Maintenance and Repair

Maintaining your harps is simple. Rule number one — keep them clean! It's possible to get an infection from germs or skin trapped in the holes or reeds. And, as a rule, do not allow other people to play your harmonicas, just as you wouldn't let another person use your toothbrush.

Periodic cleaning is essential to maintaining a good sound as well. Dirt and tiny pieces of skin get trapped in the reeds and must be cleaned out before the reeds either buzz or stop sounding completely. Disassembly is simple and reveals a lot about how this instrument works. Just use a little screwdriver on the screws at the corners of the reed plates on the top and bottom of the harp. Then use rubbing alcohol to clean the reeds and comb with a Q-tip swab until the swab comes out clean.

Make sure not to lose the small screws and bolts that hold the harmonica together, as they are tough to replace. If you have access to a surgical clamp, it is a very useful tool that works great for holding and tightening the tiny parts. They can be purchased at any online surgical supply outlet.

New harmonicas generally don't require much cleaning, but always remember to clean old harmonicas before you play them. Dust and other unpleasant things may have settled inside the harp. Just run some warm water through the instrument (as long as it has a plastic comb) and then rap it several times with the holes facing down to get the excess water out.

Be careful not to bend or adjust the reed spaces, which are the spaces between the end of the reed and the hole in the reed plate, unless you are trying to change their sound characteristics. For example, to get overblows out of a difficult reed, it may be possible to bend the reed slightly toward the reed plate on draw notes and away from the reed plate on blow notes.

Attempting to tune the reeds on your own harmonica can make the harp unusable very quickly, but if you are inclined to try it, the way to do it is with a small, fine file like a jeweler's file, which can be found at jewelry supply houses online. To raise the pitch of a reed you would gently file the top of the reed near the tip, which will make the reed vibrate faster and thus raise the pitch of the note. To lower the pitch of a reed you would gently file the top of the reed near the base, which makes the reed vibrate more slowly and thus lowers the pitch of the note.

In case you need them, Lee Oskar makes replacement reed plates for their harmonicas and will also make special tunings for you upon request, but this gets pricey.

The original harmonicas only had half of the function of today's harmonicas. That's because they only had blow notes. Even though the concept of two-way reeds had been employed in instruments such as the accordion, it wasn't until a clever Hohner employee named Richter came along and applied it to the harmonica that each hole of the harp gained the ability to produce two notes.

If all of this sounds like a different language to you, don't worry. The next chapter will explain all the different parts of the harp.

Also, remember that to play the instrument one doesn't need an advanced knowledge of music theory, materials, science, or economic and historical trends in the harmonica industry. All you need is a relentless desire to play the harp. Playing the harmonica is supposed to be fun. The more you practice and fool around with it, the more tunes and tricks you'll add to your skill set. Carry it with you wherever you go, and play it whenever you have a chance. That is how every great harmonica player developed.

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