Harmonica cleaning with a wooden comb


About a week ago I posted a comment on cleaning a harp. You ask me who said a harp should not be cleaned with warm water. It was a comment made by a senior rep or owner of Hohner. Its shown on U tube. I should have mentioned that this applies only to the harps with a wooden comb, something I should have mentioned and you most likely know

I spoke at length with Dennis, the harp tech Rockin Ron recommended to me, at length about cleaning and repair if needed. He is without a doubt the go to guy as he does things exactly right. He is very knowledgeable and cuts no corners. Struck me as a fair and stand up guy who knows well how to repair harps, etc. Charges are more than fair and never sends a harmonica back this is not what you want. This is exactly what I have been looking for as no lessons, repair, etc are anywhere near me. Ron is also great.

I was cleaning my original Crossover that was bad out of the box but quickly replaced by Hohner. When I got it looked the wood comb over when assembled It looks as if it was sealed with a clear application of something close to clear varnish or an epoxy like sealant. The clear coat is only external and the inside not. I realize you probably know this but wanted to mention this to you to clarify why the Hohner rep made the statement. Fortunately my comb was not damaged when I used water for cleaning but over time the wood will bend and deteriorate…

Just wanted to clarify this for you. You have forgotten more about the harmonica than I will ever know so please note this post is for clarification only. and a couple of questions…

Luke the lessons are great but the last line on single notes.on Heart of Gold ( I think ) got the best of me. I stopped there until i got it right a couple of times in a row. I was slower than you and was just following your directions about speed of playing when learning. Any chance of a session or two relating to harp maintenance in B 2 B?

Dia, If you read this thanks again for posted those songs. Luke if there is a contributor of the month my vote goes to Dia He should be given one of those hats you wear when giving a lesson.

A question for both of you. Do you prefer a wooden comb or one made from plastic or other chemicals and what are the advantages of each?

Thanks to the both of you for all your help.

It is noted and very much appreciated.



Let me say that for starters, I don’t care about what I call as “tonecombs” (y’know like the tonewoods for guitar). A lot of people say they prefer a wooden comb and trash all other combs because of their “tonal qualities”. I play the combs that I play because of what satisfies my sensory needs. I don’t like wood because it feels very weird when doing octaves. I mainly play with plastic combs and recently, I got a custom acrylic comb from my friend, Todd Parrott, and it sounds and plays amazing


Hello @scott4,
I play harps with both wooden and plastic bodies.

The choice of manufacturers and models is more diverse. The only noticeable difference is that I have to pay more attention to my lip care with wooden bodies, since the bodies have a rougher surface despite good workmanship.

When I first started playing I often had to clean my harps because of the heavy saliva. The harps with wood under running warm water and the ones made of plastic are occasionally placed in an ultrasonic cleaner.

Otherwise the harps are dried overnight on cloth on my desk, spine up.

Always use a soft cloth to deviate between plays, the harps thank you for it.

Greetings from Astrid :woman_in_lotus_position:


Thanks I clean mine very carefully and do not expose the wooden comb in water as a Hohner is clear sealed on the outside but inside is raw wood that can absorb water.

My biggest problem is the Hohner seems to be finicky, especially on the high notes 8-10, both draw and bend. They are well built with close fitting parts, which I feel makes them somewhat higher maintenance. Holes 1-7 play well. Ill let you know when I solve this mystery.

I have an Osker coming. Key of G. Should be here tomorrow. Hopefully the issue with the higher notes will not pop up. I never play real hard notes but each of my Hohner harps has this issue. Its not improper mouth position and when new play so easy on every note. I took two apart and cleaned them with a bit of soap and water with a very soft tooth brush. It helpes some. I doubt its an air leak as holes 1-6 are very easy to play and play well.

Rockin Ron is they person I bought the Osker through. Ron called about my order and is very helpful. He gave me the name and number of a guy that is a first class repair tech. He really knows his stuff and seems to be very picky making sure he ships back a harp that he has repaired, tuned, etc. He answered many questions and will be the guy I use when needed. The wooden comb may well be my problem but I cannot see anything wrong with them.

The tech also told me about the spine up method. He assembles all harps he works on with the spine up to get the reed plates even.

I have dry mouth and have been using warm water but now know not to expose a wooden comb to water. I lightly brush the plates downward from the attachment point down and let them dry, which in south Texas happens very quickly. We are having a very hot , dry summer. It was 97 degrees in north Texas @ 10.00 P.M. yesterday. I do not buy into the global warming game but do not care for summer in Texas. IT IS HOT.

Thanks and keep well


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Ok @scott4,

I assume you answered me? :woman_shrugging: Sorry, but please reply with @Username, like I did in my reply to you above.

Your stated temperature is definitely in Fahrenheit?

If it were 36° Celsius here in Germany, it would be a hot summer.

Since you’ve already opened up your harps, you know that reeds 8 - 10 are very short. With a lot of feeling they need more air or better a higher effort. If you play longer, it will go into your blood and you will do it automatically.

Is your problem with draw AND blow? Then a defect can be ruled out!

Hold your reedplates up to a good light source! Then you may be able to see with :mag_right: whether the reeds have microparticles of dirt. And you can see whether the reeds lie perfectly in the canal or are slightly bent to the side.

Even a (soft) toothbrush can leave particles behind! I take a thin strip of paper if needed and gently slide it back and forth from the tip of the reed. I change the strip regularly.

I wish you success!

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All my harps are plastic combs. I had a Blues harp years ago that swoll something rotten, that put me off wooden combed harps. All my harps are Seydel.



Thanks. I cleaned the plates and checked the reed centering. No problems. The problem is on both blow and draw notes and is intermittent. I got a new set of reed plates from Ron and they play well. It has always been the higher notes and 1-6 no problems. I am beginning to think any water that gets into the wooden comb causes problems, even if the contact with water is for a short period of time. A dull black patter start to show are the edge of the comb around the plates. Its definitely a pattern.
I got my Osker today and it plays so very easily on every note. I am becoming a plastic comb believer. Cleaning with warm water is not an issue and the overall performance is great. The new reed plates make the Crossover better but I expect the comb is what causes the dark areas. The are not below the comb but around the edges. The outline of the comb is visible.

I wish Hohner offered a plastic that I could put into the harp.I would imagine it would play better. No air leaking as 1-1 play with ease and draws, blows, bends, etc easy on the 1-3 ( bends) and 1-6 the, both blow and draw.

After playing the playing the Osker comb for a few minutes I was amazed at how easy each end of the harp played. Very little effort required and the notes sharp.

After a couple of weeks I will let you know if the comb is the problem arises again. As of right now the jury is out.

Be glad you are in Germany. I got into me truck and it was 106 F this afternoon. Makes no difference it its 106 or 102, both are miserable but the humidity very low. Any form of hard work outside is very dangerous here as the heat will get up on fast and there is no sweat to cool you off. Its a very dangerous. I grew up in Houston and the humidity high and dreadful be I heat exhaustion a couple of times, its feels like a bad case of the flu. I just sit under the fan and make noise with my new toy. At least our well is functioning now. We lost water for three days and my people here are having the same problem.


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I have determined the same thing. I have a long way to go but I strongly agree. I just cannot see how a porous wood comb could cause nothing but trouble. I will never be great as am retired and always wanted to learn a musical instrument. Just started too late. I now know the wooden comb will cause problems I can live without.

I had a hand me down trumpet several years ago, took one lesson and decided with three kids in school the last thing we needed was me trying to learn to play it. Teacher was encouraging but I opted out. I do love to listen to it played well.

I love to listen to Herp Alpert play. Whipped Cream will always be a classic album and this is the type of music I enjoy the most. Same for the Quincy Jones album, You Got It Bad Girl. There is one song, Love Theme Getaway that is fantastic and about as good as it gets from my standpoint. It was recorded and it can be watched on U Tube.

It is the slower, pretty music is what I like and the harmonica is just what I need to play. I love it, even when my practice session is not going well. I had a very high stress job and without music I would have gone crazy. Music made a 3-4 hour daily commute to work in traffic bearable.

Your help is noted and very much appreciated!


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I try and help where I can. Stick at it, it will start to come together. How are you getting on with that YouTube channel I posted for you. I think there’s a few songs on there too help.

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They are very helpful. I pick out various songs that involve moving the harp around to several different notes to help with single note isolation and playing the song as it should be from a timing perspective. I may listen to the songs a dozen times or more before I start playing them.

I very much appreciate your taking the time to post them. My approach is to learn about five different tunes I like and know from listening to them. This makes playing on time easier. I make my share of mistakes but feel once I get to the point I can play them fairly well other tunes will come easier. This should keep the learning curve up as well.

I will get there with the harp but at this point its practice and turning mistakes into a learning experience.

I am getting a bit better about every day as I practice for 1-2 hours, only when I feel up to it. Patience is not my virtue but persistence is. Your comment about wooden combs confirmed what I thought very quickly and has changed my harps to plastic only.

I do have one question. When you are playing the higher notes do you use your diaphragm on both draws and blows? I do and it makes breathing control easier and the notes sharper.

Thanks and keep well.


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I really go above hole 6 some of my harps need gaping to go above 6.

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I am the same way. Never thought about it until it was a topic of discussion on this forum. I was something Picked up many years ago when I was willing to get up at 4.30 A.M. to go duck hunting. Never again. Blowing a duck call is an absolute when using it correctly and it came naturally. Other than throwing a rock nothing else did.

It sure helps me with the right side of the harp from both quality of single notes and breathing correctly.

Thanks for your reply.


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Water on wood, verboten? Nein, consider furniture or woodwork. It’s okay your spittle is water with acidic overtones. Use water, running, even a waterpik. then shake vigorously and use canned air or a fan directly to dry. Of course hohner will say no, but that is just their legal dept. Wood combs have endured water and spit for a more than a century. Don’t soak them, and remember when playing you want the comb to swell a little to get that sound.

There may be naysayers but harping since 1966 when, I was ten. I bought an old harp, from the 40’s, opera type, took it apart, as I do all of my harps, The guy never cleaned it propoerly, whiskey tobacco and old spit emanated, but I loved the cool design of the comb, will use as a template.

Don’t buy into the no water thing, Spit is water, spit water, so remove it with water, don’t be the long dead opera harp player and leave your stink in your harp.


Spit is warm water, undesirable warm water, use water, warm faucet force or waterpik. Wood isn’t that fragile hohner will say this because of legal office. Wood combs are okay with water, don’t soak them, I knew a guy that did that, put it in a bucket, you know what didn’t like that? the reeds, metal rusts, and rusts quickly with acidic spittle.

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If you have a Harp with a wooden comb the next time you have it apart take a 10x loop and look inside the comb. They are made out of a porous , soft wood that is not sealed. Hohner seals the outside but not the inside, which makes no sense to me. It is a recipe for trouble. These combs are assembly line parts. I got ride of my wooden combs .

Just seal them yourself, mix some lemon oil and beeswax, warm up the beeswax, ou don’t need much, and you can use water or a waterpik too. Yeah no water wood? Horse hockey spittle is wet and has water in it. Just make sure you dry them via in front of a fan.

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Its not just the porous wood but the quality of they way Hohner cuts them. I have gone to plastic combs with no regrets. Hohner should correct the potential problem, not the consumer. I just don’t like the frustration wooden coms can cause. Warping is always a possibility when wood is exposed to moisture. Frankly I doubt there are many mass produced harps that do not need work out of the box. Bent reed plates are not uncommon and must be corrected first thing. The need for centering and reshaping reeds and some tuning is the norm, The video’s show how to deal with them.

There is a vidio by Mike Zajac that addresses this on U Tube. Very informative and useful. Take a look and let me know what you think. he is a custom harp producer and gets his right. He has several available and are worth watching.


My point is spit is water based, water does not hurt wood if handled correctly. Don’t soak, I knew a guy back in the 70’s that did this, and the swelling actually helps to some degree, aka warming up the harp. Combs of wood have been used 100 years and more, they work well. I like some of the plastic ones, harmo, Easttop, hohner plastic actually resin combs, smooth on the lips. What happens over time, as I am sure you know, is the openings get lint and spittle deposits, like your toothbrush if you don’t clean it.

Have you tried the new bamboo ones hohner has offered, bamboo is more water resistant. I haven’t bought one yet. I do have an old Opera harmonica I bought, comb smelled of spit, whiskey and tobacco, but it is 60 years old. I am going to make a new comb from the design of the old. The blow/draw holes are sloped rather than squared off. Thinking cherry, I have a piece, maybe oak, I have a big chunk of iron wood from a tree I had struck by lightning.

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I forgot, use a fan to dry after cleaning any harp, wood or otherwise, brass does rust, and some cheapos are just brass plated.

I agree. Love my Marine Bands! I use a little vinegar and fairly warm water in a glass olive jar, seal and gently shake in both directions. Dry with a hair dryer on low. Never had a problem. My wood combs still sound exceptional. Did I mention I love Marine Bands. Just bought a keyed B on ebay that sounds so good. It was like new.