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beginner forum: for novice and developing blues harp players > Special 20 question
Special 20 question
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2 posts
May 08, 2018
3:04 PM
i'm a pretty new harmonica player and started out with a MB in the key of C. I like the harp very much but decided to try a Special 20 for my second harmonica and got one in the key of A. I'm having some difficulty with holes 1-3 and find it takes me a lot of breath to get a strong sound from those holes. I can bend the 3 somewhat but the others are really tough for me. Is this common or do you think its just my lack of experience. I'm not great when bending the MB but I do better with that then then special 20.
5403 posts
May 08, 2018
5:15 PM
Hi Paco, There are a couple of possible explanations.
Special 20 and marine band are essentially the same. I know there are obvious differences but at the heart of it all they are basically the same. Reeds and slots are exactly the same and the chambers very similar volume.

You have been using a C Harp. An a Harp is 3 semitones lower in pitch. It is somewhat different to play than a C harp, and that could be the explanation

Another explanation could be that your new harp is set up differently. It’s hard to say without seeing the reeds, but they could be gapped a little too high. There was a batch of sp20s like this a few years ago and they still show up occasionally especially in stores which don’t sell many harp, or in online bargains

If this is the problem, its fairly easy to see and correct but will require disassembly
3 posts
May 11, 2018
1:39 PM
Thanks for the reply SuperBee. i think I'm going to take a look at the reeds. It just seems to take so much more breath although it could just be my inexperience. Thanks again.
116 posts
May 25, 2018
4:08 PM
Paco did you ever take a look at the reeds? Did you solve the issue? If your not able to get a good sound using a gentle breath it may be as SuperBee wrote, that the reeds are gapped a little too high which would require a harder breath to get the sound and maybe not as clear a sound. I'm relatively new to adjusting gaps on my harps and Im having more success now, but It's not as hard as I thought and taking my time, Ive found it works. I recently had the same problem on an A harp especially in holes 1,2,3 and I saw the change in sound as I lowered the gaps. (I also found I broke the 5 draw reed maybe while fiddling around with it and that's another learning step for me. Im having the reed replaced by someone, but I'll be planning to learn how to do that next. There's a lot on Youtube. Good Luck!

Last Edited by ScottK on May 25, 2018 4:08 PM
381 posts
May 25, 2018
5:52 PM
FWIW, I am told I play soft. I generally adjust gaps to the point at which the reed responds to (quite) gentle breath. When I play and encounter a reed that seems to have a delayed response, ie takes more air to get it going, I open the harp and adjust to that point. Simple and seems to work for me.
Phil Pennington
4 posts
Jun 01, 2018
4:40 PM
I took the covers off and the gaps seem pretty even, nothing too high. I'm a little nervous about trying to make the gap any smaller. I get a pretty decent tone using a gentle breath but it just seems to take a lot to get much volume and I seem to run out of air pretty quickly lol
5417 posts
Jun 02, 2018
5:46 PM
If the gap looks ok it probably is. Remember it takes two to tango though, so check that both blow and draw appear to be similar.
Also, when it comes to gaps, the critical zone may be only a few thou either way so make adjustments incrementally

Beneath all this though, the gap while important is not the only delineator of performance.

You could try applying the advice of Winslow yerxa and start by loosening off all the Reedplate screws, then retightening, beginning with the screws in the centre and working out to the ends evenly both sides.
Don’t overtighten!!
Just torque enough to take up the slack. If you go beyond this, you’ll distort the Reedplates. They bend easily.
This process could help your Reedplates seat properly.

If that doesn’t help, and the gaps are ok, the next place to look is the reed shape.
I’m not going to describe this in text. I suggest instead you take a look at some video on the topic. Try Andrew Zajac video; it’s as good as any I know of for a free video. I’m sure there are others. A search involving terms like ‘harmonica reed shaping’ should bring some results

I can understand trepidation at working on your harp, and I think it’s correct. But the rewards for getting hands on are worth it I believe. I vaguely recall the anxiety I once felt when buying a harp; it seemed like a lottery. It’s a great feeling to be free of that, knowing that whatever I get I’m going to be able to make it work

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