beginner forum: for novice and developing blues harp players > Andrew Zajac's USB Lessons
Andrew Zajac's USB Lessons
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131 posts
Oct 22, 2017
7:21 PM
Has anyone purchased this and if so can they give us some details on it and is it worth getting? I mean is there stuff in it that i won't know about? By that i mean i've studied a lot of the free stuff on Tinus's site and then later i downloaded tuition material from Richard Sleigh. Now i found i didn't learn anything new from Richard's videos because i'd been studying Tinus's site. Richard being the pro that he is was kind enough to refund my money which was a lovely gesture. Anyway i just wouldn't like to buy the USB lessons and end up with stuff i've seen before. Any info guys?
5054 posts
Oct 25, 2017
2:59 AM
I can’t help, have only seen the free stuff. Paying for a USB drive, a package of the free stuff and the mysterious other videos, and importantly Andrew is offering full email support. He says he is not holding anything back.
My experience of Andrew has been that he is honest to a fault. He could be just really good at conning me, but I’m yet to feel that. I do not agree always with everything he says about harps, but get real, he is building customs and operates a business doing so, and I do a few repairs on the side. Chances are he is closer to the truth than me.
I play a Zajac A harp as my gig harp for 1st and 2nd position. It’s about 3 years old and it’s a very good harp. I’m sure he does better work and has continued learning since building that one. It’s from before he was added to the Hohner affiliated customisers group.

But i can’t say whether you’d find value in his video collection because I don’t know what’s in it or what you know. You quite likely know more than me.
133 posts
Oct 25, 2017
8:38 AM
Bee: I certainly don't know more than you! No way that's true. I can set up harps for OB's and OD's (All except hole #1 which is problematic for everyone i think. See the other thread on the main forum about that). Even the #10 OD i can get. I can arc, gap, even replace reeds on riveted harps. I can't replace reeds welded on because i don't have a full time workshop where i could have a drill press which is needed for that. That's about the extent of what i can do. But i'm always looking for new tips. I just don't want to pay $70 if maybe i only pick up one or two tips. That wouldn't be worth it.

Last Edited by Bike&Harp on Oct 25, 2017 8:40 AM
5055 posts
Oct 25, 2017
2:37 PM
Dunno about that. I think it’s possible.
I also ‘think’ you might be disappointed with the collection. But my reasons are complicated and I don’t want to fully lay it out here. I’ve been watching and taking note for years. I don’t think anyone in the customisation business is really giving much away. There are more than 1 way to go about most things. Some ways are more efficient and straightforward. Some take more time. Some require special equipment.
I really think ‘workshop practice’ is important and I also think the real keys are well-protected. You can build a great harp based on the principles as outlined for free and as charged for by Richard. But there is a lot can go wrong and there is a lot can be done in more or less efficient ways.
Anyway, Andrew has some good ideas and makes good video. But I expect you already know most of it and you’ve been applying it, can get overdraws (which I can’t), can replace reeds; I’d say you are in a position to think critically about this stuff and you may find that the extra info you get doesn’t meet your criteria for value.
For me, I’m gonna get it, because there are some things I want to get more info on, and I know it will be pitched in a digestible way.
And importantly I feel like I can afford it because someone I took a chance on a while ago has repaid the money, and I’ve got some extra work today. So I will get the Zajac story.
Actually that extra bread may be my tax refund but either way

Last Edited by SuperBee on Oct 25, 2017 4:27 PM
134 posts
Oct 25, 2017
5:38 PM
Yeah Bee do you think then that there are some 'secrets' that the top guys know that they don't let on about when they put out videos and stuff? I think it's possible. Reminds me of when someone gives a recipe with all the ingredients but they hold back a secret ingredient that just finishes the dish off.
5056 posts
Oct 25, 2017
8:05 PM
I think 100% certain. RS made a video where he showed the problem of off-centre reeds, then he came back with the reeds centred and said he had a special tool for it and had been sworn to not reveal. In itself that could be BS too, but same difference, he ain’t telling how it’s done. In my naivety I once asked him about centrring reeds and the conversation we’d been having inexplicably went quiet.
Joe Spiers has spent a long time developing his approach and I betcha he isn’t telling. I’ve looked at his harps and I can see some things he does which I have never seen discussed. I don’t know how he does them but I can see some of what he does. I’ve had customs here from Sleigh, Spiers, Gordon, Graham, Zajac, Bouman, Moyer, and others. I really like Jimmy Gordon’s work, aesthetically. But Joe Spiers is the pick of them, for me. Although the D harp Sleigh built for me has actually spoiled me for other harps, and I’ve not had that experience before.
But I think it stands to reason that when someone has made a name for themselves and spent years learning their craft, they don’t sell all that tradecraft for $70 to all-comers.
Also, think about how much you pay for a top-drawer custom, and how many you’d have to make for it to be viable as a career, it seems clear to me that efficiency is key. And when you realise how much tuning is needed and how long that takes it seems really clear that you need really efficient practices to deal with the other tasks. That’s the stuff that keeps the amateurs at bay I think, and that is the stuff no one is talking about
135 posts
Oct 26, 2017
8:29 AM
Yeah i'm not buying it then Bee. I don't want to be disappointed again. I bought Richard's DVD that time on digital download and although it might have been good for a beginner i had learned all that stuff already, and more, from Tinus's site free of charge. That's why i was disappointed i'd wasted my money. However i wrote to Richard and he immediately refunded my money so that was really good. I think these lessons might be the same.
278 posts
Oct 26, 2017
12:30 PM
I'm curious, what else are you hoping to learn? If you can gap, profile, burnish/emboss, and tune, and your harps play very well, including the overblows...... what else do you want/need? Have you played a Filisko, Sleigh, or Spiers harp and found they would do something you need that your own harps won't?

Last Edited by LSB on Oct 26, 2017 12:31 PM
136 posts
Oct 26, 2017
5:31 PM
LSB: That's the point bud, i don't know. Like myself and Bee have been discussing these may not be the only forces at work here and there may be other little tweaks and twists and turns that could help us squeeze that bit more out of our harps. Thing is i'm asking myself if i as a total beginner could search the net and find advice to learn what i've learned why would anyone pay $70+ to learn what's available for free? shows you virtually everything you need to know and Tinus gives it away for free. The only reason i'm surmising is you're getting something more than we've just talked about.
282 posts
Oct 26, 2017
7:29 PM
I'll preface the following by saying this: I used to be a woodwind maker, trained and working at a well known high end hand made instrument shop that had been in business for 50 years. During my time working there I got to see and and work on instruments from many different makers. And there was also a pretty free exchange of information between our shop and other shops regarding techniques and work methods.

That said, I don't believe there's really much more (of value) out there to be seen on video - free or paid - in terms of different things to do to the harp to make it play better. What you are likely to find available are just different methods of working. By that I mean, there are a bunch of ways to tune reeds, but they are all just different methods of removing metal, right?

It sounds like you have all the info you need to get results 90-95% as good results as the top guys, IF you were to put in the time, effort, and attention to detail the top guys have done. And more practice is Really where it's at, along with some critical feedback on your work from someone like Richard Sleigh or Andrew, if they are willing. This is where the bang for the buck is in getting better at such work.

Now it's true that there may be a few things that the top guys aren't sharing. But those are things that are highly unlikely to make much, if any difference, unless you have gotten really good at all the public knowledge stuff. Even then, these "secret" techniques likely only juice the harp a small amount, taking it from very very good to world class.

As for the secret stuff, if that keeps you up at night and you absolutely must know, I'll leave you with something one of the world's top flute makers said in an interview (his flutes start at $12,800 btw) when asked if he was worried about people stealing his flute making secrets and copying his flutes. His reply went like this:

"There are no secrets in instrument making. If you have one of my instruments in your hands, you have all of my secrets right in front of you. So, if you want to copy my work, and you think you think you can do it as well or better, then by all means have at it."

He's saying two things with that:
1. If you look at and measure one of his instruments carefully enough, all the information you need to get the same results are right there in front of you for the taking, there really isn't any way of hiding it.

2. Just having the information is no substitute for the skill required to replicate the work, that skill only comes with years of work and dedication to the craft.

So, for those still wanting to improve their harp customizing skills beyond what's available on-line. There's may be more info out there to be had, but you are probably going to have to start looking at harps, rather than tutorials.

Last Edited by LSB on Nov 19, 2017 7:13 AM
137 posts
Oct 26, 2017
7:38 PM
LSB: Interesting post. So basically i think the opinion of us all is getting round to the fact that most of these things that are for sale to the public are pretty much geared towards beginners and not of much value to people who already know most of the foundation stuff? So if it's more at that point about practising on your harps why would anyone spend $70+ on videos?
5059 posts
Oct 27, 2017
3:25 PM
Yes LSB, I think that’s a decent summary. It’s easy enough to see the characteristics of a harp which plays well and sounds good. If one gets their hands on such a harp and examines it, compared to a standard harp, one can begin to get some insight into the differences.

Getting there from here though is not always so simple. Especially if you don’t have a background in working with small tools and metal.

And one shouldn’t forget that a player’s ability to appreciate the quality of an instrument is limited by their ability to play.

Bike&Harp, I find value in all the stuff even if I think I already know how to do it. That’s me, I’m interested in the differences, inconsistencies.

These video classes are a cheap apprenticeship but they will only take you so far.

Did I already say, the best harps I’ve ever played are made by Joe Spiers. B&H, it may be the next best step you could take is to obtain a top-shelf custom harp and see what you think about that. You’re an aspiring ‘chromatic’ diatonic player, so a Spiers stage 3 would probably be the go. I dunno how much that would cost you, but it would give you a great harp and insight into what a great harp is like, something to study, and probably bring your playing along. If it turns out you feel you’ve done your dough, I’ll buy it from you, if it’s in A, B or C
301 posts
Nov 19, 2017
8:09 AM
Bike&Harp wrote:
“LSB: Interesting post. So basically i think the opinion of us all is getting round to the fact that most of these things that are for sale to the public are pretty much geared towards beginners and not of much value to people who already know most of the foundation stuff? So if it's more at that point about practising on your harps why would anyone spend $70+ on videos?”

Well, I don’t completely agree, it really depends on what one values. As I said previously, for those looking for additional performance modifications, I’d agree, the value probably isn’t there.

That said, my experience as an instrument maker taught me to place a high value on process, because the better the process for doing your work the better and more repeatable the work will be. I have stories from my own experience that would illustrate this clearly, but I don’t want to bore readers with off-topic examples. Let it suffice to say that mediocre processes lead to mediocre and/or inconsistent work that takes more time to complete and often involves more frustration than necessary to get the job done.

With that said, each harp customizer seems to have developed somewhat different processes, so that, to my mind, is where the value lies in paying for something like Andrew’s USB. Andrew has his own way of getting the work done and if only a few of his process differences can help one work better, that will lead to better results.

You know, I looked at some of Tinus’ videos and didn’t find them helpful at all. Yes, they roughly illustrated the idea of what needed to be done, but they really didn’t allow me to see anywhere near enough detail of all the things experience tells me I’d need to know in order to do the work well.

I bought Richard Sleigh’s offering and I was pretty happy with it, as it provided far better views of the processes as well as before and after results. I’m thinking of the reed profiling for example, in which Tinus’ video is woefully inadequate. Don’t get me wrong, his site is great, It’s a hugely valuable resource on many fronts, and I very much appreciate that he took the time to make the harp mod videos for folks. And, prior to my instrument making experience I would have thought those videos perfectly adequate, however now I see things very differently.

I could go on and on about the benefits of learning more ways to do a thing (what I refer to as process), as well as the real need to actually see the work being done in as great a detail as possible and from as many angles as possible, but this post is already getting long.

I shouldn’t leave out that there is also, of course, benefit to hearing multiple people describe how to do a thing, because every once in a while someone will have a way of saying something that finally makes it “click” with you. So this is another benefit of multiple tutorials on the same thing from different sources.

At any rate, bottom line: For those who value process, more is better regardless of skill level, and if finances allow, I suspect it could very well be worth the $70. to buy Andrew’s tutorial. For those on a tight budget, or those who are looking only for new modifications, they, like you B&H, will not want to spend the money, which is totally understandable.

Also needs to be said that for “beginners”, some topics are likely to be coverered more completely/and or clearly on Richard’s tutorials than on Andrew’s, or vice versa. So while there will necessarily be overlap between the two, the beginner wanting to get the best education may be best served by purchasing both, if their budget allows. It would be great if someone who has both would write a review comparing and contrasting the two.

Last Edited by LSB on Nov 19, 2017 9:48 AM
5081 posts
Nov 21, 2017
3:38 AM
That’s almost exactly how I feel about it.
I have both.
There are some differences and they’re both valuable to me for that reason.
I am fairly certain that there are no actual pro workshop practices being given away here.
Put it this way; I’ve seen quite a few custom harps and I expect more than 1 or 2 have had reeds realigned at the base. I’ve never seen the telltale marks which would be left by the process AZ demonstrates on Youtube, which is the only video in his package demonstrating how to move reeds at the base.
I’ve no doubt the method works, but I think there are other ways. I’ve done it that way myself, but when installing new reeds and I didn’t leave the marks as seen in az video.
I also don’t believe in the F tool as the prime way to flatten Reedplates. I can’t rule out that Andrew does this, or did it at a certain point in his development, but for me it seems altogether too fiddly and prone to error.
I’ve done it, both successfully and not.
I believe in sanding draw reed plates if they have burrs or rivet bumps, and no clearance divots on the comb. Otherwise I dont think it’s likely to have much impact. Especially if the plate is not actually flat as in straight front to back.
When I look at Joe Spiers harps it seems like if a reed is too short he is likely to adjust the slot rather than the reed. Looks like a small chisel punch might be involved but that’s very speculative.

An example of small detail which can make lots of difference:
When setting out to learn how to replace reeds using screws to fasten them, I watched lots of video. Only 1 mentioned lubrication when cutting thread and enlarging the holes in reed and plate. It makes a big difference. Do it dry and much slower going and harder on tools. But only 1 person mentioned it.
303 posts
Nov 28, 2017
10:04 AM
I’m not familiar with Andrew’s method of reed alignment, so I can’t comment on that.

I have a different take on what you are seeing on Joe Spires’ customized reedplates, I don’t think it’s slot (end) sizing, but I don’t want to speculate on what’s going on there. I’m a long time customer of Joe’s, and while I don’t think there’s anything wrong with discussing/speculating on his methods, I just don’t personally feel comfortable doing so, for a variety of reasons that I won’t get into.

The F tool I have no direct experience with, although I’ve seen AZ’s video on using it. I can see that would be capable of getting the job done, but I can also imagine that one could cause as much harm as good, until one gains experience with the tool. Still, it would be unfair for me to dismiss the F tool out of hand, I’d have to give it a try for a bit to form a proper opinion. The forge and hammer are amazing tools for forming metal, but both can make are real mess of things very quickly in inexperienced hands. Dont ask me how I know, lol.

I find the subject of makers/customizers work methods fascinating, as most craftsmen do. It’s always fun when several highly skilled woodworkers or metal workers get together and share methods, so many ways to skin the proverbial cat!

Last Edited by LSB on Nov 28, 2017 10:11 AM
5096 posts
Dec 01, 2017
4:00 AM
I haven’t done any work on harps since I got Andrew’s videos. I am about to receive a new batch though, 3 Seydel steel and 3 Hohner. There may be an opportunity then to practice some of the things Andrew demonstrates. I’ll get some of my own harps on the bench at the same time; I’m playing my A Harps so much lately I really need at least 2 in great shape.
I have an A which Andrew built me back in 2014; I just noticed I’ve flatted the 9 draw somewhat. Took me a while because I generally only go there in 1st and use a bent 9 blow for that note, but recently playing 3rd position and it just isn’t right. This will give me an incentive to practice some tuning with my new rotary tool. A multi speed manicure machine as recommended by a well-respected mbh member.
All this discussion though has led me to order some new harps from Joe S. I’ve gone for wooden comb stage 1 marine bands. My stage 2 harps are fantastic but I just don’t need the overblows, so really no point paying extra.
I must say though, it’s true that those stage 2 harps play as well as I could expect any harp to play. There is not a hint of compromise in dynamic range for the sake of the overblows.
I once bought a harp which was claimed to ‘play great’, and it’s true that it delivered up the overbends very easily. But it really was very compromised in terms of choking at the hint of a tongue slap. I play with a fair share of percussive action and it simply couldn’t deal with me at all. I don’t get that with Joe’s harps.
With the harps I got from Richard Sleigh, a C and D, they’re undoubtedly great, but while I can play the D without concern I do have to remain conscious when I’m playing the C that it will choke if I forget it’s the Sleigh harp. Just inna couple places. It’s just a tiny bit tight for me.
Richard built these at a time when he had one hand injured badly enough to stop him playing guitar, and he also used thevstock comb on them. I figured I’d put them on some aftermarket combs, but when I did that I found they didn’t perform as well as with the stock comb. I can only surmise Richard built them to work with the comb as is, and with a dead flat comb the reed plates are distorting relative to the reeds. So a flat comb on its own will not necessarily make a harp play better. You need to get it all working together.

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