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Fixing my harmonica
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1 post
Aug 12, 2019
3:54 PM
Rarely am I confused with Einstein, this will be no exception. So I watched Adam's video about taking my harmonica apart and bending the draw reeds with ATM paper and filling the reeds slightly. After doing so I was pleased with the results except the 3 draw takes more air flow to make a sound than the 2 & 4 draw.

I'm reluctant to take it apart and tinker with it again without some advice. I'm literally on week 7 of learning to play soooo uhhh yeah not the sharpest knife in the light bulb socket - obviously!

Last Edited by Tooz on Aug 12, 2019 3:55 PM
6115 posts
Aug 12, 2019
5:56 PM
That video; not Adam’s finest moment imho.

Excuse my rant,

It’s ok, just bothers me because he has such a reputation that people see this video and think it is the way to do it.

It’s kind of an emergency solution imho. The atm slip I mean.
Just makes me feel nervous when I hear about people doing that.

I’d adjust reeds that way only in desperation.

I understand, it’s kind of a ‘marine band’-specific approach but still, I think better to make a little tool which gives better mechanical feedback.

But regarding the substance of your enquiry:

If your 3 draw is taking too much air to play, the usual advice would be to close the gap a little.

I’ve just remembered that this video is also the one in which adam advocates opening the gaps on those reeds! That’s so weird.
I mean in all the harps I’ve adjusted I’ve never seen a marine band which needed the gaps to be set wider for a ‘normal’ player.
I used to play hard enough that I would break 4 and 5 draw reeds, and I never had to open a gap on a Marine Band.

So, what I’m saying is that if you took Adam’s advice and opened up the 3 draw, probably reverse that, and maybe then some (a little).

Another thing though is that the reeds interact.

If you look at the 3 draw and the gap looks the same or more closed than the 2 draw, but the reed takes more air to activate, it’s likely the problem is really with the blow reed, so the next thing is to inspect that.

If the 3 blow is too wide open, the air will be flowing through that slot rather than activating the draw reed, so if the 3 draw gap looks consistent with the 2and 4 (ie a Little wider than the 4, a fraction narrower than the 2, assuming the 2 and 4 play well), look to the 3 blow and consider whether it is sitting too wide open. If so, close it a little.

These are not big adjustments. A small change can make quite a big difference.

Go carefully. If you go at it too vigorously it can be hard to put right.
268 posts
Aug 14, 2019
7:24 AM
Were you able to fix it?
I think SuperBee hit the nail on the head.

Just as a visual starting point I'll assume the gap is about twice as big as the thickness of the reed. Generally if you reduce this gap it will take less air to activate the reed.

A gap is too large if the reed fails to play using a very gentle breath.

A gap is too small if the reed plays fine using a very gentle breath but will stop, choke, or fail to start if the breath is vigorous or abrupt. An example of abrupt articulation would be a cough.

The goal is to have each reed play equally well using the slightest breath. You should be able to play each note at a volume less than a whisper but not have a reed choke under vigorous playing.

At week 7 it can be difficult to set gaps especially if you are struggling the least bit to get harmonicas to play at a whisper.

I'm sure you have discovered that different holes require a slightly different technique. The differences are very subtle and hard to describe. It helps to have at least 2 or 3 other harmonicas to compare. If you experience similar problems with every 3 draw then you should work on adjusting your technique rather than the reeds.

I don't mean to imply that there is nothing wrong with your harmonica. Excessive gaps in lower reeds is the most common gap problem that I find.

I'm not a fan of the paper idea. A common tooth pick works pretty well in a pinch. If you break a few you can find one that splits to a thin taper for slipping under a narrow reed gap. You can make a decent tool from a 3 inch length of metal coat hanger. Just pound one end flat and thin using a hammer.

It's about time I got around to this.
2 posts
Aug 16, 2019
1:21 PM
Super Bee dchurch
Thank you for the detailed and great advice! I was able to close the reed gap and now everything plays nicely. I was able to do a full bin on the 3-hole draw for the first time. Exciting stuff!
Thank you

6125 posts
Aug 16, 2019
7:11 PM
That’s great news! Thanks for the update, too. Much appreciated.
271 posts
Aug 27, 2019
5:48 PM
Good job Tooz :)
It's about time I got around to this.
6135 posts
Aug 29, 2019
5:12 AM
I recently did a small gap job on an old Bb Marine Band.
It’s nothing special but I think it’s not a bad illustration of the sort of changes which are sometimes ‘needed’. In terms of degree I mean.
Often the difference between a slow responding ‘leaky’ reed and an easy-playing reed is just a few thousandths of an inch. The same can be true of a reed which ‘chokes’ when you play a little harder. I bought a harp once which was advertised as an excellent player. It was fine, if you didn’t need any dynamic range. It would play with the lightest breath and gave up overblows easily, but as soon as you wanted to put a little extra stress/volume on it, the thing would choke. It was gapped so tightly it just had no dynamic range at all.

Here is a URL to my Facebook post with a couple of photos. As I said, it’s nothing much but maybe illustrative. There are better photos but if you’re here, there are these!

275 posts
Aug 31, 2019
8:20 PM
Nice job Superbee, the photos are pretty clear to me but I realize it's tough to see the tiny changes that can make a huge difference. I guess that’s why some players don’t want to mess with gaps.

IMO every player should at least open a crappy harmonica and give it a try. I understand that doing somewhat delicate work is not for everyone. That’s a real bummer because otherwise you basically rely on luck to get a great playing harmonica off the shelf.

I’m not bashing out of the box harmonicas. I realize that part of the problem is just me being picky because I want all of my harmonicas to play “great” not just good.

I just got a brand new Crossover and I already know it needs help. I might post something about that in a different thread.

It's about time I got around to this.
6136 posts
Aug 31, 2019
10:37 PM
I expect it’s probably necessary to mess it up in order to learn how much is too much, how far is too far, etc
I certainly have uttered my share of indelicate phrases while working on harps. To put it another way, I’ve had plenty of learning opportunities.

My bag of harps which get regular use consists mainly of customised harps. The main reason I bought them was to help me understand how good a harp can be, and what it means to a player like me i.e. a player of modest skills.

I think it’s wasteful to have them and not use them, so I do use them. At band practice, 2.5 hours a week, plus gigs, these are the harps I play. I have a carry pair which I often play mornings and evenings, 10-15 minute sessions. 1 of these is the harp I bought from Deak, the other is a stock-ish Marine Band, which I’ve worked on a little but it’s still nailed on a stock comb. That one is a D harp and may be the most utilized harp I own.

The harp in those photos is a Bb which sits around near my CD player. Sometimes ‘practice’ at my place involves playing a track on the hifi and finding a harp which matches the key, then picking up a lick or 2. I keep a few harps nearby which are ok but probably could benefit from adjustments. The Bb in the picture came as part of a trade for work on other harps. It finally annoyed me enough that I got around to adjusting it.
There was a spider setting up house in the case too. I don’t know why I thought to check but glad I did. I would have thought the Hohner zip cases were bug proof but apparently not.

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