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Tunings, Valves, Reed Adjusting, etc.

Chromatic making buzzing or clicking sounds? READ THIS. 

Windsaver tips from Winslow

Actually, this is the subject of a much longer and more comprehensive article I’m planning for harmonicasessions.com. However, bluesharmonica.com subscribers get to read the advance preview that follows, and can ask me any questions they’d like right here.

Valves are little flaps of plastic that are mounted on the reedplates of chromatic harmonicas, on the other side of the plate from the reed itself. You can see them if you peer under the covers of your chromatic (or unscrew and remove the top and bottom covers). They’ll be the white things (or maybe white and tan) that look like reeds. You’ll see a brass reed, then beside it a white windsaver, then a reed, then a windsaver, etc.

Windsaver valves do just what the name implies - they "save" wind - that is, they keep too much air from leaking out of the harmonica when you're playing. They help to compensate for the fact that chromatics are inherently leaky partly due to their size and partly due to the mouthpiece and slide assembly on the front of the harmonica (that’s a whole topic by itself).

Valves help make a chromatic more airtight by preventing air from leaking through the reeds you're not playing. Every hole in the chromatic has a blow reed and a draw reed side by side, with the blow reed mounted on the inside of the reedplate (inside the hole) and the draw reed mounted on the outside. When you exhale to play a blow reed, the valve over the draw slot is pressed flat against the slot, and prevents any air from escaping through the draw reed slot, making the blow reed louder. When you inhale to play a draw reed, the valve over the blow reed slot gets pulled flat to seal off the blow slot, directing all the inhaled air through the draw reed, making that note louder and more responsive.

The problem with valves is that they can stick, pop, buzz and rattle. This is an annoying fact of life for playing the chromatic, but there are some things you can do to make life easier.

First off, don’t remove all the valves. The harp will leak like a sieve. You *can* remove the valves on the outside of each reedplate, which will make the harp a little less airtight and will change the tone quality fo the draw notes, making them sound different from the blow notes. Your draw bends will also sound a bit more like bends on a diatonic. (The effect of valves on note bending is quite a fascinating topic all by itself). But even of you remove the outside valves, you’ll still have the valves on the inside to buzz, stick, rattle and pop.

The first thing you can do to reduce valve problems is to play with a clean mouth. Valves are very sensitive to oils, sugars, salt, mucus, and any other stuff that your breath delivers to the harmonica (or pulls in from the outside air). Always rinse your mouth before you play. You may not have time to brush, floss, or rinse out your sinuses (though they’d probably help) but you can almost always swish some warm water around your mouth and spit it out, then swallow some, to help clear you mouth of unwanted stuff.

The second thing you can do is to help you chromatic dry out after you play it. NEVER PUT A WET HARMONICA BACK IN ITS BOX. With the holes facing downward, tap moisture out of the harp onto your palm. Do this first with the slide in the out position, and then do it again with the slide held in. That way, you get moisture out off all the holes, not just half of them. Then, let all the holes air dry. To expose all the holes to air, lock the slide in a half-in, half-out position by pressing the slide halfway in and then sticking something like a matchstick in one of the to keep the slide half-open.

Another thing many players do is to warm the harp before playing it, either through body contact (under an arm or something similarly convenient) or in an electric warming blanket.

But still, your valves may start popping. When they do , you can clean them. Take a piece of paper with a rough surface (like a brown grocery bag), and moisten it. Slip it under the bottom of the valve (the surface that contacts the reedplate) and hold the valve down lightly with your finger. Then pull the paper out from under the so that it scrubs any foreign matter off the valve surface. Then, do the same thing between the upper and lower valve layers (most valves have a stiff upper layer which may be white, tan, or clear in color).

Valves may curl or deform. Sometimes you can recondition them, but you may need to replace them; the major manufacturers sell valves, and some customizers also make and sell their own valves I’ll go into that in more detail in the harmonicasessions article.

I hope this helps, and feel free to ask any questions.

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Click here to see different harmonica tuning charts

VALVES For Diatonics. The rationale for half-valving diatonics is that this offers:

-- Normal bends on the bendable notes

-- Chromatic-style bends on the notes that usually don't bend

-- Better air conservation (i.e., louder sound with less breath) on the first 6 blow notes and last 4 draw notes, because the valves are preventing air from leaking out through the reed you're not playing (this is what valves were designed for in the first place).

However, you also can't play overblows on a half-valved harp. (overblows are different from blow bends).

PT Gazell and Brendan Power are the two most prominent users and advocates for half-valved diatonics. Both get great results, which you can hear on YouTube and at their websites. That said, neither is a dedicated blues player, and if you're looking to play blues, half-valving will take you away from the traditional sound. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is up to you to decide, of course.

Valves minimize air loss when playing blow or draw notes.

Full-Valving

If both reeds of a corresponding reed pair are equipped with valves, the possibilities of >bending the notes is very limited. If a valve is only closing the lower tuned reed of the pair then bending notes remains possible. 

In our valved serial models we do not valve the very high notes (e.g. holes 11 and 12 on a Chromatic in D). If you select valves which will note operate correctly given your selections, we shall not attach them!

Half-valving (of Richter-tuned diatonics)

The valves are put on the draw plate of 1-6 (valve is on the inside of harp hole) and valves on blow plate of 7-10(valve is on outside of upper plate).This leads to better air-tightness of the instrument - bending notes are still playable!

In addition a skilled player can get the blow-bending notes in holes 1-6 blow and the draw bendings in 7-10 in a certain range. So all notes of the chromatic scale become available without the need of the overblow technique !

 PT Gazell is the master on the half-valved harmonica and showed what becomes possible on these instruments!We use the same material for the valves that PT uses in his instruments!

 

Straight vs Cross Chromatic:

Q: what's the main difference between, a cross and a straight chromatic harmonica, which is preferred.?
A:
Advantages of Straight: Slide stroke is short. Spacing of the holes is very close. Smooth switching of sound fast. 
Disadvantages of Straight: And have to play a big sound hole is small. Expression and dynamics might be hard to stick to. Treble has a thin sound.

 Advantage of the cross: Breath to enter a lot of hole is large. Therefore it is easy to sound  loud. It is easy to put the expression. Rich sound in the upper register. 
Disadvantages of Cross: Stroke is long and the distance between the hole and the hole is open. Switching of sound, connection of sound rough.

 

REED LIFE:

Helpful info from Seydel regarding reed life etc...Click here

More good Seydel  info

More helpful info on Reed failure From the great Joe Spiers.

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