Harp On! Reed Adjustment Article

G from Harp On! © 19 August 2001


This document is not gospel, it is a series of beginner guidelines of "How To's". Reed replacement and good reed adjustment can save you a lot of money. For books & material on the "How To" start with Doug Tate's "How to Make Your Harmonica Play Well", simply because it is a good book on harmonica maintenance, it only touches briefly on reed adjustment.

The Lee Oskar tool kit is also worth buying for two things - the brass "regapping" tool, and the instruction booklet. The brass regapping tool is almost an essential part of my kit and has been useful for countless things - it gets into places nice and neat - and with care can avoid a lot of otherwise difficult fiddly work around the harmonica.

And... download Pat Missin's awesome "Altered States" and dive into "REPLACE.TXT" and also I recommend reading "TUN.TXT" the entire file contains a wealth of information regarding tuning, tuning layouts and reeds that I haven't seen anywhere else. It's free!


After that it comes down to lots and lots of experimenting on cheap harps and making lots of mistakes, asking questions and finding the answers for yourself.

Search Harp-L, HarpTalk & Harp On! email group archives, just about everything related has been discussed at length.

It takes lots of practice, observation, comparison, experimenting and time. That's what makes the biggest difference: Once again observation, experimenting, trial and error is the best way to gain experience.


First things first.


How Do You Adjust Reeds?

With patience, care and 100% attention. Sober & without distractions. Start on a bunch of cheap harmonicas you can destroy as you learn.


Anything beyond beginner level really is a matter of practise, comparing what works against what doesn't work and experimenting ... hours and hours and days, weeks, months ... of twiddling and testing and trying. Use your eyes, observe and compare a lot. Trial & error.

Patience is the big secret in everything harmonica techs do. Patience to stick with it until its right, not almost right. Patience to learn from our mistakes and not quit due to mistakes. Patience to observe and understand reed mechanics and profile until its ingrained in their minds.

That is what makes the guys who do this stuff so good, not the "secrets of the trade".

There are "secrets of the trade", but before they are of much use to anyone, one needs the grounding and experience FIRST!

Personally I'd rather buy a decent instrument that doesn't need gapping or get an expert to do it. But even the best made harmonica may not be adjusted to a player's style and preferences.

Reed replacement and good reed adjustment can save you a lot of money.

And anyway I wanted to be able to buy a stock instrument and make it reasonably playable. When you can do it, its a neat gift to share with other harmonica players. I love being able to take apart an instrument that has caused a player considerable fustration and in an hour have something that has them rapt with it.


© 2001, Written by 'G'

For their additional comments,
technical corrections & proof reading many thanks to

Pat Missin


Mike Easton