Andrew's blog

Question about tuning a harmonica "correctly'

Don't stress out about all the numbers! I just got asked a question about how to tune a harmonica "correctly" using 442Hz and offsets. Here's my answer:

Don't worry so much about tuning "correctly" when trying to wrap your head around all the numbers (443 Hz, 442, 439, etc...) Know that harps that are tuned to Equal Temperament at the factory are usually tuned with an accuracy of + or - 6 cents! That is a very large margin of error. We only need more accuracy when we want the chords to sound in harmony (as in "harmonica").

Let your ears decide. Play single notes and play chords. If something sounds not right to your ears, you have the means to fix it. Play various pairs of notes and figure out which note(s) is/are the culprit. Then use "the numbers" and your ears to fix them. The "numbers" (offsets) are a tool to *help* you make the harp sound right. But it doesn't work the other way around. There is no expectation that you need to validate the tuning of a harmonica by looking at a number on a tuner. Single notes on harmonica are so unstable that using that method is very inaccurate. Just play it and if it sounds good, success!

Tuning by numbers as I describe in the tuning sheet you got is a quick way to do things. You will not achieve perfect accuracy using numbers alone. You need to use dynamic breath force while playing two notes at the same time and let your ears guide you. The methodology to do that is on my website and the link is in the documents that came with the tools. There is also a breath chart on the sheet.

The numbers do serve as a landmark to get you close. It's generally a little easier to set the tuner calibration to 339 and tune to make the needle aim for the zero mark instead of leaving the calibration at 442 and tuning to -12 cents. That's why I recommend changing to 339 Hz when tuning major thirds. Fifths are only about two cents sharp so somewhere in between 442 and 443. But we will hit the 2 draw a little harder so it's maybe best to tune it a little sharp, hence tuning the tonic of the draw plate to 443 instead of 442.5. Also, since those reeds are on the low end of the harp, we naturally tune them a little sharp anyway so the 3 blow may indeed be tuned to 443 anyway once you are done.

I hope that helps! Let me know how it goes!

French version of my Quick Customizing Videos

Traduction en cours.... "Tuning Repair" translation in progress....

I will be releasing both an English and French version of my Quick Customizing Videos. Both will have an equal amount of typos and grammatical mistakes.

Vintage Hohner reeds

The Hohner Marine Band is the reference-standard, classic diatonic harmonica. It has gone through a few changes over time, but it is still the same design. It uses a Pearwood comb and brass reeds that have that classic sound and response.

Vintage Marine Bands were excellent instruments. Some of the best classic harmonica records were made using the Marine Band.

Some pre-war versions of the Marine Band are sought-after by collectors. Up until the late 1970s, the quality was excellent. Hohner experienced a few years of poor quality in the 1980s and early 1990s. They attempted some money-saving strategies which were poorly-received. Quality rapidly improved in the late 1990s as they re-tooled their shop.

When buying a vintage harmonica, how do you know if is was made during the good years (before the late 1970s and after the late 1990s)? Will it be worth the time invested to fix it up?

You can look for a few clues as to how the Marine Band was assembled like the number of nails on the bottom side, you can look at the address on the cardboard box, the color of the blue ink on the box.

But these clues don't apply to a Golden Melody or some other models of a vintage Hohner harp?

A sure-fire way to tell is to look at the reeds. This works for every model of Hohner harmonica.

The tips of the older reeds from the "bad" period are chamfered or rounded.

Click on the photo to enlarge.

Click on the photo to enlarge.

Click on the photo to enlarge.

If you are considering spending some time restoring or re-tuning a vintage harmonica, make sure the reeds are *not* rounded at the tips.

A harmonica from the "bad" period will take a lot of time and effort and yet still not ever play well. Be warned and don't waste your time.

Some of those old harps were held together with brass pins instead of screws. Here's a video on a neat way to get those pins out. You can tap out one side with an M2 tap and enlarge the opposite hole with a 3/32" drill bit for clearance and re-assemble with an M2 screw.

Q&A questions from Facebook 2018/11 video 3 of 3

(Video number three!)

This is the third installement from the Q&A responses from Facebook. I am grouping these questions by topic, not chronological order. Some questions relate to one another and make for a nice stream of ideas when answered together.

Extensive videos covering these and other topics are found on my USB videos:
Andrew's videos on USB

Q&A questions from Facebook 2018/11 video 2 of 3

(Video number two!)

This is the second instalment of answers from the Facebook Q&A responses form two weeks ago. I am grouping these questions by topic, not chronological order. Some questions relate to one another and make for a nice stream of ideas when answered together.

Extensive videos covering these and other topics are found on my USB videos:
Andrew's videos on USB

Q&A questions from Facebook 2018/11 video 1 of 3

Two weeks ago, I asked you via Facebook for your questions for a Q&A session. I got so many wonderful questions, thanks! I can't answer them all at once so here is the first instalment. I am grouping these questions by topic, not chronological order. Some questions relate to one another and make for a nice stream of ideas when answered together.

Extensive videos covering these and other topics are found on my USB videos:
Andrew's videos on USB

Basic Custom (formerly known as Semi Custom)

2018-10-16

My Basic Custom harmonica was formerly known as "Semi-Custom." The new name clearly reflects the amount and quality of work done to the instrument which includes correcting all factory defects, high-impact improvements and Sympathetic reed work™.

I offer Basic Custom Marine Band, Rocket, Special 20 and Golden Melody harmonicas.

Order here.

Prices for my Basic, Full and Overbend custom harmonicas remain the same.

Get a grip! Eliminate the guesswork

This is an older video and it's become a little hard to find on my website as I have added content over time.

It's nonetheless a very important video. Here is an easy, low-tech way to "uncover" the secrets of advanced reed work and embossing.

Reed Work
In the second half of the video, I demonstrate some reed work techniques. When it comes to reed curvature, there is a lot of confusion about what a well-shaped reed should look like.

It must be straight as it passes through the slot but that doesn't mean it needs to be straight at rest. A harmonica reed will usually be curved at rest so that as it flexes it becomes straight at the very moment it passes through the slot.

The reed is dynamic; its shape changes as it swings. That's why The Grip is so important. It allows you to see the reed's shape at the very moment it passes through the slot.

From 2015:
"Shape your reeds, do embossing and troubleshoot weird sounds by getting a good look at what your reeds are doing. Use this method to perform some delicate tasks without the need for a light table or a microscope. All you need are your eyes and a bright piece of paper.

I've mentioned this method before as part of at least two other youtube videos. I thought I should make a video to focus on this particular technique as it is applied to reed work, reed alignment and embossing."

Harmonica Customizing is Harmonica Rebuilding

To have success at customizing the diatonic harmonica you need to be able to rebuild the instrument from the ground up. If you are comfortable with this idea, you will be able to handle any problem that is thrown at you.

I reference this video where Joe Filisko talks about the Hohner Affiliated Customizer program (SPAH 2018):

Easy way to support the blow reeds while tuning using a Hockey Stick

Just about everything you do to a harp affects the tuning so it stands to reason the last thing you should do is fix the tuning. But how do you make adjustments to the tuning without messing up the shape of the reeds or undoing other hard-earned adjustments?

Here is an idea to support the base of the blow reeds while you lower the pitch with a quality file. You can support the reed using a piece of toothpick or 18 gauge copper wire. Use anything else you think might work.

We usually support a reed to lower the pitch using a plinker/support tool. We can't advance the support tool to the very base of the reed because there is no room and we would bend the reed out of shape if we force too much.

On the outside of the reed plate you can place something to support the reed and it can go all the way down to the base. Here's a small piece of toothpick:

Here's a piece of 18 gauge copper wire bent in the shape of a hockey stick (It actually has two bends in it to suit different reed lengths as well as to make it easier to pick up with my fingers):

It's just a matter of filing the base of the reed from the inside of the channel with a good quality file:

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