Lee Oskars have a very strong following I the harmonica world. The most common compliment bestowed on them is that they are durable. It is also very easy to replace reed plates if/when they blow out. I own several of them and they are good harps. But, to be perfectly honest, they are not my favorite harp. And being in the customization business, I will tell you that there is not a big call for customized Lee Oskars. The custom harp aficionados definitely lean toward Hohner, Suzuki and Seydel. With that in mind, I think some important questions for you to consider are the following:
What kind of player are you? What type of music do you play? Do you use Overblows or Overdraws?
The reason I think that these are relevant questions is because if you are or aspire to be an overblow/overdraw player, the Lee Oskar is not a good choice. I have been making custom combs for the Lee Oskars for about three years. I remember the day I got the first prototype. I immediately went home and built a custom Lee Oskar. I put the reed plates through the same paces I would do to a Special 20 or a Marine Band or a Manji. The result was a very good harp, but not as good, in my opinion, as a Special 20 etc. For Traditional Blues – it is just fine. For playing Overblows and/or Overdraws, it left something to be desired.
I don’t think there is anybody else out there making custom combs for Lee Oskars other than me. While I would love to have your business, I want you to have all the information you need to make an intelligent decision. To be sure, I have lots of customers who do nothing more than replace the stock comb on their harmonicas with a custom comb and they do report significant improvement. However, there is a ton of information available about how to improve reed plates. So, it is a safe bet that most of my customers, in addition to installing a custom comb, also do some work on the reed plates while they have the harp apart. Mostly it is simple stuff. Flat sanding the draw plate helps make a more airtight harp, which in turn, improves response. Adjusting the gaps also improves the response. And checking the tuning is important. You can do these things and not install a custom comb and it will make your harps better. Or you can do the reed work and install a custom comb and it might make the harp even better.
You’re not the first person to wonder about this. I hope that others will offer their thoughts. I figured since you were considering a custom comb and I’m pretty sure I am the only guy making them for the Lee Oskar, I would offer you my honest opinion. But here’s the thing. I offer a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. If you want to try one of my combs, give it a shot. If you don’t get the results you are hoping for, I have no problem giving you a refund and reimbursing you for all shipping costs. I do hope some other will share their experiences but at the end of the day, you won’t know until you try it. But, like I said, if you want to build an overblow/overdraw, you would probably be better off with a different model.
Hi , Tom , no , i don't overblow . I play american music : folk , blues , country , rock , but not jazz .I am an intermediate player who plays gigs in bars&restaurants since 1990 but i lost most of my teeth and i suffer from a lack of breath . So , i need a very easy to bend harp . Special 20 's work fine for me , but i find them to be a bit small in my hands and i am serching for another sound and feeling .I like the shape and tone of the LO's , i have a few ones , but they are leaky and don't bend easy as SP 20 's .A french tech makes seals for a lot of brands and for LO's . These seals are inexpensive , i will try them on my two LO's , and if it's not enough , maybe i'll order a bluemoon comb .But , you know , i am in France and the comb will be 50 dollars+ shipping , this is why i ask if improvement is big with a custom comb on a L O . By the way , you made for me , a few years ago , a Manji with corian comb , plays very well , but...i think i don't like Manji's...lol .
I am a old farm boy that blows some blues and LOVE the Blue Moon combs on my Lee Oskars! They respond better and improves the tone (to me)...I am not a over blow player but I do like BM combs on any harp I have....his brass combs are awesome...steps up the playability and tone on any brand harp!
In that case jiceblues, I would suggest that you watch a couple of YouTube videos and learn how to flat sand the draw plates and adjust the gaps. I think that will make a big difference. I've heard favorable reviews of the gasket approach so I think it is a good idea for you to try them too. Good luck. Hope it works out well for you. ---------- Tom Halchak Blue Moon Harmonicas
I have quite a few of Andrew Zajac's LO combs and a few (probably the last) of the old Hetrick Bamboo LO combs. I would say both yield an impressive improvement to LO harps. Some of the improvement is going to be due to the flat sanding, tuning and any other work I did during the transfer, and some of it may be psychological, but I am a happy camper.
i have a couple Blue Moon combs for Special 20. 1 is aluminium, the other is brass. maybe more about those later. i think they are a special category.
i also have 1 blue moon acrylic comb. its a marine band comb, and i'm currently employing it in a Spiers Stage 1, only because the lacquer started to wear off the original. i cant say there was any big difference noted when i swapped the comb in this harp, just a slightly smoother experience on the tip of my tongue.
i do have some of the old Hetrick combs, Corian and bamboo. The Corian combs are in Marine band harps and they definitely improved those harps, but both those harps had compromised combs which is why i replaced them
1 of the Bamboo combs went into a Hohner Blues Harp, and did improve the harp, but again the original comb was quite bad.
the other bamboo went into a special 20. That harp was rather special with the new comb, but it essentially changed the special 20 into something more like a Marine band with non-vented covers. Fitting that comb required me to do some other work, mainly flat-sanding the draw plate to remove the rivet bumps. i would have also done work on reeds i expect. i did something very similar to a special 20 but using a Zajac comb. similar result but quite a change to the harp and not possible to quantify the impact of the comb in isolation.
i put a zajac comb in a poorly-performing promaster. it did improve the harp, but its still rather poorly performing.
ive used many zajac combs in marine band rebuilds. not possible to say how much difference the comb made as i worked on other aspects of the harps as part of the building process.
my belief is that if there is something inherently wrong with the comb already in your harp, then a good quality replacement will probably/possibly improve it, depending on what else is wrong with the harp. if your harp is fine, and there is no problem with the comb, a custom comb may not make any difference.
I dont have a lot of LO experience but i think of them as pretty much equivalent to a Sp20 as far as the comb goes. i think the stock sp20 comb is quite good and while i have beeen known to replace them, i dont think there is really any need to do so, from a purely performance-based motivation.
there are other reasons to use a custom comb and they are quite valid.
the metal combs i mentioned above though, definitely did make a different playing experience without any other modification. i have not tried any CNC milled acrylic combs for sp20, only those sandwich types. its quite possible the Blue Moon Sp20 and Lee Oskar combs would make for a different playing experience as they have a mouthpiece which is probably subtly different to the stock harp, and they may seal up against the reedplate with a bigger surface than the stock comb.
I started out with Hohner harps in the early 70's, all special 20's which in those days were nailed together.
I started playing Lee Oskar harps harps in the 80's. This was on the advice of Jim Conway, one of Australia's leading blues harp players of the period who I had some lessons with. He used Lee Oskar at that time and said they were far more consistent than the Hohner product of that period I still have quite a few Lee's that date from this time that still play well.
I bought my last Lee Oskar blues harps around the turn of the century.
I have never gaped one, quite a few overblow and some overdraw out of the box.
I still have a set in the car, A,D,G,C,F and a Bb They last far better than some other much more expensive harmonicas. I've found Seydel 1847's and Hohner Crossovers fragile. I use mostly custom Suzuki Manji harps these days and really like them.
The lee Oskar harps are excellent value, they are around $50 Aussie dollars each. I've bought a set of the Melody Makes for a folk band I was with for a while. I also bought 3 natural minor Lee's too but neither of those sets get any serious playing.
I've set up a couple of Lee's with Blue moon combs and I'm working very slowly on making a double reed plate Lee.
My only problem with the Lee harps is they only have 3 screws securing the reed plates excluding the 2 cover screws. Crossovers only have 3, but have 4 coverplate screws. Seydel 1847's have 5 screws, 3 behind the reeds, 2 in the front and then 2 central cover plate screws. I set up my Manji harps with 8 screws for the reed plate which provides in my opinion the best option for an air tight harp, they also place the cover plate screws at the front of the harp. That's one of the reason I really like the Suzuki range of harmonicas, someone really thought about the design.
Last Edited by John M G on Jan 06, 2020 12:50 AM
“Leaky” is a term that interests me. When I was first trying to play harp and checking out this forum I used to see this term “leaky” thrown about a fair bit and people were doing all these things to fix their leaking harps. Mainly things with combs and reedplates; lots of “flat-sanding going on. Once I got involved in repairing harps and adjusting them to play more easily I wondered just how much leakage was contributed by these factors. It seemed to me that in many leaky harps I was seeing that once I adjusted the reeds there was not much to complain about. It seemed crazy to me that people were spending so much effort chasing down very small opportunities for leakage in the comb/reedplate interface when each reedplate was perforated by these large rectangular holes only partially plugged by the reeds. The reeds and slots offer by far the biggest opportunity for leakage in each chamber. Even when the reeds are well fitted and gapped, there’s still more room for air to flow through the slots than through any but the worst fitted combs. That’s how it seemed to me. I have seen lots of really well built harps and I’m not saying it’s unimportant to match combs and reedplates but imho reedwork is usually more significant. There is a case to make for the idea that it’s not possible to do precise reed work if the reedplate changes shape when fitted to the comb. But flat sanding will not make a reedplate flat. It only removes bumps. It doesn’t straighten a warped reedplate. And a gasket won’t flatten a reedplate either, it will only close up possible air leaks between comb and reedplate. If the reedplate is not flat, it will change shape when fastened to a flat comb. This will alter the relationship of reeds to slots, which can make it difficult to see how the reed needs to be adjusted in order to work best. I’m a bit too lazy to spend a lot of time flattening reedplates. I usually go straight to adjusting reeds, bolt the thing together and see how it goes. Usually they are completely acceptable for my meager skills. If not, then I look more closely. I’m not in the custom game though and I don’t get paid enough to flatten reedplates on a $15 repair. What I’m saying is that if your reedplate isn’t flat, strapping in s flat comb is unlikely to fix much, unless the original comb was dodgy. And gaskets might help but it’s kind of a shot in the dark. So if you’re serious about making a harp work properly, start with making the reedplates flat, then check the reeds and adjust as required. If the comb is obviously flawed, by all means fix it or replace it. If you’re too lazy to flatten reedplates, the next best place to start is with the reeds. After that the returns are more hit and miss. You might get lucky with a new comb or with gaskets (kind of an old idea which people mainly abandoned after a fairly brief period of enthusiasm), but it’s not really a percentage play. That’s how I see it at the moment. I’ve only been doing harp repair work since 2013 or so, and working on harps for people other than myself since mid 2014. I guess I’ve worked on 1500 or so but I definitely have a lot to learn so you know, it’s just my thoughts not the truth or anything heavy like that
I don't know how to flatten a reedplate .I have two LO's . One , in D was adjusted by a tech and is still a little difficult to bend notes . The other , in B is not adjusted at all , i bought new reedplates and bolted them to the old comb .This one is harder to bend than the D .I agree with you that the tweaking is the most important thing , but i am bad at tweaking .I ordered the gaskets because they are not expensive and i will see . By the way , the best harp i own is a Special 20 in Bb a guy of this forum made for me .Chromaticblues , if my memory is good .
I played Lee Oskars exclusively in the 1990s as they lasted longer and were more consistently playable than the Special 20s of that time. Also, if my overly enthusiastic hard playing resulted in a flat reed that finally was beyond re-tuning, I could pop in new reed plates and save on buying an entire replacement harp.
I prefer compromise intonation to equal intonation since I play some chords or partial chords. When Hohner improved their products' quality, I went back to Hohner. I have also explored Manjis and different stainless steel Seydels seeking durability. All of the above I find preferable to Lee Oskars for my playing. Now we have EastTop and other brands putting out low cost, good quality harps that compare well against the LO.
I still have a full set of LOs in my vehicle and I have adjusted gaps on all of them, achieving considerably improved playability. The LOs are not nearly as airy now due to adjusted gaps, but they are still more leaky than adjusted SP20s, MBDs, Crossovers, Manjis, 1847s, and Session Steels. I can gig with my old LOs if needed and have used them at outdoor gigs on occasion, but they are my second string harps.
I would not want to install LO plates on a flat custom comb because the plates lack the front grooves for the cover plates, having been designed for a recessed comb. Your choice of trying a gasket is interesting. If the airiness is due to comb/reedplate leakage, it may help. Please let us know!
To me, LOs are OK harps and gigable, but I would rather spend money on other products with more easily achieved potential improvements through simple modifications. I think that newer Hohners have tighter reed/slot tolerances than Lee Oskars, which contributes to the airiness of LOs. Manjis and Seydels seem better in this regard as well.
If I am wrong about the reed/slot tolerances, I hope someone corrects my belief.
To me, gapping harps is the first thing I do when I get them. Learning to pop an occasional 6 or 5 OB has changed my attack and I use much less air. Other brands of harp work better for me than LOs now. ----------
Last Edited by dougharps on Jan 07, 2020 7:57 AM
Thank you Doug . Yes , i think there is a question of reed/slots tolerance with LO's .I don't know why , but since 1990 , i have had a few LO's , maybe ten , and only one in C was good , i mean , quite as playable as a SP20 out of the box .I will install the gaskets when i receive them and i will tell you if the harp plays better . In my experience , the new Hohner are very good out of the box . I have a classic MB which is quite good .
I received the gaskets and put them on the 2 LO's .It doesn't change anything .I think Superbee is right , it comes from the reeds .Maybe they are mis-aligned or something like that but i can't see it .I stop with LO's and come back to MB's & SP20's .
I'm with Superbee on the leaky thing. IMO, 95% of complaints about leaky harps are really just poorly gapped or messed up reeds and slots.
I don't find a lot of credibility in the idea that enough air can escape through a "leak" you can't even see with a flashlight to affect the playability.
I came to this conclusion when I learned to fix my Blues Harps by gapping them properly. These are harps everyone told me were too leaky to be playable, but now they all play as well as my Special 20s. They weren't leaky. They were just gapped high.
Last Edited by Caitlin P on Jan 12, 2020 2:22 AM
As far as responsiveness, yes. Making it actually comfortable to play took a bit more work, mostly sanding, and then resealing with linseed oil. I rounded everything the way you find on a Hohner Crossover.
I’ve been following this conversation from afar since it started. Lots of interesting comments. Some I agree with. Others, perhaps not.
I do agree that the primary source of leaks in a harp are gaps that are too wide and if all you do is close the gaps you can dramatically improve the responsiveness of a harp. However, I do not agree with those who doubt that getting rid of other leaks has minimal or zero benefit. I have found, generally speaking, that getting twice as good at something usually does not come from doing any one thing 100% better, but rather from doing 100 little things 1% better. The more I work on harps the more I notice tiny little subtle things that make a difference. What’s more is that so many of them are very simple to do and don’t take a lot of time or effort. For example – flat sanding a draw plate. It usually takes no more than 30 seconds to flat sand a draw plate so why not do it? If it takes longer than that, it is because the reed plate is really warped, and it is a darn good thing that you did flat sand it. This past weekend I had a customer email me about a custom harp I had built. He was doing a little routine maintenance on it. He couldn’t separate the draw plate from the comb and wrote to ask me if I used glue. The answer, of course, is no, I never use glue or any sort of adhesive to fasten the reed plates to the comb. The reason was because the both the comb and the reed plate are so flat, they are just stuck together like a suction cup. I have had that same experience many many times. It is really kind of standard fare for me. SuperBee made a comment early on in this thread about how much work he could justify doing when he only charges $15 for a repair. I get it. You can’t spend hours fixing every little thing on a harp if you’re only charging $15 to replace a blow out reed. But that doesn’t mean that you should never do them. Perhaps on your own harps or perhaps on a custom harp you are building where you will be fairly compensated for your time.
In response to the original question: "Useless?" No. Every harp I own with a custom comb is better because of it, if for no other reason than it inspires me to do a well deserved tune-up when I swap out the comb. Also, the mating surface of custom combs are very flat, that is 50% of an airtight connection.
I introduced my brother to working on harps this past Thanksgiving. He had a new full set of LO's. About a year ago I gave him a MB that I customized. He wanted to learn how to work some similar magic on his set of Lee Oskars.
We made some simple and clear improvements (no shaping or embossing).
A few reeds were not perfectly centered, one reed was way off and hitting the reed slot.
I went through my assessment and gaping routine. We found several reeds that could be vastly improved with minor height adjustments.
Because this was planned work with my brother I created a first edition Lee Oskar Harp Plane for the occasion. I was not surprised to find the typical number of uneven draw plate surfaces that contribute to air leaks.
We did some minor tuning tuning adjustments and discussed intonation related to his MB.
We didn't have time to perfect the entire set but now my brother has the skills and tools.
Although I don't have custom combs for my Lee Oskars I did flat sand my collection when I returned from the Thanksgiving trip. I have a better appreciation for my Lee Oskar harmonicas. I've always like them for their durability but I am also very happy with how mine play.
I mentioned custom combs to my brother and suggested he try one on his favorite Oskar key. Again, a custom comb improves the harp and inspires the player. Get one and tune up that harp. You will at least know what you have been missing.
I also disagree with folks that believe sandwich leaks are nearly moot. It really depends on how big the leaks are and where they are located. I posted about a pretty bad crossover comb last month.
That OTB harp was extremely leaky while the gaps were nearly ideal.
I also flat sanded a random Manji last month after reading this post. https://www.modernbluesharmonica.com/board/board_topic/5560960/5504981.htm.
A bit of sanding shows most of the chamber ends were going to leak at the back of this comb.
I notice a big improvement after flat sanding both of those combs. Again that is at least 50% of the issue fixed. Think of how bad it can be if an uneven comb surface happens to badly sandwich against an uneven plate surface. That's why I flat sand reed plates also.
Here’s an example of a MB comb that is clearly worth upgrading.
These problems are fairly common but they vary in degree.
In the above cases a custom comb would have made an instant and notable improvement.
I do agree that typically the most notable and effective "improvement" to an OTB harmonica is adjusting gaps. I won’t say it's the easiest task because you have to be a decent player to assess and set gaps and it is somewhat skilled work, whereas anyone with a screwdriver can swap over to a custom comb. Flat sanding produces very quick and consistent results with a simple setup and near zero skill required.
I understand some skepticism surrounding flat sanding combs and reed plates. As in the case of the above Manji you can’t always see surface problems until you start sanding. I also believe many players simply tolerate leaks or power through them. It certainly depends on playing style. Jerry Portnoy played an incredible slow blues number here on Thursday’s Blues Blow Out. I spoke with him after the show and he mentioned the difficulty of that style and stressed the importance of a responsive instrument.
Really I was only saying that the majority of leakage is from bad reedwork.
I’m not denying there are flawed combs. In fact I said in post above “if the comb is obviously flawed, by all means fix it or replace it.“
I’m not saying ignore comb problems. I’m also not saying don’t flat sand a draw reedplate. It’s essential to flat sand a draw reedplate if you’re fitting a solid comb or if you’ve sanded an original comb to the point of eliminating the relief divots for the rivet heads.
I am saying I don’t see a lot of value in draw sanding a reedplate to be used with an injection-moulded comb.
I’m also distinguishing between flat-sanding a reedplate and making a reedplate flat. Flat sanding only addresses the surface of the reedplate. It doesn’t make the reedplate flat.
All my comments were in context of an injection moulded comb, as per the OP. I’ve obviously been a bit triggered at the ‘leaky’ word and let run my thoughts.
I don’t mean to underplay the role of a flat smooth comb.
Having said that, I could go on to explore why I’m triggered by ‘leaky’.
Suffice to say though, I’m a fan of inspecting the unit to determine the likely source of the problem rather than jumping at shadows I still sometimes see reports of folk jumping straight into embossing their slots and sanding their reedplates. Some even removed all the blow reeds and sanded the blow plate, then reattached the reeds.
My experiences with adjusting reeds, led me to question the notion of leaky harps.
For me, the quick thing if a harp is not performing is to take it apart and inspect it. Maybe at that point you notice the reedplates are not seated properly, there’s a burr on the comb side of a bolt hole, warped/gouged etc comb. Ok, address that.
The next easiest thing to see is the gaps. If you have some experience you’ll spot an inappropriate gap immediately. I don’t go straight to adjusting them though. First I’ll backsight through the slots and check the reedshape. If you’ve studied this a bit (not hard to do, free videos available which demonstrate) you can quickly see whether it’s likely to be giving a good response. If I see this, I adjust to my satisfaction then go back to the gap offsets and bring those into line. That’s very quick and easy to do. In the absence of other problems I’ll just put it back together at that point and test. The overwhelmingly common result is a much improved response. I don’t even charge to do that, to a Hohner harp.
Sometimes I do smooth sand other parts, and sometimes it becomes clear there’s something else going on. Maybe a reed is off centre, maybe a reed is twisting into the slot. Maybe the reedplate is changing shape when the harp is strapped together and so what you see when inspecting it is not the true situation. But my observation posted above are about addressing the reason the harp is not performing satisfactorily and where I usually find the best bang for buck.
I was thinking all these things for a while and then on 14 June 2016 I received an email from Richard Sleigh which immediately resonated with me because I felt it validated my thoughts. Of course, I was already inclined to Richard’s professed way of looking at harps so even though he was selling something to me, I was drawn in. Richard was offering the “RS Roots Harp Reed Plate Overhaul”.
“what is really important to making a harmonica play well?
My answer is reed and slot work.”
I took him up on the offer, and he sent me a pair of Marine Band Deluxe harps which had zero reedplate flattening and zero comb work. They had been judiciously worked for reedshapes and slot size, and precision tuned.
Those harps are something else.
It’s only 2 harps I know. And Richard is only one person in the customisation game. And he was chasing business. I understand that, but I’m a disciple to some extent.
I certainly don’t mean that it’s folly to fit new custom combs or to break out the tools and sand a smooth surface on your combs and reed plates. Of course there are incremental benefits, and of course if your harp is terribly deficient in those aspects it is only sensible to address it as a priority.
Last Edited by SuperBee on Jan 14, 2020 1:11 AM
Well , i am bored with Lee Oskars . I bought a Crossover yesterday and it's a very good harp .BTW , three reeds were mis-aligned but i fixed it .Thank you all for your responses .The spam prevention code is quite boring .
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