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Hohner Flex Case M

I can ship an order of several custom harmonicas in a Hohner Flex Case M instead of individual plastic boxes. The Flex case holds up to 7 instruments.

Folks often discard the individual plastic or vinyl cases I ship them in. I would like to avoid waste and offer you a case you will actually use. The Flex Case M is very well designed. It protects the instruments and allows them to dry properly when not in use.

A small extra fee may apply.

How to play the full chromatic scale on a diatonic harmonica

Standard Richter tuning offers a lot of possibilities to make music. You have easy access to some useful chords, splits and octaves, you have a clean major scale in the middle octave and soulful draw bends and blow bends on the lower and upper octaves.

How do draw and blow bends work?

The draw bends on holes 1 to 4 and hole 6 use resonance to make one reed slow down (and eventually stop) and make the other reed move. As you lower the pitch of the 2 draw for example, the draw reed slows down and the *blow* reed starts to move. As you continue to lower the pitch to hit the next semitone bend, the draw reed will stop moving altogether and the blow reed will take over the work. This is a dual reed bend.

Blow bends on holes 8, 9 and 10 are the same but because the pitch of the blow note is higher than the draw note, the breath pattern is inverted and the bend is a blow bend, not a draw bend.

These are "regular" bends. Regular bends sound strong because they are dual reed bends and they are fairly easy to play. With a little practice most players can bend notes effectively on any working harmonica.

With unbend notes and "regular" bends, you can play various scales in different positions.

There's no other instrument that has quite the same connection between the player and the instrument. It's the draw bends on the low-end of the harmonica that give it it's distinctive sound.

You can extend the number of available notes on the diatonic harmonica further. By adding in the missing notes it is possible to play a complete three octave chromatic scale.

Overbends are one way to play these missing notes.

An overblow or and overdraw is a single reed bend. Together they are called overbends and they are different than "regular" bends.

You play an overblow on a hole where the draw reed is higher than the blow reed (holes 1-6); you blow air and in the same way you use resonance to slow down a reed to create a regular bend, you use resonance to stop the blow reed and allow the *draw* reed to make a sound. It will pop out a pitch about a semitone higher.

The same thing goes with an overdraw - you draw bend on a hole where the blow reed is higher than the draw reed.

"Regular bends" bend down - they provide notes that are lower than the unbent note. They play the notes between the blow and draw reeds. Overbends bend up - they provide notes that start a semitone above the pitch of the higher pitched reed.

A good way to learn to play overbends is to take the covers off a harp and mute certain reeds. For example, put your finger on the 4 blow slot and try playing the 4 blow. Nothing will happen unless you "feel around" with your embouchure. Try creating an air pocket in the front of your mouth as you play the note.

Once you get the right size pocket, the resonance will match the pitch you need and the *draw* reed will start to play the 4 OB note.

Reeds don't really like to stand still. Overbends tend to squeal when played on harmonicas that are not set up to play them well. It can happen that overbends can be played on stock harps but it's not a realistic expectation; most instruments will need some setting up to play overbends reliably. You can "cheat" and "roll off" the draw note to hit the overblow much more reliably but this limits the application of the note. Try to play all overbends "straight on" without any momentum to help you get the reeds to cooperate.

An overbend that's hard to play is difficult to incorporate into your playing. It can sound wrong. For this reason, some folks don't like overbends or they find them limiting.

Altered Tunings

Another way to play those missing notes is to alter the tuning. Country Tuning, Melody Maker, Minor tunings, Powerbender all allow you to play extra bends and add extra notes that are not there in Standard Richter.

To alter a tuning, you tune one or more reeds up or down so as to play a different note.

For example in Country tuning (major seventh) the draw five reed is raised one semitone. Instead of playing the flat seventh it plays the major seventh. By raising the pitch of the 5 draw reed, you are adding room between the blow and draw note. You can play the flat seventh note as a draw bend where in Standard Richter there is no available draw bend on hole five.

It's relatively easy to master the technique of raising or lowering the pitch of a reed. You can add weight to the tip of the reed in the form of BluTak or solder to lower the pitch. If you are lowering a pitch by a full semitone or more, I suggest you add weight to the tip to make most of the change and then file some material from the base of the reed to fine-tune the pitch. You can safely drop the pitch of a reed five semitones this way without risking damage to the reed or worrying too much about affecting the response and tone of the reed.

To raise the pitch of a reed, you must file material from the tip of the reed. Although some folks can raise a reed by four semitones this way, I find that more than one or two semitones is enough of a challenge and the reed's response and tone starts to degrade beyond that.

Reed swapping is also an effective way to alter tunings if you have access to extra reeds of the correct dimensions and are adept at reed replacement.

Altered tuning can be simple or you can completely overhaul the note layout. Remember that the soulful connection between the player and the instrument relies on those rich-sounding dual-reed draw bends on the low end of the harmonica. Alterations that turn those bent notes into straight notes take away the fun for me.

Each altered tuning means you will be learning a new breath pattern. At first players are apprehensive because they don't want to "forget" or lose their ability to play Standard Richter licks.

Don't worry! There's enough room in your brain to assimilate all of these breath patterns. Trust your muscle memory. A common mistake is to devote all practice time to the new altered tuning so as to master it quickly. I suspect any degradation in playing Standard Richter at that point is due to having stopped practising those licks rather than the "new" licks kicking out the old licks from your brain.

The net effect of mastering a new altered tuning is that you will become a better musician in all the tunings you have learned.

Half-Valving

Yet another way to play the missing notes is half-valving. A valve will isolate a reed so that you can bend one reed down without the other reed being allowed to participate. It's a single-reed bend like an overblow but you are using a valve to stop one of the reeds from moving rather than using resonance.

Take the covers off a harmonica and mute the six draw reed with your finger. Play the six blow and use your embouchure to bend the pitch down. You will be able to hit the missing note between five draw and six blow using that technique. With a valve over the six draw reed, you are able to play the blow, draw, draw bend and blow bent notes but you will not be able to play the overbend.

Half-valving can also let you intonate the pitch of some notes by shading them as you play them. You can use this to add expression to your playing.

Half-valving refers to only using one valve. If both reed slots were valved (full valving) you would not be able to play any bends.

In Standard Richter, half-valving means that there will be a valve on the inside of the hole on the draw plate on holes 1-6 and on top of the blow plate on holes 7-10.

Valves can be made of various materials. Ultrasuede is a resilient material. The valve is glued to the reed plate starting from the rivet tip on the side of the plate that's opposite from the reed.

Cut a thin strip so that it covers the width of the slot well. Trim it so that it leaves the first few millimeters of the tip of the slot free. You don't need to cover the whole slot for half-valving to work and leaving the tip free can help prevent the tone from being affected too much by the presence of a valve. It can also help prevent sticking of the valve.

All three methods (overbends, altered tunings, half-valving) are valid and used by many players. Pick your favourite!

Or not; you can make lots of good, soulful music with the Standard Richter layout.

Altering Standard Richter to Wilde Tuning

Wilde tuning is for playing rock.

With this altered tuning all bends are draw bends; there are no blow bends or overdraws. You can overblow any missing notes to play the chromatic scale. This tuning shares that feature with Brendan Power's Powerbender tuning.

If exclusive draw bending is the reason you are exploring Wilde tuning, I suggest you take a good look at PowerBender because it is a lot more versatile, allowing you to play many positions. And it works with many styles of music.

How to make a PowerBender harp.

Here is the Wilde tuning note layout.

Holes 1-2-3-4-5 are the same as Standard Richter. Six reeds are re-tuned and two are swapped to provide the note layout.

You can order pre-tuned Wilde harps but sometimes the fastest and most economical way to go is to convert a Standard Richter harmonica. The conversion to Wilde is a pretty big job. Notes need to be lowered by up to five semitones and one needs to be raised by two semitones.

Here is a visual aid to the modification:

These note changes can have an impact on how well the reeds respond but this is nothing that can't be fixed with a little reed adjustment.

Since reed adjustment will impact tuning, where do you start? The best strategy is to make the coarse tuning adjustments before you do reed work.

Here is a sensible method for getting this done with the least amount of wasted time and effort:

Alteration checklist:
1- Swap blow/draw reeds 9 and 10.
2- Correct factory defects.
3- Perform coarse tuning adjustment. Lower pitches using BluTak or Solder. Raise the nine draw by two semitones with a file. (See semitone offsets in the image above)
4- Perform other customizing and improvements including reed work.
5- Perform fine tuning. Identify Major Chords for Just or Compromise tuning. (See scale interval to help you achieve harmonic tuning.)

Tuning the chords for harmony is an area where you can do much better than the factory tuned Wilde harmonicas. Even if you don't tune the five draw to 7-limit, you will still be able to achieve sweet and strong harmonies throughout most of the harp. This will add power to chords, splits and octaves.

Enjoy your new Wilde tuned harmonica!

RoCk On!

This Machine Kills Fascists harmonica sticker

If any Woody Guthrie fans want some of these, please let me know. They fit on the back of your harp's comb.

Just pay the shipping costs.

Get them here.

Marine Band Reed Chart

Harmonicas in the Hohner Marine Band family - and that includes Marine Band 1896, Marine Band Deluxe, Marine Band Crossover, Marine Band Thunderbird, Special 20, Rocket and Golden Melody - all use the same kind of reeds.

Reeds can be replaced when they "blow out" or go flat. Hohner sells individual reeds but shipping costs may be quite high.

The good news is that you can scavenge a reed from one harmonica and put it into another just as long as they have the same slot dimensions. Players have been doing this for decades.

Unlike other manufacturers, Hohner makes two configurations of their reeds, one for lower keys ('Long slot" up to the key of C) and one for higher keys ("Short slot" starting at the key of Db and going up).

The slot dimensions line up for most of the reeds.

That means when looking for a replacement reed, you often have more options than you think. You might be able to find the reed you need on two, three or even four other reed plates!

Here's a chart of the reeds organised by slot dimension.

It's also a table of all of the notes of Standard Richter tuning in every key with the octaves displayed - I find this handy when I'm tuning a harmonica and a reed is so far out of tune it's playing the wrong note. I can use this table to quickly look up what the pitch should be.


(Right-click on the image to download the low-resolution version of this chart for free.)

Find the reed you are looking for in the chart. Stay in the same column and look for a reed with the same pitch (or within one or two semitones if you are comfortable with tuning a reed up or down by two semitones. Try to get a reed that's as close to the pitch you need.)

Example: I need a 4 draw reed for a D harp. The pitch is E5. Within the same column, I can find the exact same reed on:

-a G harp, 6 draw
-an A harp, 6 blow
or
-an E harp, 4 blow

Remember to stay within the same column.

The highest slot (the ten hole) on Long slot reed plates have different dimensions than the eighth slot on Short slot reed plates. They are separated on the chart.

Some notes of the scale have different names - C# is the same note as Db and G# is the same note as Ab. If this were a table of scale degrees, I would respect the proper names. But since this chart is built for speed and simplicity, I've picked the most commonly used names of the notes. I've only used one name for the enharmonic notes.

Use this chart to help plan out altered tunings. I find it helpful when the altered tuning goes beyond three octaves. You will find that it's often more advantageous to start with a high key (short slot reed plate) and tune the low end downwards rather than start with a low key and tune the high reed up. You often have more options when you start with a short slot set of plates.

Save and use the chart displayed on this page for free. Right-click on it and save it to your computer or phone.

I am offering a higher resolution version as PDF files. There is a color one as well as a black and white version.

Download PDF page.

I can also send you a printed version in high resolution on coated 100 lb stock which is perfect for hanging on your wall by your workbench at eye level for quick reference.

Purchase printed version page.

How do you replace a reed? You can do it! Take a look at my Reed Replacement Kit.

Upgraded Marine Band covers

The Pandemic has thrown us all some curveballs.

Shipping is slow everywhere - if it's even available at all! CanadaPost still has a list of destinations it's not serving.

I get my cover plates, reed plates and other Hohner parts directly from the factory in Trossingen, Germany. An order usually takes two weeks to arrive. They are now taking five to six weeks. And many parts are backordered at the factory adding further delays.

Fortunately, for any key Custom Marine Band, I can use either Marine Band 1896, Marine Band Deluxe or Marine Band Crossover reed plates. They all use the same reeds.

So if one model is backordered, I can use another and just do a little extra work to adapt. The customer will not notice.

When it comes to cover plates, though, the difference is more noticeable to the customer.

Marine Band Deluxe covers add a little extra room for the reeds to swing in comparison to standard Marine Band 1896 covers. The amount of extra clearance they offer is mid-way between 1896 covers and Thunderbird conical covers.

They are also more beard-friendly with smoother corners. Crossover cover plates are exactly the same as the Deluxe except they have different writing.

Marine Band 1896 covers can be hand-modified and upgraded to offer more room for the draw reeds to swing as well as smoothened corners (see photo above). Again, this is a little extra work to adapt. It feels the same and plays the same.

It's nice to have options so I don't have to make any customers wait for their instrument.

Embossing is part of Framework

Framework makes doing reedwork much more effective. Embossing is important to framework. Here, it helps us spot some reeds that are off-center at the base.

Harmonica customization is both an art and a science. By and large, we don't need lots of sophisticated equipment to get the job done. Sometimes, the task requires lots of precision like moving the base of a reed a small fraction of a millimeter to one side. We don't need a microscope. Your own eyes will do.

It would have been difficult to see and correct this problem had we not tightened up the tolerance of the slots.

This also addresses the point around how embossing should be done and whether to emboss relative to the reed or relative to the slot. I don't use a light box. I don't look through the slot when I emboss. I view from the top. I bring the sides in evenly.

I tried to make this graphic as realistic as possible. There's nothing like looking at a reedplate with your own eyes. Watch the video in full screen mode, pause and move back and forth to get a really good look at the relationship between the reeds and the
slots.

Embossing does not fix air leak

Some folks believe that a leaky harmonica should be embossed. It's not true: You should not expect that embossing the slots of a harmonica will make the instrument less leaky.

Embossing is the tightening of the tolerances of the slot through which the reed passes. Less room between the reed and the slot means that air flow is more efficient but this is not the same thing as making the instrument airtight.

Air leak happens between the reed plates and the comb or between the covers and the reed plates. It happens when the pieces don't fit together perfectly because one or more of the components is not flat (curved, warped, bowed, etc...) It happens before your breath even reaches the slot and reed.

The benefits of making a harmonica airtight is that more breath reaches the reed and it's therefore easier to play. Most folks describe this using the words "better compression."

Another benefit of making the instrument airtight is that it ensures the slots are straight which makes the reeds more efficient.

To illustrate how embossing or tightening the tolerance won't help airtightness, consider a peashooter.

The air pressure from your mouth pushes the pea out of the straw. The pea gets its kinetic energy from the flow of air.

Although the pea is a little smaller than the straw and some air will flow past the pea, it still moves very well. This pea can travel quite far with a good puff of air.

If there was a hole in the straw between your cheeks and the pea, some air would leak out.

There would be less air getting to the pea and which means less kinetic energy is transfered. With the same puff of air, the pea will not travel as far as in the previous example.

If we tighten up the tolerances by making the pea slightly bigger or making the straw slightly thinner, we will not make the pea travel all that much further. Less air would flow around the pea and that part would be slightly more efficient but it doesn't fix the air leak problem - in fact, more air will leak out of the straw before it even reaches the pea because downstream resistance is higher. The best solution would be to plug up the hole.

Air leak and slot tolerance are two separate concepts.

What tools do I need?

Which tools should I get? What tools are best?

It depends on what you want to do. What are your goals and expectations?

How deeply you want to dive into the inner workings of your harps can grow exponentially. For most players, it's a big step to open up the harp and adjust the gaps.

But often gapping doesn't really unlock that much potential.

You can take a deeper dive and adjust the shape of the reeds. This is very effective but it too, can be unpredictable and limited unless the framework is good. Good framework means that each slot is straight, square and level and that the reed is right in the middle of it. That can be a lot of work in of itself.

But by spending time to get the framework perfect, you will save time doing reed work and the end result will be much better.

Each step of this journey is work. How far you want to go depends on what kind of results you want. You don't have to go all the way if you just want better playing harps.

On the other hand, if you are working on other people's instruments and need to stick to a predictable timeline, you will benefit from gaining the skills and putting in the time to make every reed plate close to perfect before you even begin reed work.

Tuning precision is another story altogether! Harmony (chords) takes a lot more work than single note tuning.

Also, reed replacement is another field. For some, there's enough to gain by just being able to get another playable reed in place on the reed plate. But that new reed may not be adjusted the same as the others nor will it be in tune. So if you are interested in reed replacement, you may want to explore reed work and tuning, too!

My Basic kit gives you enough to get a good start with adjusting reed shape and tuning. Add the flattening and embossing tools if you want to do more advanced reed work; these tools will help you get rid of the imperfections in the frame which makes more advanced reed work a lot easier and effective.

Build your own tool kit:
Custom Configured Tool Kit

Watch my Quick Customizing Videos:
Quick Customizing Videos

Quick Videos

I have revived an older project and completed it.

I had not been happy with the final cut of these videos so I went back and made the necessary changes. Now is the time for this.

Because of the Covid19 pandemic, many folks are stuck at home and with a reduced income. I hope that these videos can help you bring the best out of your instruments and allow you to become self-reliant in keeping your harps in top shape.

I'm releasing this at half price for the duration of this pandemic.

You can get this set two ways:

1- As a 650 Meg download from my website.

2- As a USB drive shipped from RockinRon's.

This set of videos is a guide for hands-on learning. Harmonica customization is a hands-on art.

These videos cover a lot of ground. A lot about the diatonic harmonica is not well understood - There's a lot of misinformation on the internet about what's supposed to work to get your harp to perform. These videos will set you straight. Had I had access to this information when I first started repairing harmonicas, it would have taken years off my learning curve.

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