First post here, and a question about customizing a reed plate. I'm tasked with playing a song that has one run that is very memorable, featuring a half-step sequence that simply can't be played on any standard harmonica. B and Db harmonicas come close, but they lack crucial notes in the run. I'm looking to take one reed up a half-step (B harp) or down a half-step (Db harp), but I don't know if that's even possible.
I'm a brass tech, and I have a few older Hohner harmonicas that I can use for spare reeds. I've tried customizing some cheap harps made by Johnson, ($6.00 apiece, and better than a lot of cheap name-brand stuff) but their reeds are drilled off-center, so I can't get the Hohner reeds to fit. I tried soldering a new reed to the plate, but the results were not right. I also tried:
1) Starting with a reed designed to play the correct note-in which case, once it was attached to the reed plate, the note changed.
2) Starting with a longer reed and removing metal--in which case the note got higher by a few cents each time, then suddenly jumped up drastically.
3) Shortening the reed and soldering in shim stock to close off the gap left behind--with similar results to the above.
I guess I could try mixing top and bottom reed plates to yield the right notes, or buying a Melodica which is what was used on the original recording, or learning to play the song on a chromatic harp, but I'm stubborn. Has anyone at the hobbyist level been successful at changing a single note on a reed plate?
Firstly, welcome to the Harmonica Club cheburashka, I hope we can provide the answers you seek. There are many fine players here of all types of music and levels of proficiency, so feel free to ask.
You can change the pitch of a reed by removing material from the tip of the reed: The pitch will rise.
Alternately, you can change pitch by removing material from the heel end of the reed (near the rivet): The pitch will lower. By removing material from the tip of the reed you easily raise the pitch of the reed a half step. You'll need some type of shim stock to support the reed, a small file such as an automotive points file to remove the material, and a chromatic tuner. Go slowly, marking your increments and checking your tuning as you procede, ALWAYS scrape/file toward the tip when raising pitch as going toward the tip can cause the reed to kink, fixable, but why create problems.
There is no need to change reeds, as raising the pitch a half step is a piece of cake, practice on a few "bungs" before you attempt it on a good harp. If you raise it too much you can always lower it by the technique described above. Good luck, and happy harpin'.
Regards, Reed Smith (Pete)
Thanks to both of you. My only experience, was buying a batch of three basket case Super Chromonicas from Goodwill, and learning about cracked reed blocks, and how many tiny things my hands used to be able to do, but can't anymore.
So if I follow you correctly, my mistake was trying to shorten the reeds, instead of trying to thin the reeds at the ends. Is that correct? When you say the end of the reed, do you mean the very tip, or something more like the final 1/3 of the reed?
Yes, you are correct, the reed tip end is the one to file when raising the pitch. I don't know which reed your are trying to tune, but if you look at reeds on the lower end you'll notice a rise or "pad" of material added to add weight on the lower pitched reeds. Use the length of these pads as a guide as to how far to sand/scrape material from the reed, this applies to both ends of the reed. Another rule of thumb for gapping the reeds also uses the reed pad, look at the thickness of the reed pad and make the reed gap (the space between the reed and the top of the plate at the reed tip) the same as the reed tip, not written in stone-overblow players like an even closer reed gap-but is a good starting place. Have at it, I get by here often enough to help you along if you have any questions.
What type of harp are you planning on using in performance. I ask because raising the pitch of one reed a half step will change the chording. I am assuming your are playing a single note melody and not chording. In that case I would recommend a harmonica tuned to Equal Temperament. Raising the pitch of one reed won't affect the over all playability of the instrument as it would a Just Intonation tuned harmonica.
Another consideration, harmonicas are tuned a bit higher than standard A440, most are tuned at least two cents higher to 442 and some as high as 443, so remember to set your tuner accordingly.
Cheburashka, yes you went to a lot of trouble trying to attach a reed. Reed Smith gave the clues for raising the note a half step. Just file a bit off the end. I’ve done it often. Same for adjusting tuning when a reed is going flat. Once you’ve filed a bit the advice is to plink it a bit, make it by lifting it and letting it go. This makes the reed settle and it can take some time to settle,sometimes. Have a go, but the harp might not be good for other songs with a reed out of normal tune.