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Reed Set-up/Gap

Probably the most important factor in harmonica customizing is the reed set-up. I believe that stock reed set-ups are probably the single most determining factor in which harps players choose in spite of the fact many will say it is the comb construction, tuning, etc. Reed set-up is a personal choice that varies among players and the reasons are infinite, but when you get down to it (Or on it), your playing and sound is determined by the way the reeds are gapped. Low reed gaps are great for easy/light playing players who are disciplined enough to use a consistent breathing pattern up and down the comb. Over blows/bends and other techniques are achieved more consistently when there is a low reed gap. In other words, when the reed – in resting state – is close to the reed plate and slot.

However, many content (And talented) players do not attempt over blows so a higher reed gap is acceptable. Also, the higher gap allows a greater margin for error when attacking notes hard.

Here’s what happens. A low reed-when hit hard-will sink down into the reed slot, stop vibrating, and choke. A choke is a good thing when attempting an over blow/draw. It isn’t a good thing when you are ripping an awesome solo and the high sustaining note that was going to have everyone on their feet sounds like a squeaky door slamming shut.

I have a very bad habit of setting reed gaps too low. Since as a player, I am learning over blows I can’t seem to get away from the notion that every player out there wants an over blow harp. Of course this isn’t the case and I am becoming more mindful of this.

If you have a harp that just doesn’t play right on certain notes, try this easy test. Sound the note very gently straight on. If it sounds, start blowing harder. Most likely, the note will choke and this means that the reed gap is set too low. Occasionally, the note will sound regardless of how hard you play it straight on but while playing it chokes. To test-and correct- this, lowdly play the adjacent notes (Holes on each side) and slide into the subject note without changing the airstream. If the note chokes, you know the reed gap is still too low.

I have also seen instances where a note will sound crisp and clear, but after a few moments of playing, it begins to choke. Although I haven’t tested this theory, I am betting that you are a wet player or that you are putting excessive saliva (Or beer) into the reeds and they are choking after getting soaked. This happens with tongue blockers, as well. Either way, the simple fix is just to increase the reed gap.

See my You Tube video on reed gapping for tips on how to adjust your reeds.

Lastly, whether you order your harps from me or another customizer, let us know how you play, what techniques you like, whether you play hard or soft, dry or wet mouth, and what problems you have had with other harps. Remember, a harp isn’t a custom unless it is built for YOU!


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