Frustrated Player:I bought a new harp and the reeds are stiff.
Me:You find the reeds feel stiff? The major brands' reeds usually work very well. They may have a different feel, but they shouldn't be stiff. I think something else is going on.
Frustrated Player:It's the reeds. In fact it's mainly the 2 and 3 draw reeds. I tried gapping them but that only made it worse!
Me:Often when a harmonica is leaky, it feels just like the reed is stiff because we need to use a lot of effort to get it to play, but the real problem is that there's not a lot of air getting to the reed. The reeds are fine. But since we can't see what's going on as we play, the sensory feedback is the same as if the reed really was stiff.
I get the feeling the only thing the person is hearing are sounds that come from the adults in Charlie Brown:
"Waugh Waaugh WAAaa WAAAAaa...."
Frustrated Player:It's a (insert any and every Make/Model here). I read on the internet they are all stiff.
Me:I'm sure we can fix it.
Frustrated Player:Okay. Here. I forgot to mention, I tried embossing but that didn't work.
Frustrated Player:Embossing didn't do anything so I just kept embossing until the reed got stuck. I freed it up but now it buzzes. And it's still stiff. It's the reeds on this (insert any and every Make/Model here)!
I take the harp apart and we check the flatness of the reed plates and comb. We either correct or replace the comb. We flatten the draw reed plate using a flat surface and some sandpaper and we straighten the blow plate using the F tool™ and French Tuner™. The whole process takes about five minutes.
I carefully eliminate any dust particles from the inside of the harp and reassemble it. I deal with the over-embossing and zealous gapping. I hand the harp back to the disgruntled player.
Formerly Frustrated Player:Wow! This person is visibly pleased.
Me:Are the reeds still stiff?
Formerly Frustrated Player:Do-Diggetty Wah Wahh. (Can't talk with the harp in mouth except to say "thank you!")
I'm not making this up. This happens to me *all the time*.
It hadn't occurred to me to make a video showing the process of installing a new comb until now because it's just so straightforward. But Rockin Ron pointed out to me that he gets asked that question quite a bit and it would be a good idea to do one.
I'm very thankful for my dealers because they help me so much. Thanks Ron!
My reed replacement tools are made with hardened steel. I harden and temper the steel myself by hand. This is how I test the tip of the reed removal pin. It's tough enough to poke itself into a steel bar like a nail into wood!
The sharp tip is ground down - it needs to be flat at the tip to push the rivet out, not spit it in the middle!
I've been getting emails almost every week from folks telling me my Dark combs™ are the flattest combs out there. They often tell the same story of some mysterious problem with response or stiff reeds suddenly disappearing when they installed one of my combs.
I check every single comb (both sides, both axes) and flatten them by hand. I take nothing for granted.
Upon final inspection, only one of the combs in this photo needed some serious flatness correction. But they all got checked!
You can flatten your combs, too! Use my comb tool™ (instructions and support included).
This kit provides what you need to work on harps anywhere.
Use this kit to:
-Adjust reed shape and gap
-Fix tuning troubles without having to take apart your harp!
-Fix Reed Centering
-Replace lost screws
Here are a few thoughts on overblows and harmonicas. These ideas are relevant to both setting up and playing overblows on the diatonic harmonica.
- Overblows, overdraws, overbends are just like regular bends. The same thing that causes a regular note to bend causes the note to overbend.
- Air flow makes the reeds move and resonance affects the frequency (pitch). This is basic to how the harmonica works.
- Resonance can make a reed stand still. Resonance is kinetic energy and it can greatly affect the frequency of a reed.
- Resonance has a strong effect on both reeds when regular bends are played. Regular bends are double reed bends and overblows are single reed bends - they have a different behavior and sound.
- Resonance has a weaker effect on the closing reed than the opening reed during an overblow. If you can't hold and overblow note, it's likely because the reed that's supposed to stand still is not standing still.
- There are several kinds of overblow. Which is your favorite?
- It’s technique, but it’s also the harp. You need technique to play overbends but you also need a harp that will respond to your playing.
"...Here's how you do it: Only emboss half the slot...."
Embossing is SO misunderstood.
Embossing decreases the amount of space between the reed and the slot. It's as simple as that!
Why do it?
- You want to improve response
- You want a little more volume
- You like a bright sound
Why would you not want to emboss?
- You don't like bright tone
Embossing doesn't fix anything!
Do not ever try to fix a problem with embossing. If a note doesn't play well, spending 30 seconds embossing won't help. And when you are not happy with the result and decide to emboss some more - this time with more force - you will probably overdo it and end up damaging the reed plate.
To fix a misbehaving reed, make the harp airtight and fix the shape of the reed. Once you have done that, you can try embossing to add a little extra juice.
Embossing isn't just for overblows!
It would be a challenge to set up a harp for overblows without embossing, but that doesn't mean you can't take advantage of the benefits of embossing on a general-purpose harmonica.
Also, in of itself, embossing doesn't make your harp play overblows any easier. Not to any useful degree anyway... Again, the shape of the reeds counts for a whole lot more.
The Dark side of embossing
Embossing can cause problems. If you overdo it, your reeds will start to sound thin and the high overtones will become more present. As you continue to emboss, you will start to hear the reeds buzz. If you continue further, you will make the reed seize.
None of this causes permanent damage; you can undo embossing. But if you force the reed while trying to fix the damage, you can wreck your harp.
Embossing a harp is a job that takes a few minutes. If you are spending more time fixing the damage than you are spending time embossing, you are doing something wrong! I'm not saying you should rush your work but if you are spending hours embossing, you should probably re-think your process.
Less is more: Get the advantages without the drawbacks!
Gentle embossing can offer you a lot of the advantages of embossing while avoiding 99 per cent of the drawbacks.
Here's how you do it: Only emboss half the slot.
Find a round metal object like a 10mm chrome-plated socket driver, or the tip of one of my pin vises.
Hold the object halfway down the slot and press down. Press about as hard as you press a touch screen phone. Move the round object towards the free end of the slot (towards the reed tip).
You won't be able to see the little ridge you have created on the inside of the slot just by looking at the reed plate. Feel the inside of the slot with your fingernail. Pick at the side to see if you have created a little ridge on the inside of the slot. If you feel nothing run the round object down the slot again, this time with a little more force.
Do it until you have used just enough force to create a ridge (or burr) on the inside of the slot. Repeat the process on all the other slots one at a time starting from the halfway point and going to the free end.
On the weighted low reeds, you may need to position the reed plate over the edge of a table so that the tip of the reed can "peek" out the bottom of the slot as you move your round tool towards the tip.
Next, check your work. Use this hand position and angle the reed plate to look through the slots:
The shortened view of the slot is a low-tech way to zoom in and see how close the reed is to the sides of the slot. No extra equipment required (Microscope, Light Table, etc...)
Push the tip of the reed through the slot while you are looking to see if the reed touches any part of the sides. You'll also see if the reed is off-center as you do this. If you embossed with gentle finger pressure you should still have lots of room on either side of the slot.
If you overdid it in some areas, you will see it using this view. You may also notice the reed has a prickly/buzzy sound or maybe it doesn't even plink? To fix it, push the ridge of metal back. Use gentle force in the areas you need to target so that you don't completely undo your work.
Use a round piece of metal like a reed tool or a safety pin.
Since you only worked on the front half of the slot, you should be able to get your tool in position from the under side of the slot. The reed won't be in your way, it will simply be pushed up a little. Plink the reed a few times and re-check.
Now, put the harp back together and play it! You should notice more responsiveness and louder sound.
The reed shape, gap and tuning should be unchanged after embossing this way because we only worked on the free end of the slot. Not bad for a few minute's work! This method is a real time-saver!