+ Warming your harmonica above breath tempurature before playing will reduce the chance of condensation forming on the reedplates which cause valves, especially blow valves, to stick to the reedplates. Suggested methods are holding it under your armpit or cupped in your hands for a while, put it on a small electric heating pad set to moderate, or wrap it with a hot/cold gel pack warmed for 2 mins in the microwave.
* Point the button at the ceiling, dribble a few drops of water down both sides of the slide, then work the slide up and down to work the water all the way down the slide. Then draw gliss up & down the harp working the slide and sucking out extra water. Doing this before & after play mitigates a sticky slide.
Quality instruments require continual care, love and attention for them to remain a quality instrument
and to serve a musician well. Stringed instruments need retuning and replacement strings,
woodwind instruments require replacement reeds and pads, drum kits need new drumsticks, skin retensioning and replacement.
Wood swells & contracts, and it can warp easily when treated poorly, moving parts get dirty and start to stick & jam and eventually wear out.
Maintaining and caring for your instrument will help to ensure that your instrument will serve you well. The hardest part for the new owner of a chromatic harmonica is overcoming the apprehension of damaging their prized possession and the possible intimidatation by what is hiding inside. Its important to overcome this, eventually with practise you will wonder what the mystery was.
Please refer to the Recommended Instruction section of this site for recommended books on Chromatic Harmonica maintenance and repair.
As a preventitive measure I suggest doing the following tasks roughly every month depending on how regularly you play.
One of the best solutions I've found for keeping a chromatic safely with me
is to purchase a plain generic leather cellphone pouch that clips to your belt.
These can be a little expensive, but its very convenient and even when I'm in the
office dressed in a suit its a practical and stylish solution (often being mistaken
for a cellphone).
Alternatively there are a number of generic tool pouches, in either leather or canvas, some of these even fit 16 hole chromatics well. The main thing is to make sure they are a good fit and protect the instrument from incidental bumps. However these won't protect them from being bumped around if you are relatively active, for instance a tradesman may want to consider other options.
It maybe more appropriate to keep your instrument tucked in your
coat pocket, briefcase, shoulder bag or handbag.
You may find the case provided with your instrument is too bulky for this.
One of the best options I've found for storing chromatics like this
is Radio Shack car stereo face holders.
They are a padded zip up pouch which is exactly the right size for a 16 hole chromatic in,
and easily fits a 12 holer.
The Hohner harmonica leather pouches for diatonics happen to be a perfect fit for 12 hole chromatics, the exception being the CX12. I've bought one for each of my chromatics as they look neat and are very cheap. There are various 12 & 16 hole chromatic pouches available. If you have a CX12 you will need a bigger pouch due to its size.
Finally, if you have a large set of harmonicas and/or related items
(eg. microphones, leads, song books) you may want to look for a hardshell travel carry case,
aluminium carry case or tool box of appropriate size or even an old briefcase would work well.
You will still want to keep your instruments protected from being banged around. You could keep your harps in their original cases or use some of the pouches mentioned above. Another method is to purchase a number of firm foam sheets in 1/2" thickness, fitting them in layers to the case and cutting out places for what you want to store.
Hohner and some music stores offer cases specifically for this purpose and come fitted with packing.
If your harmonica is broken and in need of repair or replacement parts, it is worth getting in touch with your local music shop and asking to have it repaired under warantee.
It is dependant on the national harmonica importer for that brand whether they are able to provide warantee repairs or sell replacement parts. Although they are under no obligation to do so, it's worth at least checking.
There are a number of chromatic harmonica repairers and customisers around the world who can repair, retune, restore your instrument for a reasonable fee. Or you may want to learn to do this for yourself.
This is section of the Chromatic Harmonica Reference covers basic maintenance. On Harp On! Harmonica Resources I include a number of Harmonica technical articles, tips and links.
Hohner offers services in some countries
Essentially a chromatic harmonica is made up of the following components.
This makes up the body of the instrument and what everything else is attached to.
They are typically made of wood or some form of plastic.
More expensive or custom models may have the comb made from aluminium, stainless steel or even titanium.
The comb is specifically shaped for the type of reedplates and mouthpiece assembly used, and rarely interchangable with other models or makes of chromatic harmonicas without an amount of machining.
Each comb cell or hole shares two reeds, draw & blow, the cell is shaped specifically for those two reeds generally to optimise the flow of air that passes them.
Combs may be nailed into; they may have tapped threads into the material for screws; possibly holes drilled through for bolts to go through and attach to a theaded plate or bolt; or have threaded inserts fixed into the comb which give a harder wearing thread for bolts or screws to attach to.
Wood combs can crack, shrink, swell or warp if exposed to excessive moisture, heat or cold, and are easy to dent or damage which can reduce airtightness. Other materials are generally more durable and therefore desirable in my opinion.
There is an ongoing debate between harmonica players as to the effect of the comb on the overall tone of the instrument. However no satisfactory conclusion has been drawn either way.
Typically any chromatic harmonica has two reedplates, one on each side of the comb.
The reeds are aligned to fit two into each comb cell, one draw, one blow.
For the majority reeds there is a windsaver attached to the other side of the reed hole.
Reedplates are made normally made of brass.
Some chromatics have the brass reedplates plated in chrome or silver to reduce corrosion or reaction to other metals used on the instrument.
It is important to take care not to bend or twist reedplates as this will reduce airtightness.
Reeds are essentially what makes a harmonica what it is, each reed produces a tone when air is passed over it.
There are two reeds per comb cell, one for blow, one for draw for each hole on the harmonica.
Reeds are attached to reedplates, typically riveted. Reeds should be made of the same material as the reedplate (usually brass),
otherwise it will react with the reedplate and corrode quickly.
A reed is described as having a root where it is attached to the reedplate, and a tip which is free to vibrate. Reeds are delicate and easily damaged, so take great care with them especially when handling reedplates. The hole that the reed sits over is designed to be a very tight fit for the reed without any point of contact beyond the root of the reed, this is to reduce the amount of airflow to make the reed work. If the reed catches any edges of the hole it will not play properly, so if the reed is not set in its hole properly or if there is any obstruction or burr sticking out from the reed or the edge of the reed hole this will cause problems.
Reeds are tuned to a set pitch which they are designed to sound when they vibrate. This can be purposely altered in a number of ways, but retuning is usually done for a specific purpose and not something that is done more than a few times in the life of a reed if ever. When a reed eventually becomes fatigued it will slowly and almost imperceptually lower in tone until it is off-key. It can be retuned, but will soon break, at this time it is prudent to either replace the reed or the reedplate.
As its name suggests a windsaver conserves the amount of wind or breath required to play a note on the harmonica.
They are set up on the opposite side of a reed hole to the reed so when the opposite reed in the hole is being played,
the windsaver is pushed shut over the hole to stop air escaping through it.
The valve covering the reed hole of a reed being played is pushed out of the way by the air that is playing the reed.
Without windsavers a larger amount of air is required to make reeds sound,
as a result on some chromatics both reeds in the cell may sound.
Windsavers are a neccessary evil.
Windsavers or valves are normally made of plastic, but can be made out of anything. Valves are glued to the opposite side of reedhole to a reed at the same as where the root of the reed is attached. They can be constructed of two flaps: The bottom flap is soft designed to seal the hole and be pushed out of the way when its reed is being played, the top flap is stiff & springy, designed to push the bottom flap back to the reedplate.
Also they can be made up of a single flap made of two components, the underside is soft which is firmly adhered to the topside is stiff & springy.
Single flap windsavers are less prone to problems simply because they are a single component and cannot adhere to itself, also they are stronger and will probably last a little longer than the two flap variety.
Valves are the cause of most problems in the daily life of a chromatic harmonica player:
The spring's purpose is to push the harmonica slide out.
The majority of chromatic harmonica springs are installed inside the comb and made of strong flexible metal. They are generally hairpin shaped and held in place to the comb with a pin or dowel inserted at the apex of the spring. One spring arm is longer than the other and this extends out from the comb just far enough to hook through a small hole in the slide.
Early chromatic harmonicas had an external spring that was a long rectangular shape and they arced from the right side of the comb and attached to the slide, or vice versa. These are said to have a smoother action than the internal springs of today, they are also a lot easier to access and work with than internal springs. However the spring is exposed and vunerable to damage and some people find them displeasing to the eye.
By design when you move the slide back and forth it exposes alternate sets of holes on the comb, this is how the two sets of reed tunings are seperated and selected.
Slide assemblies need to have close tolerances with minimal gaps to increase airtightness. Slide assemblies that have close tolerances tend to stick more readily which is remedied by regular cleaning, and dripping water through the slide assembly before and after playing, as described above. Slide assemblies that have more open tolerances don't tend to stick much, but makes for leaky instrument.
In most cases the chromatic harmonica slide is a long thin rectangular strip of metal with regular holes punched into the main body, it has a tang at one end with a button attached, and a small hole drilled to fit the slide spring. There are also one or two oval holes, for the mouthpiece screws to go through. There is usually a backing plate that goes between the slide and the front of the comb. It has holes punched out that match the cells on the comb.
Some chromatic harmonica slide assemblies have a flange sitting between the mouthpiece and slide. It forms a channel between itself and the backing plate for the slide to operate. All the Hohner wood comb 12 hole chromatics have this assembly. Other chromatic harmonicas have the flange integrated into the back of the mouthpiece, such as the Hohner 16 hole models. A few harmonica designs have a completely different mechanism for the slide such as the CX12 and the discontinued Hohner CBH 2016.
Usually a long thick strip of metal with holes for playing through, and a hole at each end where it is attached to the comb.
Some mouthpieces are designed to be integrated with the slide mechanism and encompass the slide and connect with the backing plate.
With any mouthpiece it is important it is smooth and friendly to the mouth & lips. Sharp edges, burrs and certain metal reactions and/or allergies can be the cause of discomfort, making the difference between a great instrument to play and an unpleasant experience discouraging the player. There are chromatic harmonicas made with plastic mouthpieces, also a few designs have the mouthpiece as an integral part of the harmonica cover in a single component to improve airtightness.
The chromatic harmonica covers form a protective shield around the reeds and valves primarily to protect them, and direct the sound out the rear of
Most covers are two plates of metal, one for the top and one for the bottom of the instrument and are attached to the comb with screws or nuts & bolts. Covers are typically made of stainless steel, plastic, or brass plated with: nickel, chrome, silver or gold. Chrome is hard wearing, as is nickel, silver is slick in the mouth and sticks to fingers, gold is soft and wears off easily. The front of the covers must fit tightly and form a proper seal at the front of the instrument by the mouthpiece to improve airtightness, to reduce vibration and in some cases to avoid cutting the players lips. Sometimes covers are a single component integrated with the mouthpiece like the Hohner CX12.
Most chromatic harmonica covers need some form of support so they don't buckle. This support usually comes in the form of:
That is basically what a chromatic harmonica is composed of. However there are a number of specific differences in design from one make or model to the next.
To completely disassemble/reassemble your harmonica, and to be able to repair/replace windsavers you will need the following tools
Wood combs can warp and crack. A typical symptom of
a cracked comb is two neigbouring notes become leaky and play at
the same time.
This is how to fix it:
You can purchase a new replacement comb from Hohner or HarpOnline.de and install it yourself.
Put the new comb front face down (where the mouthpiece goes)
on a flat surface such as a segment of polished Marble or
better yet 1/4" thick plate glass.
Start with one reedplate getting it so its flush at the front:
Hold the reedplate down with your fingers at each end and make sure all the notes are playing. It doesn't matter at this point if they are slightly leaky. If notes are not playing shift the reedplate around gently until everything is working properly.
Having found the ideal location, keep everything in place with one hand while pushing three nails in, one at each front corner and one center back. You will need to experiment to find the best way to go about this - but the principle is simple enough.
Having done this double check that all the notes are playing, and check that the front face of the reedplate is flush with the front face of the comb (using Marble or 1/4" thick plate glass). If it isn't, fill in the three nail holes with the tip of toothpicks, snap them off, and gently press the filler flush with the comb surface using a small hammer or 2mm punch and start again.
Having succeeded installing the first reedplate,
you will now have enough experience to do the other reedplate more efficiently.
Once both reedplates are installed and the notes are all working, tap in the rest of the nails. For this I use a 2mm punch and a small hammer.
If you cannot find a way to install reedplates properly with
all the notes working, it is very likely that the wood comb you have bought
has swollen. Its simple enough to visually check this by lining the reedplate
up with the comb and looking through the front of the chambers.
There are two ways of fixing this:
1. shave all the tines down to make them thinner, you may need to do the same to the outside walls of hole 1 & 12's chambers.
2. throw the comb away and find another solution.
You may want to give the front face of the comb/reedplates a very light
Tape or adhere 400 or finer grit sandpaper or wet and dry of dimensions at least 3" x 8" to a very flat surface, such as a piece of marble or 1/4" thick plate glass.
NB: Remove any stickers that you may find on the back of the abrasive paper. I am talking from experience.
NB: If the surface you adhere the abrasive to is not guaranteed flat there is no point in doing this as you'll only ruin the mating surface for the mouthpiece and slide assembly.
Place the front of the comb/reedplate assembly flat onto the abrasive paper at one end, use both hands to gently grip either end of the back of the comb /reedplate assembly and keeping it flat and even move it to the other end of the abrasive paper, pick it up, turn it around and repeat one more time only.
Once you have assembled the reedplates to the new comb you will need to drill the spring pin hole. Use a drill bit that just fits through the reedplate spring pin holes (3mm). A hand drill is preferable to a power drill if you are inexperienced at this. Drill half way into the comb from the top reedplate, flip the assembly over and do the same again. Install the spring, the spring pin and finish assembling your instrument.