Popular altered tunings

Here are some of the most popular altered tunings that come across my workbench.

I have made some charts with scale degrees and the available chords which are color coded.

How do you tune all these chords when there are so many options? The same reed can be part of four different chords at the same time!

You can't - nor would you want - to tune every chord to be in perfect harmony. Use these charts to help you decide between tuning some chords to be in harmony and tuning to play melody notes.


Standard Richter:

This is the standard tuning scheme for diatonic harmonica. It offers a pretty interesting choice of chords. "Compromise tuning" refers to tuning only the major triads to be in harmony and compromising everything else (minor chords, sevenths, and diminished chords).


Paddy Richter (Brendan Power):

This is the most common altered tuning. The three blow gets raised a full tone.

This gets rid of the redundancy between two draw and three blow and allows you to play melodic runs with more agility in the lower register for things like Irish reels. You also get the relative minor chord on the low end of the blow plate.


Country (Major Seventh Tuning):

The five draw gets raised a semitone.

This turns the minor seventh of second position into a major seventh which is useful in country music where you don't want a minor sound. It's also very useful in Jazz as a melody note and chord. You get a draw bend on the five hole with this modification.

To tune your harp to country tuning, see Country Tuning.


Natural Minor:

2, 5 and 8 blow as well as 3 and 7 draw are all lowered by a semitone.

All major third chords are turned into minor thirds. The draw bends on the low end open up new possibilities for soulful sounds as the 2 draw now has three bends.

Here's Brandon Bailey playing on a Natural Minor harmonica:


Harmonic Minor:

2, 5 and 8 blow as well as 6 and 10 draw are all lowered by a semitone.

The blow plate is tuned to minor chords and the draw plate offers diminished chords all the way up starting from hole 3.


Powerbender and PowerDraw (Brendan Power):

All of Powerbender's draw bends are dual-reed bends which means both reeds collaborate to make the sound. You get a much stronger and smoother sound than you get from single-reed bends like overblows and overdraws or half-valved bends.

PowerDraw is Standard Richter with only the top four holes (7,8,9 and 10) modified to PowerBender configuraiton.

See Altering Standard Richter to Powerbender.


Melody Maker (Lee Oskar):

3 blow is raised a full tone and 5 and 9 draw are raised a semitone.

You get an interval of a sixth, the relative minor chord as well as a minor major seventh chord (of the relative minor) on the low end of the blow plate and you get the major seventh on the draw plate. The five draw also gets a draw bend. Draw bends on the low end are simplified but that still allows you to get that soulful sound.


Parrott (Flat Tenth Tuning):

The seven draw is lowered a semitone.

This allows you to play the minor third as a seven draw note in second position, it gives you a blow bend on the seven hole (the major third) and it makes the overdraw easier to hit (the flat fourth). Second position gets a sweet overhaul in the upper register.


Solo Tuning:

The reeds are altered to be tuned like a chromatic harmonica with the following repeating pattern: C-E-G-C for the blow plate and D-F-A-B for the draw plate.


Here is a list of offsets for tuning intervals in harmony:

You can find more information about tuning using offsets here:

Tuning offsets

Top Six Geeky Harmonica Tuning Wallpapers

Here are some pretty cool looking (and useful!) wallpapers for your computer screen. Not only do they look awesome, use these charts and tables to help you as you work!

HD Richter Tuning Notes:

HD Dynamic Breath:

HD Tuning and Offsets for Altered Tunings:

HD Tuning:

HD All the charts:

HD Quick Customizing:

SD Richter Tuning Notes:

SD Dynamic Breath:

SD Quick Customizing:

Question about tuning a harmonica "correctly'

Don't stress out about all the numbers! I just got asked a question about how to tune a harmonica "correctly" using 442Hz and offsets. Here's my answer:

Don't worry so much about tuning "correctly" when trying to wrap your head around all the numbers (443 Hz, 442, 439, etc...) Know that harps that are tuned to Equal Temperament at the factory are usually tuned with an accuracy of + or - 6 cents! That is a very large margin of error. We only need more accuracy when we want the chords to sound in harmony (as in "harmonica").

Let your ears decide. Play single notes and play chords. If something sounds not right to your ears, you have the means to fix it. Play various pairs of notes and figure out which note(s) is/are the culprit. Then use "the numbers" and your ears to fix them. The "numbers" (offsets) are a tool to *help* you make the harp sound right. But it doesn't work the other way around. There is no expectation that you need to validate the tuning of a harmonica by looking at a number on a tuner. Single notes on harmonica are so unstable that using that method is very inaccurate. Just play it and if it sounds good, success!

Tuning by numbers as I describe in the tuning sheet you got is a quick way to do things. You will not achieve perfect accuracy using numbers alone. You need to use dynamic breath force while playing two notes at the same time and let your ears guide you. The methodology to do that is on my website and the link is in the documents that came with the tools. There is also a breath chart on the sheet.

The numbers do serve as a landmark to get you close. It's generally a little easier to set the tuner calibration to 339 and tune to make the needle aim for the zero mark instead of leaving the calibration at 442 and tuning to -12 cents. That's why I recommend changing to 339 Hz when tuning major thirds. Fifths are only about two cents sharp so somewhere in between 442 and 443. But we will hit the 2 draw a little harder so it's maybe best to tune it a little sharp, hence tuning the tonic of the draw plate to 443 instead of 442.5. Also, since those reeds are on the low end of the harp, we naturally tune them a little sharp anyway so the 3 blow may indeed be tuned to 443 anyway once you are done.

I hope that helps! Let me know how it goes!

French version of my Quick Customizing Videos

Traduction en cours.... "Tuning Repair" translation in progress....

I will be releasing both an English and French version of my Quick Customizing Videos. Both will have an equal amount of typos and grammatical mistakes.

Vintage Hohner reeds

The Hohner Marine Band is the reference-standard, classic diatonic harmonica. It has gone through a few changes over time, but it is still the same design. It uses a Pearwood comb and brass reeds that have that classic sound and response.

Vintage Marine Bands were excellent instruments. Some of the best classic harmonica records were made using the Marine Band.

Some pre-war versions of the Marine Band are sought-after by collectors. Up until the late 1970s, the quality was excellent. Hohner experienced a few years of poor quality in the 1980s and early 1990s. They attempted some money-saving strategies which were poorly-received. Quality rapidly improved in the late 1990s as they re-tooled their shop.

When buying a vintage harmonica, how do you know if is was made during the good years (before the late 1970s and after the late 1990s)? Will it be worth the time invested to fix it up?

You can look for a few clues as to how the Marine Band was assembled like the number of nails on the bottom side, you can look at the address on the cardboard box, the color of the blue ink on the box.

But these clues don't apply to a Golden Melody or some other models of a vintage Hohner harp?

A sure-fire way to tell is to look at the reeds. This works for every model of Hohner harmonica.

The tips of the older reeds from the "bad" period are chamfered or rounded.

Click on the photo to enlarge.

Click on the photo to enlarge.

Click on the photo to enlarge.

If you are considering spending some time restoring or re-tuning a vintage harmonica, make sure the reeds are *not* rounded at the tips.

A harmonica from the "bad" period will take a lot of time and effort and yet still not ever play well. Be warned and don't waste your time.

Some of those old harps were held together with brass pins instead of screws. Here's a video on a neat way to get those pins out. You can tap out one side with an M2 tap and enlarge the opposite hole with a 3/32" drill bit for clearance and re-assemble with an M2 screw.

Q&A questions from Facebook 2018/11 video 3 of 3

(Video number three!)

This is the third installement from the Q&A responses from Facebook. 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.

Extensive videos covering these and other topics are found on my USB videos:
Andrew's videos on USB

Q&A questions from Facebook 2018/11 video 2 of 3

(Video number two!)

This is the second instalment of answers from the Facebook Q&A responses form two weeks ago. 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.

Extensive videos covering these and other topics are found on my USB videos:
Andrew's videos on USB

Q&A questions from Facebook 2018/11 video 1 of 3

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.

Extensive videos covering these and other topics are found on my USB videos:
Andrew's videos on USB

Basic Custom (formerly known as Semi Custom)


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.

Order here.

Prices for my Basic, Full and Overbend custom harmonicas remain the same.


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