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beginner forum: for novice and developing blues harp players > Do harmonica players need to invest annually?
Do harmonica players need to invest annually?
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75 posts
Mar 01, 2018
8:09 AM
I am a newbie so not sure. I heard some body said in youtube he has to replace harmonica 5 times a year. Does that mean that we need to buy that many harmonicas?

Let's say I play 3 hours a day in a moderate force not too soft and not too loud Will my harmonica become useless in a few months? What is your personal experience?

Thanks for your feedback and sorry for my bad english :)
124 posts
Mar 01, 2018
11:23 AM
That seems a bit much, some people play way too hard, and wear out harps long before they should.
The quality of the harp and the reed material does come into play, but if you have learned to play without using excessive force, I just have trouble thinking you could burn through harps that fast, no mater how much you practice.
My first harp was a cheep Hohner pocket pal kind of like a SP20, played it from the time I was 13 till I broke it when I was 18, it was with me everywhere in my pocket, and it took a beating.
Reeds can go out of tune, and break, but needing to replace harps every few months is just wrong to me.
As you gain experience your technique should improve and harps should last longer.
1679 posts
Mar 01, 2018
12:14 PM
I second Flbl, if they're replacing their harmonica 5 times a year it's either not a good model or they're playing too hard or tweaking it wrong or something. I have harmonicas in my bag I bring with me to jams that are a few years old which may be a few cents off but don't need replaced.



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5302 posts
Mar 01, 2018
12:45 PM
Most of my harps last a long time. 7 years ago I realised I didn’t want to buy new harps when a reed broke. I’d spent around $380 to get 4 Crossover and a Thunderbird from USA. I did not want to spend >$90 to replace a Crossover locally, and wasn’t keen to make another multi-harp order from the USA. So I bought tools and learned to repair harps.
Now I just don’t buy new harps for the purpose of replacement.
I have bought 8 custom harps over the last 4 years. And I bought a couple sp20s a couple years back, just to prove to myself whether the claims about a change of quality were true (they were false).
But other than that I just repair my harps and sometimes buy second hand although I now have so many harps that I no longer bother with that. Sometimes I sell harps I’ve restored and set up.
I play in a band, practice something everyday, average a gig every month and band rehearsal every week. Sometimes I do need to replace a reed. Maybe 3 times a year? I think I’ve replaced 3 reeds in my own harps over the last 18 months but it may have been 4. The band was much louder in the first 6 months.
If it was normal to break harps 5 times a year, no one would buy custom harps.
That said, my best customer once told me she was getting 2 weeks from a harp. I repair about 15 a year for her over the last couple years but I think I did 30 for her in the first year.
2540 posts
Mar 02, 2018
2:10 AM
I've not had to replace a harp but that sounds unusual. I think it's coz I major on amplified, so there's no need to play hard. If I were replacing 5 time a year, I think I'd do something about that - either change technique or learn how to replace reeds.

If I were getting 2 weeks out of a harp (like SuperBee's customer) I think about another instrument.

In the Little Walter Bio, they write about him as a boy going off to buy a harp, playing it til it broke, then going to get another. But they weren't $60 each or whatever.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Mar 02, 2018 2:11 AM
5303 posts
Mar 02, 2018
2:43 AM
She’s a decent player too, plays a lot of gigs and has represented at the IBC finals in Memphis.

I actually have 5 on the bench for her right now. This is the 4th year I’ve been mending for her, and still see a few harps I’ve been caring for all that time. I work fairly cheaply because I’m really all about keeping good harps in action, not about building super harps that play themselves. People sometimes approach me with that idea in mind, but it’s just not my gig. I can only build harps to the standard I can appreciate. If someone sends me a good harp to work on and has some job description like ‘loosen up the top end a bit’ I’m aftaid I don’t know what to do other than work on the harp until I think it’s really good to play. That’s fine, but how do you work out what to charge? Some harps need a lot of work, some not so much. If it’s a Sp20 or marine band, I can be fairly sure I’ll get it playing well in fair time, but some of these other harps can be quite the proverbial can of worms.
Sorry, rambling I know.
Anyway, a few years ago I was involved in an online conversation with some players who claimed to be very experienced, and they were intensely agreeing with one another that harps were only good for 50 hours playtime and after that the tone would become inferior.
This sounded like utter tommyrot to me and I told them so, which is when I found out they were very experienced players with years of gigging experience which rendered my repairs knowledge and skills firmly redundant.
However, I’ve since met many players who claim to keep their gigharps going for years.
And many who talk a lot of nonsense.
What I know is that I’m yet to have a harp which I consider is just past it’s use by date unless it’s rusty or broken in some way.
In fact old harps are often much sought after; prewar Hohners and filisko customs and so on. Probably even more the case with chromatic harps.
So, I’ll just keep mending as I go. Costs me about $2 to mend my own, but of course I have to charge others a little for the time I put into theirs. I find it quite satisfying.
2541 posts
Mar 02, 2018
3:57 AM
I'm not questioning her musical skills. Just saying how I'd feel about it.

As for experienced players and their knowledge - same thing applies. Being a good musician, or one of long standing, doesn't make you an expert in other things - metallurgy, electronics, acoustics etc. As is evidenced daily on MBH main forum :)

It's usually beginners who are associated with rough technique and broken harps. But clearly some experienced players break them too, and some don't - from the anecdotes anyway.

To labour the point, what I'm saying is that 'breaking harps' and 'playing often and well' seem to be independent things.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Mar 02, 2018 4:03 AM
5304 posts
Mar 02, 2018
4:26 AM
She was likely exaggerating to a degree, but did break a lot. Less often these days.

I feel I know quite effective ways to break a harp, especially D harps now, and occasional A harps. Of course these are the keys I play most

Once I played in a band where most songs required a C harp. Guess what used to break? I tried a Lee Oskar with that group. It didn’t break but did go a bit flat. Same with a Manji, I put it aside because I didn’t really like it anyway.

Last harp I broke practicing mellow down easy. Lots of 4 draw action and trying too hard with vibrato

Now I’m worrying about practicing 3rd on my good G harp lest I stress the 6 draw. So I’m also practicing playing with low breath which has to be a good thing.

Ive also dug out the g harp which mark prados built me. Ive had that one 6 years and it spent a while in the frontline too. Oh 6 years since mark rebuilt it with a new comb. It had a swelled comb, I guess I’ve owned it at least 8 years, but maybe 10. Gosh. I hadn’t realised what a survivor that one is. My marine band deluxe is 11 years old and has had a new comb in 2013 and 2 new reeds, 5 draw and 9 draw.
126 posts
Mar 02, 2018
7:34 AM
I think I saw this on YOUTUBE, John Popper was talking about how he always kept several spare harps on hand, didn't like doing repairs so just bought new harps and would throw the old ones to his audience, how he said it, it seemed to me like this was every show.

I'd like to hear from some people who make a living playing one gig to the next, I'd bet they don't replace their harps every few months.

If you figure $60.00 US for a pro grade harp, and were to replace the 7 most common keys, 5 times a year, that's $2100'00 a year.
5305 posts
Mar 02, 2018
12:22 PM
JP could afford it I guess.
Most people I work for are playing gigs and trying to keep the price down.
1 guy is a Seydel-endorsed player. I thought I wouldn’t hear from him again once he had that support from the factory but he sent me 17 repairs not long after. He is an interesting player, mainly breaks 9 and 10 slot reeds in Bb and A harps. His C and D harps go through the 4 and 5 slot reeds.

I may not get any more work from him, but I’ve thought that before. In the first year he sent me 19 reed plates to repair and 17 the next year, so I guess that’s some indication of the rate of breakage. He is the closest to a ‘pro’ player I’ve worked for.
Most others are weekend warriors like me, although some are based in cities with more venues and playing a couple gigs a week at times. That’s my lady with high breakage rate.
Others send me half a dozen a year. Often these are high-quality or custom harps that they can’t afford to replace.
So the rule is, much like MTG observed.
Some people are very good players and break harps. Some don’t.
Watching FB, I’ve noticed there are more people repairing harps than I’d expected. Once I felt I was doing an unusual job, but now I think it’s a place that many come to, especially chromatic players.

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