Andrew's blog

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.


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.


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.


I provide tools and support to Harmonica Service Providers.

Service Provider Kit

Custom Marine Band Cover Choices

I offer several options for covers on my custom Marine Band Deluxe harmonicas. They are all excellent.

All of these photos are of the exact same Marine Band harmonica. A Marine Band is a Marine Band regardless of what's written on the cover plate.

The default Marine Band Deluxe covers are exactly the same as Marine Band Crossover covers except for what's engraved on the top plate. Both Marine Band Deluxe and Crossover covers have more rounded corners and are a little taller than Marine Band 1896 covers (not shown).

They shape the sound in the same way as the reference-standard 1896 model but there is less chance of the lower draw reeds hitting the cover plate when you play with intensity.

Hohner Rocket covers are as tall as Marine Band Deluxe and Crossover cover plates. They also have nicely rounded corners. The side vents are larger than the Marine Band models. You may notice a louder sound when you play acoustic harmonica because of the way the sound is shaped as well as the side vents.

Hohner Rocket AMP and Rocket Low covers have no side vents. The sound is more focused which is ideal for players who mostly play amplified using a cupped mic.

The Backs of Marine Band Deluxe and Marine Band Crossover covers are wide open.

The Backs of Hohner Rocket, Rocket AMP and Rocket Low are also wide open. Their edges are sleeker.

Every day is reed work day

Every day is reed work day. I work on shaping reeds just about every day.

"True customizing always involves painstaking adjustment of reeds and reed plates; true custom harmonicas are like fine wine – they take time to make and very hard to come by, as demand far outstrips supply."
-HOHNER AFFILIATED CUSTOMIZERS, "What is customization?"

If I skip doing any reed work for a day or two, I get rusty.

If I have lots of reed work to do and it's just not working at that particular moment - like when my fingers won't cooperate with my brain - I make a cup of tea or work on something else and come back to it. You can't force it.

Sides and Back of my Dark Combs™

I've transitioned to a new finish on the sides and backs of my combs. It's lighter in color and a little shinier than the former one. It's still matte so don't worry! The harp won't slip out of your hands.

With time, it will wear in and darken like the former finish. I still have some inventory with the former darker finish. There will be a mix of the two for the next month or two.

You can darken the new finish if you like by applying some mineral oil, vaseline or even chapstick.

The front tines are the same as before.

Customization Stack

There is a logical and efficient way to work on harmonicas.

The Customization Stack is a depiction of the organisation of tasks. You can do any of these tasks separately but you will get better results with much less effort if you "work the stack" from the ground up.

For example:
- Most things affect the tuning of the reeds so it makes sense to do tuning last.
- It's not possible to adjust a reed perfectly if the slot is warped, curved or off-centre. It makes sense to take care of those problems before doing reed work.

Framework is done first and it includes making all the pieces flat, airtight, and fit together perfectly so that they all vibrate together. The slots must provide a solid frame for the reed to swing through. The reeds must be perfectly centred.

Reed work is the adjustment of the reed so that it passes through the slot from base to tip all at the same time. Gapping only considers the height of the tip of the reed. Reed work considers the height of the reed at every point.

You will get the most accurate tuning if the reeds are responsive and all play consistently.


Subscribe to RSS - Andrew's blog