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.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
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.
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:
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.
Here's a before-and-after look at a reed plate that has undergone customization.
I spend hours rebuilding and enhancing every aspect of a harmonica as I customize 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.
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.
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.
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.