Harmonica Playability for Best Sound and Enjoyment

Previously I have written about custom harmonicas, custom combs and techniques such as reed slot sizing. It can seem like quite a lot to consider and for the average player it probably is. In this article I want to highlight the two things that most increase harmonica playability. I have focused on ease of playing and sound.

Two areas, different effects

Let me first say that if you buy custom harmonicas, the modicfications I mentioned here will definately already be implemented. This is for the player who is mostly satisfied with out-of-the-box harmonicas. You can see them as the first steps towards more advanced high-end instruments.

The thing that I have noticed that increase the harmonica playability most for me is the reed gap setup. Whenever I have a problem with unresponsive reeds I can most often fix it by tweeking the reed gap. Getting this right i dependent on your playing style.

The second thing I recommend is to get the harmonica properly in tune. Which tuning scheme you should choose depends on what type of music you play. For blues players I recommend compromised just intonation. If you only play second position and solo you can also consider pure just intonation.

Joe Filisko made an interesting comment at HMW 2018 when asked about custom harmonicas. He said something like “my personal harmonicas are quite rough but I am fanatical about tuning”.

Summary

If you choose to buy a custom harmonica then harmonica playability will not likely be a problem. I have harmonicas from J.A. Harmonicas and they are beautifully set up to work with my playing style and tuned just the way I like. If you want to stick with out-of-the-box harmonicas then reed gapping and tuning is what I recommend you do to get the most out of your instruments. Reed gapping for how the instrument plays and tuning for how it sounds.

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