Andrew's blog

Hohner Affiliated Customizer program at SPAH 2018

"Nothing sounds as good as the Marine Band."

This is taken from Facebook Live (with permission) during SPAH 2018. Joe Filisko is joined by Richard Sleigh and Joe Spiers to discuss the Hohner Affiliated Customizer Program. There was some audio interference which caused a very loud and unpleasant sound in a few spots. I did my best to fix the audio in this edit.

More information about the HAC program is here.

Also check out the Summer 2018 Hohner Easy Reeding magazine

Before & After: Custom Marine Band Reed Plate

Here's a before-and-after look at a reed plate that has undergone customisation.

I spend hours rebuilding and enhancing every aspect of a harmonica as I customise it.

I obtain all parts directly from the Hohner factory in Germany. I don't buy pre-assembled harmonicas because the first thing I would do is take them apart. In fact, I even take apart the parts! A custom harmonica is an instrument that has been rebuilt from the ground up.

Tone Fibres

Here's a photo of freshly-cut Dark combs™ that have not been cleaned up yet. You can see the layers of paper fibres.

Many other types of solid-surface materials used to make combs can brighten up the tone of your instrument too much. I think one of the reasons my combs offer a darker, more natural tone is because of the network of paper fibres within the material.

These combs have all the benefits of a flat, unsealed Pearwood comb with none of the drawbacks.

Here is the side view of an off-cut piece that I snapped in half by hand - I had to use all my weight to break it in half!)

Here is the side view of a Hohner Marine Band Pearwood comb that I snapped in half by hand for comparison:

My Dark combs™ are made from an earth-friendly composite of 100 per cent recycled paper, resin produced from naturally occurring raw materials and selected natural pigments.

Overblow Science Question

What happens when you overblow a hole with the SAME TONE on the blow and draw reeds? (Question by Zvika Dror Sparrow) This refers to an altered tuning where the notes of a Standard Richter harmonica are changed to open up new possibilities.

In this setting, if the reeds are not set up for overbends, you will get lots of squealing or as Winslow Yerxa puts it: "noises of unhappy protest."

If the reeds are properly set up, though, you can pop out an overbend.

This is slightly different than a conventional (two-reed) draw or blow bend where you need more than a semitone difference between the pitches of both reeds to "leave enough room" for a bend. For example, that's why there is no real draw bend on the 5 hole of a standard Richter diatonic.

Here's a harp that has some reed work which suppresses the ability of the reeds to squeal. This is hole five:

I applied some BluTak to the draw reed to temporarily drop the pitch to the same frequency as the blow reed. You hear both the blow and draw notes (same pitch but slightly different timbre) and the overblow.

I did the same thing (same harp) with the five six.

It didn't occur to me at the time to attempt and overdraw but I am assuming that if my overdraw technique on holes 5 and 6 were as good as my overblow technique, the note would have popped out just the same.

So, what happens when you overblow a hole with the SAME TONE on the blow and draw reeds?

Answer: The reed can overbend, albeit it's not as easy as when there is more room between the notes. It's a pretty crappy overbend. I would not ever sell a harp set up like this and claim it plays overblows well.

But.... science....

The list of Hohner Affiliated Customizers (2018)

I am proud to be a Hohner Affiliated Customizer.

There are seven Hohner Affiliated Customizers worldwide.

Hohner Affiliated Customizers:

JOE FILISKO
THOMAS HANKE
JOE SPIERS
NEIL GRAHAM
ANDREW ZAJAC
JOEL ANDERSSON
RICHARD SLEIGH

What is Harmonica Customizing?

Customizing is a generic expression used to describe systematic modifications to a series product in order to meet the specific requirements of an individual customer.

Full customizing involves accepting orders to modify harmonicas in order to improve performance in regard to the specific playing style of the customer, as well as fulfilling individual wishes by exchanging or modifying parts of the instrument.

Here the goal is to make the harmonica play better, sound louder, respond better and/or facilitate certain playing styles such as overbends. In addition to the operations performed by semi customizers, full customizing always involves extensive modifications to reeds and reed slots (embossing, offsetting, gapping, polishing, bevelling of reed edges, fine tuning et al). This highly skilled work can only be conducted by experienced technicians who are also expert players.

The HOHNER AFFILIATED CUSTOMIZER PROGRAM is aimed at bringing together the finest harmonica customizers in the world under the seal of the HOHNER AFFILIATED CUSTOMIZERS. This is an independently certified seal of quality which guarantees the highest possible standards of craftsmanship, based on the finest harmonicas in the world, made by HOHNER. It represents a historic step both for HOHNER and for the harmonica community as a whole.

In order to provide a guarantee for the consumer that anyone certified as a HOHNER AFFILIATED CUSTOMIZER is capable of a level of craftsmanship which fulfils the highest possible expectations, it was necessary to agree upon an unimpeachable and widely accepted authority to bestow this revolutionary new seal of quality. To this end, HOHNER has entered into a close cooperation with harmonica customizing pioneer and master player Joe Filisko.

If their application to take part in the certification process is accepted, candidates have to submit samples of their work to Joe Filisko for in depth assessment. HOHNER may not influence his decision in any way and his answer will be either "yes" or "no". Only those applicants whose work satisifes his extremely exacting standards will be granted certification as a HOHNER AFFILIATED CUSTOMIZER and may use logo and certification in their advertising.

Reed Replacement Screws and Washers

I'm now providing two types of screws for reed replacement in my reed replacement kit. I also include washers to make those reeds that just won't stand still behave.

All pieces are stainless steel and will never corrode. The Phillips head screw is 5mm long and easy to pick up with your fingers. You need to snip it off once it's in place. The flat head screw is much shorter and doesn't need to be trimmed - just set and forget. To make it easier to handle, you can dip the tip of your screwdriver in some Vaseline to make it stick!

An assortment of 75 pieces is included with the RRK. You can get more pieces here:

Extra Reed Replacement Screws

SilverWing 3-Space Reed Replacer System


I have been excited to try Michelle LeFree's new 3D-printed Reed Replacer System (RRS) for over a week - It's been sitting at the post office waiting for me.

It's excellent.

The functional part of the system uses a groove whereas other systems use a hole to accept the rivet head. The difference is irrelevant to the end result. The advantage of the RRS is that it makes the job easy, offering a stable platform where everything is lined up. You don't feel like you need an extra set of hands to accomplish the task.

Here is a quick video:

To order one:

mlefree@silverwingleather.com

Next update (#2) preview: Andrew's videos on USB

More videos to help unlock the mysteries of harmonica customization are coming! Here's a preview of one of the new videos which will be released as part of the next update. I am planning to release the update in October 2018.

Check out my USB videos here.

The Assessment

What makes a diatonic harmonica great?

Is it how loud it is? Is it Tone? How about how responsive it is?

Is it how fun it is to play? (and what does that even mean?)

Everyone has different criteria. Is there a way to measure how great a harp is without being biased?

I think so. I call it "The Assessment".

This test will not always produce the same numbers from person-to-person but the trend will be reproducible - the things that make a harp better will tend to make the numbers higher from person-to-person. When you can't rely on absolute numbers, trends are the next best way to go!

The Test:
Pick a standard riff from your repertoire. Make sure it uses bends in both holes 2 and 3 - these are the important holes to get set up right. If you use splits and chords often, pick a riff that includes them, too. As time goes by and you incorporate new styles of playing, your standard test riff should change too and reflect your style of playing.

- STEP 1: Play the riff at regular volume. Play it as many times as you need so that you can assign an score to the harp from 1 to 10 for tone and response.
1 is the worst harp ever and 10 is the best harp ever.
As a reference, most stock harps are a 5 at regular volume.

- STEP 2: Play it at the lowest possible volume. Play it as many times as you need so that you can assign an overall score to the harp for tone and response.
1 is the worst harp ever and 10 is the best harp ever.
As a reference, most stock harps are a 3 at low volume. **If you can't play this harp it at much lower volume than regular volume, the score is zero.

Add the two scores and divide by two.

Example:
Regular volume = 6
Quiet volume = 3

Total = 9/2 = a score of 4.5

Most performance-quality harps (not made in China) can be upgraded by one or two points with only a few minute's work.

Reproducibility: Everyone has different needs and tastes but the things you (or the factory) can do to make a harp get a higher score will mean that another person will tend to score the harp higher too. Players like a harp that responds well and sounds good.

The job of a harmonica reed is to turn breath into sound. Everyone likes a good return on the investment. We don't want to waste our breath and work too hard to achieve volume. For example, a reed with more mass or a thicker reed plate will create more volume but it also may require more work to play. It may play loud, but it may not be as responsive as another reed. It's more desirable for a reed to respond with ease and still produce lots of volume.

Also, a harp that is out-of-tune will always sounds bad, no matter now loud it can play.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Andrew's blog