Notes from the Workshop

A space for players interested in my specialist harmonicas, alternate tunings, instructional material, recordings etc to ask questions and share information, experiences, videos etc.
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Notes from the Workshop

Post by Brendan » Wed Oct 23, 2019 7:31 am

Hi Friends,

I know new product releases have been quieter of late, but that doesn't mean nothing's happening. Quite the contrary! I'm currently in a purple patch of workshop development where it feels as if many strands are coming together: a virtuous circle of improving skills, discovering new materials, gaining fresh insights, mastering new technology etc. As a result, various projects that got stuck because of some seemingly intractable problem have been resurrected in a new improved form that is more user friendly and potentially commercially viable.

I don't want to say too much before anything is released, because unanticipated problems can always crop up and detail what seems a dead cert. But the improved harps I've been creating include the TwinHarmonica series, both chromatic and diatonic based.

The ones that use chrom reedplates include the DoubleChrom, Tremolo Chrom, OctaChrom, Quartertone Chromatic, X-Reed Chromatic. Past versions were bulky with long pathways to the reeds, resulting in the dreaded Helmholtz Resonance Coupling issue. They worked in lower range keys, but were difficult and expensive to make. I was never fully satisfied with them, and most have been discontinued awaiting a new approach.

About a month ago I had an insight that unlocked the door to making all these instruments much more compact, about the same size as a normal chromatic - despite having twice the number of reeds. Now I'm deep in the time-intensive task of making new versions of all of them. There's still quite a bit of work to do before releasing anything, but I'm confident in the basic design concept, and the prototypes are living up to their promise.

The smaller TwinDiatonic harps are getting a makeover too, with a completely fresh approach. As with the chromatic versions, my current TwinDiatonics (Switch-Harp, OctaHarp, UniBender etc) have the mouthpiece some distance from the reeds - resulting in the same Helmholtz issue of flattened pitch in the higher notes, plus more difficult bending.

Based on a new concept altogether, my latest versions get the reeds much closer to the mouth, helping alleviate both those problems. In one way the design is simpler, in another more complex, and it's still a work in progress - but the overall concept is certainly theoretically superior to what I've made in the past. That's very important in itself, but getting all the tiny details right to turn good theory into reliable working harps always takes a lot of time and hard work. Once I'm satisfied they are rock solid I'll make plans for releasing the new versions.

One recent invention of mine, the Gasket-valve, is proving very helpful in enabling others to improve. I'm finding it can apply to every harp which needs valves to do its thing. The Gasket-valve not only makes fitting valves far faster and easier, it also improves the accuracy of how they fit. This is crucial on some of my new models, which have very tight spaces inside for valves to swing.

On a completely different tack, quite out if the blue I recently got sent this extraordinary instrument by its owner to examine, figure out, and hopefully reverse engineer:

The Pipe Harmonica

It's quite a challenge, as the mysteries are locked within and the instrument can't be dismantled. Quite a few people have wanted to recreate the Pipe Harmonica in the 60 years or so since this prototype was made, but no one has succeeded. However, working together with another person who's been trying to crack its secrets for several years, our collaboration has yielded quick success in 3d printing the first pipe pairs that sound on both blow and draw breaths. There's still lots of work involved in this project to make a similar 3 octave Pipe Harmonica to Theodore Folsom's original, but the fundamental principle of how it works is now understood. I'm finding it very interesting learning about the parallel universe of the Flue Pipe.

Ok, back to tweaking, fettling, micro-adjusting until the sweet spots for each design are reached. If only I could get Alpha Zero on board to help, things would go a lot faster!

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Re: Notes from the Workshop

Post by Alan » Thu Oct 24, 2019 11:41 pm

I always enjoy hearing about your current projects! Thanks for the update.

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Re: Notes from the Workshop

Post by EdvinW » Fri Oct 25, 2019 1:01 pm

Nice to hear about the progress!

This place HAS been a little quiet lately, and looking back i find I haven't posted in almost two months. Mostly this is due to my work, where it's becoming increasingly clear a PhD thesis doesn't write itself. (Who would have thought, huh?) I hope to get some more time for the forum again shortly.

I have some harmonica related stuff going on though, actually including some ideas for tunings for your double chroms. It will be exciting to see what the new designs look like!

Your final comment about Alpha Zero is interesting. I've been thinking a little about how machine learning (and other maths-heavy techniques) could be used to aid harmonica design. There's no real progress yet, but maybe some day ;)
Edvin Wedin

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Re: Notes from the Workshop

Post by Lizzy » Fri Oct 25, 2019 10:53 pm

Good news Brendan! Always fun to read about your progress :D . One question: i was curious when you in April mention something about an alternative method for getting easy overbends on stock harps, That you finally arrived at a good solution on this. You invented some sort of assembly that you could retrofit onto existing harps and i think it was something different than the overblow booster. Do i remember it correctly or is it an abandoned solution? :roll:

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Re: Notes from the Workshop

Post by CrawfordEs » Mon Oct 28, 2019 12:47 am

Great news.
Thanks for the update.
I’m waiting for the day I can try a unibender and maybe a new switch harp.

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