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).

Hohner Affiliated Customizer Program

After years of hard work, I am humbled to have gotten the news from Joe Filisko this morning:

"I'm happy to say that Andrew Zajac has PASSED the rigorous tests and is now officially part of the Hohner Affiliated Customizer Program."

Thank you so much, Joe!

This is only the beginning - I intend to work just as hard and continuously strive to produce a better harp.

(video) Plinking thinking

Plinking is an essential part of gapping and reed work. Here are a few things you were never told about plinking.

How hard should you plink? How fast? How often? How do you hold the plate as you plink? What should you listen for?

(video) Flattening the draw reed plate

Here's local harmonica player Wayne Riley ( flattening the draw reed plate on a stock Manji harmonica.

Flattening the draw reed plate is the easiest thing you can do to get a dramatic increase in performance.

(video) Basic Tool Kit for Basic Diatonic Harmonica Adjustments

This kit is for those who like to spend ten minutes or less per harmonica on gapping, tuning and other adjustments.

You don't need to be a customizing whiz! These are the tools you need to get the essential things done and keep you playing.

Get the kit here

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

-Solid brass reed shaping tool
-Five Cent Tuning Tool™
-Multi-purpose Reed Wrench/Tuner/Support Tool and Plinker
-Small assortment of harmonica screws

(video) Overblows and harps

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.


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