Andrew's blog

(Checklist) Reed replacement

This is part of a series of checklists I am making available to you.

Click the "Printer-friendly version" link at the bottom of the page and feel free to print out as many copies as you like!

Reed replacement checklist
version 2016/07/24

Items needed
___ Hammer
___ Reed removal pin
___ Reed removal spine
___ Brick or anvil
___ M1.4 tap
___ M1.4 screws
___ Reed wrench
___ Flush cut pliers
___ Drill press or Rotary tool with reamer bit

Remove bad reed
___ Identify bad reed
___ Place correct rivet head into reed removal spine hole (reed tip points away from spine)
___ Punch out rivet
___ Flip reed plate around and place on flat part of reed removal spine
___ Flatten hole using flattening pin
___ Tap hole using M1.4 tap. De-burr as needed

Prepare new reed
___ Obtain new reed
___ Enlarge rivet hole using drill press (1/16th inch bit) or rotary tool with reamer
___ De-burr as needed
___ Flatten rivet pad using flattening tool and flat part of reed removal spine

Install new reed
___ Position new reed into slot standing up and pinch it with your fingers
___ Insert M1.4 screw and tighten all the way
___ Loosen the screw very slightly
___ Look at a light source through the slot and align the reed
___ If the reed doesn't align, remove the screw, enlarge the hole in the rivet pad and repeat all the steps to prepare the reed
___ Pinch the base of the reed very tightly to hold the reed in place and tighten the screw
___ Re-confirm reed position and alignment
___ Snip off back of screw
___ Re-confirm tightening of screw
___ Re-align reed
___ Flat sand draw reed plate or sand down tip of screw in blow plate

Fix reed shape and tuning
___ Correct reed curve using pressure and counterpressure
___ Tune reed

(Checklist) Convert Marine Band 1896 to screws

This is part of a series of checklists I am making available to you.


Convert Marine Band 1896 to screws checklist
version 2016-12-13

Items needed
___ Thin Paring knife
___ Drill press with 1/16 inch and 3/32 inch bits
___ Pliers (flush cut or needle nose)
___ M2 Tap and tap holder
___ M2 Screws and nuts
___ Clean sheet of 220 grit sandpaper taped to a flat surface
___ F tool
___ French Tuner
___ Wet towel to moisten fingers
___ Replacement comb
___ Flat punch (optional)

Remove cover plates
___ Pry off covers using a paring knife
___ Gently remove nails from covers using pliers
___ Drill front cover plate holes with 3/32 in bit
___ Flatten back nail holes for aesthetic purposes (optional)

Remove reed plates
___ Insert paring knife between back of blow reed plate and comb
___ Advance the knife without prying up so as to lift up all three middle nails (only the three middle nails)
___ Remove nails using pliers
___ Insert knife between back of draw plate and comb
___ Advance the knife without prying up so as to lift up all three nails (only the three middle nails)
___ Remove nails using pliers
___ Place harmonica top(blow plate)-side-down onto drill-press surface
___ Drill through-and-through the three draw plate nail holes using a 1/16 inch bit
___ Remove the remaining nails on the sides of the reed plate using the paring knife and pliers

Prepare reed plates
___ Tap three 1/16 inch holes in DRAW plate with M2 tap
___ Flatsand the draw reed plate using 220 grit sandpaper and a flat surface
___ Enlarge the holes in the BLOW plate using 3/32 inch drill bit
___ De-burr the holes of the BLOW plate
___ Check and correct flatness of the BLOW plate using the French Tuner and the F tool.

Assemble the harmonica using screws
___ Gather both reed plates, both cover plates, five M2 10mm screws, two M2 nuts and a flat comb
___ Hold the comb with the long slots to your left
___ Pick up the reed plate that has all the rivet pads lined up at the front. This is the blow plate
___ Put the blow plate on the comb with the reeds on the inside
___ Put the draw plate on the comb with the reeds on the outside
___ Line up the plates and the comb so that you can insert the middle screw
___ Tighten the screw almost all the way. Keep it loose enough so that you can wiggle the plates and comb to align the other screws
___ Insert the two other reed plate screws
___ Align the reed plates and comb to your liking (press the tine-side down onto a clean flat surface to line everything up)
___ Tighten the screws using finger pressure

Install the cover plates
___ Place the top cover plate (with the numbers) into the groove on the top of the blow plate
___ Turn the harmonica over and place the bottom plate into the groove on the draw plate.
___ Line up the cover plate holes and insert a screw
___ Wet the tip of your finger and pick up an M2 nut
___ Place the nut onto the tip of the screw and tighten almost all the way
___ Align the cover plate holes on the other side and insert a screw and nut
___ Tighten both screws using finger pressure.


I use checklists. They help me do my work better and faster.

"A checklist is a type of informational job aid used to reduce failure by compensating for potential limits of human memory and attention. It helps to ensure consistency and completeness in carrying out a task." (Wikipedia)

I don't have a checklist for every task I do, I tend to make them up when I realize I keep repeating the same mistake. I also tend to revise some checklists quite often, incorporating new and better ways of doing things - just because I use a checklist doesn't mean I stop thinking. In fact, a checklist helps me come up with new ideas and incorporate them in my practice very easily.

There are two general types of checklists. The first is just a list. For example, you make a list of things you need to pack before going on a trip. Before you leave, you go through the list to make sure you haven't forgotten anything. This is generally called "Do - Confirm"

The second type is generally called "Read - Do" and it breaks down the steps of a task. It's meant to be read in sequence and each step of the task is performed before you move on to the next step.

I will be publishing some checklists in the coming weeks right here on my website. I hope you find them useful!

I won't publish every checklist I use. But I may make up some new ones to help those who prefer having a written guide when they try out a new task for the first time.

F Tool™ used on the draw plate

Flat sanding the draw reed plate is one of the easiest things you can do to improve a harmonica. It almost always works.

BUT... There are exceptions to the rule and harps from any manufacturer can fall victim. I came across two examples of this in one week.

If you begin to flat sand a draw reed plate and see this, STOP! Flat sanding won't fix this. The curve in the plate is too big. The F tool™ can handle this!

The curve is so deep that you cannot sand this down to make it right. Here is a view of the plate along with the French Tuner™ used as a reference. Can you see how much space there is in between the French Tuner and the reed plate? An air leak like this makes that harp feel really stiff!

I straightened the plate using the F tool in the usual manner.

Now, I may have overshot the mark and pushed the middle of the plate back too far. How can you tell? You can check with the French Tuner or you can use the flatsanding process to save some time.

Since the middle of the plate is nice and shiny if I go back and flatsand I may not see any problem. Everything will look shiny!

So I drew some markings across the reed plate. This will reveal any spots where I may have over done it.

Sure enough, I over did it as is shown by the red spot that remains after sanding.

I corrected that using gentle pressure with the F tool. I drew more red lines once again to be sure I didn't overshoot the mark once again.

After a little flat sanding, every trace of the red lines are gone and that means the reed plate is now flat.

This made a very big difference in how well this harmonica plays!

Extra tips on the use of my comb tool™

Here are some extra tips on how to get the best use of my comb tool™

Hold the comb tool over the comb to distribute the weight of your fingers. Hold both the comb tool and the comb at the same time as you sand.

Make sure you don't rub the tips of your fingers on the sandpaper.

To sand down a bulge somewhere in the middle of the comb, find the focal point of the bulge and position the end of the comb tool over it.

Only cover the bottom half of the comb. Apply gentle downwards pressure as you sand. Re-check and repeat as needed.

Most of the sanding happens right under the comb tool. The farther away from the comb tool, the less material will be sanded away.

Positioning the tool like this prevents you from removing too much material at the tips of the tines because there is more material at the back of the comb than at the front.

To flatten a downward facing bow, sand down each side. Position the end of the comb tool over each side.

Flatten the left side and then do the right side.

Then do a quick flattening of the whole surface to even things out before you re-check.

Repeat the whole process as needed.

Position the tool closer or farther from the middle as needed.

One last thing...

Overworking things may build up a bulge in the very middle of the comb.

You may need to lightly sand down the very middle of the comb freehand, then flip it over and do a quick sanding of the whole surface.

Please to not clean your harmonica with alcohol

Alcohol will wear down the tips of the tines of my combs but there are a few other reasons not to use it as part of harmonica maintenance.

I spent a big part of my career working in an operating room or ICU as a Respiratory Therapist and Clinical Perfusionist. I'm familiar with asepsis and sterile techniques. Here's my take on cleaning versus trying to kill microorganisms in the harmonica.

While 70 per cent alcohol is effective at cleaning off thermometers and stethoscopes, it is not idea for disinfecting a harmonica. Alcohol is very volatile and evaporates quickly - anything less than 70 per cent concentration will not be effective. And if sprayed as a mist (for example, Mi-T-Mist), you cannot assure that a high enough concentration of alcohol will actually reach the target since most of it will evaporate in transit.

There are too many nooks and crannies in a harmonica for alcohol to work. Not to mention a porous comb will shelter microorganisms from some products.

Alcohol will not kill organisms caught under debris so to reach all the bugs, each piece of the harp must be cleaned first. But if you clean the harp well, there is no real need to sterilize.

I only think about sterilizing a harp if I am worried about a specific pathogen, example someone with active cold sores played my harp.

Instead, I recommend soap and water. My combs do not swell. You can dunk the whole harp with my comb under soapy water and slosh it around. Rinse it out, tap out the excess water and let it dry. You can use a hair dryer to warm up the inside of the harp to dry it out faster.

If you need to disinfect in addition to cleaning, I recommend hydrogen peroxide. It is inexpensive, non-toxic and earth-friendly: it breaks down into oxygen and water.

"I bought a new harp and the reeds are stiff."

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.

Me: Really?

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*.

How to install a comb (it's very easy!)

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!

Here's the video:

POW! How I test my hardened steel reed removal pin

Don't try this at home!

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!

Feedback about my combs

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).


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