beginner forum: for novice and developing blues harp players > Half-Valving your harps!
Half-Valving your harps!
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19 posts
Sep 18, 2017
9:20 AM
I was listening to PT Gazell and Brendan Power's excellent album "Back to Back" and got inspired to try out half-valving on some of my harps. As a first step I took off the covers on my Bb harp, held a finger over the 2 draw reed and tried bending the 2 blow. To my utter surprise I was able to bend it a good 2 semitones before it got stuck. Inspired, I bought a roll of 3M micropore tape (< $1) and put in an hour of work, and now my Bb and F harps are both half-valved, with 18 reeds out of 20 bendable to a minimum of a semitone. The other 2 (5 draw and 7 blow) can be bent a quarter tone.

I'm so glad I tried this out, I encourage everyone with an hour to spare to give this a shot. To me it seems a lot easier than setting up a harp for overblowing. As a blow-bending novice, I can bend the first four blow reeds down at least 2 semitones and all the other reeds at least a semitone. I can now get literally all of the chromaticism that it would have taken me months of practice and tinkering to get with overblowing. The only problem is a little bit of squealing on the high reeds when I try to bend too far, which I need to work on.

Easttop T008Ks in particular seem really well suited to this because they have a little cutout in the comb above the 1 and 2 draw rivets (presumably to accommodate LF reeds) which are perfectly placed as cutouts for the valves.

Here's the video I used as a reference. He uses gaffer tape, I used 3M micropore tape.

Last Edited by pythonbeg on Sep 18, 2017 9:21 AM
49 posts
Sep 18, 2017
10:48 AM
I'm sticking my neck out here, but it seems to me that the material he is using looks a bit heavy and stiff for a valve.I stand to be corrected which I probably will be.
20 posts
Sep 18, 2017
11:19 PM
Seems to work fine for him and I don't think the tape I used is any lighter or more flexible. The great advantage of valving a diatonic is that all the valves are downward facing. So gravity does the work of closing the valves for you and you don't need to include a springy layer to the absorbent layer. I have to say, in 2 days of playing I haven't heard any buzzing on any of the notes. It seems to be working more or less perfectly. The longevity of the valves remains to be seen of course.
114 posts
Sep 19, 2017
8:30 AM
How does it go with the valves as far as cleaning and maintenance? I mean it just put my reed plates in a basin of really hot water and scrub them. You couldn't do that with a valved harp or the material might absorb some water and cause them to loosen? It's a nice idea and i'm intrigued but it seems fiddly to do as well.
21 posts
Sep 19, 2017
9:08 AM
I think with these basic ones at least, it's going to be a pain. I share your concerns about cleaning, I routinely disassemble and rinse all of my harps about once a month just to make sure that everything is sanitary. With these valves, I'm not really sure how they are going to behave. I assume that soaking the reedplates in hot water is out of the question because it would almost certainly dissolve the glue. I'll try a few things and update this thread when I clean it the next time. I fear that I will have to either relax a bit about the cleaning or get used to replacing the valves every month or so.
119 posts
Sep 24, 2017
7:57 AM
Yes the half valving is definitely a thing i'm interested in trying. I'm intrigued by the extra responsiveness the lower blow reeds get and being able to bend them etc. I will try it out some time for sure. I just don't know the best way to treat a reed plate that's been valved as far as cleaning and i'd hate to install valves and then loosen them by getting too much fluid on them when washing.
4998 posts
Sep 24, 2017
8:29 PM
Best way i reckon is don't get them dirty. Just like chromatic windsavers. Unless you make a point of playing with clean mouth, harps will need cleaning and valves will be irritating. Keep a clean mouth and make sure the harps are well-aired after playing before packing away and there shouldn't be too much cleaning required.
Any harp with valves or moving parts is always gonna be more complicated to maintain, I can't really see a way around that. Waterproof glue and waterproof Valve material wouldn't hurt?

I only play one valved diatonic and those are more like windsavers. I have a low C 12 hole Seydel and the lowest 2 draw slots are valved, I presume to ensure a good response from the blow chord. I think most Seydel diatonic harps use heavily weighted, standard length reeds for low notes but I think this one uses longer reeds, like the 12 and 14 hole hohners. Now I've said that I realise I've forgotten and I'll have to go look. Anyway, I'd expect the longer reeds to be leakier than weighted reeds, but maybe more durable. And that's OT...
26 posts
Sep 24, 2017
9:32 PM
I've been watching chromatic harmonica service videos and this seems to be the consensus - just don't get any fluids on the reedplates. I think I'll clean it by taking the reedplates off, give the comb and cover plates a good wash and clean the front of the reedplates with a wet wipe or something, being careful not to touch the valves.
51 posts
Sep 27, 2017
11:44 AM
See I was corrected. I must admit the fact that gravity does the work never occured to me. I don't know what the uk equivalent of that stuff is but it was interesting to see how it's done. He just seemed haphazard until the end.
27 posts
Sep 27, 2017
8:58 PM
Yeah, it wasn't the greatest instructional video out there but it also showed me just how much room for error there is and that motivated me I guess. It's also got me curious about the valved Promasters and Seydels now.
5000 posts
Sep 28, 2017
12:44 AM
The normal situation for valved promaster must be much better than those I scored, or they would never sell any.
I must be fair: I bought 5, gold no less, valved promaster harps.
They were all terrible. So bad that I couldn't even sell them on. Even with the skills I've developed to repair and set up harps I've still not managed to make these acceptable. I have replaced combs, removed valves and cleaned the valve glue out of slots. Just terrible harps.
But, they were very cheap, only $25 each for harps which were retailing at over $100.
They were also very old stock. Keys of Ab, Db, F, HiG and B. These are slow to sell. Some of the harps have riveted reeds, some have nuts rather than threaded reedplates. Old stuff, valves were probably a new concept for Suzuki at the time.
If I'd purchased locally I'd have sent them back, but they were cheap and I guess I'll wear it. It's coloured my feelings about half-valved harps and I'm letting go of that now, because I realised it's just those terrible harps. They were terrible even without the valves. I still hate those harps, I can feel my anger rising now, as I think about the frustration I have felt while trying to make them playable.
28 posts
Sep 28, 2017
3:33 AM
Just goes to show that some deals really are too good to be true I suppose. Don't let it put you off valved harps in general. Get Seydels or make your own. Even recent reports about the Promasters are mixed.
5010 posts
Sep 30, 2017
8:01 PM
Ha, I just noticed my 5000th post was about those rotten promaster harps!
Yes, I was taking lessons from Jimi Lee when he started playing valved harps and I remember thinking what an awesome player he must be to be able to get the hang of it so quickly. Of course I was judging on my experience with those things and I hadn't yet worked out they were just dud harps. I'm a much better player these days too, so I think I will try again. I have plenty of harps I can play with.
33 posts
Sep 30, 2017
8:26 PM
The instant chromaticism boost is a bit mind blowing to me. I still have to do lots of work to do on my intonation and attack, but I've even been able to get some basic vibrato on the blow bends, which I haven't been able to do so far on any of the draw bends.
36 posts
Oct 05, 2017
8:08 AM
A short update on cleaning.

I just cleaned both my valved harps. The F one I took apart and ran everything under the tap, including the reedplates. The Bb I cared about a lot more, so I treated it like a chromatic and washed everything but the reedplates and just cleaned the edges of the reedplates with a wet wipe while being careful not to touch the valves.

Both of the harps made it through fine. The valves on the F harp took about half an hour to dry, but the performance of the harp seems to have increased significantly, the response now feels top notch. I'm not sure how many more times I can wash the reedplates before the adhesive on the valves give way. I'll keep doing it until a valve comes off I guess and update the thread if anything goes wrong.
37 posts
Oct 11, 2017
7:01 PM
A piece of advice:

Don't wash your reedplates, put everything back together and let the harp sit upside down overnight. You will end up with valves sticking to the blow reeds. I had to take the reedplates off and let them sit valves down overnight to fix it.

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