Andrew's blog

Best lighting for reed work (and everything else)

Are you having trouble seeing all the small details that are important to reed work, embossing and most of everything else? The trouble is likely how your work space is lit.

This is what my workbench looks like from above. This is me sitting in front of a white piece of paper with a reed plate on it:

Ideally, light should be coming from directly above, like this:

If you are having trouble seeing things, it's likely that your lighting is behind you or off to one side. You will always struggle to see what it going on like this:

Light and shadows help us see what's happening. A small detail like this can mean the difference between viewing the reed passing through the slot or seeing no detail at all. I hope this helps you avoid some frustration.

My favorite comb thickness

Matthias Hohner nailed it over a century ago! There are a lot of things about the Marine Band 1896 that are perfect by design. Admittedly, mass-production takes its toll and not every one made is perfect.

But all the details he settled on seem to be bang-on.

I get asked about the perfect comb thickness a lot. I offer regular, thin and thick combs. Each has its own strong points and weak points. The thinner the comb, the better the response but at some point the tone will sound "thin".

Thick combs can offer deeper tone, but responsiveness suffers and a thick comb can make the harp feel sluggish.

The good news is that you can get pretty much the best of both worlds without having to make a huge trade-off.

The thickness of the stock Marine Band comb is right in the middle of both these features.

Here's a representation of these effects. This is not an evidence-based representation, rather a subjective display of what I have observed about the effect that comb thickness has on the instrument.

The thinner the comb, the better the response:

The thicker the comb, the deeper the tone:

Put the two graphs together and you see there is a nice range centered at 5.8mm where both features are available at the same time:

Custom harmonica guide

Click on the image to download the PDF file.

7-Limit Just Intonation

7 Limit Just Intonation is when all the notes of the draw plate are in harmony.

The recipe to achieve this is laid out as a table of offsets but you cannot tune a harp to be in harmony using only numbers. No tuner is accurate enough - not to mention because of our embouchure, we skew the offset when we play individual notes.

This video is pretty much an audio-only example of what 7-Limit Just Intonation tuning is.

7-Limit-Just-Intonation favors the major chords over tuning the single notes. Any three consecutive holes played on the blow plate will play a major chord. Any three consecutive notes played on the draw side will play major chord tones but anything above hole five will include the flat-seventh and/or ninth. When tuned to 7-limit-Just Intonation, these chord tones are in harmony and imply the tonic.

You can call it a harmonic, a difference tone or a combination tone. When the frequencies line up perfectly, the effect is that the sum is greater than its parts. You get a louder more powerful sound.

See my other videos on tuning - as well as my Premium video on tuning using an analog strobe tuner - to learn how to tune using your ears to help build accuracy.

Sneak peek at my Premium Videos

I offer 11 Premium videos on my USB drive in addition to over 30 of my best YouTube videos.

My Premium videos go into unprecedented details - no one has every shown this stuff before!

My tools are made to order

I make my tools by hand. These have been cut, polished and sharpened. Ready to be packaged.

Dark Combs™ for Lucky 13 combs

I now offer Dark Combs™ for Brendan Power's Lucky 13 harmonicas.

Order them here: Other models including Marine Band 364, 365, pre-MS Meisterklasse, Seydel Big Six, Easttop 008

I strongly recommend you obtain and use The F Tool to straighten both the blow and draw reed plates. These are fine harps, but they suffer a little more from the difficulties associated with mass production than a higher quality harp.

Andrew's videos on USB!

Over the past few years, I've posted a lot of harmonica-repair and customization information on my site and on YouTube. With over SIX HOURS of video in the past three years, there is a lot of material to sort through!

I'm going to make this easier. I will be offering a USB drive with my uploaded videos - along with some premium (never published before) videos - and printed documentation. I will re-mix some of the uploaded videos to increase video and sound quality.

I will break down the content into two sections, Beginner and Advanced.

The Beginner section will feature quick-and easy solutions for folks who want results fast:

- Basic harmonica care
- Tuning repair
- Thirty-second reed work
- The "Magic Bullet" to improve significantly almost any harmonica in 60 seconds.

The Advanced section will zoom in on the fine details we all love to hate!

UPGRADES: As I make new videos, they will be added to the USB drive. With the purchase of the drive, you get free upgrades - I will give you access to newly-made Premium videos.

I cleaned Hohner out of their harmonica-shaped drives. I have had to get some custom USB drives made. They are a little less exciting but I like them a lot!

If everything goes right, I predict these will go live on August 21st. Stay tuned!

Short slot combs

Hohner reed plates are "Long-slot" in keys up to and including C. Keys of Dd and higher are "Short-Slot" meaning the reeds are shorter.

Marine Band combs for these keys have shorted channels.

On the highest pitched harps, you may start to run into trouble getting the 10 blow half-step bend. It may sink into the full step bend offering you very little control. The trouble here is not only a matter of technique - although you do need to master fine motor control.

The trouble is mostly a matter of physics.

The acoustics of the reed chamber can interfere with the resonance of the 10-hole half step blow bend. Short-Slot Hohner Marine Band combs try to compensate for this. I've taken it a few steps further.

My solution has been to change the shape of the chamber so that the acoustics cooperate with the resonance you create as you play.

Until now, I have only offered this innovation in my custom harps.

Starting today, I will offer this design on all Short-Slot Hohner Marine Band and Golden Melody combs I make.

Here is a Factory Short-Slot Marine Band comb compared to my Short-Slot comb:

Important details: Base Centering

Have you every tried to give a reed a little more snap but nothing seemed to work? It plays "fine" (adequately) but everything you do to improve tone and response has no effect?

"What am I doing wrong?" you ask yourself.

If your harp is airtight and the reed has a decent shape, you should see results. If that's not the case, you have fallen victim to a subtle defect.

There are a few subtle defects that can cause you grief. The best way to deal with them is to learn how to spot them and correct them before they can affect your work.

Base centering is one of these subtle defects. The worst thing about this one is that the reed shows no clue there is anything wrong until you try to work on it: It plays adequately out of the box.

Once you master this technique, you can center the base of a reed in about 90 seconds.

Difficulty level: Advanced. Practice on an entire reed plate of a proper (scrap) harp. Shift the base of every reed in different directions to learn how to control where the base ends up when you are done.

In this video I am using my Reed Replacement kit and a Grobet Tuning File

Often, shifting it to one side will affect the reed curvature. Once the reed's base is centered, it's important to check and correct the reed shape. It's important to check and correct the reed base centering before you start to customize a harp to avoid undoing your hard-earned progress.


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