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Harmonica Workbench: BluesXlab SP20 Combs

11 October 2011 7,007 views 9 Comments

Kinya Pollard by Kinya Pollard

 
What’s not to love about the perfectly milled SP20 combs made by BlueXlab (Italy)—makers of the vintage switchcraft lookalike Amphenol connector volume control. With exquisite materials and seductive finishes, I was fully expecting the BlueXlab (www.bluexlab.com) combs to provide me with my next favorite Special 20 harmonica.

 

Shown in aluminum

 

Check out the detail on this olive wood comb:

 

Unfortunately, there was a design flaw that prevented this from happening. For those harmonica players on the quest for big fat tone, you probably spotted the “fly in the ointment”—the mouthpiece.


No, it was not the round versus square holes, which I had an issue with. The sticking point for me was the extra 2mm of material that restricted me from utilizing the “fat tone” embouchure.


To understand why, you need not look much further than a close up photograph of one of your favorite harmonica heroes (or better yet, stand at the foot of the stage ;o). As a reference, virtually all the pro harmonica players who had participated in Harmonica Sessions “Celebrity Hands” feature over the years had adopted an embouchure that maximized their tone and performance.

These players insert their harmonicas as far back into their mouths as possible, with the upper lip touching the back crest of the blow cover plate. The players do this to properly position the reeds into the tone chamber of rich and warm breath—sort of like the epicenter of the harmonica player’s universe. Conversely, the further the harmonica is pushed away from this area, the weaker the tone. You know what I’m referring to, right?… breathy, pitchy and weak.
So what is the solution to this BlueXlab SP20 comb conundrum? Use a precision disc sander to mill away the extra material!

This issue is going to be one of those cliff hangers, “Stay tune to the next exciting episode of Harmonica Session’s Workbench to see how things turned out”!

Printable Version

“Play the notes people want to hear” © 2008www.HarmonicaMasterclass.com Workshop Instructor
MelBay’s
www.HarmonicaSessions.com Columnist
www.BluesHarmonica.com Harp-Tech Expert

Kinya Pollard
The Harpsmith

Musician & Harp-Tech

9 Comments »

  • Paul Neupert said:

    They look great to me, rounded mouthpieces or not. Where (in the US) can I get them?

    Interesting article as always.

  • Kinya Pollard said:

    Hey Paul,
    Good to hear from you Brother! I purchased my combs through: http://www.harpelite.com/catalog/lang-en/18_bluexlab

    Your Harpsmith,
    Kinya

  • Paul Neupert said:

    I just tried to order one. They say that they take PayPal, but PayPal doesn’t do business with them. I have no idea how to make (and don’t want to do one either) a wire transfer, which is the other option. Any ideas?

  • Paul Neupert said:

    Minutes after I posted my last note, I received an eMail from Francesco Palombino of Harp Elite di Albanesi Olivia. He said that while he did not know what the problem was, he would send me a payment request by PayPal.
    I thank him for his concern and fast reply. I just hope that this will take care of the problem.

  • Paul Neupert said:

    The comb (in red) arrived today and I really like it. I’m impressed with its fit, finish, and overall high quality. I have had no problems with the shape of the mouthpiece since I don’t try to swallow the harmonica when I’m playing it. One of these days, I’ll get another one – this time in clear acrylic.

  • Robert Coble said:

    Do Turbo Lids fit the assembled harp?

  • Kinya Pollard said:

    Hello Robert,
    Hmm … I’ll bench test it today and get back to you.

    Your Harpsmith,
    Kinya

  • Kinya Pollard said:

    Hello Robert,
    The side to side fit is a bit tight, but will work. The top/bottom fit is another story. The BlueXlab combs are slightly taller than a stock SP20 comb, therefore, will require some careful sanding of the BlueXlab comb.Otherwise you will not be able to snap the Turbo lid covers together. Let us know if you decide to take on this weekend project ;o)

    Your Harpsmith,
    Kinya

  • Larry said:

    Oh how I long for a corian comb designed the same as a Sp20 comb. I just don`t want to feel the reedplates with my tongue & lips.