The harmonica is a wonderful instrument that requires strength and control from the person who plays it. Harmonica players form a bond with their instrument; however, without routine care and maintenance, you’ll be buying a new harmonica sooner than you thought you would. Taking care of your harmonica will give it a long life and a beautiful, warming sound.
With routine maintenance, cleaning, and protection, a harmonica can last between six to nine months. Without those above, a harmonica will last about three months. They may also not need as frequent replacing if the reed can be replaced and the harp tuned.
Harmonicas are small, complex, and delicate, so cleaning and maintaining them can be a bit intimidating; however, it’s a fairly simple task!
But first, if it's your aim to do music professionally, you'll want to check out our free ebook while it's still available:
Free eBook: Discover how real independent musicians like you are making $4,077 - $22,573+ monthly via Youtube, let me know where to send the details:
Extending Your Harmonica’s Life
Harmonicas are great instruments to carry around and play with ease. They’re fun to learn, and almost anyone can learn how to play the harmonica. With how often they can be played and how delicate they are, most harmonicas only last a few months.
Taking excellent care of your harmonica is essential for giving it the longest life with the best quality sound. It’s difficult to say how long a harmonica will last because it depends on the harmonicist and how they care for and play the instrument. Many harmonicists have stated their harmonicas have lasted several years with excellent care and even daily playing.
Some care guidelines are:
- Use a protective case.
- Clean after each use
- Careful playing
- Replace worn or broken reeds
The most important part of your harmonica’s life is that you store it in a protective case when it’s not being used. Protective cases are also essential during transport to prevent unnecessary damage.
You’ll want a protective case that has a durable shell and cushioning on the inside to hold your harmonica in place. Without the cushioning, your harmonica can rattle around in its case and get dings and become warped.
When you put your harmonica back in its case after playing and cleaning, you should leave the case open to allow the harmonica to dry out and prevent mold and rust. Here are some of the best harmonica cases:
- JSL Harmonica with a case. It’s a great product to buy if you’re only looking to get one harmonica or are just starting out. It has a durable shell and a supportive, cushioned inside. It also comes with a microfiber wipe to clean your harmonic after use.
- Hohner Flex Case is an excellent harmonica case if you have multiple harmonicas. It holds up to forty-eight harmonicas! The case has a durable shell and cushioned slots to hold and separate each of your harmonicas.
If you don’t use a protective case, you can easily damage your harmonica. As mentioned earlier, your case should also have some form of cushioning and stabilization inside to prevent it from rattling around during transport.
Dropping or even dinging your harmonica can cause the exterior and the comb to morph or the reed to split. A split reed can be replaced; however, if you damage the other parts of your harmonica, it’s probably best to buy a new one.
Cleaning Your Harmonica
You should clean your harmonica after every use, even if it’s just wiping it down. Every few months, you should do a deep clean with your harmonica. Saliva, dead skin, dust, and hair can all get stuck into the instrument, and you wouldn’t want to be playing with all of that around your mouth. Oils from your hands can also build up on the instrument’s exterior.
Not only is it unsanitary to frequently play the harmonica with all of that residue in and on it, but it can also affect the sound quality with blockages from buildup. Even a small hair stuck in the reed can stop a note from coming out.
Cleaning After Every Use
When you purchase your harmonica, you should know that you should clean your harmonica after every use. Many harmonicas are sold with at least a wipe to clean them after playing. This will prevent saliva and other things mentioned from getting built up in the harp.
The main thing you should do to clean your harmonica after use is to rinse it under running lukewarm water. This will loosen any trapped debris or saliva. After you’ve finished rinsing, you should gently tap the mouthpiece against the heel of your hand to remove any trapped water. You should only do this if you have a metal or plastic comb, not a wooden one.
Another step for cleaning you should do after each time you play is to brush out the combs with a soft-bristled brush or wipe it with gauze to prevent buildup and also help dry out any moisture inside. Excess moisture left inside the harmonica can cause it to rust or grow mold.
Even if you regularly clean your harmonica, it will still require routine deep cleaning every two to three weeks or frequent playing. Bacteria and debris can build up and change the sound coming out of your harmonica.
If you’re going to deep clean your harmonica, you’ll need
- A harmonica repair kit
- Lukewarm water
- Soft-bristled brush
We’ve an excellent step-by-step guide on how to open, clean, and put your harmonica back together, so check that on our site. If your harp is wooden, you should only clean it with a dry brush. You should also make sure that the harmonica is completely dry before reassembling it. Never use a heat source to dry your harmonica; only let it air dry or use a dehumidifier in the room.
Playing Your Harmonica With Care
Another significant factor that will lengthen or shorten your harmonica’s life is how you play the instrument.
Certain techniques, such as bending and overbending, can easily wear out a harmonica.
Other things to consider when playing the harmonica are:
- Playing with a clean mouth. Brush your teeth and rinse your mouth before playing to prevent excess saliva or any leftover food in your mouth from getting stuck in the harmonica.
- Play with a room temperature harmonica. Playing a cold harmonica can affect the reed plate movement. If your harmonica is cold to the touch, place it in between your legs or under your arm to warm it up.
- Playing the harmonica gently will lengthen the life, but sometimes during performances, playing the harmonica aggressively is inevitable. Many harmonicists keep a case of several harmonicas on stage to switch out harmonicas if they need to.
Replacing and Tuning Reeds
Unfortunately, many harmonica owners prematurely replace their harmonicas, thinking that the harmonica is done if the sound has bad quality. However, a major reason for a harmonica’s sound becoming distorted or muted is a bent or broken reed.
A worn or damaged reed can break a note and cause your harmonica to sound out of tune. With regular playing, a reed can last about six months before needing to be replaced. You’ll need to buy a harmonica repair kit and watch a few videos, such as this one for how to replace or tune your reeds:
You might also want to practice on an older harmonica because the instruments are delicate. Not putting it back together correctly can damage the harmonica, making all the work you did pointless.
How Long Do Harmonicas Last? Final Thoughts
Harmonicas don’t have the best reputation for having a long life, especially because many low-quality harmonicas are available as toys. If you buy a good-quality harmonica, it will last longer than a cheap one, and with regular cleaning and routine maintenance, your harmonica can last for almost a year.