The name Brendan Power should need no introduction one this website, in fact some of you reading this will own harmonicas made by the man himself. Recently, after cutting back the amount of custom work he did, Brendan came up with a way to make a few of his innovations more readily available, by having a couple of harmonica manufacturers produce factory-made versions of some of his harmonicas.
The PowerDraw and PowerBender are both 10-hole diatonics made by Kong Sheng, a company who have recently raised the bar for harmonica production in China. I believe the PowerBender has been previously discussed in these pages. Holes 1 to 4 are the same as a standard 10-hole, with the rest of the holes set up to allow draw bending all the way up the harp, with increased chromatic and expressive possibilities, as well as some really cool chords. Brendan has produced an instructional book/CD set to help you explore what this tuning can do, but I think most intermediate harmonica players could adapt to it quite easily with just a few hours of noodling around - and have a lot of fun doing it.
The PowerDraw tuning is similar to the PowerBender in that it eliminates blow bends and overdraws and enables draw bends all the way up the harp. This tuning is probably even easier for a typical harp player to get into, as the first six holes are identical to standard tuning, with a few notes shifted around in the highest four holes. Definitely a plus for the blues player is the ability to get the upper octave flat third and flat fifth in cross harp without needing overblows or overdraws, although its usefulness is certainly not limited to blues. Both of the samples I received for review are responsive and well tuned, with very comfortable ABS comb and stainless steel covers, production quality easily on a par with mid-priced instruments from the big name manufacturers. Both of these tunings would be a bit of a challenge to make yourself, unless you are pretty good working with reeds and at £33 for the PowerBender and £30 for the PowerDraw, this is a more economical option than paying a professional to retune a harp for you. Both the PowerDraw and PowerBender are currently available in the keys of G, A, C and D and Brendan has a bunch of videos on YouTube demonstrating what can be done with them.
The ChromaBender is made by Hering and looks like a 12-hole chromatic with the button missing. From a constructional point of view, that's pretty much what it is, but where the purpose of the lower reeplate on a standard chromatic is to provide the sharps and flats when the button is pressed, on this harmonica it is there to enable the natural notes of the instrument to be bent - full throated double reed bends like a blues harp, not like the valved single reed bends of a standard chrom. Actually, there are a couple of notes in each octave that do not bend - on ChromaBender in C, this would be the F and the first of the paired C notes, but these bends are not needed for chromaticicity as you already have the E and B available as natural notes. All the other notes can be bent by one semitone.
I have to confess something at this point. A couple of years ago, I had thought of building a harmonica that was essentially the same as the ChromaBender, but the idea didn't really appeal to me strongly enough for it to be worth the work. Later, when I heard that Brendan was having them made, I thought that made good commercial sense, but I still didn't feel the need to rush and get one. However, within a few minutes of playing around with the one that I was sent for review, I just fell in love with it! This is a really fun harmonica - nothing new to learn (if you are already familiar with the standard chromatic layout and blues style bending), loud, full toned and expressive. I don't think it will replace the standard chromatic, but it definitely offers up a whole new world of possibilities - and did I mention how much fun it is to play? The ChromaBender is currently available in the keys of C, D, F, G, A, Bb and costs £130, around the same price as a standard Hering 12-hole chromatic. It comes in a nice zippered case with a really helpful explanatory leaflet and again, Brendan has videos on his YouTube channel demonstrating some of the possibilities of this really cool harmonica.
For more details of these and some of the other unique harmonicas he has to offer, visit www.brendan-power.com.
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