Andrew's blog

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.

Country tuning

"Country Tuning" is one of the simplest altered tunings. You raise the 5 Draw by one semitone.

Using the Grobet 0-cut file and a good reed support tool, this can be done in a minute or two.

You get a major seventh instead of a minor seventh. If you use the 12345 draw chord, it's now a Jazzy-sounding major seventh chord.

The 456 draw chord is now a major chord, too! On a standard tuned Richter harp, that's a minor chord.

This tuning also enables a draw bend on the 5 Draw reed.

New F Tool feature!

My F Tool™ now comes with its own reference bar to measure flatness.

The F tool page.

Dark Combs™ for Easttop Blues harmonica

I now offer Dark Combs™ for Easttop Blues 008K and 008S!

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 Flatness Tool™ and Reed Plate Claws™ 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.

I recommend the ones with riveted reeds. There is no advantage to spot-welding reeds unless they are put on perfectly centred at the base from the factory. They are not. Riveted reeds can more easily be centred at the base than spot-welded ones.

I also found Easttop tuning to be quite imprecise. Tuning was plus or minus six cents! As such, it's not possible to lay out a meaningful tuning table of offsets for these harps.

I recommend you tune them yourself using a chromatic tuner and your ears.

New tine finish

I use regular evaluation and incremental steps to strive for constant improvement.

I have changed the type of finish I use on the tips of the tines of my Dark combs™. The old finish was excellent, but this one is slightly better. It may be a little more durable and it's a little faster to apply.

One unexpected difference is that the colors are a little deeper. In particular, Dark shadow is pretty close to Deep Black in low light. In brighter light, it has a unique sparkle.

My criteria for implementing a change like this are stringent. The finish must be:

- Food safe - non toxic
- Environmentally friendly (the company making it should not pollute the planet)
- Safe to apply (I don't want to get sick working with toxic chemicals in my shop)
- High quality
- Durable and more resistant to alcohol exposure
- Reasonably fast and easy to apply

It took me a few weeks to figure out the best strategy for long-lasting results. Each product has a sweet spot between the number of coats and the thickness of each coat. Some products are best applied as many layers of a thin coat while others are best applied as a thicker layer with fewer coats.

Lucky seven

This is a custom comb I first made in February 2016

You can tune the 7 hole any way you like. Here, by lowering the 7 blow, we gain a draw bend. Add 7 blow into the top end blow chord and you get a minor seventh.

You can modify a standard cover plate to fit by trimming away the top end and doing a little folding and smoothing. Sorry, I don't have a photo of the finished product.

I offer Custom made combs here.

How thick are my Dark combs™?

The thickness is 5.9 mm +/- 0.3 mm (quarter inch). No, they don't all look alike! Being flat is more important that every comb being exactly the same thickness. All combs within that range have the same tone and response.

Harmonica repair mistakes #9 - bent reed

Barry bought my tool kit and overdid it on a reed. In this video I will show you the steps I take to correct this problem using pressure and counter pressure.

Would you like me to make a video about your "best" mistake? Contact me and let me know your ideas!

Promo Pack

I often get asked "Will a custom harmonica make me a better player?"

That's not really a fair question. It depends. A well-playing harmonica will help you succeed.

"Always play on the best instrument you can afford. Good instruments DO make a difference." - Jamey Aebersold

I have the profound belief that the best strategy to become a better player is to find a great teacher.

I'm proud to support as many harmonica teaching events as I can. I've come up with a promotional pack that I will be offering to some upcoming harmonica workshops.

The pack contains a few small tools and parts, some key label stickers and some helpful documentation on harmonica upgrades and repair.

I've chosen these items because every player will make use of them regardless of level or playing style.

These packs are not available for sale. The only way you can get one of these is to participate in a sponsored harmonica workshop or event.

Marine Band opener (1896 - with nails)

About 99 per cent of harp players own at least one Marine Band 1896 harmonica - the old school type held together with nails. The nails don't have to get in the way of working on the harp.

You can take the plates off the comb and put them back on using the original nails. It's maybe a little extra work but the harp will perform just fine.

Here's a description of how to create a "Marine Band Opener" to crack open a Marine Band 1896 to work on it (customize, flatten reed plates, reed curvature, tuning, embossing, etc...)

The 1896 features the exact same reeds as the Deluxe, Crossover, Golden Melody, Special 20 and Hohner Rocket - it packs a lot of potential!

You can either covert the harp to screws or close it right up again using the original nails - Old School style.


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