In many ways, the 21st century has been something of a disappointment - we haven't brought an end to world hunger, we've yet to colonise Mars, we don't even have personal jet packs. However, some recent technologies have helped make it feel like we really are living in the future. Case in point: 3D printing. Designing something on a computer, then pushing a button and seeing it gradually appear in front of your very eyes, is something that wouldn't have been out of place on "Star Trek". Better still, you don't have to have a factory to do this, as there are now units designed for small workshops and home use. Plastic combs for harmonicas are mostly made using injection molding, an efficient way to mass produce them, but certain compromises have to be made to the ideal design in order for the molding process to work smoothly. With 3D printing, you simply tell the printer the shape you want and it makes it for you. It's a little slow compared with injection molding, so I can't see this being a viable way to make combs by the thousand, or by the hundreds of thousands, but it's a really effective way to make relatively small numbers of specially designed pieces for niche markets.
Cue Brendan Power and his new Power Combs. These are 3D printed combs that address some of the issues of stock combs. Currently available are replacement combs for Hohner 10, 12 and 16 hole chromatics. The 10 hole combs fit the 260, the Slide Harp and the Koch Chromatic. The 12 hole combs fit all keys of the standard 270 Super Chromonica, the 270 Deluxe, the Hard Bopper, the Mellowtone, the Larry Adler Signature Model and the Discovery. The 16 hole combs replace the wood comb of the original 280/64. They are available in two different versions - Advanced and Extreme. The Advanced models are similar to the stock combs, with a little optimisation here and there. The Extreme models are somewhat reminiscent of some of the combs that Douglas Tate developed, with dramatically reduced chamber volume. The 10-hole and 12-hole models have spring holes at both ends of the comb, so you can fit either a right handed or left handed slider, or replace the (almost inevitable) cracked wood comb on a twin slide Chordomonica, as I did just a couple of nights ago. As well as the chromatic combs, Brendan also offers an upgraded comb for the Hohner Auto Valve Harp, or Marine Band Full Concert and in the works are replacement combs for the Hohner CX-12 and the Suzuki SCX series. These may even be available by the time you are reading this and I'm really eager to see what else Brendan has planned for the future.
All combs come sanded perfectly flat and ready to fit, which is a pretty straightforward process. All you need to be able to do is drill a few holes in the reedplates (you don't even need to do that, if you are upgrading a 270 Deluxe, or other harmonica that already has screwed on reedplates) and full instructions are given in videos on Brendan's website. You can also save a few quid and buy them unsanded and finish them yourself. Combs are currently available in six colours - black, blue green, red, yellow and white. They look good, they direct the air efficiently to where it needs to go and they will last you a lifetime. It's time to Power up your old harps!
For more details, please visit Brendan's web site www.brendan-power.com
Since writing the above, Brenda has added a few more 3D printed items to his range, including some diatonic combs with unique features and PowerPlugs, a sort of instant "Tate Ramp" for Suzuki chromatics.
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