've thought of gathering the information and proposing an at-a-glance view of the different products in order to help the harmonica players in their search for the "ideal" instrument.

These new designs can be divided into two categories, as explained by Winslow Yerxa: "There's the physical reed isolation category, represented by the overblow harp, the Suzuki Overdrive and the Discrete Comb. Each gives some means to physically isolate a reed so that overbending techniques may be applied.

Within this category, the Bahnson harp was designed specifically to facilitate overbends on a limited selection of reeds: those that would supply the notes missing from the chromatic scale. The Overdrive and Discrete Comb differ from the Overblow in that they have no moving parts aside from the reeds, and permit any of the 20 reeds to be isolated for not only isolated-reed overbending, but for single-reed closing bends as well. So that you could bend Blow 1 down for instance, or bend Draw 4 down more than a semitone. This makes the Overdrive and the Discrete Comb the only models that allow for all possible bending reed behaviors to be accessed - isolated opeing, isolated closing and dual-reed combination.

The XB-40 and the CX-10 fall into the added-reed category though for very different reasons. The CX-10, like its predecessor the Koch 980, is simply a Richter-tuned slide harp, accessing additional notes through dedicated reeds or by standard dual-reed bending. The XB-40 is unique in using dedicated enabler reeds, placed entirely at the service of making it possible for all primary reeds to bend as the closing reed of a blow-draw pair."

We hope this article will help you to find your way through the different products. Something important to remember though is that the technique is worthless if it does not serve the music. There is a really danger to focus on the technique to the detriment of the music. This is typically the case of young overblowers wanting to play too many overblown notes just because they're proud of being able to play them.



What is a Richter based harp?


What are the missing notes?



Added-reed category

Hohner XB-40

Brendan Power's CX-10

Brendan Power's All Bending Harp Prototype


Physical reed isolation category

Suzuki Overdrive

Bahson Overblow

Discrete Comb


Standard Richter harps category

Harponline Marine Band/Special 20 hybrid

Beta Harp: Seydel 1847 (customized by Ben Bouman)

Marine Band (customized by Tim Moyer)

Marine Band (customized by Tony Ramos)

Turboharp AX-S20

Marine Band DeLuxe

Seydel Blues Pro 12: the little big one


In conclusion


Important note:

There are many harmonica customizers. Unfortunately we can't afford to try each of them. We've mainly reviewed our own harps coming from four different technicians/companies (two from the US and two from Europe). This doesn't mean at all that the other ones are not to be tried. By the way, we really encourage any intermediate player to try a customized harp. They are not always that expensive, the delays are not always that long and they really, really are a joy to play!

Feel free to contact us for any remark or suggestion at:



Many thanks to Winslow Yerxa for his editorial suggestions.


Laurent Vigouroux


Planet Harmonica - 2004