Reed wear and bending

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    AvatarJerry Ballard

    I’m wondering if there’s a correlation between reed detuning/damage, and the practice of overblowing and bending notes.
    Thoughts or experiences? I’m suspecting that there has to be, and that careful play should never result in significant reed damage.


    Jerry, I do know that my Hohner Superforce and Mylodica, after bending notes over and over are now out of tune. It may be that the reeds are possibly made of cheaper materials?


    Overblowing will flat a reed.
    I’ve had several go out by accidentally pressing a key when blowing out the spit valve.
    Sometimes if I have a reed that is just a hair sharp I can bring it into line by overblowing it. Thus avoiding having to open and file again.
    I’m not sure what’s going on there physics wise?
    With filing you are removing bits of material.
    I suppose overblowing causes the reed to weaken a little structurally at the base?
    They always go flat never sharp.
    Someone else want to weigh in with a more precise explanation?


    Hi Jerry,

    I have damaged many reeds by blowing too hard when bending a note. When damaged, a reed will play nearly in tune at very soft levels, but as soon as you approach anything near normal playing volume, the reed sounds flat.

    I love to bend notes so it is a good thing I play inexpensive melodicas. 🙂

    Lower notes reeds are much more susceptible to damage than higher note reeds.

    Lower notes are easier to bend than higher notes. Though higher notes can be bent using special techniques.

    Notes are normally bent by blowing hard, though I have figured out how to bend notes without blowing hard using certain melodicas with a slight modification.

    If you blow just hard enough, assist the reed with some centrifugal forces and doppler effect by waving the instrument around, and add in some spiritual connection to the after life of a great sax player :-), you can get a reasonable bend without damaging the reed.

    I am hoping I can fix my damaged reeds through tuning. However, an experienced harp player posted on this site that once damaged, you can fix the reed through tuning, but the fix is short-lived. Ultimately, the reed will go out of tune again quickly. I have not confirmed that yet with my own experience, but it sounds right. One of the these winter days when the snow flies (if it ever does this year in New England), I am going to spend an entire Saturday tuning my instruments.

    I would also like to understand the mechanism of the damage. I am in agreement with Kevin’s hypothesis. I think once the reed is bent too far, structural damage is incurred at the base of the reed.





    But here is the great thing about damaged reeds: you can actually use them to your advantage in some instances.

    Let’s say you are playing a song where bent notes are desirable. The blues comes to mind of course.

    If you are playing in the key of E, and the low E and F reeds (and maybe others) are damaged so they bend easily and deeply, man can you have fun. Plus, everyone thinks you are performing miracles when what you really have is a damaged keyboard harmonica. (Hey, did I just let one of my secrets out of the bag?)

    The truth is, I have not systematically started to do this, and most of my bending is authentic because how can you play the rest of the song in tune if three notes are out of tune at normal playing volume? But I am going to explore the possibility of damaging certain reeds on certain instruments to use for soloing in the blues.



    AvatarJerry Ballard

    I think I’m going to eschew bending. With a Vibrandoneon, I don’t have the luxury of readily available replacements.

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