Just about everyone that I've talked to really enjoyed Ken Hall's article on "Hard-Core Harmonica.” However, once you take Ken's advice and really start to wail, sooner or later you'll "blow out" your first harp, one hole won't work anymore on either blow or draw, or a note will go flat. This, of course, is part of the dues you pay for soulful playing, but — when it happens — don't throw the broken harmonica away, recondition and recycle it instead!
Jim McLaughlin, a good friend of mine, recently showed me just how to fix a harmonic. It seems that Jim picked up his technique from Chamber Hwang (who happens to be head of research for the M. Hohner Company) and — as you'd expect — Hwang's harmonic repair methods really work.
McLaughlin claims that 9 times out of ten a "broken" reed is actually just full of grunge (it can happen no matter how careful you've been), or simply in need of being bent further out from the reed plate (if it's a blow note) or further in (in the case of a draw note). And, even if your harp has actually gone out of tune, you can fix it if your ear is good enough to tell you when it's right again.
Here are Jim's harmonica repair techniques:
If you try this trick, be sure to shove a piece of index card — or some other stiff paper — under the end of the reed to raise it up and to protect other parts that don't need filing (Jim suggests that you use a knife file for this delicate work)!
Sometimes a reed can be bent too close to the reed plate, and this can cause the note to hesitate or not come at all. To correct the problem, just bend the reed lightly away from the plate If it's a blow note, or a bit in if it's a draw note. The harp will still play with the cover off, so you can try it out if you're careful not to get your lips or mustache in the way of the reeds.
Of course, it's possible that a reed in your harmonica is actually broken. If so, hang on to the instrument anyway. The reed can be replaced, or you can save the good reeds to "fix" broken ones in another harp. The reeds can be easily pried from the rivet that holds them, and replacements are just slipped over the rivet and tapped gently in place with a hammer.
Right now (August, 1978), I'm getting together a list of upcoming national folk music and bluegrass festivals to run in the March/April issue. It promises to be a goodie, so stay tuned, folks.
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