If you spend any time at all on harmonica related forums or social media, you will see endless discussion on the topic of overblow and overdraw (OB/OD) playing. Yet, in spite of the discussion there is still confusion on the technique and many players will incorrectly classify themselves as overblow players. Although there are some early blues harmonica recordings where an overblow was played, the technique was developed and popularized by harmonica virtuoso Howard Levy. As he is also a saxophone player, he borrowed the name from a technique used by saxophonists and it has stuck. Many agree this nomenclature is technically not correct. My references will refer to it as overblow/overdraw or OB/OD.
On a standard diatonic harmonica, there are missing notes. In other words, the reeds are designed to play a fixed number of pitches when set into motion by a column of air. However, when the reeds interact in unison, intermediate pitches will sound. This most commonly happens in a “bend”. A bend is where the player finds a pitch somewhere between the highest and lowest reed in the slot. So for example on a (C) harmonica, the blow #4 is a C and the draw #4 is a D so a player can bend the D note down and find any pitch range in between the two. Bending is typically referred to as a “draw bend” in holes 1-6 where the higher pitch reed is on top and the lower pitch reed is on bottom.
In holes 7-10, the higher pitch reed is on the top. A player can still bend the note but must use what is called a “blow bend”. This is where the confusion on OB/OD playing comes in. Many players incorrectly refer to blow bends as “overblow”.
The OVERBLOW is actually a technique where the player causes the blow reed to enter the reed slot and freeze up. When this happens, air passes by the draw reed which then begins to sound. The resulting pitch is produced by the draw reed is about 1/2 step above the pitch of the draw reed. The OVERDRAW is simply the same except it happens in reverse. The draw reed is locked into the slot and the blow reed sounds in the pitch range 1/2 step above the pitch set for the draw reed.
On a (C) harp:
4 BLOW – Pitch is (C)
4 DRAW Bend – Pitch is C#
4 DRAW – Pitch is D
4 OVERBLOW – Pitch is Eb
Although the OB/OD technique is discussed continuously on internet forums, very few players are able to use the technique effectively. Many are able to produce OB/OD notes in isolated instances, but using these notes in performance is much more difficult. Placing the technique within a passage of a musical piece requires the player to extensively train the muscles in the mouth and jaw as well as have a strong sense of pitch. Using the technique with any effectiveness can take years of practice. However, it opens up endless possibilities for the player, most notably the ability to play the major 7th in 2nd position (5 overblow)
There is fierce debate on all aspects of OB/OD playing and how best to achieve it. Most significant is the topic of “out of the box” or stock harmonicas verses “customized harmonicas.” In reality, there are many production harmonicas can be played using the OB/OD technique. Generally speaking, an average production harmonica in the central keys of (Bb) to (C) will allow a player to produce an OB on 6 and occasionally 4. However, as we move further away from these keys and as we seek to OB/OD on other notes such as 5 OB and 7 OD, the player proficiency begins be contingent on the harmonica set-up. The link is to a video I published showing the OB/OD techniques on stock Seydel 1847.
To produce an OB, the player has to be able to lock the reed into the slot so it will not vibrate. Therefore, the easiest way to accomplish this is to manually change the reed gap so that it sits closer to the reed plate and consequently, the slot. The less distance the reed has to travel, the less effort is required to lock it into the slot. However, this becomes complex because we still need the reed to sound when not playing the OB. This is where the tricky part comes in and there is a sub-industry within the world of harmonica technicians who specialize adjusting the harmonica for the OB/OD technique. The following videos, although somewhat dated, show some basic techniques for those who want to perform basic adjustments to their reed gaps.
I encourage players who desire to learn the OB/OD techniques to consider that proficiency will take years of practice. A player can make limited progress quickly with the right practice and a good instructor. However, the great OB/OD players such as Howard Levy, Sandy Weltman, Jason Ricci, Carlos Del Junco and many others reached their level of playing not because they owned an expensive harmonica, but because they practiced endless hours on drills, scales, and arpeggios developing muscle control, a good ear, and the coordination between the two. As an aside, it is also important to note that many of the finest and highest earning harmonica players in the world do not incorporate OB/OD into their playing.
At 16:23 Custom Harmonicas, I am able to adjust harmonicas for OB/OD. Recently, I have begun building special Seydel harmonicas for the serious OB/OD player and student. This involves a very tedious and time consuming process where I re-tune every reed on the harp down 1/2 step. I do this with a special polisher. The result is a very responsive harp that will produce solid OB/OD on all notes provide the player has proper technique. I do believe though that you can begin to learn the technique on a stock harmonica.
If you are currently an OB/OD player or you seek to begin this journey, and you have found this article helpful, I would love to have your business. Feel free to contact me to place an order or ask a question at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below is sample of the Christmas song God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman played on a Seydel Session Steel (D). This particular harp was retuned down to (D) from (Eb). The piece requires the 6 OB and it is played in 3rd position.
Welcome to 16:23 Custom Harmonicas. I am a full-service Seydel dealer and offer all Seydel diatonic and chromatic harmonicas. My specialty is individualized and personal service with a goal of getting you the player into the right Seydel harmonica. My customers appreciate the individual attention and responsiveness I provide and that is my specialty. If you have questions and are considering a Seydel purchase feel free to contact me. Although my prices are generally in line with other Seydel dealers, you may find they are slightly higher in some cases. My established customers appreciate the value in personal attention and find that their transactional cost is actually lower when they have someone looking out for their interest.
I like to provide my customers with options that might not otherwise be available. This includes economical harmonica configurations, tunings, temperament and choices that are specific to their playing.
I specialize in Seydel repairs and have an extensive stock of spare parts for Seydel diatonic and chromatic harps and am the designated Seydel repair technician for the U.S.More information on repairs is available on the link to the right.
I am frequently asked what harmonicas I stock or have available. My inventory changes daily as I receive and fill orders continuously. However, if Seydel sells it, I either have, can build it, or order it and the turnaround time is generally only a few days.
As a way to insure my customers get exactly what they need, I accept orders by email instead of drop-down menu format. This allows me the satisfaction of developing a relationship with my customers and guarantees I am in tune with their needs. It is not quite as easy as pressing a button and placing an order, but it is much easier than purchasing the wrong harmonica and being dissatisfied.
My phone number is posted on the web site. However, due to the high volume of sales and repair work, lengthy phone calls take away from the individual attention I provide all my customers. I can give much more complete and accurate answers via email.
I accept Paypal, credit cards, and personal checks. As a matter of general practice, I do not invoice customers until the order is ready for shipping.
Thank you for stopping by and I look forward to hearing from you.
I’m happy to be attending SPAH 51 again this. As last year, I will be representing Seydel in the vendor booth area. SPAH has been going strong for over 50 years now and it is a busy but fun week where harmonica players of all skill levels gather for a time of jamming, teaching, clinics, performance, buying/selling, and and all other things related to our instrument. The vendor area is a central spot where the major manufacturers of harmonicas and related gear can showcase and sell their products. Seydel has an active presence at SPAH both as a contributor and a vendor. Seydel harps are available for demo and purchase and the selection will be extensive this year. As part of this, I will be on hand to answer customer questions, provide technical advice, and process your purchase. Both in the vendor area and around the hotel, you will see great harmonica players, including Jimi Lee and PT Gazelle who are are part of Seydel’s endorser program. On Thursday morning from 10-12, I will be leading a workshop on basic Seydel chromatic maintenance. We will cover ways to keep your Seydel DeLuxe and Seydel Saxony on stage and off of the workbench, as well as simple repairs. Please come by and say hello if you are attending. More information on SPAH is at the link http://www.spah.org/index.asp.
Photos below were taken by my good friend and harmonica player Keith Mitchell. He’s talented musically and as a photographer. Keith specializes in musical photography. For more of his work, see the link http://www.digitalaspirations.com/
Welcome to 16:23 Custom Harmonicas. We are primarily a seller of Seydel diatonic and chromatic harmonicas. If you are here, it is likely you are interested in learning more about what we offer. 16:23 Custom Harmonicas specializes in providing personal and individualized service to its customers. You will find our prices to be in line with the outstanding service we provide. At 16:23 Custom Harmonicas, we understand that our products are of the highest quality and hence are priced higher than many other fine harmonicas available on the market. We also understand that our customers may need guidance in choosing the right harmonica for their playing style, experience, and of course budget. We offer numerous creative options. We hope that if we satisfactorily serve you in this regard, you will choose 16:23 Custom Harmonicas as your provider. In addition to Seydel diatonic and chromatic sales, we handle Seydel repairs and repairs on other chromatic brands. We also specialize in setting up harmonicas in alternate tuning, over-blow/draw set-up, and half-valving. At 16:23 Custom Harmonicas, we know we are a great resource for musicians. However, if a purchase is clearly not in your future, or if you have committed to buy from our many friends in the harmonica business, we ask that you use our web site or one of the many online resources to get more information. We want to remain available for our existing and future customers. Need more info? Shoot us a call, text, or email at email@example.com or (210) 445-6600
As your Seydel Harmonicas dealer, we are able to handle diatonic Seydel repairs to include reed replacement and adjustments. 16:23 carries the full line of spare parts such as reeds, cover and reed plate screws, combs, and more. Priority is given to existing 16:23 customers, but if you have a broken harp, contact us and we will see what we can do. greg@1623customharmonicas (210) 445-6600
Jump on any harp related forum or discussion group and you will almost certainly find complaints from players about reed failure. Reed failure is simply the point where the reed either breaks or goes severely out of tune. This happens because of stress on the reeds. The road to reed failure starts as soon as the reed begins to vibrate. The reed stress is highest at the base of the reed near the rivet. This also happens to be a spot where there are micro scratches and cracks in the reed that are referred to as milling marks. Milling marks are the result of the manufacturing process. They are the starting point for reed fracture. The process of reed polishing removes these milling marks using a variety of rotary tools and light abrasives. Eliminating the mill marks does involve making the base of the reed slightly thinner but it also removes the most common starting point for reed failure. If you find you are consistently blowing out Seydel reeds, contact me about replacing the failed reed with a polished reed. Typically, I replace the reed with one that is 1/2 step above what was there previously and polish the base to the correct pitch. Customer feedback has been outstanding and the polished reeds significantly outlast the unpolished. Many customers report a more responsive reed, as well. At 16:23 Custom Harmonicas, we don’t want to see your playing limited by reed failure. Contact us regarding Seydel reed polishing options and lets keep your harp in your hands and not on the repair bench. firstname.lastname@example.org
Years ago, great acoustic guitar players & even a few guys playing electric discovered that they could change the feel and timbre of a song by re-tuning a few strings. I have no idea when the concept really emerged but the Rolling Stones used an alternate tuning on the song Honky Tonk Woman. Do you ever notice yourself falling back into familiar phrases and licks? On a diatonic harmonica, that’s easy to do but a difficult habit to break. It is that point where muscle memory takes over for our ear and as much as you dislike it, you just play an uninteresting iteration of the same phrase or run almost out of habit. The most noted players out there (Our You Tube favorites) are the ones who figured out ways to break out of familiar phrasing and create new sounds. When we re-tune a few notes on the diatonic and then habitually play that old familiar phrase, a completely new sound pops out. It is sort of like instantly seeing the world in color. Volumes could be written about the topic but consider stepping out and trying some of the options available to the player. Country tuning has probably been considered the most popular but there are others that are gaining popularity and some are quite radical. As you venture into this area, remember it is a musical experiment. Deciding a particular tuning isn’t for you doesn’t mean the experiment failed. The worst that can happen is your musical mind will be momentarily re-wired. That is a good thing. Conversely, you might just find a new musical world available to you that was just one reed away. Contact me via email if you have questions on the many alternate tuning schemes available. email@example.com