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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.

Contact me.

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.

Opening the back of a Special 20 or Marine Band 1896

This is a simple and effective way to open up / fold the backs of the cover plates.

It may be more interesting to modify the back of the cover a different way, though. Some versions of the pre-war Marine Band had a much smaller "lip" but because of the 90 degree angle, it can provide a lot of support against crushing. It's still very open.

This is a modern cover plate modified in that way:

This is how it looks assembled:

Covid19: (How) should I clean my harmonica?

(How) should I clean my harmonica?

I am getting asked this question a lot.

A dirty harmonica will not increase your chances of catching Covid19 (or any other flu). Social distancing and hand hygiene will protect you. Anything else is a false sense of security.

I don't see any realistic cleaning regimen that will somehow allow you to avoid social distancing but not catch the virus. If someone is coughing, singing or playing harmonica near you, they will transmit the disease to you via aerosol droplets.

Yes it will get into your harp but if it's gotten to your harp, it's already gotten to you. And that's the thing we need to avoid.

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- Wash your hands before you pick up your instrument every single time. Wash your hands before you even open up your case.

- Stay away from others until the virus has subsided. Stay more than three feet (1 meter) away from anyone who is sick or stay home.

Follow these rules and clean your harps as usual.

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What happens if I get Covid19?

Hopefully you get better.

Once you are better, it's time to clean your harps. Harmonicas create aerosol particles and you will spread the virus if you play harps you were in contact with while you were contagious.

Won't the virus be dead if I leave my harps to dry for a few days?

Possibly but not certainly.

I reckon the virus could survive quite a long time inside a harmonica with a porous comb. The inside of a harmonica is not like a surface such as a counter top. I assume that we could find biofilm on the inside of most harmonicas which would harbour microorganisms including viruses and help them survive dry spells and even a decent cleaning.

Biofilm is not visible to the naked eye.

Do not sanitize your instruments by dunking them in alcohol. That doesn't work.

Take them apart and clean them thoroughly with soap and water and then sanitize them. Hydrogen Peroxide is really great for that. It won't ruin any of the finishes on the tips of the tines and it is extremely effective at killing microorganisms. It doesn't have a harsh toxic odor and it's earth-friendly. It's cheap and easy to find, too.

If your comb is made of wood, you will have to face the fact that you may cause your comb to swell as you clean it. You really need to scrub and soak it. If the comb swells, I would recommend replacement rather than trying to re-seal it. It will eventually fail again. Replacement combs are easy to find.

This crisis is taking a toll on musicians. Contact me if you are looking for less costly replacement combs.

It may be worth considering putting some of your harps away for the duration of this crisis. If you are fond of some harps with unsealed wooden combs, I think it may be a good idea to keep them separate from your more frequently used - and easier to clean - harmonicas for the time being.

I hope that helps!

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