How To Clean A Harmonica In 7 Easy Steps

How To Clean A Harmonica In 7 Easy Steps

If you want to ensure that your harmonica lasts you a long time, you need to make sure you keep it clean. A harmonica is a small but powerful instrument that can get dirty easily if you constantly use it. Many human contaminants can cause your harmonica to deteriorate faster if you do not properly maintain it.

Cleaning a harmonica does not have to be a difficult task. It should be something that you do regularly to ensure that your pocket instrument lasts longer. If you follow the easy steps in this article, you will become an expert at cleaning your harmonica in no time.

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Open Your Harmonica

Open Your Harmonica

The exterior of your harmonica can play a major role when defining the level of the tone that you get when you play. The sound also comes from the style of the harmonica, which can give you access to different projections.

All harmonicas have special purposes and effects that create unique tones. Here are some of the most commonly used harmonicas:

  • Bass
  • Chromatic
  • Diatonic
  • Octave
  • Tremolo

Taking your harmonica apart can seem like a tedious task because it involves using tools to remove the cover plates. Surprisingly this task does not have to break your pocket because you might already have everything you need in your toolbox (or kitchen junk drawer).

These are the tools that you will need to open your harmonica:

  • Small Philips screwdriver
  • Small flat-head screwdriver

Since most harmonicas have the same parts, these two screwdrivers can help you clean any of the different brands that you may own.

Remove Cover Plates

The cover plates in a harmonica allow players to show their talents through their abilities in the way that they choose to play high and low tones.

Harmonicas have two different cover plates that protect the reeds. Let's get started on your maintenance task:

  • Open cover plates: If you have a harmonica with an open cover plate, it has louder acoustics. The open side vents will enhance the tone of the harmonica.
  • Closed cover plates: If you have a harmonica with a closed cover plate, the tone is more muted. When someone refers to a muted sound, the side vents are closed.

The best way to remove the cover plates from your harmonica is by doing the following:

  • Identify the location of the screws
  • Unscrew the visible screws softly by turning them counter-clockwise. Remember the general rule: Righty tighty; lefty loosy.
  • Remove the cover plate from both sides

Remember that the screws you are removing are very small, so it is important to keep them in one place to avoid misplacing them. Using a small dish as a holder can be helpful and prevent a frantic search later.

Remove Reed Plates

A harmonica has fewer parts because of its size, but its size doesn't limit the quality of the music you can play with it.

As you are playing, an excess of spit that enters a harmonica is inevitable, but your harmonica can be cleaned often to avoid any excess buildup. Usually, when the residue is on the reeds, it can cause a change in the instrument's ability to have good sound quality—this why you should ensure that you follow through with simple maintenance tips.

To begin removing the reeds, you will need the two screwdrivers that you used in the previous step. As before, unscrew the screws to open the reed plates.  

Be careful with the screws in the reeds; these are even smaller than those used on the cover plates. Ensure that you separate them, so you know where they belong when you are ready to reassemble your harmonica. 

Clean The Reeds And Comb

If you constantly play your harmonica, you will notice a change in the sound's sharpness over time. This is due to the environmental particles that enter the harmonica, causing buildup to be stored in the reeds and comb's corners and creases.

To complete this step, you will need the following tools:

  • Alcohol
  • Two bowls
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpicks
  • Towel

Before you begin this cleaning process, you must identify the sections where the dirt is located. Once you inspect the reeds and the comb thoroughly, you can begin by completing the following steps:

  • Remove Dirt: With the help of a toothpick, you will begin by removing any visible dirt on the reeds and the comb. Most of the buildup can be found on the creases and corners of both sides of these parts.
  • Disinfect Pieces: Pour some alcohol in a small bowl and brush the rest of the dirt off gently from side to side and lengthways with the solution and a toothbrush.
  • Rinse Pieces: Place the brushed reeds and comb in a separate bowl with water to rinse off the alcohol. 
  • Dry Pieces: Thoroughly dry the reeds and comb with a towel, making sure that there is no water left.

Fix The Tuning

Fix The Tuning

When you breathe through your harmonica, it can produce different sounds depending on the style of harmonica that you have. Exposure to dirt and exposure to the saliva can cause the sound accuracy to change.

If you notice a change in your harmonica's tone, you can tune it until you have back in pitch.

After you clean your harmonica, you will need to have these tools to complete the next step:

  • Any thin piece of metal, plastic, or blade
  • Feeler gauge
  • Fine sanding detailer

Once you have the tools, you can follow the indicated steps to tune your instrument correctly:

  • Step 1: Check if the reeds are working correctly by using the feeler gauge to lift them individually.
  • Step 2: Place the thin metal, plastic, or blade between the reeds and the plate and lightly shave off the desired amount from the lifted part of the reeds.
  • Step 3: Lift every reed carefully to ensure no remaining residue is left from the shaving.

Here are ways to ensure that your harmonica is tuned up properly after you clean it:

  • Set the reed gaps in the desired position
  • Complete final adjustments of the reed gaps by testing the sound before putting it back together

Once you have finished cleaning your harmonica's airways, you may notice a change in the sound. If the sound is not to your liking, you will need to adjust the reeds repeatedly until you have achieved the tone you want.

Test The Harmonica

Once you have tuned up your harmonica, you will need to test it to make sure that it has the sharpness that you desire. This is necessary because if the acoustics are off, you will have to go back and adjust the reeds again. 

Here are a few things that you can do:

  • Put the cover plates and reed plates together without screwing them
  • Hold the cover plates on each side together and blow through the reed holes
  • Make sure the notes that you are producing are the correct pitch

If you notice that the sound is off after testing the harmonica, you can repeat the tuning process again until you have accurate results.  

Put It Back Together

To finalize all the work you have done to clean your harmonica, you will have to put it back together.

The best way to do this is by completing the steps listed below:

  • Hold the comb and place the side with the longer reeds to your left-hand side.
  • Grab one of the reed plates and line it up with the comb.
  • Place one reed plate with the blow notes facing downwards and on top of the comb.
  • Place the second reed plate on the other side of the comb with the blow notes facing outward.

You want to make sure that the reeds are lined up properly on the comb so the air can access the proper channels. You can always check to see if the low notes are on the left to confirm accuracy. This simple test can reassure you that you are putting the harmonica back together correctly.

You can now place the screws in the corresponding holes by tightening them.

How To Clean A Harmonica, Final Thoughts

It is important to maintain your harmonica. Regular cleaning will keep your harmonica free of germs, buildup, and deterioration. Ensuring that your harmonica's pitch is always in tune is key to having a long-lasting instrument 

P.S. Remember though, none of what you've learned will matter if you don't know how to get your music out there and earn from it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free ‘5 Steps To Profitable Youtube Music Career' ebook emailed directly to you!

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