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Harmonica Upkeep by Jon Harl

David Barrett Admin's picture

Kinya Pollard (the HarpSmith) has provided a lot of very good instruction on harmonica repair, upgrades, and upkeep on the website. Please make note that for repairing and modifying harmonicas that you have to look at and adjust a lot of reeds to be able to do a professional job.

I get quite a few questions from clients on how to care for their harmonica. First, every player needs to know how to tune and gap their own harmonicas. Tuning and gapping are very personal to each player. These two skills are on the easy side. If you don’t feel confident, try working on your “beater” harps first (the one’s that are old and tired, so you’re not ruining a relatively new harmonica). Second, you need to purchase a basic set of tools. A plinker/reed wrench, appropriate screwdriver, a tuner app, a file, an ultrasonic cleaner, and a tooth brush. Lastly, buy modern harmonicas that are put together with screws, and make sure you have the correct screwdriver for it (phillips vs. pozidriv).

Here’s what I do (less is better). On the harps that I play regularly (A and Bb) I take them apart about every two months. I drop the reed plates in the ultrasonic cleaner, with that month’s cleaning solution, and run them through two cycles. Blow them off with compressed air and lay them on a paper towel to dry. When they’re dry I’ll plink all the reeds to make sure they ring and check the gaps and make necessary adjustments. If the comb is waterproof I’ll put the comb and covers in the ultrasonic for two cycles and dry them. For wood and bamboo combs I use a dry tooth brush and get all the dried saliva brushed off, being careful to not break the tines. I then reassemble the harp and have some fun playing.

I look at my harps before I put them in my mouth (most of the time). Every so often, in between cleaning, I’ll take a tooth pick and remove bits of “stuff” at the edge of the hole. I never stick anything into the hole very far. That’s about all I do until a reed gets stuck or I break a reed.