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Harmonica Lessons: Adjusting Reed Clearances

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[MUSIC]
Okay, now I'm gonna show you how to adjust
reed clearances to make the overblows and
over draws come out more easily.
This is a stock golden melody that
was sitting around my house and
I grabbed it because it's
an instrument I really never played.
I don't know where it's from, nothing.
All I know is that it plays
pretty well if I were to play it.
[MUSIC]
Overblows sort of come out.
[MUSIC]
Not great,
so I'm gonna try to make
them come out better.
Now the fifth hole.
[MUSIC]
That has kind of a shriek on it.
So I'm just gonna push
the fifth hole draw reed.
This one right here, in with my thumbnail.
Until it looks like it's a little
bit closer to the reed plate.
I'll check it, I'll draw on it.
[SOUND] It still works [SOUND],
it's still shrieking.
Now I'm gonna press the fifth hole
blow reed in with a screwdriver.
Now it's really close,
I don't know if it will even work.
[SOUND] It's closed off the chamber,
it doesn't work by itself,
but you see the overblow
comes out really well.
So now I say,
I pushed it a little bit too far.
I'll push it back a little bit, and
I sight down the end and in here,
you really can't see it, but there's
a little black area that is the clearance
between the tip of the reed and
the edge of the slot.
And we wanna make sure
that it's still there.
If it's not there,
the harmonica won't sound.
So now, [SOUND] it will sound.
[SOUND] There's a little bit of a shriek.
If I want to, I could get some beeswax and
put it over the rivet pad.
It would probably solve that problem.
[SOUND] But I can bend the overblow
all the way up to the G,
to the sixth hole blow.
[SOUND] And if I put the reed cover
plate on it might even smooth that out
a little more.
Let's see if it does.
[SOUND] It's fine.
[SOUND] A little bit of a shriek and
I'm not here to put on a clinic
on getting rid of shrieks,
but believe me I could do it.
[SOUND] Now, the sixth hole blow,
[SOUND] overblow,
I can get it to go up to
a [SOUND] up to an F sharp.
Let's see if I can get it
to go a little further.
First, I'll press in the six
draw bend a little bit.
[SOUND] Sounds a little clearer already.
Then I'm gonna press in toward
the reed plate, the sixth blow bend.
The six blow reed rather.
[SOUND] Now do you see what just happened?
Now, I can overblow that sixth
hole blow up all the way to C.
[SOUND] Just by doing that,
you can see how much easier this is.
Okay, now with the fourth hole,
what I'm going to do, [SOUND],
this one sort of works,
it works pretty well.
I'm going to make it not work.
I'm going to push these
reeds out really far.
Because sometimes you'll have
a harmonica where the reeds are adjusted
very far out from the reed play.
Might buy a cheap harmonica or
some brand made in some real
cheesy factory in China somewhere.
[LAUGH] Sorry.
But they do make real
cheap ones sometimes.
[SOUND] Barely works.
[SOUND] If I put the reed
cover plates on and
try to play, [SOUND] it barely works.
Okay, now I'm gonna push them back.
First this one.
[SOUND] Too close.
[SOUND] And this one.
[SOUND] I can get it to go up almost
a half step, let's see if I can
do it better by adjusting the blow
reed a little bit better.
[SOUND] I'm gonna put something over
the bottom to make sure
it's still working.
[SOUND] Now I got it to go all
the way up to a fourth.
So I just wanted to show you that I
could undo and redo these adjustments.
[MUSIC]
[MUSIC]
Now we'll deal with the overdraws.
Let's see if the overdraws on
this harmonica work at all.
Stock golden melody from somewhere.
[MUSIC]
Barely, [SOUND] not at all.
Okay.
So first I'll do the barely.
And I'm looking at the seven draw and
I see that I can see some black over
here if I sight down it at the end.
I'm gonna try to make that black go away.
Around the sides and the end.
[MUSIC]
That's a little bit louder.
And the seven blow the same thing.
I'm sliding down it.
I see some black.
I'm gonna try to make that
black get a little bit smaller.
And these are very short reeds.
It takes a little doing,
they're sort of stiff.
[SOUND] That sounds better.
I'll put the reed cover plates back on.
[MUSIC]
They still work.
And this is how you double check.
You do mouth breathing very quickly
[SOUND] make sure that the reeds still
respond.
It's very responsive.
[SOUND] Which leads me to think
that I could probably adjust
both of them quite a bit closer.
And when I push down, I push down kinda
down toward the base of the reed,
because the tip has a natural curve.
And you don't wanna endanger that curve,
but also,
you don't get as much leverage
pushing down by the tip.
[SOUND] I push that in.
I can see a slight difference.
It looks like there's
a little bit less black.
In that slot and at the end.
[MUSIC]
Now you can hear the overblow coming up,
and the overdraw coming out much stronger.
And this is the kind of
thing you can do yourself.
It doesn't take that
much doing to do this.
And you shouldn't be intimidated.
You shouldn't be afraid to open
up your harmonica and do this.
And know that you can do it and
undo it and
you don't have to take
the reed cover plates off.
Now I'll try to set the ninth hole.
I'll do the same thing,
I'm gonna make the ninth hole draw closer.
See if I can make it work.
[SOUND] Hey there we go.
It seems like,
just pushing the nine draw in,
I got the ninth hole overdraw
to come out of the instrument.
[SOUND] It's a little bit squeak,
but I had nothing before.
So I'm going to push nine
blow in a little bit.
Let's see if I got it now.
[SOUND]
[MUSIC]
It's a little bit of a squeak but
it's ten times better than
it was a few minutes ago.
I don't wanna spend forever doing this.
I just wanted to point it out to you.
Okay, now I'll show you a principle
that Bahnson harp works on.
If you want just to see
how the overblows work and
the overdraws work, just to show yourself,
if you cover the blow reed,
and blow on four.
[MUSIC]
I pushed it in too far.
Oops.
[MUSIC]
To show you how the overdraws and
overblows actually work.
If I cover the blow reed
[SOUND] you see that all
of the sound is coming
out of the draw reed.
The four draw is making all the sound.
If I cover the five blow [SOUND] all
the sound comes out of the five draw reed.
And the same with six.
[MUSIC]
And
the Suzuki company actually
designed a harmonica with holes
on the top that you could like put
your fingers on to make it easier.
That's nice but the whole point of what I
do and what I'm trying to impart is that
you don't need any fingers for
any of this stuff.
And the Bahnson harp,
that's in the curiosity section.
It was a mechanical device
that made brass slots,
little pieces of brass
go over these reeds.
And the same thing with the draw reeds for
the overdraw.
So if I cover seven draw
[MUSIC]
seven overdraw just jumps right
out of the instrument.
And if I cover nine draw
[MUSIC]
nine overdraw just jumps right out of
the instrument.
So, what we're trying to
do by adjusting these reed
clearances is to make the job
of the closing reeds easier.
Okay?
If we could just totally close off
the chambers, this is wonderful,
they would just come out every time.
But we've decided we don't want to
use a mechanical device to do that.
We want to adjust it ourselves.
So I wish you good luck in adjusting
the reed clearances on your harmonica.
[MUSIC]
[MUSIC]
And now I'd like to show you something
else that I didn't show you before,
which is how the bends work.
How the bends actually work.
I'll show it to you on this Golden Melody
harmonica that I've taken apart.
Is that when you bend on a draw.
[MUSIC]
The sound transfers to the blow reed.
So here's the draw reed underneath.
[MUSIC]
If I try to suppress the vibrations of
that draw reed, nothing happens.
If I bend that draw reed down,
that's what we think we're doing.
[MUSIC]
And then, put my hand over it.
Check this out.
[MUSIC]
The sound is all coming out.
And it's coming out of the blow reed.
[MUSIC]
And both of these reeds
physically bend and pitchwise bend.
The first hole blow reed bends up from
a C to a D flat, from a C to a C sharp.
And the first hole draw reed starts to
bend down there, but it can't go all
the way down because the two reeds
are doing this little dance together.
And it's really pretty amazing.
Same thing with second hole draw.
[MUSIC]
And if I try to cover, for example,
the second hole draw after
it's been bent down.
[MUSIC]
Second hole blow after I bend that pitch
down, you won't hear anything.
The same thing as if I try to
cover the second hold draw bend,
the second hole draw reed
before I bend it down.
[MUSIC]
So
this proves that the reeds that are making
the sound when the notes are bent
are the reeds that are in the opposite
direction from what you are playing.
So this instrument is
just full of paradoxes.
When you bend the reed that's going in
the other direction that you don't think
you're playing is the one that makes
the sound when the note's fully bent down.
Just as when you're overblowing a note,
it's the note in the opposite
direction that is bending up
to give you that missing note.
And the note that you think you're playing
is the one that's bending down a little
bit and then dying and becoming what's
called the closing reed on the chamber.
So that's a little bit of
harmonica science, if you will.
[MUSIC]