My harps keep blowing out

The lowdown on the Mississippi Sax. Just for Google, this section is about harmonicas.

My harps keep blowing out

Postby stumblin » Tue Dec 12, 2006 10:42 am

Can anyone recommend a decent, reasonably priced harp that won't be totally wrecked after five gigs?
I'm not a great harmonicist by any standards, but I can make a few atmospheric noises and even provide a rhythmic shuffle on the low notes.
The problem is that I soon find that my harps are giving odd squeaky honking sounds after a few night's play and the bends just get progressively harder to achieve once this particular rot sets in.
I'm using a Marine Band as my C-Harp at the moment, it's lasted for three gigs so far and is going strong. Lee Oskars sound great, but mine was knackered after three outings. Big Rivers give value for money - in that they're only slightly over half the price of a Lee Oskar and last about the same length of time.
So I'm open to any and all suggestions that don't involve acute bodily discomfort, moral turpitude or financial ruin.
What do you guys suggest?
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Postby jeffl » Tue Dec 12, 2006 1:11 pm

Andy, I don't think switchin' harps is gonna solve the problem; harps shouldn't blow out that fast unless you're just bein' too hard on them by nature of your technique. I'd guess you're playin' 'em too hard, and maybe even creatin' too much saliva, which can be hard on 'em. Barbeque Bob used to preach guys into changin' their ways on this - - and may still take the opportunity to do that on this post-- but,in my experience, most harpers jus' play and practice their way past this "stage"; in other words, if you jus' make a little effort to play with more control and less wasted effort, I'll bet you'll grow beyond this "harp wrecking" phase. It's part of a normal progression for alotta RELATIVELY inexperienced harpers. Best wishes.
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Postby stumblin » Tue Dec 12, 2006 1:54 pm

Okay, okay, I get it - I'm a drooling, slavering blowhard.

I'll look again at my technique. Thanks Bubba.
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Postby 1armbandit » Tue Dec 12, 2006 2:15 pm

I don't know of any harp with a better life span the the Lee Oskars. Not the favorite blues harp of most, but built like a Mack truck.

I have LO's that are 2-3 years old that I started learning on.

I'd have to agree with Bubba, you're just full of...spit! I have to play with my head level or up slightly, can't have tab or music were I have to look down at them, or I'll drool something terrible.

You can open the LO's and clean the plates if they are getting gummed up. Just some running water and a soft brush.

Good luck
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Postby bosco » Tue Dec 12, 2006 2:20 pm

harps are giving odd squeaky honking sounds after a few night's play and the bends just get progressively harder to achieve once this particular rot sets in.

Well Andy, that in-depth analysis doesn't provide much info to base a proper diagnosis on. 99 % of the time I "blow" a harp out, it's the 4 or 5 draw (occasionally the 7) and the note/reed is bent flat from draw bending too hard. I surmise this is caused by sloppy embouchure, being slightly off center on a hole that I'm trying to do a full bend on. Because the reed isn't getting all of the intended air, I give 'er a little more to achieve the bend and it's usually too much. Other than one flat note, the rest of the harp's intonation will remain intact without "odd, squeaky, honking sounds."

Can you play an 8 note major scale? ( 4 B, 4 D, 5 B, 5 D, 6 B, 6 D, 7 D, 7 B.) Playing this scale up and down will not only improve your embouchure and breath control, it will help you ascertain if a particular note is out of tune.

As per Bubba and BBQ, the majority of the time overplaying is the culprit. You either need to turn up the mic, work on your acoustic tone or most likely both.

If you have a revelation and narrow the problem down a bit, let us know. Cheers-

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Postby bosco » Tue Dec 12, 2006 2:34 pm

Here's another thought-

Most of us enjoy some form of libation while performing or rehearsing. Alcohol has a lot of sugar in it, and in the case of a drooler you're blowing this gunk straight into your harp reeds.

A lot of harpers, including myself, keep a water bottle handy and rinse out their mouth after each swig of beer before playing the harp again.

Try rinsing out some of your current harps under running warm water and tapping out the excess and see if that helps. Have you ever opened up one of your sick harps to look around for problems, reed obstructions or cumulative gunk?

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Postby stumblin » Tue Dec 12, 2006 3:13 pm

Thanks guys. This has all been very revealing and interesting.
I do tend to play kind of hunched over and I'm fairly keen on keeping my blood-beer levels up to scratch during gigs.
I'm going to investigate this whole less-drooling-more-harp-cleaning business very closely.
Bosco, I'll copy down that scale and start practising it straight away, thanks.
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Postby jeffl » Tue Dec 12, 2006 4:19 pm

stumblin wrote:Okay, okay, I get it - I'm a drooling, slavering blowhard.

I'll look again at my technique. Thanks Bubba.
It's a product of all that shoe polish strained through bread that you drank when you were in your "blues man emulation mode",lol! I assume you're playin' mostly a racked harp Andy,and it takes some time to get the control yer lookin' for when you can't grab the thing with your hands. You might be overcompensating for the lack of control by "muscling" the harp a little. If you play enough, I bet you'll grow out of the problem.
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Postby stumblin » Tue Dec 12, 2006 6:11 pm

I haven't been using a rack, but I might try that again sometime soon and see how I go on.
It's probably just bad technique and zero harp maintenance that's been the root problem here, as you guys have pointed out.
Thanks for all the advice.
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Postby watertore » Tue Dec 12, 2006 10:18 pm

Hi andy: How is life? I always jump in on this topic. Most people will tell you to blow easier. I say do what feels good. Do you feel good playing the way you do? If the finance is getting to you, then that is not a musicial reason for blowing lighter. If you hate your tone, then you have something to look at. There is no right or wrong here, just opinions. If people stuck to classical music, there would be no rock and roll......... I often hit the harp hard, and still get good lifespans on them-stock marine bands. My 14 hole marine band in C, is over 20 years old. If I am gigging, recording, 3-6 times a week, I get about 2-6 months out of a harp, and about 80% of my harp playing is with the key of A. I use to despise the lower note keys, because they weren't loud enough. Now, I love them, and use reg B, Bb, low F, low D, and low E harps more than reg F, E, D, C, which were my mainstays early on.

I started out blowing so hard, I would wreck a harp in a set. It was just where I was at. I needed to blow that hard to express myself. To this day, IMO, once you limit how you play, with rules, you are boxed in. As the years have passed, I have learned how to blow hard, yet not damage reeds. I know this doesn't make sense on the surface. You have to learn to bring up a ton of air from your gut, and filter it to the harp. I can state, few,if any, harp players play like me(phrasing, holding a note as long, volume ranges), and I learned what I have, by doing it all wrong-blowing hard as hay. I can copy the masters as well as most, and have had all the right mics/amp set ups. Early on it was fun, but it is of no interest to me anymore. When I want to hear a great, I put their record on. For over 25 years, I have just blown natural, sharing the vocal mic with my harp, and not cupping it, but staying off it, for dynamic and tone changes. Many of the most famous harp players today, and I personally have watched many move up the ranks, are just a conglomorate of the masters licks. It bores me, but to each his own. I am not meaning to sound brash, or high horsed, just being honest. I know many here know of my ideas on all this, but I will keep stating them, just to give another perspective to maybe someone like me, who is starting out, that like me, was often confused, and ostrichsized from the blues harp cliche. I was signed as a hohner endorsee in the 80's, and have learned much harp from sonny terry. So, is what I say mean anything? Not really, because hopefully, we all have found, or on the journey of finding our own sound. Copy cats are a zillion for a dime. Walter


a shot from my blowing 6 harps out a set days, circ early 70's. We were called the stairway blues band. I had it written on my shirt, but permenant markers were not known to me at that time, and it would always wash out as we played. They were some fun days! The guitarist with the black t shirt, ed knoth, got it from marc werner. He gave us all one. Mark was always supportive of me, and my crazy blowing.

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Postby dcblues » Tue Dec 12, 2006 11:45 pm

I think gremlins cause harps to go out of tune. That's my personal theory. They live in your case/bag and cause a perfectly fine harp to go flat right before a gig. That's the only way I can explain it.
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Postby NEONMOONY » Wed Dec 13, 2006 12:42 am

Blow that harp Stumblin'! Rock it! Playin' easy is how accountants play guitars. 8)
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Postby steel1953 » Wed Dec 13, 2006 8:06 am

My grandfather used to play harp at barn dances. Used to wear one out a night.......
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Postby stumblin » Wed Dec 13, 2006 11:21 am

Thanks again lads :)
Hey Walter, that's sound advice: I'll just play how I play, maybe I'll learn not to blow my harps to Kingdom Come, but until then I'm not going to worry too much about it. That's a great "Early Period" Walter Tore photo!
Well, the cost of harps is a consideration, but after reading all the posts here yesterday, I took one of the knackered old harps apart and I can see it's full of gunk! I'll clean it and put it back together later on, see how that works out. Hopefully that'll be one way of saving a bit of harp-money.
It's well past time that I started to expand what I can do on the instrument, I suppose part of the reason I posted this originally was because I'm looking for ways to learn more. I'll be paying a lot more attention to this section of the Big Road from now on.
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Postby bosco » Wed Dec 13, 2006 12:37 pm

Blow that harp Stumblin'! Rock it! Playin' easy is how accountants play guitars.

While I can appreciate the sentiment and enthusiasm Neon, That is not good advice. When Walter was blowing out harps in the 70's they cost $3.50 ea.

New guitar string..... $2.00
New Harmonica....... $20.00

I'll be paying a lot more attention to this section of the Big Road from now on.

That's great, we need an infusion of new blood around here. A handful of us have beat every conceivable harmonica topic into the dirt a long time ago!

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