Bends is a Brazilian harmonica company who set up shop a couple of years ago and are just starting to branch out into the international markets. Their harmonicas are made entirely in Brazil at a converted automobile factory. Their basic designs are quite traditional, with a selection of standard 10-hole diatonics and solo tuned slide chromatics, but they all have some nice features that set them aside from some of the competition. The first things you will notice are the neat form fitted zippered cases for all models, probably the best cases I have seen from any manufacturer. These will protect the harmonicas quite well should you drop them, but they are also nice and comfortable to carry in your pocket. Bends had a CNC machine specially constructed to make their reeds to ensure good tolerances and they have made a point to tune their reeds lengthwise, to minimise the build up of stress points that can lead to premature reed failure. The reeds are attached with stainless steel rivets and stainless steel is also used for all their covers, so corrosion should not be an issue. Upper and lower reedplates are clearly marked and stamped with the date of their production.
Their standard chromatic model is the Allegro. This is a 12-hole solo tuned model reminiscent of the Hohner 270. It has a translucent red acrylic comb and is available only in the key of C. It has a three piece short stroke straight positioned stainless steel slide assembly and a chromed brass mouthpiece with round holes which feels very comfortable in the mouth. I also really like the minimalist laser etching that leaves the covers feeling very smooth. The plain brass reedplates are 1.2mm thick and are secured to the comb with six Phillips head screws, plus two slotted screws along the front edges to ensure good airtightness. The reeds themselves are of a standard brass alloy with fairly typical two part valves. Tuning is extremely good, although at A=445 it might be a tad sharp for some players. Reed adjustment is very consistent and the harmonica responds well to both hard and soft playing, with easy note bending.
The Tonica is their delux model, available in 12, 14 and 16 hole versions. It has a clear acrylic comb and full length covers with a black satin finish, making it a very attractive instrument. Like the Allegro, it has 1.2 mm thick plain brass reedplates, although its reeds are made of phosphor bronze. Also like the Allegro, it has a round holed chromed brass mouthpiece on a three piece short stroke slide assembly, but the slide of the Tonica is treated with a special process for which the company was granted a patent last year. On all the samples I have the slide is extremely smooth and quiet - I would even go so far as to describe it as the best out-of-the-box slide assembly I have encountered. On both the Tonica and the Allegro, all the reeds are attached with their free ends pointing away from the mouthpiece. Although this has little to no effect on how they play, it has the distinct advantage of helping reduce the negative effects of gravity on the longest valves when you store the harmonica on its back. Tuning is again at A=445 with good reed adjustment. Overall I was very impressed, with just one minor quibble - on some of the lowest valves the two layers had stuck together making them buzz a little. This was easily and quickly fixed by carefully separating them.
Another good point about the Tonica is the range of available keys. The 12 hole version is available in the keys C, D, G, A and Bb; the 16 hole is available in C and Bb. Currently the 14 hole version is only available in C, but I am told that it will be made in other keys before long. Recommended retail prices in the US are $299.00 for the Allegro and $339.95 for the 12 hole Tonica, but online dealers seem to be carrying them at substantial discounts.
It seems like Bends are off to an extremely good start.
Unfortunately, Bends ceased manufacturing in 2011, due to financial problems. Some retailers still have stocks of certain Bends instruments, but once they are sold out, that's it.
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