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Q & A

What affects the sound or playability of my harmonica?
 
Gapping. If the gaps are too wide it takes too much air to get the reeds moving. Too narrow and the reeds will choke when you attempt to play loud. You want to adjust the gaps so the reeds respond to light breath but don’t choke when you get excited. To further complicate the matter, different players have different optimal gaps. An overblow/overdraw player clearly needs his gaps set tighter than one who does not.
 
Airtightness. Airtight harps are more responsive than harps that aren’t. Is the reed plate warped or bent? Is the comb not flat? Either or both will affect the way the harp sounds.
 
Reed Shape. The shape of the reed will certainly affect the way it responds to your breath.
 
Tolerances – the space between the reed and the reed slot. How close are the tolerances? Embossing is a common practice to tighten reduce the space. Too much space = a less responsive harp.
 
Tuning/Temperament. Every harp has its own unique temperament. Marine Band 1896’s are tuned differently than Crossovers are tuned differently than MS-Series are tuned differently than Golden Melodys. Suzukis are tuned differently than Hohners (although pretty close to Crossovers) and Seydels have their own temperament. Could it be that one harp sounds better to you that another simply because you prefer one temperament over another? Is your harp even in tune regardless of which temperament it is supposed to be tuned to?
 
Just and Equal  http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/showthread.php?27716-Just-vs-equal-temperament
 
And let us not forget the biggest variable – the Player. Every player has their own unique embouchure, attack, size and shape of their oral cavity, do they tongue block or lip purse, etc. etc. Two different players playing the same harp will get a very different sound. Additionally, harp players evolve. I can remember the first time I played a custom harp. I couldn’t play it. I thought it was awful. It was so tight. I put it aside for six months. Then one day I pulled it out and it played wonderfully. What had changed? The harp or me? Clearly it was me. I had evolved and my attack had changed.
 
Some of these variables are a function of how the harps are built at the factory – Hohner, Seydel or Suzuki. Some are a function of what we do the harps. When we start taking them apart and tinkering with the comb and reed plates we are influencing these variables. If you know what you are doing, you will make the harp play better. If you don’t know what you are doing, there’s a good chance you will make it play worse.
 
Chromatic making buzzing or clicking sounds? READ THIS. 
 
Windsaver tips from Winslow
 
Actually, this is the subject of a much longer and more comprehensive article I’m planning for harmonicasessions.com. However, bluesharmonica.com subscribers get to read the advance preview that follows, and can ask me any questions they’d like right here.
 
Valves are little flaps of plastic that are mounted on the reedplates of chromatic harmonicas, on the other side of the plate from the reed itself. You can see them if you peer under the covers of your chromatic (or unscrew and remove the top and bottom covers). They’ll be the white things (or maybe white and tan) that look like reeds. You’ll see a brass reed, then beside it a white windsaver, then a reed, then a windsaver, etc.
 
Windsaver valves do just what the name implies - they "save" wind - that is, they keep too much air from leaking out of the harmonica when you're playing. They help to compensate for the fact that chromatics are inherently leaky partly due to their size and partly due to the mouthpiece and slide assembly on the front of the harmonica (that’s a whole topic by itself).
 
Valves help make a chromatic more airtight by preventing air from leaking through the reeds you're not playing. Every hole in the chromatic has a blow reed and a draw reed side by side, with the blow reed mounted on the inside of the reedplate (inside the hole) and the draw reed mounted on the outside. When you exhale to play a blow reed, the valve over the draw slot is pressed flat against the slot, and prevents any air from escaping through the draw reed slot, making the blow reed louder. When you inhale to play a draw reed, the valve over the blow reed slot gets pulled flat to seal off the blow slot, directing all the inhaled air through the draw reed, making that note louder and more responsive.
 
The problem with valves is that they can stick, pop, buzz and rattle. This is an annoying fact of life for playing the chromatic, but there are some things you can do to make life easier.
 
First off, don’t remove all the valves. The harp will leak like a sieve. You *can* remove the valves on the outside of each reedplate, which will make the harp a little less airtight and will change the tone quality fo the draw notes, making them sound different from the blow notes. Your draw bends will also sound a bit more like bends on a diatonic. (The effect of valves on note bending is quite a fascinating topic all by itself). But even of you remove the outside valves, you’ll still have the valves on the inside to buzz, stick, rattle and pop.
 
The first thing you can do to reduce valve problems is to play with a clean mouth. Valves are very sensitive to oils, sugars, salt, mucus, and any other stuff that your breath delivers to the harmonica (or pulls in from the outside air). Always rinse your mouth before you play. You may not have time to brush, floss, or rinse out your sinuses (though they’d probably help) but you can almost always swish some warm water around your mouth and spit it out, then swallow some, to help clear you mouth of unwanted stuff.
 
The second thing you can do is to help you chromatic dry out after you play it. NEVER PUT A WET HARMONICA BACK IN ITS BOX. With the holes facing downward, tap moisture out of the harp onto your palm. Do this first with the slide in the out position, and then do it again with the slide held in. That way, you get moisture out off all the holes, not just half of them. Then, let all the holes air dry. To expose all the holes to air, lock the slide in a half-in, half-out position by pressing the slide halfway in and then sticking something like a matchstick in one of the to keep the slide half-open.
 
Another thing many players do is to warm the harp before playing it, either through body contact (under an arm or something similarly convenient) or in an electric warming blanket.
 
But still, your valves may start popping. When they do , you can clean them. Take a piece of paper with a rough surface (like a brown grocery bag), and moisten it. Slip it under the bottom of the valve (the surface that contacts the reedplate) and hold the valve down lightly with your finger. Then pull the paper out from under the so that it scrubs any foreign matter off the valve surface. Then, do the same thing between the upper and lower valve layers (most valves have a stiff upper layer which may be white, tan, or clear in color).
 
Valves may curl or deform. Sometimes you can recondition them, but you may need to replace them; the major manufacturers sell valves, and some customizers also make and sell their own valves I’ll go into that in more detail in the harmonicasessions article.
 
I hope this helps, and feel free to ask any questions.
 
Why have valves for Diatonics? The rationale for half-valving diatonics is that this offers:
-- Normal bends on the bendable notes
-- Chromatic-style bends on the notes that usually don't bend
-- Better air conservation (i.e., louder sound with less breath) on the first 6 blow notes and last 4 draw notes, because the valves are preventing air from leaking out through the reed you're not playing (this is what valves were designed for in the first place).
 
However, you also can't play overblows on a half-valved harp. (overblows are different from blow bends).
 
PT Gazell and Brendan Power are the two most prominent users and advocates for half-valved diatonics. Both get great results, which you can hear on YouTube and at their websites. That said, neither is a dedicated blues player, and if you're looking to play blues, half-valving will take you away from the traditional sound. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is up to you to decide, of course.
 
Valves minimize air loss when playing blow or draw notes.
 
What is the difference between full valving and half valving?
Full-Valving
If both reeds of a corresponding reed pair are equipped with valves, the possibilities of >bending the notes is very limited. If a valve is only closing the lower tuned reed of the pair then bending notes remains possible. 

In our valved serial models we do not valve the very high notes (e.g. holes 11 and 12 on a Chromatic in D). If you select valves which will note operate correctly given your selections, we shall not attach them!
 
Half-valving (of Richter-tuned diatonics)
The valves are put on the draw plate of 1-6 (valve is on the inside of harp hole) and valves on blow plate of 7-10(valve is on outside of upper plate).This leads to better air-tightness of the instrument - bending notes are still playable!
 
In addition a skilled player can get the blow-bending notes in holes 1-6 blow and the draw bendings in 7-10 in a certain range. So all notes of the chromatic scale become available without the need of the overblow technique !
 
 PT Gazell is the master on the half-valved harmonica and showed what becomes possible on these instruments! We use the same material for the valves that PT uses in his instruments!
 
What does "cross tuned" mean when describing chromatic harmonicas?
The terms "straight tuned" and "cross tuned", or "cross positioned" are often used when describing chromatic harmonicas. This can sometimes cause some confusion, particularly because of the term "cross harp" being used to describe a diatonic harmonica being played in second position.
Rather than describing the way the instrument is played, straight tuned and cross tuned describe how the chromatic harmonica is constructed. Look at this picture of a typical 12-hole chromatic harmonica (a Hering Baritono to be precise):

 
If you look into the mouthpiece holes you should be able to see that they are open towards the top of the holes, but closed towards the bottom. This means that with the slide in its "out" position, the upper reedplate of the harmonica is brought into action. This reedplate has all the natural notes (the C major scale, if it is a C chromatic). Pushing the button in moves the slide so that the holes are closed towards the top and open towards the bottom, closing off the upper reedplate and bringing the lower reeds into play. This set of reeds gives you the sharps and flats (the C#/Db major scale on a C chromatic). This arrangement is called straight tuned or straight positioned.
However, take a look at this instrument (a Hohner CX-12): 

 
Looking into the mouthpiece holes you should be able to see that the first hole is open towards the top and closed at the bottom, but the second hole is open towards the bottom and closed at the top. Likewise, the third hole is open towards the top and closed at the bottom, the fourth hole is open towards the bottom and closed at the top - and so up all the way up the mouthpiece. This is the cross tuned or cross positioned arrangement. You still get the natural notes when you play with the button out and the sharps and flats when you play with the button in, but their distribution between the two reedplates is different. On a cross tuned chromatic in C, the C and D notes are on the upper reedplate; the C# and D# are on the lower reedplate; the E and F are on the lower reedplate; the E# and F# are on the upper reedplate; etc., etc.
With the exception of the CX-12, the discontinued CBH-2012 and a few less common models, most 10 and 12 hole chromatics are straight tuned. Older Hohner 16 hole chromatics were straight tuned, but they later changed them over to the cross tuned layout. Hering seem to be the only company currently making four octave chromatics that are straight tuned.
What does this mean to the player? For the most part, not a great deal. Regardless of whether it is straight or cross tuned, a standard C chromatic harmonica gives the C scale with the button out and a C# scale with the button in. The only appreciable difference is that the slide has to move further on a cross tuned instrument, which means that to get the sharps and flats you have to push the button further in than you would on a straight tuned chromatic. This is an issue for some players, others barely seem to notice it. It also means that if you open up a cross tuned chromatic to work on the tuning, you need to be very careful to make sure that you are working on the correct reeds!
 
Q: What's the main difference between, a cross and a straight chromatic harmonica, which is preferred?
A: Advantages of Straight: Slide stroke is short. Spacing of the holes is very close. Smooth switching of sound fast. 
Disadvantages of Straight: And have to play a big sound hole is small. Expression and dynamics might be hard to stick to. Treble has a thin sound.
 Advantage of the cross: Breath to enter a lot of hole is large. Therefore it is easy to sound  loud. It is easy to put the expression. Rich sound in the upper register. 
Disadvantages of Cross: Stroke is long and the distance between the hole and the hole is open. Switching of sound, connection of sound rough.
 
Straight Chromatic: 
 
Cross Chromatic: 
 
 
Where can I find information on reed life and failure?
Helpful info from Seydel regarding reed life etc...Click here
 
More good Seydel info
 
More helpful info on Reed failure From the great Joe Spiers.
 
Where can I find tone charts for different tunings?
Click here to see different harmonica tuning charts
 
What's the deal with PowerBender and PowerDraw tunings?
 
PowerDraw tuning is easy to learn because:
 
  • The bulk of the harp (holes 1-6) stays exactly the same, so there is no need to re-learn anything in that meat and potatoes range you’re so accustomed to.
  • The breathing pattern of holes 1-6 (blow reed low, draw reed high in each hole)is retained all the way up to hole 10 on the PowerDraw. This gives the top octave an instant feeling of familiarity to anyone who tries it, because the techniques and riffs that work so well lower down work up there too
  • Simplified Technique: There are no blow bends and no overdraws needed in the PowerDraw tuning. Two of the most important ‘blue’ notes in 2nd position (the flat third, which was overblow 6) and the flat fifth (overdraw 7) are now simple draw bends on holes 7 and 8.
  • Every draw note bends from hole 6-10, soulful and easy! In un-valved setup every hole overblows, and the upper octave overblows are much easier than the overdraws necessary in Richter tuning.
  • PowerDraw works well with the chordal octave-playing approach of tongue blockers. The notes in the top octave are similar to Richter, but the intervals are different. Because the chord splits sound nice and in-key, it is easy to adapt to.
  • The PowerDraw works great in other positions too, especially Third (nice useful bends in the top octave), Fifth (good expression in the top end), Second Position Minor (no need to overblow to get the flat 3rd ), Eleventh and Twelfth (great expression in the top octave).
If you feel familiar with playing in holes 1-6 on Richter diatonic already (or you play our BIG SIX model), the PowerDraw is a good choice for you!
_____________________________________________________________________________
 
The PowerBender tuning builds on the best parts of the traditional Richter Tuning, while altering the scale to make the real juicy and important notes much easier to obtain throughout the whole three octave range.
 
  • Same familiar breathing pattern in the upper-middle registers. All draw notes bend everywhere, holes 1-10!
  • On the un-valved version you can overblow every hole 1-6, for full chromatic playing.
  • Overdraws and blow bends are no longer possible or needed on a PowerBender - they are replaced with simple draw bends.
  • On the half-valved version, a mix of normal draw bends and valved blow bends gives full chromaticism.
  • Top octave easy to play (intuitive) as many familiar phrasings can be adopted from the bottom octaves
  • Easy to play in the common positions: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 11th, and 12th
If you’re interested in a fresh sound on the 10 hole diatonic, LOTS more bending expression and easy jazzy playing, the PowerBender is a good choice for you!
 
Which Hohner chromatics still use nails and which use screws?
The only chromatics that Hohner still nails together are the 270 Chromonica, Toots Mellow Tone and Toots Hard Bopper. The Super Chromonica 270 Deluxe uses 1.6 mm reed plate screws instead of nails. All these models are still made with a pearwood comb. These are 3 octave harmonicas
 
In the four octave range, the Chromonica 64, Super 64, Super 64x and on up the line are put together with 1.6 mm reed plate screws on injection molded combs.
 
Is there a diffence between the Progressive stamped Special 20 and the non Progressive stamped Special 20?
There is no difference between a Special 20 stamped Progressive and a Special 20 not stamped Progressive.
The Progressive line is simply a re-categorization to make the differences in features of our 10-hole diatonic harmonicas more apparent.  Categories are:
Marine Band = Classic, Deluxe, Crossover, Thunderbird
Progressive = Special 20, Golden Melody, Rocket
MS = Blues Harp, Big River Harp, Blue Midnight
Enthusiast = BluesBand, Old Standby, Blues Bender, American Ace, Pocket Pal, Hot Metal

 
So a Special 20 stamped Progressive is no different than any other Special 20.  Therefore we will continue to sell the old cover plates until they run out without changing our distribution.  I do not know how long that will take.  My opinion is it is safe to say we will run out by the end of the year on popular keys.
 
Why is the Hohner Special 20 labeled Bn?
That's just how it got into the system
 
Why are my Seydel reed plates discolored?
This is normal response of the brass reedplates. All the Seydel harmonicas are handmade, and the process of making them requires many steps of handling them, and you can see that the marks on the brass are actually fingerprints that were essentially invisible, but through time have developed that visibility through the interaction with the brass. 
 
Seydel does not machine stamp harmonicas out and then package them, and the process of hand making them requires that human hands are touching them. Even though they are cleaned, the process of time and the corrosive properties of brass create those effects.
 
The harmonicas have not been played, and are new from the factory. Depending on how long they have been packaged, and what the atmospheric conditions present where they are stored  this type of coloration will normally develop, and does not affect playability or longevity in any way. 
All our newer models use less corrosive parts throughout the harmonica, such as stainless steel, german silver, etc. but we do still have some of the older models available that were made with brass reedplates. 
 
Hope this helps, 
Rupert Oysler
www.seydelusa.com

 
What is the difference between the Lee Oskar Melody Maker and Country Tuned Harps
Country Tuning gives only changes on note (5 draw up a half step) to give you the major 7th tone in 2nd position... (and you can draw bend it back to it's original sound when needed) 
So if you don't want to mess your standard diatonic mind up to much... maybe this is the best choice... 
The Lee Oskar Melody Maker on the other hand changes 3 notes... (3 blow up a step, 5 draw down a half step, and 9 draw down a half step) 
But gives you two complete octaves of the major scale in 2nd position... (and you draw bend the 5 draw back to it's original sound when needed) 
SOLO tuning on a diatonic is really more commonly used on folk melodies in 1st Position type play and occasionally 3rd position. The 3 blow tremolo you are reporting is the 3 and 4 blow note duplication that is part of SOLO tuning
 

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