KnuckleHead Harps

Welcome to KnuckleHead Harps

Greetings fellow Harmonica players!   Welcome to the KnuckleHead site where harp players like to gather and share information on keeping those old harps alive.  If you are a harp player but don't like to tinker on Harmonicas that's cool too.  Occasionally I'll build one of my custom harps and list it on eBay.  If you are interested in that aspect REED ON ... if you have any tips, tricks or insights on how you tweak a harp please share by sending me an email (listed on the bottom) and I'll post your comments if you like.  Thanks for visiting and don't forget to surf the different areas of KnuckleHead Harps from the links above.

Below you will find how I customize Hohner Marine Band and Blues Harps.  Why play a stock harmonica when you can own a customized Harmonica?  Read on to find out what I can do to a Hohner Harmonica and how you can benefit from what I do.

Stock Hohner Harmonica Facts:
-  A new Hohner will cost around $30.00
- The Pear Wood Combs have saw grooves in them negatively affecting "air tightness"
- Reeds are rarely set properly
- Where the player's mouth comes in contact with the comb/brass plate is usually sharp and uncomfortable
- Marine Bands/Blues Harps are built with nails instead of machined screws
- Hohner's have sharp edges and corners making them uncomfortable to play
- The back of these harmonicas are not "opened up" for optimum volume
- The Pear Wood tines have sharp edges and are uncomfortable to play
- But they are still the best harps when it comes to bending notes!!!

After all these years one would think Hohner would build their Marine Band / Blues Harps so that none of these issues would exist!

Ok ... so here's what I do to a Hohner:
- First of all I sell them on eBay.  My starting bid is usually $1.00 with a $10.00 shipping cost (that's how I make money to build more harps).  I let the "market" dictate the final price

Pear Wood Combs:  The FIRST thing to know is that a "tight" harmonica will play better than a "loose" harp.  The Pear Wood combs delivered on a stock Hohner harps have saw blade grooves, are warped, etc.  These are contributing factors to a loose playing harp.  I hand sand down the pear wood so that its flat with no saw markings, producing a nice flat surface for the reeds to match up against.  I start off with a rough grit sand paper and end with a fine grit sand paper - producing a nice flat silky smooth comb surface.  If you have an old harp lying around open it up and see what I'm talking about.

The front of the wood "tines" are where your mouth plays the harp and on a stock comb the tines are squared off, producing a sharp edge.  I take off that edge.  While the harmonica is disassembled I round off these sharp wooden tine corners.  End result is a much nicer, more comfortable playing harmonica.  Go grab your old Marine Band or Blues harp.  Run the tip of your finger up and down the open tine area - feel those sharp edges?  Uncomfortable!

Nails VS Screws:  Stock Hohner Marine Band / Blues Harps come stock with tiny nails holding them together.  Sometimes the nails are in the pear wood really tight - but most times they are not.  I take the time to carefully drill holes in strategic areas of the harps, and when I put it all back together I use 1/72 machined screws and nuts.  What does this produce?  First of all a much "tighter" harmonica!!  Screws and nuts really cinch down the reeds and comb producing a much tighter seal.  They also allow you the luxury of disassembling your harmonica to clean it, adjust the reeds, etc.  Try doing that with tiny nails holding your harp together - what a drag it is trying put it back together !!

Basic Construction:  Stock Hohner's have sharp edges everywhere!  The corners, the wood tines, the edge of the brass reed plates that come in contact with your mouth.  It seems to me that a harmonica should be smooth and easy to play.  I like rounding off corners, taking sharp edges off everywhere I can.  The only time I avoid doing this is on the really old harps - like the "Star of David" harmonicas.  Otherwise I like to smooth em' out!   Also take a look at the back of a stock Hohner.  How well can you see your reeds?  Not very well as the harmonica covers close them in.  When I have the covers off I alter them so that they are more open allowing the harmonica to be a louder instrument in the end.  Tighter, smoother and louder - that's how I like em'!!!

Brass Reeds:  This is where it all happens - the reeds.  If the reeds aren't right the harp won't play.  Period.  When you purchase a stock Hohner you never know if the reeds are going to be right.  Forget "over blowing" and forget "draw bends" - you don't know if a brand new Hohner harp will even play!  The harps you buy from me WILL PLAY.  Why?  Because I test each harp before I ship it - that's why.  I gap the reeds so that a normal harp player can play it - with all the expected draw bends and blows working.  I set the height of the reeds and even "emboss" them if they need it.  As for tweaking the actual reeds for optimal over blowing - I'll leave that up to you.  If you over blow then you know how to set your own reeds.  Most players don't over blow a lot as this is an advanced technique.  And since my harps are built to take apart reed adjustment is completely do-able!

That's it in a nutshell.  I get a hold of old harps, completely clean and disinfect them, polish the covers and reeds the best I can with a Dremel Tool, sand the combs, paint and seal the combs (with safe water solvent paint and sealer) - and put it all back together again with screws and nuts resulting in a killer playing harmonica.  I then play the harp (I used to play in a pro band in Sacramento - Crying Blue Rain) to ensure it plays.  If it doesn't then I fix it.  If I can't fix it then that harp goes into the spare parts box.  Once I get it playing right I clean it again with alcohol to ensure you get a clean nice playing harp.

I did not invent these techniques.  Good harp players have been doing this (and more!) for years.  My harps do not compare to those made by the "big guys" but my harps don't cost $100 each either.  I'd like to see my harps end up in the hands of good harp players that cannot afford those really expensive customized harmonicas.  But hey - if you can afford those expensive harps MORE POWER TO YA!!  If you want to get into this cool hobby/art let me know - I'll be happy to share internet links, literature, YOUTUBE videos, suggestions, etc.  I like networking and am ALWAYS looking for techniques to making a better playing harmonica.  Make sure you check out my links at the top for pictures and links to websites I find informative.   Drop me an email anytime and lets talk harps!!!  Harp on folks ...

Mark "The KnuckleHead" Munoz
Northern Colorado

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