Blowing out your harps? Read this to become a more popular harp player

repair a broken harmonica reedBreaking a 4 draw once in awhile is just a fact of life when you’re a blues harp player, but we can adjust our playing habits to make them last longer. The following advice is just from my point of view as a mechanic.


4 draw is by far the most common failure I see by about 50-1, but it applies to all of them. Maybe for you it’s hole 6, etc.


I don’t think just playing too hard is the only reason we kill them so much. If that were the case we’d blow out other reeds that get played hard and often, like the 2 and 3 hole reeds. I think I’ve replaced less than 5 broken 2 and 3 hole reeds in the last 10 years.


But volume is a factor. When the band is rocking out and we can’t hear ourselves, we tend to play too hard and rely on a few basic licks that we know “work” even when we can’t hear them. Wailing on the 4 draw is one of them.


My advice is….. don’t bend the 4 draw down all the way to the “floor” of the bend so hard/often. When we do that it causes failures, much like bending the 5 draw does. Most of us figure out early on that bending the 5 draw down too hard will wreck a harp very quickly. And we stop doing it so much, even though it sounds cool…. because it costs too much money! To offer circumstantial evidence to back my theory up, I actually don’t have to repair very many 5 draws at all. Because we accept that it’s the player’s fault, and stop doing it. But for some reason, a lot of people blame the harp when it’s a different reed.


It’s basically the same sort of thing here, except we travel through another semitone before reaching that breaking point where something is going to give. The trick is to stop before you reach that breaking point. This applies to every hole, including the 5 draw which you can get away with bending a little once you figure this out.


The “in-tune” pitch for the 4-draw bent note is only about half way to the bottom of the bend. It’s actually kind of hard to control on some harps (which leads to the bad habit of cranking down hard on it), but shouldn’t be on my customs.


The fully bent note on any hole is usually around 40 cents flat of the actual note compared to a keyboard or tuner. That’s very flat! If you record yourself doing it all the time with a band, you might hear that it really doesn’t sound very good most of the time either (there are appropriate contexts). The drunken audience may still go wild, but the musicians you’re playing with probably don’t care for it too much.


Break the habit of playing the bends too flat, and form a new habit of playing them in tune. Then when you have a hard time hearing yourself, you’ll be less likely to blow your harp out.


Play in tune.

Make better sounding music.

Earn more respect from musicians.

Get more gigs because you sound better.

Make more money.

Save money on harps.