Playing the harmonica is a fun hobby enjoyed by many people all over the world. However, sometimes problems can arise and the harmonica that you once enjoyed playing can stop working. This sometimes means that your harmonica reed needs to be replaced.
In this article, we will go over some common harmonica problems and will include a step-by-step guide on how to replace the reed on a harmonica. Don’t despair if your harmonica stops working properly, simply reed this article and fix your reed today!
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What is a Harmonica Reed?
So what exactly is a harmonica reed? The reeds on a harmonica are the elements that produce the notes or sounds. Reeds are usually made from brass, stainless steel, or bronze. Brass is often the most common material used for manufacturing harmonica reeds.
Below is some information on the different types of reeds:
- Brass reeds – soft material that produces a sweet tone
- Bronze reeds – produce a brighter tone than brass reeds
- Stainless steel reeds – the strongest and most durable type of reed
Reeds are usually tuned at the time of manufacturing. However, if you are having tuning problems, some harmonicas can be re-tuned at a later date if needed.
How to Fix a Reed on a Harmonica?
Below is a step-by-step guide on how to replace a reed on a harmonica – you can see a video example below too:
- Begin by disassembling the old reed plates. Do this by unscrewing the screws from the top reed plate using a Philips head screwdriver. Always handle the reed plated by their edges to avoid damaging them.
- To reassemble, orient the comb with the mouthpiece facing towards you and the longer chambers on the left. The top reed plate has the screw holes and is installed with the reeds face down towards the comb.
- The bottom reed plate has smaller screw holes and is installed with the reeds on the outside facing away from the comb and the free ends pointing towards you.
- Drop the screws into the screw holes on the top reed plate.
- Tighten the screws fully into the reed plates. It’s normal to hear a squeaking sound as you tighten the screws. Be sure they are screwed all the way down to ensure air-tightness.
- With a proper fit, the screws should be completely through the bottom reed plate.
- Now, test out your harmonica to ensure it is working correctly.
Harmonicas don't last forever, but there are things like the above you can do to prolong their life.
Common Harmonica Problems
Below is a list of some common harmonica faults and their possible causes:
- The Note Won’t Play
- The Note Creates a Strange Buzzing Sound
- The Harmonica Emits a High-Pitched Squeal When Playing
- You Need to Blow Too Much Air for Notes to Play
- The Notes Sound Weak
- The Note Doesn’t Play Right Away or It Sticks
- The Note Stopped and a Piece of Metal Fell Out
The Note Won’t Play
If the note you’re trying to play simply won’t play at all, then this could be caused by a number of issues. Below is a list of the issues that may be causing your harmonica to fail at playing notes:
- Something is obstructing the reed and affecting the free movement
- The harmonica may be incorrectly assembled
- The reed action may be incorrectly set
- The reed may be damaged or about to break off – this is often where you would need a reed replacement
The Note Creates a Strange Buzzing Sound
A buzzing sound when playing your harmonica is most often caused by dust or debris trapped within it. However, it could also be due to the reed being out of alignment. This can cause the reed to hit the sides of the slot it’s in when notes are played.
To prevent dust and debris from entering the harmonica, consider keeping it in a case when you’re not playing it. You can also prevent food and other debris from your mouth entering the harmonica by keeping your mouth clean before you play.
The Harmonica Emits a High-Pitched Squeal When Playing
High-pitched squeals are usually caused by torsional vibration. This is when a reed rocks from side to side. To avoid this, pay close attention to your breathing and the formation of your mouth, throat, and tongue when playing.
You can also fix this issue by dabbing a small amount of beeswax or nail polish into each of the corners near the base of the reed. You can also try putting a small drop of glue or some tape in the middle of the reed near the bottom to help soften the torsional vibrations.
You Need to Blow Too Much Air for Notes to Play
When you find yourself having to blow a lot of air for a note to play, this is often due to poor assembly of the harmonica. It usually indicates that the bolt that is closest to the reed may have become loose, causing air to escape.
If tightening this bolt doesn’t fix the problem, it could also be due to the reed action being set too high.
The Notes Sound Weak
This is usually a reed problem and could be one of two things – either the reed plates are not securely fastened to the comb or the reed plates and the comb are not fitting together properly.
This can be rectified by adjusting the reed plate slightly so that it fits correctly onto the comb.
The Note Doesn’t Play Right Away or It Sticks
When the note sticks or the note doesn’t make a sound right away, this is usually because the reed gap is too low. When the reed gap is too low, this can affect the way the air moves through the reed and can cause the note to last longer than intended or can cause the note to take much longer to make a sound. Raising the reed gap is the best way to fix this issue.
The Note Stopped and a Piece of Metal Fell Out
This is a sign that your harmonica has reached the end of its life. You can either buy a new harmonica, or you can repair this one. To repair it, you will need to replace the reed plates. You can buy new parts for a harmonica online or you can purchase spare parts from someone who has an old harmonica to spare. Alternatively, you can buy another harmonica and use parts from that to build your old one back to life.
Even if you do buy a new harmonica, you should still keep hold of the old one and save it for spare parts in case any problems arise with the new one.
How Do I Keep My Harmonica Clean?
It’s a good idea to keep your harmonica as clean as you can to ensure it stays in its optimum condition. Follow the tips below to keep your harmonica clean:
- Tapping the moisture out – Simply tapping the harmonica on the palm of your hand is usually enough to clean it after playing. This will remove most of the moisture trapped inside and then you can simply wipe this off using a soft, clean cloth.
- Removing foreign objects – If foreign objects become trapped inside the harmonica, these can be removed using the tip of a screwdriver or another small pointed object.
- Keep your mouth clean – A good tip – before playing your harmonica, clean your teeth and rinse your mouth out. This will prevent the possibility of food from getting trapped in the harmonica.
- Cleaning plastic harmonicas – Harmonicas that have a plastic comb can usually be dismantled for cleaning. Gently wash them out with some warm water and then reassemble. Tap all of the moisture out of it and dry it with a clean, dry cloth. Ensure it is completely dry before playing again.
How to Replace a Reed on a Harmonica, Final Thoughts
As you can see from our step-by-step reed replacement guide – it’s quite simple to replace the reed on a harmonica, providing you have the relevant pieces and a Philips head screwdriver handy.
It’s also quite simple to fix an array of other harmonica issues, as we’ve highlighted here.
We hope this article helps you fix your harmonica so that you can get back to playing those beautiful melodies once more!