Care and Feeding of Harmonicas
The good news is that you didn't pay much for you harps so if you don't take good care of them, you can throw them out without much sorrow and buy a new one.
The bad news is that if you use your harps regularly, they will break or jam or wear out and usually in the middle of your best solo.
Here are a few rules.
- Never soak wooden
harps. When I started out it was a big thing to soak harps in water
so that the wood could swell up. Soaking swells the wood and tightens everything.
This gives a temporary boost to you playing because the covers tend to loosen
up on wooden harps and they leak air. You wind up with more air going through
the leaking covers than through the reeds. When the wood swells up the covers
tend to tighten. I can remember pouring some of my precious beer over the
harp hoping to tighten it up.
The problem comes when the harp dries out, it doesn't dry out evenly and the nails in the cover are pushed out and the cover is warped by this time and the posts of the comb are pushed out so you can't slide your tongue over them. The damage done by wetting down your harp shortens the life of the harp.
You can wet down your plastic harps and the wet reeds seem to sound fatter, but it lasts only for a few minutes.
- Tap the saliva out of your harp from time to time. (This is why you must Blue Jeans, so the spit stain on your leg is not so noticeable.) The saliva hardens up in the reeds eventually.
- Rinse your plastic harps after heavy use. I take a jar and fill it with warm water. I add a couple of teaspoons of baking soda and stir it up I put several harps in and swoosh them around. All kinds of crap comes out of the harps. I then rinse them out in cold water until I can't taste the baking soda. There are people who claim that the water and baking soda affects the reeds. This is stupid. Brass reeds don't really care about water, if they did, blowing saliva through them would ruin the reeds.
- Don't eat while blowing. There are two schools of thought on this. One says that food crumbs can catch in the reeds and cause them to jam up. But, there is something to be said about drawing on a harp and feeling the crumb hit your tongue. "Ooh! Pizza!" It's like getting a free snack while you're playing.
- Don't carry harps around in your pocket. I always manage to get pocket fuzz jammed in the harp. This is much more detrimental than pizza and harder to get out. I manage to bend the cover plates when I keep harps in my pocket. Keep the harp in a box or a little harp condom or something if you like carrying harps with you. (Is that a harmonica in your pocket are your just thinking about the next jam?)
- Never, ever share
harps. Think about it. There is no better way to share a nice rash
than to share your harps.
(Sharing harps is like sleeping with a girl who smokes. You might do it if you get drunk enough.)
I keep some cheap C harps around to give to dunks that want to jam along. (I charge them $10. By the way I also buy cheap guitar E strings and sell them to the guitarist for $2 when they break a string.)
- Break-in harps with
heavy reeds. The Marine bands and MS series harps like the Big River
come out of the box very stiff. The reeds loosen up after a while and get
easier to bend, but in the beginning, they are harder to bend than the harp
you just replaced. Common mythology says that you should play the harp for
a few hours, but not hard, until the feel of the reeds is more comfortable.
This is supposed to make the reeds last longer and prevent damage to the reeds.
Are the reeds really being broken in during that few hours, or is the Harper
getting the feel of the new harp? I can't tell. I know that the longer I play
a harp the easier it is to play, but I don't play hard like some people. When
I go to jam I have to turn the volume up a little higher than the last player
had it set. My personal experience is that older harps are looser than new
harps, but as for breaking harps in - the jury is out.
Special 20s and Lee Oskars don't seem to need much breaking in.
- Repair and tune your harps. Buy the Lee Oskar repair kit and get a chromatic tuner. Read the little manual that comes with the kit and do regular maintenance on your harps. Many broken harps can be fixed.
- Don't throw out your bad harps. Keep the dead ones in a box. They make great presents to little kids. Also, someday you are going to sit down with a repair kit and tuner and mix and match parts and get yourself a couple of hundred dollars worth of good harps.
- Why Blues Harp? A philosophical discussion of why I play harp.
- What Brand Harmonica should you buy? How to tell which brand is good for you.
- What Harp Keys to Buy. This is what I carry around with me. Once in a blue moon the band wants to play something in another key, but I can usually talk them out of it.
- Key chart. You need this for the first month and then you should have it memorized. Handy to have, though, at three in the morning after you've started your second six-pack.
- The Care and Feeding of Harmonicas. Regular maintenance for your harp.
- Identifying the Key of a Song. An art, not a science.