Andrew's blog

Dark Combs™ for Lucky 13 combs

I now offer Dark Combs™ for Brendan Power's Lucky 13 harmonicas.

Order them here: Other models including Marine Band 364, 365, pre-MS Meisterklasse, Seydel Big Six, Easttop 008

I strongly recommend you obtain and use The F Tool to straighten both the blow and draw reed plates. These are fine harps, but they suffer a little more from the difficulties associated with mass production than a higher quality harp.

Andrew's videos on USB!

Over the past few years, I've posted a lot of harmonica-repair and customization information on my site and on YouTube. With over SIX HOURS of video in the past three years, there is a lot of material to sort through!

I'm going to make this easier. I will be offering a USB drive with my uploaded videos - along with some premium (never published before) videos - and printed documentation. I will re-mix some of the uploaded videos to increase video and sound quality.

I will break down the content into two sections, Beginner and Advanced.

The Beginner section will feature quick-and easy solutions for folks who want results fast:

- Basic harmonica care
- Tuning repair
- Thirty-second reed work
- The "Magic Bullet" to improve significantly almost any harmonica in 60 seconds.

The Advanced section will zoom in on the fine details we all love to hate!

UPGRADES: As I make new videos, they will be added to the USB drive. With the purchase of the drive, you get free upgrades - I will give you access to newly-made Premium videos.

I cleaned Hohner out of their harmonica-shaped drives. I have had to get some custom USB drives made. They are a little less exciting but I like them a lot!

If everything goes right, I predict these will go live on August 21st. Stay tuned!

Short slot combs

Hohner reed plates are "Long-slot" in keys up to and including C. Keys of Dd and higher are "Short-Slot" meaning the reeds are shorter.

Marine Band combs for these keys have shorted channels.

On the highest pitched harps, you may start to run into trouble getting the 10 blow half-step bend. It may sink into the full step bend offering you very little control. The trouble here is not only a matter of technique - although you do need to master fine motor control.

The trouble is mostly a matter of physics.

The acoustics of the reed chamber can interfere with the resonance of the 10-hole half step blow bend. Short-Slot Hohner Marine Band combs try to compensate for this. I've taken it a few steps further.

My solution has been to change the shape of the chamber so that the acoustics cooperate with the resonance you create as you play.

Until now, I have only offered this innovation in my custom harps.

Starting today, I will offer this design on all Short-Slot Hohner Marine Band and Golden Melody combs I make.

Here is a Factory Short-Slot Marine Band comb compared to my Short-Slot comb:

Important details: Base Centering

Have you every tried to give a reed a little more snap but nothing seemed to work? It plays "fine" (adequately) but everything you do to improve tone and response has no effect?

"What am I doing wrong?" you ask yourself.

If your harp is airtight and the reed has a decent shape, you should see results. If that's not the case, you have fallen victim to a subtle defect.

There are a few subtle defects that can cause you grief. The best way to deal with them is to learn how to spot them and correct them before they can affect your work.

Base centering is one of these subtle defects. The worst thing about this one is that the reed shows no clue there is anything wrong until you try to work on it: It plays adequately out of the box.

Once you master this technique, you can center the base of a reed in about 90 seconds.

Difficulty level: Advanced. Practice on an entire reed plate of a proper (scrap) harp. Shift the base of every reed in different directions to learn how to control where the base ends up when you are done.

In this video I am using my Reed Replacement kit and a Grobet Tuning File

Country tuning

"Country Tuning" is one of the simplest altered tunings. You raise the 5 Draw by one semitone.

Using the Grobet 0-cut file and a good reed support tool, this can be done in a minute or two.

You get a major seventh instead of a minor seventh. If you use the 12345 draw chord, it's now a Jazzy-sounding major seventh chord.

The 456 draw chord is now a major chord, too! On a standard tuned Richter harp, that's a minor chord.

This tuning also enables a draw bend on the 5 Draw reed.

New F Tool feature!

My F Tool™ now comes with its own reference bar to measure flatness.

The F tool page.

Dark Combs™ for Easttop Blues harmonica

I now offer Dark Combs™ for Easttop Blues 008K and 008S!

Order them here: Other models including Marine Band 364, 365, pre-MS Meisterklasse, Seydel Big Six, Easttop 008

I strongly recommend you obtain and use The F Tool to straighten both the blow and draw reed plates. These are fine harps, but they suffer a little more from the difficulties associated with mass production than a higher quality harp.

I also found Easttop tuning to be quite imprecise. Tuning was plus or minus six cents! As such, it's not possible to lay out a meaningful tuning table of offsets for these harps.

I recommend you tune them yourself using a chromatic tuner and your ears.

Tune the blow plate on the comb with the Grobet file

This is a quick and effective way to lower the pitch of a blow reed without taking the reed plates off the comb. If the reed is properly supported, you will not alter the shape or the gap of the reed by tuning it.

It's easy to raise the pitch of a blow reed with the Five cent tuner. Just support the reed and file the very tip of the reed with the Grobet file.

Lowering the pitch is just as easy!

First, make sure your Five Cent Tuner has a slight curve to it:

You can adjust the curve any way you like. You can bend and unbend it over and over - the Five Cent Tuner will last for decades with normal use.

Next, insert it over top of the blow reed you want to tune down. Make sure the curve is facing away from the reed!

Turn the harp upside down and press down. The spring steel will flex and support the reed with a little bit of tension. Gently insert the tip of the Grobet file inside the harp and scrape some brass from the base of the reed. You will be working by sense of feel so you will need a little bit of practice.

New tine finish

I use regular evaluation and incremental steps to strive for constant improvement.

I have changed the type of finish I use on the tips of the tines of my Dark combs™. The old finish was excellent, but this one is slightly better. It may be a little more durable and it's a little faster to apply.

One unexpected difference is that the colors are a little deeper. In particular, Dark shadow is pretty close to Deep Black in low light. In brighter light, it has a unique sparkle.

My criteria for implementing a change like this are stringent. The finish must be:

- Food safe - non toxic
- Environmentally friendly (the company making it should not pollute the planet)
- Safe to apply (I don't want to get sick working with toxic chemicals in my shop)
- High quality
- Durable and more resistant to alcohol exposure
- Reasonably fast and easy to apply

It took me a few weeks to figure out the best strategy for long-lasting results. Each product has a sweet spot between the number of coats and the thickness of each coat. Some products are best applied as many layers of a thin coat while others are best applied as a thicker layer with fewer coats.

Maple Cream

I have added a new color choice to my Dark Combs™. It's called Maple Cream.

It's made from the same stuff as my other Dark Combs™ using recycled paper and natural resin. It has a light color, but provides a nice dark tone like my other colors do.

It's available for Marine Band, Golden Melody, Suzuki, Seydel, Lee Oskar and vintage Huang.

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