Q: What do I do if I blow out a reed?

A: If you are careful, with needle-nosed pliers you can pull out the soft
metal plug that holds the reed to the plate. You may have to start this by
pushing the plug out from the underside of the plate. A jeweler’s hammer
and awl can be used for pushing. The plug should come off with the reed
attached. Pull out your blown reed the same way. You can transplant the
assembly–plug and reed–to another plate by pressing the plug into the new
plate. Press the replacement reed into place by hand, then use the tip of
the pliers to make sure that the reed is flush with the plate–do this
without squeezing the plug.

Once you have it in place, gently crush the plug from above and below the
plate with the pliers. This causes it to expand and grip the plate.
Finally, make sure that the reed tip rests above but close enough to the
plate for vibration to work. I’ve repaired several harps this way, always
replacing reeds with the same reed from a spare-parts harp by the same
manufacturer. Using a different reed and cutting or shaving it down to
size will almost always fail.

Downsides: This will typically last half as long as the original reed. The
replacement reed will have slightly different tonal qualities. It’s easy
to mash the plug in wrong. I didn’t really get it right until my third
repair. — “BLOWN REEDS — how to repair” 7 Jan 93 MB

>From ” Replacing bad reeds” 7 Jan 93 DA:

Don’t throw those away! You can replace the individual reed if you are
handy with small tools and can re-tune reeds with an electronic tuner.

First punch out the bad reed rivet from the bottom. Then select a reed
from your “parts harp” to replace it with. The reed you replace it with
should be the same tone or lower than the original reed and the same length
or longer so that you can tune it up by filing or scraping on the free end.
(If the replacement is higher in frequency, you have to file on the rivet
end to lower the pitch and this weakens the reed considerably.)

The replacement reed and rivet will stay together as you punch the rivet
out with an awl or pin punch. Take this reed to the reed plate you are
replacing and line it up with the slot in the plate and the hole for the
rivet. (I use scotch tape to keep everything in alignment while I tap the
rivet into the hole with a small hammer and set the rivet by light tapping
until everything is solid.) Don’t tap too much or you will flatten the
rivet and the reed will be loose.

You now have a reed attached to the reed plate of the harp in question, but
the fun is about to begin. First adjust the alignment of the reed by
holding the reed plate up to the light and gently twisting on the rivet end
of the reed until you see light through the slot on both sides of the reed.

If the replacement reed is too long, just get some small diagonal cutters
or a flat (not curved) set of toe nail clippers and take off a little
from the length until the reed will swing through the slot. Work slowly
here because if you take too much, the reed will sound very airy.

Test the reed by plucking it with a small knife or screwdriver. If it
doesn’t swing freely, look for problems like improper alignment or a bent
rivet which doesn’t center the reed in the slot.

Now set the “action” of the reed to about 1 to 2 thicknesses of the reed
from the reed plate. If this offset is too much, it will be hard to get
the reed started. If the offset is too little, the reed may not start
vibrating when you blow.

You now have a new reed installed which will sound when you blow into the
harp, but it is probably a wrong note especially if you used a lower tone
reed than the original, but this too can be fixed. Get out your electronic
tuner and reed files/scrapers and go to work. I have been able to tune
reeds up by more than 2 whole steps and get a reliable and good sounding
tone. This takes practice.

I have found that the new kit from Lee Oskar contains some helpful advice
and a new tool which I hadn’t used before and which I now find
indispensable in tuning reeds, the Reed Scraper. This tool is a scalpel
like chisel which is used to scrape material from the reed tip. Using this
tool, I have been able to remove material evenly from the reeds and get a
very smooth finish. Again, this takes patience but the reward is yet to

When you have that new reed tuned up. Why stop there? I find that I
really enjoy playing on a harp that is in tune so I continue to check and
re-tune all the reeds that need it. Have you ever wondered why those new
harps sound so good right out of the box? For me, the reason was tuning.
When you get the whole thing in tune with itself, it will sound like new.

The best part of this is that I have done this to 4 of my better harps, 2
Golden Melodies and 2 Meisterklasses and the repairs are holding up very
well. In fact, I can’t tell which reeds I replaced unless I open the
covers and look at the rivet and scrape marks on the reeds.

Don’t avoid this because you think it might be hard. Folks have been
telling me this was hard for years, but when I tried it, I was successful
my first 4 out of 4 tries. And… I’m not into hock to Mr. Hohner for 4
new harps — ” Replacing bad reeds” 7 Jan 93 DA

From “RE; ReedMods” 4 Jan 94 JE:

If they imply you should throw away your broken harps – DON’T. One of
these days you’ll learn how to repair them and/or pirate parts from one to
fix another. Throw them in a “bone box” and keep them for a rainy day.

>From reading some of the postings already I see that I actually have to
>Break In my new Harp…Also, on the Lee Oscar, I understand that they
>aren’t usually in tune to begin with and modifications are necessary.
>(I have to become a technician too 8-( ) ahhhh).

Lots of pros and cons on this – I don’t break in my harps – probably
because I’m a relatively “soft” player – If I need loud I let the mic do
the work. But in general it is probably a good idea to break them in.

I can’t comment on out of tune harps – I have never found a new harp to
be seriously out of tune. What does that say about my ear? Of course you
have to realize too – I am a government worker. I have had new harps in
need of some tweaking to improve response.

>As a beginner I’m missing a whack of tools in my tool kit. HOW DOES ONE
>MODIFY the reeds to give it the proper tone?

I can recommend two excellent books – One is just recently available from
Dick Gardner. I haven’t seen this one yet but my co-editor gives it a
thumbs up! – send $10.00 to Dick at…

7024 Jocelyn Ave. S.
Cottage Grove, MN 55016-3640
(612) 458-1193

The other is from Dr. Harp (aka BSHC’s Richard Smith) Write…

Buckeye State Harmonica Club
4532 Benderton Ct.
Columbus, OH 43220

Oh, this one is $5.00 — I recommend both. If you only buy one, get
Gardner’s – the humor alone is worth it.

TOOLS– Lee Oskar sells a nifty little repair kit in a roll up pouch
for around $25 list. It is designed for L. O. harps – so it only contains a
Phillips screwdriver. Add a small flat head and you’re equipped to do minor
repairs – read adjustment, tuning. etc. A how to sheet is included.

F & R Farrell Co. – has various harmonica repair tools. call 1-800-438-3543
or 1-800-438-3544 & ask for a catalog.

Finally, most people who get half way serious about harmonica repair
end up populating their own tool kits with stock tools and sometimes homemade

Here are some things to look for…
a) Precision screwdrivers – flat & Phillips.
b) A GOOD set of forceps with angled or curved tips.
c) Fine file
d) Sharp scraping tool (razor blade, Exacto, etc.)
e) Soft tooth brush
f) 91% Isopropyl alcohol
g) Feeler gauge material or thin metal strip
h) Tooth picks
i) Soda straw (cut to approx. 2″ – makes a nice reed setting tool).
j) Small pliers
k) Light weight hammer.
l) Ask your dentist if he will save some old dental tools for you.

Now dig up an old harmonica (one you don’t care about) and go to it.
Hint for #1 project – Retune the draw 5 reed up 1/2 step (F to F# on a C
harp). You do this by scraping or filing small amounts off the free end of
the reed. Use the gauge material to slide under the reed for support.
File/Scrape a little at a time and test often. You will probably have to
adjust the reed set
after you get the pitch right. If you have any luck at all you will have a
quick and dirty country tuned harp.

That’s just a start – I’m sure you’ll get more ideas from this list and
from the repair manuals mentioned above.
— “RE; ReedMods” 4 Jan 94 JE


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The JT30 Page Popular links

I began collecting data about the microphones used by blue harp players before there was an internet. I began organizing it into JT30.com in the late 1990s. I accumulated more stuff than I remember. This is some of it.

Street Theory

A Harp Player’s Guide to Music Theory

Learning Harp

Picking Up Blues Harp

A guide to learning to play Blues Harp

Microphone Information

Usenet Articles

Harp Amps

I've been collecting Harp Amps for a while. This is the old Harpamps.com website. There is lots of information here. Here a coupld of links.

Harp Tab

A collection of songs and riffs that I’ve worked out over the years, plus some libraries of stuff I’ve converted to tablature. I’ve included most of the notes and instructions that helped me when I was learning to play blues harmonica.

Basic Riffs Simple harp tabs for songs Blues riffs and phrases.

Harp-L Archives 1992 to 2002


Harp Frequently Asked Questions