Andrew's blog

Embossing is part of Framework

Framework makes doing reedwork much more effective. Embossing is important to framework. Here, it helps us spot some reeds that are off-center at the base.

Harmonica customization is both an art and a science. By and large, we don't need lots of sophisticated equipment to get the job done. Sometimes, the task requires lots of precision like moving the base of a reed a small fraction of a millimeter to one side. We don't need a microscope. Your own eyes will do.

It would have been difficult to see and correct this problem had we not tightened up the tolerance of the slots.

This also addresses the point around how embossing should be done and whether to emboss relative to the reed or relative to the slot. I don't use a light box. I don't look through the slot when I emboss. I view from the top. I bring the sides in evenly.

I tried to make this graphic as realistic as possible. There's nothing like looking at a reedplate with your own eyes. Watch the video in full screen mode, pause and move back and forth to get a really good look at the relationship between the reeds and the
slots.

Embossing does not fix air leak

Some folks believe that a leaky harmonica should be embossed. It's not true: You should not expect that embossing the slots of a harmonica will make the instrument less leaky.

Embossing is the tightening of the tolerances of the slot through which the reed passes. Less room between the reed and the slot means that air flow is more efficient but this is not the same thing as making the instrument airtight.

Air leak happens between the reed plates and the comb or between the covers and the reed plates. It happens when the pieces don't fit together perfectly because one or more of the components is not flat (curved, warped, bowed, etc...) It happens before your breath even reaches the slot and reed.

The benefits of making a harmonica airtight is that more breath reaches the reed and it's therefore easier to play. Most folks describe this using the words "better compression."

Another benefit of making the instrument airtight is that it ensures the slots are straight which makes the reeds more efficient.

To illustrate how embossing or tightening the tolerance won't help airtightness, consider a peashooter.

The air pressure from your mouth pushes the pea out of the straw. The pea gets its kinetic energy from the flow of air.

Although the pea is a little smaller than the straw and some air will flow past the pea, it still moves very well. This pea can travel quite far with a good puff of air.

If there was a hole in the straw between your cheeks and the pea, some air would leak out.

There would be less air getting to the pea and which means less kinetic energy is transfered. With the same puff of air, the pea will not travel as far as in the previous example.

If we tighten up the tolerances by making the pea slightly bigger or making the straw slightly thinner, we will not make the pea travel all that much further. Less air would flow around the pea and that part would be slightly more efficient but it doesn't fix the air leak problem - in fact, more air will leak out of the straw before it even reaches the pea because downstream resistance is higher. The best solution would be to plug up the hole.

Air leak and slot tolerance are two separate concepts.

What tools do I need?

Which tools should I get? What tools are best?

It depends on what you want to do. What are your goals and expectations?

How deeply you want to dive into the inner workings of your harps can grow exponentially. For most players, it's a big step to open up the harp and adjust the gaps.

But often gapping doesn't really unlock that much potential.

You can take a deeper dive and adjust the shape of the reeds. This is very effective but it too, can be unpredictable and limited unless the framework is good. Good framework means that each slot is straight, square and level and that the reed is right in the middle of it. That can be a lot of work in of itself.

But by spending time to get the framework perfect, you will save time doing reed work and the end result will be much better.

Each step of this journey is work. How far you want to go depends on what kind of results you want. You don't have to go all the way if you just want better playing harps.

On the other hand, if you are working on other people's instruments and need to stick to a predictable timeline, you will benefit from gaining the skills and putting in the time to make every reed plate close to perfect before you even begin reed work.

Tuning precision is another story altogether! Harmony (chords) takes a lot more work than single note tuning.

Also, reed replacement is another field. For some, there's enough to gain by just being able to get another playable reed in place on the reed plate. But that new reed may not be adjusted the same as the others nor will it be in tune. So if you are interested in reed replacement, you may want to explore reed work and tuning, too!

My Basic kit gives you enough to get a good start with adjusting reed shape and tuning. Add the flattening and embossing tools if you want to do more advanced reed work; these tools will help you get rid of the imperfections in the frame which makes more advanced reed work a lot easier and effective.

Build your own tool kit:
Custom Configured Tool Kit

Watch my Quick Customizing Videos:
Quick Customizing Videos

Quick Videos

I have revived an older project and completed it.

I had not been happy with the final cut of these videos so I went back and made the necessary changes. Now is the time for this.

Because of the Covid19 pandemic, many folks are stuck at home and with a reduced income. I hope that these videos can help you bring the best out of your instruments and allow you to become self-reliant in keeping your harps in top shape.

I'm releasing this at half price for the duration of this pandemic.

You can get this set two ways:

1- As a 650 Meg download from my website.

2- As a USB drive shipped from RockinRon's.

This set of videos is a guide for hands-on learning. Harmonica customization is a hands-on art.

These videos cover a lot of ground. A lot about the diatonic harmonica is not well understood - There's a lot of misinformation on the internet about what's supposed to work to get your harp to perform. These videos will set you straight. Had I had access to this information when I first started repairing harmonicas, it would have taken years off my learning curve.

Opening the back of a Special 20 or Marine Band 1896

This is a simple and effective way to open up / fold the backs of the cover plates.

It may be more interesting to modify the back of the cover a different way, though. Some versions of the pre-war Marine Band had a much smaller "lip" but because of the 90 degree angle, it can provide a lot of support against crushing. It's still very open.

This is a modern cover plate modified in that way:

This is how it looks assembled:

Covid19: (How) should I clean my harmonica?

(How) should I clean my harmonica?

I am getting asked this question a lot.

A dirty harmonica will not increase your chances of catching Covid19 (or any other flu). Social distancing and hand hygiene will protect you. Anything else is a false sense of security.

I don't see any realistic cleaning regimen that will somehow allow you to avoid social distancing but not catch the virus. If someone is coughing, singing or playing harmonica near you, they will transmit the disease to you via aerosol droplets.

Yes it will get into your harp but if it's gotten to your harp, it's already gotten to you. And that's the thing we need to avoid.

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- Wash your hands before you pick up your instrument every single time. Wash your hands before you even open up your case.

- Stay away from others until the virus has subsided. Stay more than three feet (1 meter) away from anyone who is sick or stay home.

Follow these rules and clean your harps as usual.

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What happens if I get Covid19?

Hopefully you get better.

Once you are better, it's time to clean your harps. Harmonicas create aerosol particles and you will spread the virus if you play harps you were in contact with while you were contagious.

Won't the virus be dead if I leave my harps to dry for a few days?

Possibly but not certainly.

I reckon the virus could survive quite a long time inside a harmonica with a porous comb. The inside of a harmonica is not like a surface such as a counter top. I assume that we could find biofilm on the inside of most harmonicas which would harbour microorganisms including viruses and help them survive dry spells and even a decent cleaning.

Biofilm is not visible to the naked eye.

Do not sanitize your instruments by dunking them in alcohol. That doesn't work.

Take them apart and clean them thoroughly with soap and water and then sanitize them. Hydrogen Peroxide is really great for that. It won't ruin any of the finishes on the tips of the tines and it is extremely effective at killing microorganisms. It doesn't have a harsh toxic odor and it's earth-friendly. It's cheap and easy to find, too.

If your comb is made of wood, you will have to face the fact that you may cause your comb to swell as you clean it. You really need to scrub and soak it. If the comb swells, I would recommend replacement rather than trying to re-seal it. It will eventually fail again. Replacement combs are easy to find.

This crisis is taking a toll on musicians. Contact me if you are looking for less costly replacement combs.

It may be worth considering putting some of your harps away for the duration of this crisis. If you are fond of some harps with unsealed wooden combs, I think it may be a good idea to keep them separate from your more frequently used - and easier to clean - harmonicas for the time being.

I hope that helps!

Most of my products are made partly or entirely by hand

Most of my products are hand-crafted / hand-finished and made to order.

Please expect a production time of up to 7 business days when ordering combs and tools. Up-to-date production times for my custom harmonicas are displayed on my custom harmonica page. This is due to a high workload and the amount of time it takes to ensure each item meets my specifications.

For quicker lead times, visit these dealers who usually have my products in stock:

Dealers page

The production of high-performance harmonicas, hand-flattened combs and precise tools is as much an art as it is a science. These things cannot be mass-produced without sacrificing quality. Thanks for your understanding.

It's difficult to make an embossing tool

My Embossing Tool is a safe and effective way to increase the tolerance of the slot. I make each of my Embossing Tools by hand.

This is how an embossed slot should look:

While making a batch of tools today, I tried using a different method to create the tip - a method that's faster than my standard method. Although it looks like my original tool, it's not at all the same. This one rips the slot to shreds instead of smoothly re-shaping it. Lesson learned: You don't get quality by cutting corners.

Don't worry! I've gone back to my original method and re-done these tools. They now work like they should.

I make every tool myself and I test each one rigorously. These are the tools I use to make custom harmonicas. I will not ship anything that I wouldn't use myself.

Prototyping

I've been working on a prototype of a hands-free frame for my Reed Replacement Kit. It adapts the current freehand tools to work in a frame. After trying it out, I am scrapping this idea.

Prototype flattening:

Prototype pieces:

Prototype reed removal:

After getting a working unit together, I can't say I am happy with it. It feels harder to use than working freehand. I also miss the sensory feedback of doing things freehand.

Freehand:

I will not be moving forward with this. It's more complicated, more expensive and the results aren't as good as my with current method.

Marine Band comb in Original Hohner Meisterklasse (pre-MS)

Every wonder why my Marine Band Dark combs have such an interesting clearance hole pattern? It's to make the comb compatible with many different vintage Hohner models.

Over the years, Hohner has made many different diatonic harps that are based on Marine Band Specs. This includes Pre-MS Blues Harps, wooden-combed Old Standy and novelty harmonicas like Herb Shriner Hoosier Boy harmonicas.

My Marine Band Dark combs have hole spaces which makes them compatible with these models.

Original (pre-MS system) Meisterklasse harmonicas were a high-end model that featured chrome-plated reed plates and sturdy full-length covers. The model was changed and made a little bigger and become part of the MS-system line. Current MS-Meisterklasse harps work extremely well with my MS-Series combs.

Specimens and parts of the original (pre-MS) version can still be found and enjoyed.

The original version shares the same dimensions as the Marine Band. They have six extra reed plate screws but if you pay attention to the flatness of the reed plates, these extra screws can be omitted.

Although I make a specialty comb that has these extra clearance holes, you can use my standard MB comb as a drop-in replacement.

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