The cover plates on a harmonica serve both decorative and practical purposes. It is where the manufacturer can put some nice decorative designs and they will of course keep your fingers away from the reeds when holding the harmonica. If you shop around fro harmonicas you may fins that some harmonicas have uneven harmonica cover plates. In this article I give a brief explanation on why they exist.
You are most likely to find uneven harmonica cover plates on low tuned harmonicas such as the Hohner Thunderbird or on custom harmonicas. The reason for this is quite simple, low tuned harmonicas have longer reeds and run a risk of hitting the cover plate causing a rattling sound. Custom harmonicas can often be played louder and harder than out-of-the box harmonicas causing greater oscillation amplitude on the reeds that can cause them to hit the cover plate.
Second position is often used in blues meaning the draw notes are important and the longest reeds are in the low end of the harmonica. For this reason it is often the bottom reed plate that is sticking out further on the low end of the harmonica. High pitched harmonicas are less likely to produce the rattle so there is less need to put the cover plate further away.
Alternative to uneven harmonica cover plates
If you have a harmonica with standard plates that rattles you can either buy new plates or modify the standard ones. The most common modifications I have seen is to either bend the bottom cover plate a little to allow more space between the reed plate and the cover plate or to punch a slot in the plate to give some extra room just over the draw 1 reed. It is up to you to decide if it is worth the work and the risk of ruining a working cover plate.
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The diatonic harmonica is a small instrument with many inherent limitations. It is up to us as players to get a good sound. The key to getting a fatter harmonica sound is the take advantage of the design of the diatonic harmonica. This is also where the tongue blocking technique comes into play to make use of different techniques. In this article I will show how to fatten up a lick so that it sounds bigger.
From thin to fat
The thinnest and most basic sound we get out of the harmonica is when playing clean single notes. This is often where we start and perhaps how we learn a new song or riff. The basic melody is clearly heard when playing like this. However, for blues this is not the most exciting sound. Getting a fatter harmonica sound is al about understanding where to apply techniques and still keep the basic melody of the riff.
Fatter harmonica sound example 1
In this case we are going to take a riff from the beginner blues harmonica riffs article previously published here. It is the boogie inspired 2-bar riff.
By adding tongue slaps to the inhaling notes 2 2 3 4 and the exhaling 5+, and exchanging the 5 draw for an inhaling chord and finishing off with a octave tongue split that plays 6+ and 3+ in unison with a tremolo the riff gets a whole lot more exciting. It is still the same basic melody but the techniques used offer more volume and excitement.
Fatter harmonica sound example 2
In this example we use the 1-bar riff from the same article above.
To get a fatter harmonica sound here we leave the 4+ alone, switch the 4 to an inhaling chord and play the 5 and 6+ as dirty notes. Once again the basic melody is kept but it sounds bluesier and fatter.