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beginner forum: for novice and developing blues harp players > Chromatics
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6553 posts
Mar 20, 2020
5:02 AM
I’m accumulating stuff despite myself.
I’ve just acquired a pretty nice super 64 from member John_MG. I think this is destined to become my gig chromatic, but I am yet to try it with a mic. I had some acoustic play with it tonight and I think I prefer the sound.

Over the last few years, my chromatic collection has expanded ‘under my nose’ and I just realized it’s kind of absurd. I’ll have to rationalise. Using this post to catalogue:

1 x Hohner (280) Super 64 Chromonica
2 x Pre war (280) super 64, not playable
2 x (270) super Chromonica
2 x (270) super Chromonica, not playable
2 x (260) Chromonica, not playable
3 x CX12 (1 standard, 2 jazz)
1 x Koch 980/48

That’s quite a lot, especially for a person who can hardly play.

I have had one of the 260s up and running but decided to rebuild it with a new body because I made a poor job of mending the original.

I really need to build a clamping jig for these combs.

Anyway, I have a new comb/body for 1 260.
I also have 2 new bodies for 270s.
I could build them with nails but I’m tempted to bolt them together.

Most of those are pre war units. Something about the idea of bringing them back appeals to me.
Some of them were built in England, or at least assembled there.
Almost always they have broken combs. I am aware the comb in a chromatic is not really comb-like so I’m inclined to say ‘body’ instead.
The other thing which often doesn’t show clearly in photos is the wear on the mouthpiece. With 270s you can still buy all the parts so it’s still quite economical even if you need to replace the body and mouthpiece. Oh, and windsavers always need replacement.

The 280s are kind of interesting. I have 2; 1 from US market, 1 from European. The US unit is eminently restorable. Everything is in great shape but the comb is cracked. The European unit is heavily worn. I’ll eventually restore it too, if I’m spared long enough.
These old 280s are considerably different to the current model. In fact, they are considerably different to the 280s from the early-mid-50s.
Hohner haven’t made the 280 like this for almost 70 years, and the most likely parts are not available. This means the wooden combs must be repaired and if slides are worn one can only do what can be done.
So, the problem is wooden comb and straight-tuned. Subsequent models of the 280 are cross-tuned. This mainly has implications for the slide.

The Koch is not with me yet, but I have a new comb for that on hand also.

The Kochs are very similar to the standard tuned 260s, but they do not have windsaver valves. I tried to fit windsavers to a Koch and quickly discovered it’s not really feasible.

Because the Kochs are not valved, they can do double reed bends, just like a standard diatonic. Usually a chromatic will only do single reed bends, because they are fully valved.

You can take the valves off the exposed sides of a standard-tuned (ie not a “solo-tuned”) 260 and then it will give double reed draw bends like a Koch. And it might still be more airtight than a Koch.
The Koch comb (!) has internal fins which separate the blow and draw reeds in an attempt to give more playability, but I believe they are still quite demanding to play, in terms of breath control.
The fins make using valves on the inside impractical as they interfere with the action of the valves.
These Koch harps are featured in 2 famous blues records I know, but quite possibly there are others.
The records I know are Little Walter ‘oh baby!’ (Not ‘aw’h baby’), and sonny boy 2 ‘dissatisfied’.
Both these songs are in Ab, and the Koch is in C, played with the slide pushed in except when deployed for effect. In the 50s there were no Db diatonic so if you wanted to play in Ab, you could take a Koch, which was standard tuned like a diatonic (not solo tuned liked most post war chromatics), hold the button in and play 2nd position as if playing a Db diatonic.
You could even draw bend like a diatonic. Plus, as Sonny Boy demonstrates on Dissatisfied, you can let the slide out and it’s like a half step bend. Listen to the solos in Dissatisfied and hear how he uses this.

Prewar 260s came in both standard tuned and solo tuned versions. I have a standard tuned model and before I stripped it it was half valved so I could do double reed draw bends plus blow bends on the low holes, and play the sonny boy parts for dissatisfied. I’m definitely intending to add that to my repertoire.

My restored 270s have 3D-printed ‘power combs’. They play really well. I’m spoiled really. 1 is a modern unit and the other was made in 1929. I paid $180 for the ‘unwanted gift’ and $30 for the prewar (then spent about $120 restoring it, but the gold mouthpiece was a bit extravagant)
My CX12s are also bargains. Again, $180 for the near new secondhand standard black edition and $125(USD) for each of the Jazz pair.
I play one of the Jazz models almost always. I don’t think they are really the best sounding chromatic but they are super practical and I think without them I’d still be just dithering about chromatic.

It was a chance encounter with Sxip Shirey which really led to me thinking more about chromatic. Sxip was in town and needed his super 64 repaired. The rigger on his show used to play drums in a couple bands with me, and called me to see if I could help. I did not know who Sxip was when I agreed to take a look.
That was my first professional repair on a chromatic and gave me confidence to say yes to the next job, and of course that led to this accumulation I now have. When people learn you mend things, you start receiving broken things.
This happened to my father also.

And that rigger, he is also instrumental in me fronting a band in the first place. I was gonna let it drop but he committed to putting a band in place. I never thought of that before now.

Anyway, that’s my chromatic story. I’ve professionally repaired a few now, I dunno, maybe 10 or 12, in addition to my own mucking about. I need to do some more mucking about in my own behalf now I think.
6556 posts
Mar 25, 2020
3:39 PM
My Koch arrived today.
“Excellent Pre-Loved Condition”
That’s a way of saying ‘looks quite good’.
It’s a way of saying ‘I’m using “pre-loved” as a way of saying that it might have something wrong with it as a result of having been, ahem, “loved” sometime already’.

Specifically in this case it seems to have been a way of saying the slide is totally jammed and in the joins there is some kind of paste residue presumably from efforts used to make the thing look ‘excellent’.

I’ve had worse. I thought about telling the seller about the shortcomings of the description, but I bought it fully expecting to be stripping it and restoring it, so practically this is neither here nor there. It’s a bonus that the comb is intact, frankly. I do roll my eyes at these idiotic meaningless descriptions though.

I’ll get a working harp from this, no problem. I have no idea how old it is. The inventory label doesn’t look very old but there’s no barcode. I think I’ve seen labels like this on stuff going back as far as the 60s, but I doubt it’s that old. They made this model as recently as 2013 I think. The comb looks really good but I have only played blow notes on it so far.

I’m working from home now, so maybe I’ll do some harp work in my break.

Last Edited by SuperBee on Mar 27, 2020 12:51 AM
17 posts
Jul 01, 2020
7:53 PM
When you’re restoring used harps, what do you do to sterilize them in the days of COVID? A used Hohner CX or 270 would be a good 2nd harp, but I’d want to refurbished it correctly and safely.
6729 posts
Jul 01, 2020
8:13 PM
i don't know COVID-specific. i think its like any virus and just becomes inactive after a while if its not in a suitable environment but think about how we are sanitising our hands; either alcohol or good old soap and water.

that is generally how i clean harps; soap and water. ive used other things in the past but unless i was 'in the field' without access to facilities where i could disassemble the harp and wash and dry, now i dont think i'd go there.

Hydrogen peroxide is good for those other situations but im not talking covid.

hydrogen peroxide is probably the best thing for sanitising. usually when im restoring i am doing more than sanitising. i am primarily 'cleaning' and that takes care of sanitation as well.

wooden combs/bodies are a different matter. i dont really have a good suggestion. i use a lot of new ones, or reused from my own harps, and also aftermarket.

i think the risk of infection from harmonicas is conflated with a lot of emotional thinking in some people's minds. its really not like using someone elses toothbrush. its more like using cutlery in a restaurant, or glassware in a hotel.

the most dangerous thing i think is probably mould spores, and inhaling particles, and you are at risk there even with your own harps. pay attention to storage, good airflow, moisture, humidity, etc.

windsavers are moisture traps, and ive seen mould growth between windsavers and reeds, and on the back of reeds facing inwards. again, the point is with this that its not about cross-contamination. this is a potential hazard with any harp.

if i'm restoring a chromatic for my own use, i use new windsavers and clean everything with soap and scrubbing. everything that gets wet is thoroughly dry before assembly
18 posts
Jul 02, 2020
2:24 AM
Thanks for the quick reply. I’ve found that my SCX64 and I get along really well, so I think a used chromatic would be a great way to get into servicing them. I hadn’t thought about the possibility of mould. I agree that my own use is an issue that needs to addressed. In my diatonics, I’ve been good about cleaning them as early on I would foul the reeds often. I also think you’re right about COVID not being any different from other bugs. I mostly use harps with ABS combs like Rockets, so a CX might be a good way to go for a second chromatic.
22 posts
Jul 05, 2020
4:22 PM
Hi SuperBee
I am in the US, so UK and EU parts are an issue. It also seems that Brendan Power combs aren't necessarily available due to him concentrating on builds at the moment. I did the parts for the nail to screw conversion. Some on slidemeister recommended aluminum combs from Ali Express. I wonder if that is the way to go.

have you tried sealing the wood combs? I've seen where salad bowl lacquer is recommended

As always, I've greatly appreciated your replies and posts. I seek out your handle in the forums.

6752 posts
Jul 05, 2020
9:40 PM
Hi Hamerman,
I wondered whether that may be the case with the Powercombs. I was watching the videos and still questioning whether to pull the trigger and remember another time when i decided to get a comb for my 260 only to find he wasn't making them anymore.

Someone here (Thievin' Heathen?)alerted me to the aluminium combs and said their experience with them has been good. i did take a look but i haven't tried them.
I also have not tried sealing wooden combs. DChurch posted about his use of shellac recently. i think the post is on the other 'chromatic' thread.
23 posts
Jul 08, 2020
6:04 PM
Hi SuperBee:
Apparently Brendan Power is selling the unfinished Power Combs again. Just the Advanced version in black, but at least they're available again and pretty well priced. Shipping was free too! I suspect the shipping will be slow coming from the UK, but I can certainly wait for that price.

So I have a Power Comb coming for my used 270, along with everything to switch to screws. I also decided to go nuts and get a new 270 in G. As I worked more with the SCX-64 in C, I found that A was a real PITA compared to the other guitar keys. 3rd position gets you D, E is not too hard to play with minimal slide movement, so the G harp should handle A just fine.
6756 posts
Jul 09, 2020
2:56 AM
Good news. I'm really happy with the power combs. it was a while ago but i think the installation process was just a steady process in which i followed along with Brendan's instructions.
24 posts
Jul 10, 2020
7:58 PM
SuperBee, I need your expertise again. I got the used 270, which will need some cleaning. When I opened it up, it had wind savers on both sides of the reed plates. My new G 270 only has wind savers on the inner side of the reed plates. Which is right? The new one seems to have been played a lot, and the wind savers appear new. Which is weird as the slide definitely needed cleaning.
6759 posts
Jul 11, 2020
2:51 PM
It's normal to have a windsaver on every slot except for the top octave where usually we don't bother or only for the reeds in hole 9 by not 10, 11, 12

If the windsavers are only on the inside, that is sometimes done and is known as 'half valving'.
It allows you to get a double reed bend on the draw, like draw bending a diatonic, so I suppose it tells something about how the previous owner was playing.

It is a trade off though. It is less leaky than having no valves but will take more air than a fully valved unit

Personally I haven't done this except on my old standard-tuned 260, so that I could use it like a Koch harp on Sonny Boy Williamson's (sonny boy number 2) "dissatisfied".
25 posts
Jul 11, 2020
4:03 PM
I’m an idiot. I took it apart to take pictures, and the windsavers on the out side are clear. You actually have to look hard (and my old eyes are easily fooled). I expected Teflon white like the used 270. My new one is fully valved.
6760 posts
Jul 11, 2020
8:27 PM
I bought a couple of packs of windsavers, and they are a mix of clear, tan, and white.
27 posts
Jul 19, 2020
7:22 AM
I've been trying to refurb the G 270 I got from eBay, and the bulk of the harp is fine, but the reed plates were a mess. There are places where there is some sort of coppery tarnish on the front just to the left of the middle that had to be polished out. One of the reeds is the same way. I almost wonder if it is red windsaver glue that got spilled, and the guy that owned it didn't want to deal with it.

By the way, what glue do you like for windsavers? I've seen a lot of suggestions about Superglue (which I have from repairing guitars), but Hohner does sell a specific glue for that purpose ($14 US per bottle).

It also looks like the windsavers have been replaced at least once. I suspect I will have to work a lot to get the reed plates back to serviceability, so I found a set of refurbished reed plates on eBay. The funny thing is that on the "other chromatic forum" it seems fairly common to replace reeds. But it is unclear where to get them. The Hohner store only sells reed plates, and they are 3/4 the price of a new harp. I guess one looks for reed plates on eBay and stockpiles them.

On the other hand, the comb actually looks really good, as well as the rest of the parts. It will be a good harp to learn to service chromatics. I've also read that Hohner is now sealing the combs of the 270's, so that's good to know.

Another piece of info i came across in a great book on chromatics "Love of the Chromatic Harmonica" that the Suzuki SCX series is, with a little customizing, regarded as nearly "professional" (by which I think they mean for classical). This mainly seems to be about replacing the covers with Hohner types. So that makes me happy about my SCX-64 (not that I wasn't delighted with it anyway, but as a newbie, what do I know?).
I have a couple of Lee Oskar diatonics that I started on to learn on for tuning reeds. If I mess them up, they aren't my regular diatonics, and the reed plates are cheap and plentiful.

I also stocked up on windsavers (both Hohner and Dee's) as I expect to be replacing those regularly.

I'd be interested in your insights on this. I recall that you are in Australia or New Zealand. My dad was close to there (Fiji and New Caledonia) during WWII. He always wanted to go there. I've also got a lot of chemist colleagues (that's my day job as a university prof) from University of Sydney.

Hope you are doing well.
6765 posts
Jul 20, 2020
12:54 AM
Hi Hamerman,
You are correct i'm in Australia, specifically Tasmania. Its the end of the line, not on the way to anywhere else unless perhaps you are on the way to the Antarctic. The Australian Antarctic Division is located here and the supply ship uses Hobart as its home base. The French Polar Institute also operates an icebreaker (L'Astrolabe) from Hobart as a supply ship for its antarctic bases.

Windsaver glue:
My current squeeze is UHU "Super". I bought it in a hurry when i found the cap had been left off my Loctite super glue gel. the local shop had the UHU and i'm actually really pleased with it. Its a gel style cyanoacrylate,as was the Loctite product. Neither was an 'instant' bond, which is good because it allows enough time (usually) to position the valve. The gel is easier to work with than the old-fashioned thin superglue products. another attraction is that the likelihood of gluing your fingers together is reduced (though not eliminated. don't ask how i know)

I did like the Loctite product, mainly for the fancy dispenser which i found was quite good to work with.

I've also used Selley's Kwik Grip which is a solvent-based contact adhesive. it works fine but takes longer to set and is potentially messy to dispense but NBD if you are careful.

People in US told me they use Elmers glue. I looked that up and it seems Elmers make a few different products. i suspect Kwik Grip is similar.

Windsavers are an ongoing maintenance job. Gabi Hand (Hohner rep) seems quite skilled at tuning with windsavers in situ, but usually when i try it i end up replacing the windsaver anyway.

Working on chromatics has taught me to be more patient. Attention to detail may be time consuming but a poorly placed valve will be problematic so i think its better to strive to get it right the first time, especially with harps like 270s which aren't the friendliest to be assembling/disassembling repeatedly.

As with most things, experience is a great teacher if you can recall the lessons.

Individual reeds:
on the Hohner USA online store there is provision to order them.


You will see claims in forums and in facebook groups from people who state they cannot get reeds from Hohner USA, or that there have been unreasonable delays in obtaining reeds.

I really could go on at length about this but the short version is I believe there is a good chance those problems are overemphasised.

I really can't imagine why a company would provide a facility for you to order individual reeds if they did not want to supply them.

If i can obtain reeds from Germany within 4 weeks, using the cheapest possible postage rate, it is certain that Hohner USA can obtain them also.

The extra handling would result in a higher price, and i see that it does. I pay around $5AUD for 5 reeds plus P&H, but see HohnerUSA are asking $9USD (which is about $12 AUD)

The delivery turnaround would likely be tied to whatever the normal schedule of order and delivery Hohner USA has with the European operation.

With diatonics, when i was repairing a lot I would keep a supply of the commonly-needed reeds on hand. If the number of 5 draw reeds on hand for D harps fell below 5, i placed an order with Hohner. I also had high demand for A harp reeds and C harp reeds, so i had maximum and minimum stock levels for those, but i kept 4 and 5 draw reeds on hand for every key except B, Db and F#.

I also have a stock of Steel reeds for Seydel. That is a more varied stock and i just ordered as required.

i have a lot of used reedplates which i harvest from when caught without new reeds for an urgent job

My experience of broken reeds in chromatics is not that great but from memory it seems to be the hole 7 reeds ive mainly replaced. You could probably research slidemeister and draw some insight on that though.

Used reedplates are a wonderful resource.
28 posts
Jul 24, 2020
4:45 AM
I checked your recommended link and it worked fine. So I know where to look is I find a few shot reeds. I’m going to finish the Power Comb today and drill out the reed plate. Brendan’s method seems like a great way to convert to screws as well.

I did catch a good deal on Another chromatic on eBay - an open box 270 Deluxe for $107! I thought that was too good to pass up. So within a month, I went from no to four chromatic. I guess the isolation is getting to me. But I actually do connect with the chromatic for working ideas and getting breath control. My diatonic playing is much better.
6771 posts
Jul 24, 2020
5:15 AM
Hard to pass up a bargain score.
That sounds like a great deal.

I also believe my diatonic playing is improved from playing chromatic.
29 posts
Aug 05, 2020
5:44 AM
SuperBee, the 270 Deluxe for $107 needed some gapping work to help with air tightness, and a little breaking in. But it is fine now. I still have trouble with the last two holes.

I've been eyeing a Suzuki SCX-48 in D, as I like the lower key G 270 I have. In third position, a D gets you to E, a very common guitar key, and you can play in the baritone register. They are selling for $182 from most anywhere, and I have $20 in Rewards from Guitar Center. Do you think a D (which is one key above a C tenor, would be useful
6786 posts
Aug 05, 2020
5:42 PM
as you say, gets you into E in 3rd position, so seems it should have potential. i expect you'd be playing 'up' the harp a bit but that might be no biggie. Price seems good. they are more like $300 in my country.

Really just depends whether you will use it. I am still using C harps for everything and am yet to find a pressing reason to have a different key but I'm very much in music student mode with the chromatic
6787 posts
Aug 06, 2020
3:01 AM
Should say "beginning" music student
6788 posts
Aug 07, 2020
11:53 PM
I had band practice last night, 2nd time in 4weeks, but also 2nd time since mid March.
I've hardly played diatonic in that time, and virtually zero amplified playing. I have been playing chromatic quite a lot though, often several times a day.
Last night I was playing diatonic, amplified, and with vocals through a PA for the first time in over 4 months.
During the last month I've known it's time for me to come back to diatonic and playing repertoire again so have been making an effort to play more often. On those occasions I was surprised to find the diatonic playing actually seemed to be rather better than I expected given I hadn't been practising. Some of the licks were a bit rusty but I thought the tone and breath control features were actually quite strong.
Last night confirmed it for me.
I'm not saying its down to playing chromatic per se but I think it's about the way I've been approaching chromatic and the way it's required me to open my embouchure/throat to try obtain a good sound, also the breath control to get those little inflected bends without choking it.
Also, I was inspired by Sarah Vaughan when it came to playing Misty and I think that has kept me chasing the good sound rather than selling for the "note".
Now I've said that, I've realised its not quite true that I haven't played diatonic all that time. I started off lock down by learning Jerry Portnoy's version of Misty, and then I became curious about playing it on chromatic. Then I became hooked.
The point stand though;I'm sure my efforts on chromatic have benefitted my diatonic work.
30 posts
Aug 08, 2020
12:26 PM
I have found in the US that the prices for SCX's fluctuate a lot. When I got my SCX64, it was $219, and within a week it was $182. I was not a happy camper. The D is $182, the F is $189, and the other keys are $265. Go figure.
6789 posts
Aug 09, 2020
2:04 AM
I am interested in the Suzuki, also the Kongsheng Lyra.
Strange, I often baulk at paying for ‘new’ harps but buy several used units with issues and eventually spend just as much and find myself still wondering.
I think I’ll make an effort to curb that impulse from here on.

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