Reply To: Reed Gapping Video

Alan Brinton

I didn’t make this video, I just discovered it on the Internet. This person is blowing through the regular extension tube, Pam, so he can have the Pianica flat for the video. When he’s doing that, the Pianica is outside its shell, but the reed cover is still on. When he’s gapping, the reed cover is off.

I think you already understand this, Lowboy, but when the reed is choking and/or won’t sound, often the gap is almost completely closed, and so it needs to be widened. So you could say that in opening the gap to do that you are making an unresponsive reed more responsive. On the other hand, as the gap is widened, the reed becomes less responsive and at some point won’t sound. So the trick is to get the reed at the right gapping to get maximum responsiveness. Some people say that changing the gap changes the tuning, which seems to make sense, though I haven’t found this to be a noticeable issue.

This has been discussed before, but applying heat to the reed makes it easier to change the gap. If you’re pushing the reed into its slot, as shown in the video, or gently prying the reed up, it’s hard to get the gapping to “take” because of the springiness of the reed (moreso with higher quality reeds, I believe). An engineer friend suggested applying heat, a suggestion I think also made by Melodica-Me in a different context. I have had success with a hair dryer, held at a distance and with a cloth covering the surrounding area so as to avoid causing collateral damage. This is probably inadvisable with reeds mounted in wax, as in the Hohner Professional 36. But the Piano 36 has regular reed plates. I don’t have one apart now to see whether there would be other concerns with that. Usually heat is not needed, though, just patience. In opening the gap, I’ve found that propping it open with a plastic toothpick for a few hours or overnight works, with the toothpick inserted horizontally between the reed plate and the reed.

Finally, if you’re into tuning, I think it’s good to first check the gapping, which can be done visually. It’s easy to see whether the gapping is uniform, and (after some experience) not hard to tell just by looking whether gaps are too wide, too narrow, or about right. Others may disagree, but in my opinion there’s leeway, there’s a gap range within which the note will be responsive and sound properly, so that there’s not a “perfect” gap distance.

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