Andrew's blog

Hohner PentaHarp

Hohner has released a new altered tuning diatonic harp called PentaHarp.

In Pat Missin's Altered States list of altered tunings, this tuning is 11.15, "Blues Scale Tuning" which has been known since the 90s.

PentaHarp offers you draw bends from bottom to top. The same breath pattern is repeated and there are no blow bends.

You can order pre-tuned PentaHarps but it's possible to convert a Standard Richter harmonica. The conversion to PentaHarp is a pretty big job. The blow and draw reeds in four holes need to be swapped to avoid having to sharpen notes. It's much more effective to lower the pitch or reeds instead of raising them. The job is much easier and the reed playability will stay protected.

PentaHarp adds three semitones to the total range of the instrument compared to Standard Richter. We will add these extra semitones on the bottom end of the instrument, not the top.

So we will start with a harp that is three semitones sharper than the key we are aiming for and tune it down.

Here is a visual aid to the modification:

Alteration checklist:
1- Swap blow/draw reeds 7, 8, 9 and 10. This will really make things easier.
2- Perform coarse tuning adjustment. Lower pitch using BluTak or Solder.
3- Perform other customizing and improvements
4- Perform fine tuning. No major chords are present but there are lots of opportunities for harmony in splits and octaves. Tune all minor thirds to zero. Tune Fourths and Fifths to be in harmony with the tonic (Fourths are about -2 cents and Fifths are about+2 cents)

The Reed Plate Holder

The Reed Plate Holder will help you hold the reed plate steady as you straighten it with the Reed Plate Claws. Once you get comfortable with the claws, you may no longer need the Reed Plate Holder.

It has two slots to accommodate many different sizes of reed plates. Use the smallest
slot that fits.

The Reed Plate Holder ships with a sticker on the under side. The adhesive will help hold the plate in place. Once it loses its stickiness, you can peel it off and replace it with any kind of tape you have on hand. If you no longer need the additional help from the adhesive, don't bother replacing it.

Experimental Golden Melody comb

This design was created to open up the back area of the Hohner Golden Melody. There is less comb material in back of the slots and that shapes the sound differently both acoustically (in air) and cupped in a mic. I feel this provides more power which I attribute to less attenuation or kinetic energy lost.

I will be looking for testers.

What do you think?

Black and White bubble key label stickers

I will have these on the shelf really soon...

24 labels per set.

Special 20 Quick Videos

This is a stock Hohner Special 20 I bought from a local music store. It will be the focus of my next series of Quick Customizing videos.

These two-to-three minute videos are aimed at the reluctant customizer. They will help you get the most out of your harps in the very least amount of time so that you can get back to playing.

I’m focusing on the Special 20 for a few reasons:

1- The Special 20 shares the same reeds as the Marine Band and Golden Melody so it has the same potential to create wonderful tone, impressive volume and superb response. A fully customized Special 20 will easily outperform any other, more expensive, fancier-looking harmonica with the exception of another fully customized Marine Band or Golden Melody harp.

2- All stock parts: With proper “undercover”* work, this harp has the most untapped potential of any stock harmonica on the market and you won’t need to buy new parts. The Special 20 comes with everything you need to turn it into the most well-playing harp in your collection.

3- Special 20s are a common, easy-to-find, reasonably-priced professional-grade harmonica.

4- Special 20s are extremely consistent out-of-the-box. Although you can use any harp to follow along, having the same great starting point as in the videos means what you see on the screen will more closely resemble what you are looking at on your workspace. Less variability will help you tackle the learning curve.

*”Undercover work” is reed work and common sense.

These new videos will feature:

- "X-Ray" techniques and strategies to take the guesswork out of tasks. This will help you get consistent results.
- How to perform Low-stress reedwork and how to de-stress your reeds to get better, more consistent results and take less time.
- New techniques that are less reliant on specialised tools.
- Never-before-shown ways to boost reed work and performance.
- Practical tuning strategies to help you sound great fast so that you can get back to playing.

Coming soon. Watch this space...

Overblows, Overdraws and Tight Gaps

"Gapping almost any harp will allow you to play overblows!"

True. But let's be specific about what we mean.

Almost any harp can play an overblow that you "wind up"; it's easy to play the overblow when rolling off the draw note. This isn't as big an achievement as some seem to think it is. Those kinds of overblows are very limited in their application because more often than not, you want to be able to play the overblow on its own as a single note.

A true test of a harp's "overbend-ability" is whether you can play the overblow from a dead stop. Gapping a stock harp tightly will not reliably allow you to play overbends from a dead stop.

The other thing about "just gapping" a harp for overblows is that gapping is a very crude way to adjust reeds. It only takes into consideration the height of the tip of the reed but it's the height along whole length of the reed that is crucial. In essence you need to consider the shape of the reed.

If you don't, sure you can slam down the gaps and crank out an overbend, but very likely, that's made the hole miserable to play. The instrument will only play with light breath, low volume and weak tone.

On the other hand, an Overbend harmonica with proper reed work will offer you full range from quiet to loud, rich tone and the regular notes, bends and overbends, all play with the same effort.

Reed work can increase the available range while making the harp much more responsive. It should be more fun to play an overbend harp, not less.

Torsional Vibrations

In my world of harmonica reeds, torsional vibrations is not a thing.

SQUEAL!

Sure, torsional vibrating is a great explanation for what makes a harp squeal when someone is struggling to play overbends or even regular draw and blow bends. Instead of just moving up and down, the reed also wiggles from side to side.

But torsional vibrations is just another word for squealing and squealing happens because the reed doesn't close the slot properly. It's really as simple as that. There isn't a special kind of squealing or a library of specific remedies to address a vast array of different squeals.

Harmonica reeds squeal because they don't close the slot properly.

Reed work (and obligatory Framework) should fix that. Make the slot straight and then make the whole length of the reed pass through the slot all at the same time.

Some harps are more prone to squealing than others. Why is that? It's still because their reeds don't close the slot properly.

Addressing the issue with wax or other foreign substances is not optimal because it changes the timbre and response and lowers the available range. It can add variability to the pitch and the reed tuning will drift.

Will embossing help? No. Not in of itself.

I hope that helps.

Myths

Years ago, customizers (or folks who thought of themselves as customizers) would spread falsehoods to confuse and frustrate their competition and to build up their reputation.

Myths long-since debunked are still spreading like they are bits of secret knowledge that someone doesn't want you to know.

Customizing the diatonic harmonica takes skill, patience, high standards and common sense. There are no real shortcuts. Putting in the time and effort needed to make the slots perfect before doing reed work *is* the shortcut.

Stuff in Bulk

Are you a customizer or harmonica service provider? We can work together - I offer deals to save you money on combs and tools.

Dark Combs™

I provide combs to customizers and harp techs worldwide. I offer customizer pricing on my combs. Click here for details. These are for use in your finished product and not for individual sale.

Tools

I provide tools and support to Harmonica Service Providers.

Service Provider Kit

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