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Reed Failure

There is probably no greater frustration experienced by players than reed failure.  It happens and unfortunately for some, it happens frequently and at the worst possible times.  Reed failure is the point where the base of a reed is weekened to the point that the reed goes drastically flat in pitch and no amount of re-tuning will bring it back.  In some cases, the reed will actually break.  This happens because the reed vibrates and there are a finite number of vibrations that can occur in every reed.  After a reed is manufactured it immediately begins the deterioration process. Every reed is doomed to fail at some point.  This is basic physics.  It is just that in some cases the reed will vibrate well past the lifetime of the harmonica and even the player and in other cases it will fail at a point some consider premature.  The number of vibrations that a reed could theoretically produce is predetermined by laws of nature.  But just like the tires on a car, a the deterioration process can be advanced by a number of factors, namely force.  So for example, if a reed could theoretically vibrate 50 million times before failure, that number could easily be reduced to 25 million or even 5 million if force was applied to the reed while vibrating.  The easiest illustration of this is found when we bend a paperclip. Eventually – if we bend it enough – it will break.  The further we bend it, the quicker it breaks.  Lets work on the presumption that reed life is a function of vibrations, applied force, the swing above and below the slot (The result of force), and reed construction.

Every reed dimension (Length and width) has an optimal pitch.  To make this simple, let’s assume that this corresponds roughly around the pitches of a standard (C) harmonica. In other words, in holes 1-10 of a (C) harp, the reeds are relatively balanced at the tip and the base.  Although this is not entirely the case, it is close.  The further we get away from the pitches of our (C) harmonica, the more unbalanced the reed becomes.  Material is either added or removed from the base or the tip of the reed to increase or decrease pitch.  As the reed becomes more unbalanced, the finite number of vibrations before failure is reduced.  That’s not all that happens as we move further in pitch from our (C) harmonica; the reeds also become trickier to play.  Have you ever noticed that many of the techniques you master on your (C) harp are much more difficult on your (G)? As we play the more advanced playing techniques, especially single and dual reed bends, we are applying more force to the reed and causing the reed to swing wider through the slot. This is one of the ways we vary pitch and add expression.  However, each time we do this, we reduce the finite number of vibrations that nature allotted to that reed.

If we translate this to some more practical applications it will come into perspective.  The (LowD) is a very popular Seydel harmonica that seems to find a home in the gig bags of Irish style players. Most likely this is because the standard  higher octave (D) is a little shrill sounding and the (LowD) fits in nice with fiddles and other stringed instruments.  Played in 1st position the root note falls on blow 1, 4, 7, and 10 with blow 7 being one of the more common notes.  In the Irish style of music the root falls on the downbeat.  It is highly likely that this reed is played more than any other reed throughout the song and furthermore it is accented because of where it falls in the tune. Under our premise above, we are have a finite number of vibrations that are reached more rapidly because the note is played more, it is played with more force, and because the tip of that reed is much heavier than the blow 7 reed on our (C) harp.  This adds significantly to the stress or force that is applied to the base of the reed as it swings above and below the slot.

There are other more common examples where reeds tend to fail.  For example, many blues players commonly play blow bends at holes 8, 9, & 10 on (G) and (A) harps.  Both harps are commonly used in 1st and 2nd position play and the blow bends on those notes are in the ideal pitch range for a soloist or lead player to get out above the other instruments in the band. However, these notes and the related techniques used to play them require a very narrow stream of high pressure air that is directed at both the blow and draw reed.  There are a high number of useable notes within each of these holes and hence players will frequently play entire solos on holes 8-10 (Steve Wonder – Boogie On Reggae Woman and a host of Jimmy Reed tunes come to mind) and so it isn’t surprising that these notes will reach their finite number of vibrations much sooner than say the reed at the 2 draw.

Reed failure is simply a natural consequence of playing the harmonica.  In the same way that guitar players wear out strings and golfers wear out balls, reeds are going to fail at some point.  They are going to fail often for some players and for others very rarely.  Experience has shown that players who came up using harps from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, tend to play harder.  This is most likely because the harps from these eras were a little stiffer to play and hence the players developed a playing style that contributes to reed failure.  Experience has also shown that players who gig regularly see reed failure more frequently than those who mrely jam with friends or play in the studio.  This is most likely because the stage still causes even the most seasoned of musicians to get excited and play harder in addition to having to play harder to hear oneself on stage over the other amped instruments.

It is unlikely that reed failure will ever be eliminated.  However, it can be reduced somewhat and it can be managed to an extent.  In the next article on this topic, we will explore options for the player to deal with the aggravating circumstances surrounding reed failure.  As a Seydel partner, we at 16:23 Custom Harmonicas specialize in tailoring a program that keeps harps in the hands of our customers.

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Seydel Sales and Repair

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Welcome to 16:23 Custom Harmonicas.  I am a full-service Seydel dealer and offer all Seydel diatonic and chromatic harmonicas.  My specialty is individualized and personal service with a goal of getting you the player into the right Seydel harmonica.  My customers  appreciate the individual attention and responsiveness I provide and that is my specialty.  If you have questions and are considering a Seydel purchase feel free to contact me.   Although my prices are generally in line with other Seydel dealers, you may find they are slightly higher in some cases.  My established customers appreciate the value in personal attention and find that their transactional cost is actually lower when they have someone looking out for their interest.

I like to provide my customers with options that might not otherwise be available.  This includes economical harmonica configurations, tunings, temperament and choices that are specific to their playing.

I  specialize in Seydel repairs and have an extensive stock of spare parts for Seydel diatonic and chromatic harps and am the designated Seydel repair technician for the U.S.More information on repairs is available on the link to the right.

I am frequently asked what harmonicas I stock or have available.  My inventory changes daily as I receive and fill orders continuously.  However, if Seydel sells it, I either have, can build it, or order it and the turnaround time is generally only a few days.

As a way to insure my customers get exactly what they need, I accept orders by email instead of drop-down menu format.  This allows me the satisfaction of developing a relationship with my customers and guarantees  I am in tune with their needs. It is not quite as easy as pressing a button and placing an order, but it is much easier than purchasing the wrong harmonica and being dissatisfied.

My phone number is posted on the web site. However, due to the high volume of sales and repair work, lengthy phone calls take away from the individual attention I provide all my customers.  I can give much more complete and accurate answers via email.

I accept Paypal, credit cards, and personal checks.  As a matter of general practice, I do not invoice customers until the order is ready for shipping.

Thank you for stopping by and I look forward to hearing from you.

Greg

greg@1623customharmonicas.com

Chromatic Harmonica Pedal and Rack

At 16:23 Custom Harmonicas we are collaborating with outstanding chromatic harmonica player Mr. Chuck Rejto in the manufacture and sale of a pedal that allows the chromatic to be played on a neck rack. The system uses a push-pull cable that is connected to a lever on the rack that pushes the button when the pedal is pressed. The current design uses the Seydel Saxony or Deluxe chromatic which is screwed on to the rack, holding the chromatic firmly in place. Chuck Rejto has been using his current model for over six years with a heavy performance schedule. The current design, built by an experienced machinist, has been improved upon based on Chuck’s experience. Check out Chuck’s video demonstration as well as the photos of the pedal below. If you are are chromatic player who has always wanted to incorporate guitar or keyboard, this may be the perfect option. Priced at $500 + freight, the units are ready for shipping when we invoice. Contact me at greg@1623customharmonicas.com if you are interested.

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SPAH 51 St. Louis – August 5-9, 2014

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I’m happy to be attending SPAH 51 again this. As last year, I will be representing Seydel in the vendor booth area. SPAH has been going strong for over 50 years now and it is a busy but fun week where harmonica players of all skill levels gather for a time of jamming, teaching, clinics, performance, buying/selling, and and all other things related to our instrument. The vendor area is a central spot where the major manufacturers of harmonicas and related gear can showcase and sell their products. Seydel has an active presence at SPAH both as a contributor and a vendor. Seydel harps are available for demo and purchase and the selection will be extensive this year. As part of this, I will be on hand to answer customer questions, provide technical advice, and process your purchase. Both in the vendor area and around the hotel, you will see great harmonica players, including Jimi Lee and PT Gazelle who are are part of Seydel’s endorser program. On Thursday morning from 10-12, I will be leading a workshop on basic Seydel chromatic maintenance. We will cover ways to keep your Seydel DeLuxe and Seydel Saxony on stage and off of the workbench, as well as simple repairs. Please come by and say hello if you are attending. More information on SPAH is at the link http://www.spah.org/index.asp.

Photos below were taken by my good friend and harmonica player Keith Mitchell. He’s talented musically and as a photographer. Keith specializes in musical photography. For more of his work, see the link http://www.digitalaspirations.com/

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The Seydel DeLuxe Chromatic

The Seydel DeLuxe Chromatic is the perfect mid-priced chromatic harmonica that is ideally suited for the new player and the performing professional. The Seydel DeLuxe is a a brass reed instrument mounted on the standard chromatic 270 acrylic comb. Although most chromatic harmonicas come only in the key of (C) and in Solo Tuning, Seydel realizes that player needs and styles differ. The Seydel DeLuxe is offered as a stock instrument in several different tuning options and in many keys and octaves. This clearly sets the DeLuxe apart from other chromatics. The Seydel DeLuxe is also available as a personalized instrument with an infinite number of custom tunings and configurations. The stainless steel fastener makes the DeLuxe easy to disassemble and re-assemble for routine maintenance and repair. Replacement springs, slides, screws, and even reeds/reed plates are sold separately and are not only easily purchased but economically priced.  Pictured below is a Seydel DeLuxe with an upgraded round hole mouthpiece.  As you seek to make your next chromatic choice, consider the Seydel DeLuxe from 16:23 Custom Harmonicas. I will gladly walk you though the many options so you are playing the perfect chromatic for your musical preference.  Prices for the Seydel DeLuxe start at $150 + shipping. I prefer to process  your order via email so that I can make sure your harmonica is perfect for you.  I am happy to guide my customers through the various options.  For more information and ordering, email me at greg@1623ccustomharmonicas.com.  
 

 

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The Annoying Reed Squeal On Overblows/Draws

As overblow/draw (OB/OD) playing becomes more popular, complaints are increasing about the annoying reed squeal noise that can ruin a blue 3rd or jazz lick and send our audience to the ENT. Reed squeal seems to becoming more prevalent but this is most likely the result of more players becoming proficient in OB/OD and the quality of manufactured harps which permit players to venture into the technique. The video below is a demonstration of OB/OD on a stock Seydel 1847 with noticeable reed squeal. I treat the reeds with a small amount of nail polish and play the same notes later in the video. The nail polish certainly reduced the reed noise. The cause of reed squeal is up for debate but I think it amounts to high pressure air passing through the base of the isolated reed and causing a whistle. This theory is flawed in some respects, but it is the best I have right now. Nail polish is just one solution but I seem to be having success with it and at 16:23 we are all about finding the best and most efficient solution to this nuisance. Watch the vid and see what you think. If OB/OD playing is your goal, we would like to help you reach that. I believe that the stock Seydel will OB/OD with little modification but that it is possible the Seydel diatonic would benefit from treatment to reduce reed squeal.

The Stock Seydel and Overblows/Overdraws

If you get on any harmonica related forum you are sure to read discussion on overblows and harmonica customization. Considerable time is devoted to how expert technicians adjust and modify harmonicas to enable harmonica players to achieve chromatic play. It is important to note that  many of the greatest players do not use overblows in performance.  However, the technique is becoming more popular. At the same time, harmonica manufacturers are constantly improving and the quality of the stock harmonica is at its highest. We believe stock Seydel harmonicas are among the best and many of them can be played chromatically straight out of the box. The skills involved in making micro adjustments to harmonicas for optimal play are still needed, but not to the extent they were necessary years ago when manufactured harmonicas were not as responsive. The video below is a demonstration of the playing capabilities of stock Seydel 1847s in relation to overblows and overdraws.  At 16:23 Custom Harmonicas, we encourage players to buy and play Seydel harmonicas stock before investing in customization services. See for yourself what these harps can do straight out of the box.

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