Harmonica Hacker

Sometimes you start doing things simply because there is no other way for them to get done – I’ve become a harmonica hacker.

After looking at all available harmonica models worldwide, checking with online modification options, and talking with people I know knowledgeable in harmonica modding work, it came to the point where I had to just move ahead, even though I was being told by experts that it wouldn’t work.

Here’s the problem that had to be solved:

I am playing a lot of Celtic music nowadays which is really great stuff to do on harmonica and guitar and it’s very challenging, especially when you’re doing the session technique of moving from one tune to the next without missing a beat and what that means quite often is that you are changing keys on the guitar and also at the very least changing positions on the harmonica.

For example, to play these tunes together, Connaughtmans Rambles, Morrison’s Jig, and Kesh Jig, on the guitar you go from key of D, to key of E minor, to key of G. So on the harmonica you can start with a D harmonica in first position to play Connaughtmans Rambles, then stay with the same harmonica in the third position to play the E minor tune, but then there’s a problem with playing the following tune. in G major-it just doesn’t work very well on the D harmonica.

So what are you going to do?  If you’re playing live, it’s impractical to stop in the middle and put a new harmonica in the harmonica rack, and so I wanted to find a way to have two harmonicas in a rack.

The average Marine band style harmonica is 4 inches wide, and I have a seven and a half-inch inch-wide harmonica rack that I like to use, so clearly two standard harmonicas wouldn’t work.

Now the interesting thing is that if you take the actual playing surface of the 10 whole diatonic harmonica, it’s only 3 inches. So if there is a way to reduce the size of harmonicas down to their essentials, to their playing surfaces, then clearly there’s a way to fit two10-hole diatonic harmonicas in a 7 1/2 inch wide harmonica rack.

Harmonicas are made of metal, plastic and wood so you can’t exactly shrink the things to make them fit, like they were fabric or something.  I don’t like min-size harmonicas, anyway, but like to keep playing holes and surfaces to be a standard size so everything works easily from key to key.

Instead I decided to remove the non-playing surfaces of a harmonica – here’s the results:

harmonica hacking

Only had to hack one harmonica to get two to fit into the rack!

 This is a major game-changer!

So yes I’m now officially a harmonica hacker!
Would you like to know more about how the hacked harmonica sounds and if it still works?  Comment below!

 

 

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4 Responses to Harmonica Hacker

  1. John Dolber says:

    Impressive thought to cut down the sides. Though I don’t play guitar and harmonica- in the past I would hold three harmonicas between the fingers of both my hands. this would allow be to run scales downward or upward at the choosing. At one time Hohner had a device that would screw to the sections of harmonica you cut back- which would allow you to hold up to 6 harmonicas like an ear of corn. Maybe you make a fixture that would allow you to ‘spin’ up or down to the next key with your chin. – hmmm, I like that idea, let me know if I can help… oh, sometime check out Buffalo Norton on Youtube playing runaway with bonnie Raitt. He does a three key change down and back. Sadly such a master has passed. Keep up the good thoughts; Great work with the dual harp system!!!

  2. GuitarHarmonicaGuy says:

    Thanks John, much appreciated! Yes I’ve also played tunes where I had to do the same thing, threading harmonicas between the fingers – crazy!

  3. JoAnne Guille says:

    Hi..I hope you can help me. I unscrewed the side of my Hohner Blues Harp …my \fav…key of G \\(sorry my \keyboard is semi fried thus the weird lashes everywhere)

    I w\as trying to clean and hopefully tickle to fix a flat note…when I went to screw the lower range end back together I lost the rivet???? Still have the screw part.

    Can I wire that side back together for now??? Don’\t have the dollars to go buy a new harp right now……thankyou….JoAnne…been over the carpet with sock covered\ vacumm\ end hose…still hoping t\o find but it’ mighty tiny…thankyou so much

    • GuitarHarmonicaGuy says:

      Oh yes, the frustration of losing small harmonica parts. The screw and ‘rivet’ that works on each side are so small, and it is difficult to get them back together again. The screws that tighten down the reed plates are even tinier.

      Years ago, I was teaching a few hundred students at an Elementary school at Fort Benning Georgia, and we had to re-use the harmonicas for the students day by day. There wasn’t the funds for each student to receive their own harmonica, so what the teachers aides and I were doing was taking each harmonica apart and running all the parts through the school dishwashers to sterilize them, then putting them back together again, day after day.

      As you can imagine, this was a bit of a nightmare, with hundreds and hundreds of tiny parts to deal with, and I was not real popular with the teachers aides! (just with the students) 🙂 Since then I’ve come up with simpler ways to deal with that situation, but it certainly was a memorable experience.

      For future reference, when working on a harmonica always:
      1) Work on the harmonica with it inside a box, at least in the phases of taking-apart and putting-back-together. That way all the tiny pieces stay in one place
      2) Keep a “bone yard” of parts from all your broken/worn out harmonicas – you never know what can come in handy, and the extra parts don’t take up much room.

      You are on the right track for a quick and cheap fix with your “wire it together” idea. The whole trick is to get the cover plates realigned both top and bottom and get them to stay that way, minimizing leaks, maximizing your playing surface, and above all not getting your lips cut if something shifts.

      Here’s a solution I like that is cheap and keeps things in place – its using a zip tie.

      use a zip tie

      Zip ties can be snugged up into a tight position and then trimmed to where they won’t snag you. Of course, if you ever want to work on that particular harmonica again you’ll have to snip the zip tie off, but what the hey. Hope that works for you and best of luck with your further harmonica repair adventures.

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