Andrew's blog

Promo Pack

I often get asked "Will a custom harmonica make me a better player?"

That's not really a fair question. It depends. A well-playing harmonica will help you succeed.

"Always play on the best instrument you can afford. Good instruments DO make a difference." - Jamey Aebersold

I have the profound belief that the best strategy to become a better player is to find a great teacher.

I'm proud to support as many harmonica teaching events as I can. I've come up with a promotional pack that I will be offering to some upcoming harmonica workshops.

The pack contains a few small tools and parts, some key label stickers and some helpful documentation on harmonica upgrades and repair.

I've chosen these items because every player will make use of them regardless of level or playing style.

These packs are not available for sale. The only way you can get one of these is to participate in a sponsored harmonica workshop or event.

Marine Band opener (1896 - with nails)

About 99 per cent of harp players own at least one Marine Band 1896 harmonica - the old school type held together with nails. The nails don't have to get in the way of working on the harp.

You can take the plates off the comb and put them back on using the original nails. It's maybe a little extra work but the harp will perform just fine.

Here's a description of how to create a "Marine Band Opener" to crack open a Marine Band 1896 to work on it (customize, flatten reed plates, reed curvature, tuning, embossing, etc...)

The 1896 features the exact same reeds as the Deluxe, Crossover, Golden Melody, Special 20 and Hohner Rocket - it packs a lot of potential!

You can either covert the harp to screws or close it right up again using the original nails - Old School style.

(Checklist) Basic embossing

This is part of a series of checklists I am making available to you.

Click the "Printer-friendly version" link at the bottom of the page and feel free to print out as many copies as you like!

Basic embossing checklist
(Half slot embossing)
version 2016/12/13

Items needed
___ Tools to disassemble the harmonica (screwdriver)
___ A hard round object (Example, a chrome-plated socket) or a specialized Embossing tool
___ Plinking tool
___ Reed work or gapping tool
___ Reed wrench
Prep work
___ The harp is airtight
___ The reed shapes are favorable
___ Gaps are set
___ The harmonica plays well (Embossing will never, ever fix a problem)
___ Take the harmonica apart
___ Lay reed plates reed-side-up on a flat surface
___ Press the Embossing tool or round object into the middle of a slot. Advance to the tip (not the base) using gentle downward force
___ Use your fingernail to feel for a catch on the inside of the slot. If none is present, repeat the previous step with slightly more downward force.
___ Plink the reed to make sure you didn't use too much force and over-do it.
___ Repeat the process for the other slots

___ If the reed won't plink, consider reed alignment.
___ If you embossed too much, apply pressure to "un-do" the embossed ridge using the reed tool or the plinker. Look through the slot and press the tip of the reed through. Can you see where the reed is contacting the slot? Apply gentle pressure to the slot wall in that area.

(video) Harmonica repair mistakes #8 - Temperament Tantrum

Here's a way to fix tuning problems that goes straight to the heart of the problem. Don't worry about temperament. Forget about the numbers. Use your ears to figure out what's wrong.

The goal here is to only tune the worst one or two reeds on the reed plate.

The trouble with "hunt-and-peck" tuning is that you can make things worse if you tune reeds at random. If two reeds are out-of-tune with one another, which one do you adjust? Do you focus on chords or on single notes?

Use this opportunity to decide what sounds good to your ears. If you have trouble deciding if something sounds good, an out-of-tune harp will make it easy for you to hear what sounds bad!. This will help you identify what is in tune and replicate it to the rest of the reed plate.


- Divide the blow plate into three octaves. Play 456 as a chord. How does it sound to your ears? Do the same with 123 and compare. Which one sounds most in tune? If you are in the habit of playing chords on the top octave, try the 789 and 10 hole chord.

- If one octave's chord is much better than the others use it as a reference. If all the chords are bad, break down the 456 chord by intervals (tonic octave - 1-4 blow, thirds - 4-5 blow, and fifths - 4-6 blow). Consider what reed in the 456 you need to change to make it sound nice. Use a piece of paper to write down your plan.

- Play a melody in the middle octave and try to notice if any notes sound off. If you can accompany yourself using a jam track, do so.

If you are in the habit of playing in positions other than First, Second or Third, play a melody in that position and listen to what notes sound out of tune. Compare the same melody in another octave (use the same position.)

- Decide which problem is worse: Do I need to fix chords? or Do I need to fix individual notes?

- Play all the octaves on the blow plate and find the ones that are our of tune.


You have already determined what reed(s) are the culprit in the earlier steps. Example, if the 1-4 octave sounds bad, but you like all the notes of the 456 chord, then tune the 1 reed to agree with the 4.

- Pick the one or two worst reeds on the plate and fix them. Don't aim for perfection, just make things sound good.

Remember: "Better" is the enemy of "Good". If the tuning is "good", move on and forget about making it "better".

- The process is almost the same for the draw plate. Focus on the 234 draw chord; do not consider any other chords on the draw plate. Play the chord and play a melody. Identify whether the chord or the individual notes are out-of-tune. Adjust individual reeds by using the following octaves:


Would you like me to make a video about your "best" mistake? Contact me and let me know your ideas!

Sympathetic reed work™

I call my new approach sympathetic reed work™ because it's important to unite all the forces that are acting upon the reeds.


Reed work can be described as the strategic reshaping of a reed. I spent years developing my reed work so that reeds behave just the way I want.

The key is to work in small steps and to follow some simple rules: a theoretical model. With each small change, reevaluate the reed to confirm it behaves as expected and then make the next small change until the goal is reached.

Sometimes I observed interesting variances while following this process. I observed some quirky behaviors from some reeds every now and then. By the laws of the theoretical model I was following, what I was seeing should not work, yet there it was!

No biggie. Nothing to get excited about - my methodology was working just fine and I was getting the results I wanted. These extra results were interesting but they weren't getting in the way of getting the job done.

Just forge ahead and reach the goal! It's only that my theoretical model wasn't explaining every detail of what was going on. Forget about it and keep working in your comfort zone. There's work to be done! I said.

But after a while, I decided to chase down these variances. I wanted an explanation.

I expanded my theoretical model and explored whether the new version explained what I was seeing. I recreated those anomalous results and carefully observed what part of my model was right and what was wrong as I tweaked my approach to reed work. Each time I was wrong, it challenged my model and added to the picture.

There are several forces acting upon the reed other than our breath. I choose to think of breath force in terms of air flow rather than just a pressure gradient. This allows me to find the best shape of the reed so that it catches the wind like a sail. It's also possible to harness the other forces in action at the same time much in the same way.

After a few iterations I settled on a revised theoretical model which encompasses both my old approach and my new approach. I can explain and predict everything I am observing. No more anomalies.

A harmonica isn't very complex - there are only 20 moving parts (the reeds). But the deeper you look for the things that make it play well, the more you find the things that can go wrong. There's a lot going on inside this simple technology.

I call my new approach sympathetic reed work™ because it's important to unite all the forces that are acting upon the reeds.

In my model of all the forces in action, the reed must play a supporting role.

What's exciting is that I can use this new approach to get excellent results with less time and effort than before I went down this path. I'm not done exploring; I think sympathetic reed work has a lot more potential to offer.

More to come...

The real cost of a custom harmonica

Despite the higher initial cost, over five years the overall cost of ownership of a custom harmonica is significantly lower than the cost of stock, off-the-shelf harmonicas.

My custom harmonicas are remarkably responsive, loud and FUN to play. They are sold at a higher price that stock, off-the-shelf harmonicas, but they are much better instruments. Considering the hours spend on customizing each instrument, a custom harmonica is better value despite the higher price.

When you buy a custom harmonica from me, you can expect to have a well-playing instrument for years to come. This is because I offer service to your custom harmonica.

If you look a little beyond the initial purchase, a custom harmonica is usually cheaper to own that a stock instrument.

My service extends the life of the instrument. Reeds can be replaced, the tuning can be adjusted and the harp can maintain its high level of response and volume far beyond the lifespan of a stock harp.

Comparison: Purchase price:

Hohner Crossover* - $111
Semi custom Hohner Rocket - $179
Custom Hohner Marine Band Deluxe - $268
* (Shipping costs added)

Let's assume a harp lasts about a year before it becomes worn out. I believe a custom harp can last longer than a stock harp in most cases but to be fair, let's consider both harps equally.

To replace a stock harp, you will need to spend the purchase cost on a new harp. To service my custom harp, you will need to spend about $50 ($30 plus two way shipping)

Comparison: Over Five years:

Hohner Crossover* - $111 x 5 = $555
Semi custom Hohner Rocket - $179 + $200** = $379
Custom Hohner Marine Band Deluxe - $268 + $200** = $468
** Service costs with shipping charges added

My custom harmonicas are much better instruments than stock. Despite the higher initial cost, over five years the overall cost of ownership of a semi-custom or custom harmonica is significantly lower than the cost of stock, off-the-shelf harmonicas. My custom harmonicas offer much better value than stock instruments.

(video) Harmonica repair mistakes #7 - When do you stop?

A Facebook friend asked about Tuning-Embossing-Shaping. "Knowing when I'm getting tired and/or impatient and knowing when it's time to get up & walk away."

Would you like me to make a video about your "best" mistake? Contact me and let me know your ideas!

(video) Harmonica repair mistakes #6 - Wrong reed, wrong direction!

A Facebook friend asked about working late into the evening and tuning the wrong reed, or tuning it in the wrong direction - how do you avoid this?

Would you like me to make a video about your "best" mistake? Contact me and let me know your ideas!

(video) Harmonica repair mistakes! #5 - Heavy handed

If you feel like a bull in a China shop, here are some easy tricks to help you to work with a light touch.

Would you like me to make a video about your "best" mistake? Contact me and let me know your ideas!

(video) Correcting imperfections in just TWO TINES using the Comb Tool™

A Facebook friend posed a question about a wooden comb. Here's my suggestion.

This is a great job for the Comb Tool™.


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