harmonica maintenence

JP Allen, Is it a good way to clean a harmonica by running a harmonica under warm water and soap?

Howdy Fellow Harpster!

It’s interesting just how often this question comes up – And just how long this maintenance method for cleaning the harmonica has been around. If I had to proffer a guess, I’d say, oh about 100 years on both, maybe even longer.

Thing is, since harmonica information itself had been scant, especially until recently – only the past 30 years or so – Most new players relied on what they heard from music store owners and such who they themselves had heard it from somebody else.

That is something to the effect of: “Hey, man, if you take your new harmonica and run it under warm water for a few seconds, it’ll tighten up the seals – And you can play it better!”

Well considering the majority of harmonicas – Hohners mostly – had wooden combs and little brass plates – What could a little water hurt then, right?

Answer: Plenty!

Thing is, the music store owner rarely if ever told anyone that water eventually swells the wood and pushes out the comb beyond the covers. When that happens, believe me, your lips will know it. It’s painful.

(To illustrate: Next time you walk along a wooden fence – run your hand flat along the side of it. If the fence is put together correctly, the feeling should be nice and smooth. But then go ahead and run your hand on top of the spikes or individual posts as you walk by. And your hand will bounce up and down all over the place. Be careful too, you don’t catch a splinter, especially on the pointy exposed wood. But regardless, the much firmer hand can/will take the jagged sides of the fence a lot easier than the much softer lips will on jagged wooden combs. In any event…)

Somewhere along the lines, one may’ve heard that the swollen comb effect was just natural; so then you had to take a piece of fine sandpaper to smooth those spines down.

Okay – so a little piece of enlightenment here!

I actually did those things to my old Hohners. I ran the water over the combs; let them dry out for a day or so. Then played them, only to find that eventually the combs got swollen. Then took sandpaper and ground the tops down to meet the covers. And it was a complete…Failure!

It breaks your heart when you spend your hard-earned dollars only to end up destroying an instrument you really want to learn to play and master.

But surely the music store owner was more than happy to replace it with another Hohner, no problem! For a price and at your expense of course.

Yet now with all one had to do to just get the harmonica instrument to play, seems like a helluva lot of work at that.

So then enter Lee Oskar and a few others. And they got the great idea to change the combs from wood to plastic. No more swelling going on there.

However too, while it would seem almost intuitive to run these or any harmonicas under water to clean them – Whatever you do – Please don’t!

I personally can’t think of any other musical instrument that takes good to water on them. A trumpet? No. Piano? No. Drums; didgeridoos; xylophones; and sitars? Well, I’m not sure about the didgeridoo, but you get the idea!

The bottom line here is: Your harmonica is a musical instrument and it is an investment.

And yes, as an investment, you’re going to have to hopefully learn how to clean and maintain it properly to keep your investment in it worthwhile. So water and soap - Please don’t.

Instead, here’s Jason Ricci’s take on it. And yes, I have used it on my harmonicas as well.

As noted too, it’s time we all hopefully do our part to put this worn out ancient “washing/cleaning your harmonicas under water” maintenance method to bed once and for all.

Keep on smiling!

Keep on harpin’!

Thanks for reading!

This is JP:

The short answer is: No soap. I just use water when I clean my harmonicas (which I do sparingly) and then I put the harmonica in a location it can dry quickly.

If you go to this blog you find an detailed audio answer to your question.



Howdy, JP!

I just clinked on the link – A new discovery for me today! Yay!

Interesting too, the mention about ‘rust.’

In Rupert Oysler’s classic “Harmonica Repair and Modification” dvd set, he says that spittle onto the reed plates and along the reeds themselves will eventually harden and create natural sealers to the harmonica. So it’s no biggie. All well and good then.

However though, that being said, in watching a lot of other YouTube vids on cleaning and maintenance from David Payne to Palmhereos (Jim) – from where I sit, I gotta say it looks pretty disgusting to see all the grunginess and god-only-knows- what-other-things that build up on those reed plates over time, many times in just a short time at that. Even and especially on my own harps. Yech! And Yikes! :stuck_out_tongue:

So I will be in and on them with isopropyl alcohol and a small soft bristle toothbrush.

However though, this being said – In rereading this topic, I’m a bit confused and need some clarification. ???

Jacob and/or JP – Are you talking about running water through the harp with covers on; or rather, with covers off and reeds plates removed from the comb?

If the former, well I gave my experiences on that. But if it’s the latter, well, with my reed plates on a dish in the sink, I do run a little water over them to rinse them off, yes! And then set everything on a towel; or better yet, use a blow dryer on low heat to get all the moisture out before putting them back together again.

So, gosh! Which is it, guys? Water through the whole harmonica under the spigot; or water on the reeds, comb and covers when it’s all apart?! Just wondering…

Of course too though, the bottom line is anything that works for you - well, definitely fabulouso, I always say!

Oh and speaking of cleaning the harp, since it’s one of my desires to eventually learn how to customize harmonicas for others – I came across these items from Turbo Harp:



Thing is, I just ordered a set of Turbo Harps last week. Since the fine people there were just getting ready to leave for a harmonica convention, it’ll take a few weeks before the Turbo Harps get to me. And when they do, I’ll be sure to let everybody here know about them! :wink:

In the interim though, since the doctor was out of the office getting packed, not even the secretary could tell me much about the cleaning products themselves. So now I have something new to add to my wish list, for sure.

But if anybody else has tried these products, or any others, by golly! please give some feedback here on what you thought about them. Much appreciated!

Keep on smiling!

Keep on harpin’!

Thanks for reading!

Never tried them and I’m also curious.