Chromatic Harmonica Windsavers


HH270 reedplate with Hohner valves

How to Replace Your
Chromatic Harmonica

NB. This page currently does not cover Bass & Chord harmonicas despite their chromatic nature.

or "valves" save your breath and make the chromatic a much friendlier instrument to play.

Windsavers are the consumable item of the chromatic harmonica, they are also the sore point for many players. When they work well you hardly know they are there. But damaged, sticky or poorly installed windsavers are very noticable and ruin the response of the instrument. Windsavers are usually a neccessary evil to making the instrument playable.

Because they are in direct firing line of the player's breath they become wet, dirty & sticky. When windsavers are at their worst, they buzz, stick to the reedplate making popping sounds, stop reeds from playing, or stick open rendered inactive.

Therefore it is vital for a chromatic harmonica player to learn how to clean windsavers (covered in cleaning), and especially how to replace windsavers.
This isn't as scary as it first may seem, and it will save you a lot of fustration later on.

Windsaver Repair

There are a few techniques that get sticky windsavers going again, or reseat windsavers down properly. In my experience I have found you can easily spend more time repairing a dying windsaver with limited results than just replacing it.

Firstly you can avoid condensation in the first place by warming your chrom up to just above breath tempurature.
cold metal & warm breath = condensation & sticky windsavers.
warm metal & warm breath = a happy chromatic.

If a windsaver is the two layered variety with a stiff top flap and softer bottom flap, the two flaps can stick together usually caused by residue or condensation, limiting the windsavers movement. Get a pin, or a small pen knive, or something equally small, sharp & hard and slip it between the two flaps to seperate them. Or you can use a retracted pen tip, the end of a flat head screw driver, or edge of a brass implement. Press it against the tip of the bottom flap and push it carefully towards the base, just enough to cause it the valve to buckle slightly and force the top flap to release the bottom giving you a reprieve. But you'll eventually need to clean or replace it.

You can prevent some of these two flap valve problems by sticking a thin strip of micropore between the two flaps of the offending valve, across the middle of the bottom flap. However I don't personally do this.

If a 2 flap windsaver has got it's top flap bent out of shape then use a pin or small piece of wire like a straightened paper clip, place 0.008" feeler gauge between the two flaps. Use the feeler gauge as support to slide the wire perpendicular to the windsaver running from the base to the tip under the top windsaver flap, applying pressure onto the top flap and pin with your thumb as you go.

Rick Epping has come up with a very useful
impliment for tensioning valves (2 flap variety) which I use on a regular basis. You can read the article on Harmonica Resources. This can be used to correct the problems mentioned above.

After this if your windsavers are still buzzing or popping, then I recommend cleaning, retensioning or replacement.

Buying Windsavers

I recommend purchasing Hohner windsavers, of all the available brands they work very well and are readily accessible in any shop that normally stocks Hohner harmonicas. You can order a pack of replacement windsavers from Hohner directly, or through your favourite music shop. You can find Hohner contact details under Hohner repairs. Hohner valves fit all harmonicas I'm aware of.

This page used to have a section on making your own valves. However after some years of repairing harmonicas professionally, I now steer people away from this approach. Because at best they perform poorly and create more problems than they solve. Hohner valves are inexpensive and perform much better when set up properly.

Replacing Windsavers

Disassemble your chromatic harmonica until you have easy access to the windsaver you want to replace.
If you have a wooden comb with nailed reedplates it's possible to avoid removing the reedplates for windsavers in the chamber. Instead remove the mouthpiece and work with tweezers for the windsaver & a toothpick for the glue reaching in through the mouthpiece hole. Use the counterpart reed hole on the other side of the reedplate to measure windsaver length. This is a plausible approach especially if you find wood combs swell when you take them apart. However in my experience I get better results when I remove the reedplates. Read the disassembly instructions carefully and follow my recommendations.


Remove the old windsaver(s) and try to remove all the remaining debris as much as possible but be careful. You want a clean flat surface to stick the new windsaver on. I found the brass regapping tool that comes with Lee Oskar's toolkit excellent. Now I use a brass tool I make from a 1/8" brass rod, very similar in shape except it has a sharp straight wedge instead of a spatula which makes it easy to remove windsavers and gunk from the reedplate.

You want some form of glue to stick the windsaver down with. You want something strong enough to hold it in place for the duration of its life, but won't pose a problem when you want to remove it. I recommend super glue.

Super glue is cheap, it sets quickly and it's easy to scrape off. You can buy blister packs of 5 to 10 2gm tubes for very little money. Get a small flat block of wood or similar specifically for super gluing valves. Apply a small puddle of super glue to the block of wood, then use a toothpick to apply the glue to the reedplate. But take care with super glue.
Obtain a can of asetone and keep it and a rag on hand in case you get glue on yourself or somewhere it shouldn't be. Quickly dip the rag into the acetone and apply. While working with super glue, flex your fingers apart regularly to make sure you haven't glued them together, or the toothpick to your fingers. If you stay alert, there's no danger. I've been using it for years, and only had to use the acetone once and it wasn't to myself. If you have any health concerns of using super glue on your harmonica, I've written an
article on the topic.

Other people's suggestions for glue include: Hohner windsaver glue (the original expensive red messy stuff), Duco Cement (weak & mediocre), Arts & Crafts general purpose glue (strong, stringy, smelly & can damage plastic on contact), along with many others.

Always install the windsaver on the opposite side of the reed, and adhere the base end to where the reed's rivet comes through the reedplate. You'll see which way to orient it by looking at all the other windsavers anyway.

You may want to use a rotary tool to grind the tip of the rivet flush with the reedplate. Hohner's modern valves no longer have a dimple, so it's worth spending the time to carefully grinding each tip flush, you only have to do it once per instrument. In the long term it'll ultimately be quicker and easier than punching a hole for every valve you replace. The more area that can be glued down, the better the valve will perform. Punching a hole through the valve's base to fit it around a rivet tip reduces it's stability and can compromise it's long term behaviour.

Apply glue to the reedplate where the rivet comes through, press the tip of the new windsaver to the opposite end of the reedslot from the glue. Covering less than 1mm or 1/32", shuffle it into position without letting it contact the glue, then reduce tension allowing the base to lower down onto the glue, and press it firmly home with your thumb or finger for a few seconds. It takes practice to install valves properly, and poorly installed valves mess up the response and fine tuning of your instrument. But please persevere, it's a very valuable skill!

After I've installed all the valves, I use Rick Epping's impliment to retension their top flaps.

Teflon Windsavers

Vern Smith wrote on
Mon Jan 29, 2001

I "discovered" and tried teflon valves several years ago and shared my experience on harp-l. The harp-l archives should have a lot of discussion between me and Doug Tate about them.

The material is made by DuPont and is marketed as "Bakeware Liner" with kitchen accessories. It is a little hard to find...I suggest that you call DuPont at 1-800-986-2857 to find out where to buy it. (or try NoStik® Permanent Oven Liner)
I don't think it has been very successful as a kitchen product so when you find some, get enough to last you. I have what is for me a lifetime supply because I do not use it commercially and because I am old as dirt.

The material is Teflon/PTFE coated on fiberglass fabric. It is used as a single-part valve. Douglas Tate suggests that if particular care is taken that it lies flat at installation, it will remain so.

The non-stick properties of Teflon seem to make it less susceptible to sticking. The material is unaffected by moisture and different temperatures. The fact that it is single-part avoids the most common source of curling...the two parts stuck together by gunk.

I have tried Micropore laminated on mylar (some purchased and some home-made) and had trouble with them curling away from the reedplate. I prefer the teflon valves. I have successfully used just the .002" mylar without the Micropore against an engraved reedplate.

My "belt-and'suspenders" way of avoiding valve problems is as follows.

  1. Teflon valves.
  2. Immerse (and do not rinse) the harp in a diluted solution of dishwasher no-spot "Jet-Dry" or equivalent surface-tension reducing liquid. This is the liquid that the machine dispenses a few drops to a load from a reservoir. It is NOT the detergent powder that you put in with every load.
  3. From Bonfiglio and others... warm harp to about 100degF before playing.
  4. Engrave/roughen the reedplate around the slot where the valve touches it with a pointed tool (sandpaper grooves are not adequate). The work is done not by the grooves but by the burrs raised by the tool. The burrs prevent condensation from forming a surface-tension seal by avoiding continuous contact of the valve edges to the plate.

In certain situations one of the above will solve your problem. Consistently using all four will give you a margin of safety.

It is OK to publish the above in any non-profit medium for the benefit of all chromatic players.

Your mileage may vary!


In Addition

Douglas Tate said on
Mon Jan 29, 2001

Further to Vern's post about the teflon valves.

Vern is quite right in what he quoted me as having said. When these valves are well fitted they stay FLAT... the just DIE in place.

Quite frequently this stuff comes in rolls. Inevitably, when you unroll it there is some curvature left. You can try to take the curve out completely of the whole sheet but we wait until the material is cut into 1/8" wide strips.

After a LOT of experimenting we have found that a strip about 6 1/2" long is great...(the sheet is 13 inches wide.) We cut a couple of dozen strips and keep them in a stoppered tube. (easy to slide them out and they lay flat in there)

To get rid of the curve in the material, if there is one, do this.

On a piece of white paper draw a black, thin, straight line. If you now look down on the paper and hold the end inch or so of the strip on edge a few inches above the line you can see if it is straight because it will disappear into the line. For even more accurate 'measuring hold it a tiny bit to one side of the line... it is easier to judge the straightness by the amount of white between the teflon and the black line!

If you see that it is curved smooth out the curve between thumb and forefinger. and check again... ONLY work with a bit more than a reed length... then glue the whole strip onto the reed plate. When the glue is dry slice off the unwanted bit. **Tip** Slice it level with the corner of the reed pad next to the reed you are doing in the same hole. That is where the end of the slot is.

This sounds fiddly... and it is. We have been putting these valves on Renaissance harmonicas for two years now. We have one VERY wet player who finds that they last many times as long as standard or micropore flaps before needing washing... and he finds them easier to wash. If you are a wet player you will stick ANYTHING in time :) I have got one valve that is starting to stick after two years and will wash it ...... tomorrow ... maybe.

This information may be used in any non profit making way. Any alteration to the wording MUST be approved by me.

I have to repeat our debt to Vern for pointing us to this material and being kind enough to send us a sample in the first place.

Douglas Tate
ILUS Harmonicas.


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