Inexpensive Hohners have reeds that don't play. How to fix?

How do I make all the reeds play in my cheap Hohners?
I mistakenly bought a set of 5 Roadhouse Blues Hohners in the keys of C, D E G and A. They are black plastic, brass reeds, Made in China. Every one has at least 3 holes that don’t play in one direction or another.
Silly me. I figured each one should play all 10 notes in both blow and draw. Nope. Every single one has a problem someplace. One only has 2 holes where draw works.

I’m an engineer and decided I would spend a little time trying to fix them. I tried all the things in this article: . [8 Things to do when a note won’t play.](8 Things To Do When a Note Won’t Play – Tips From Easiest to Hardest

I already tried putting the Hohners in the dishwasher, blowing compressed air through the holes., tapping them on the table.
I put the two worst ones in a video cassette box strapped to my car air cleaner thinking that the vibrations would make things free up and break in. Over a period of 4 days I drove about 200 miles. No effect. They are still junk.

This morning, I took one apart and blasted it with my Braun Waterpik on full pressure.
Still junk.
Am I’m expecting too much? Should I just give up and let my 3 year old grandson use them as obstacles for his Matchbox cars?

Meanwhile my Seydel Blues Session, Made in Germany, sounds fantastic!

Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Thanks, Jeff


Unfortunately, in this case it looks like you get what you pay for. :rage:

I think that your grandson will have more fun with them than you. I doubt that even a good job of gapping and reed shaping would improve them enough to be worth the effort. :exploding_head:

Write it off as a learning experience and buy some more quality harps, like your Seydel, a Lee Oskar or some Special 20s from Hohner. :point_left:

– Slim


Well… I… just… can’t… let… it… go. I’m a semi-intelligent engineer. I can fix anything.

It took it apart., poked at the reeds that weren’t working. Put it all together. And it is still junk. It sounded like air was leaking from somewhere. So I took it apart again and used 600 grit sandpaper on the plastic comb and on the flat surfaces of the reed holder. Then reassembled. Still junk.
I started to walk downstairs to get Locktite so I could make a gasket and then thought - What the heck am I doing?! Life is too short!!! Put those pieces of junk in the junk box and let the grandkids use them for sword fights.!!!
So unless someone has a better idea with some magic ideas like “soak them in acetone” or “spread Ivermectin and honey on them.” or “place a drop of mineral oil in each hole” or whatever, they are going in the basement to be banished to the Land of Broken Toys.
I’ll keep checking back here.


Hello @Jeff_Engineer,
oh, oh, oh Jeff, @Slim and I can fix a lot, but probably nobody can “do magic” on your cheap harps. With all due respect for your job and ambition, forget about things and turn to beautiful things and good harmonicas in order to be successful. Everyone learns their lessons in life and you can’t make a Lamborghini out of an old VW Beetle … :grin: OK, you will probably get there with the Beetle, but never with the cheap harmonicas. Many greetings from Astrid


Hi @Jeff_Engineer,

I read many harmonica reviews on Amazon and Sweetwater’s sites before purchasing my harps. Many folks received quality harps that the customer reviewed as having reeds with problems. Reading the reviews worried me about getting a defective/sub-optimal harp.

I purchased a set of Seydel harps from an authorized sales and service dealer here in the U.S. I asked him to test all the harps prior to shipping. The prices were the same as Amazon or Sweetwater, other than the small fee for testing the harps.

For me, this was cheap peace of mind, and I know all my harps will perform the bends, even though I don’t yet have the technical skill to do them.

Best Regards!


PineComb wrote “I purchased a set of Seydel harps from an authorized sales and service dealer here in the U.S. I asked him to test all the harps prior to shipping. The prices were the same as Amazon or Sweetwater, other than the small fee for testing the harps.”
Wow! That sounds very much like Pyramyd Air’s “10 shots for $10 program”
Here is their description of the service. (Note: I changed the word “gun” to “harmonica”.

"For just $10.00, you can buy peace of mind that your airsoft harmonica won’t be a lemon!
To make sure your harmonica plays right out of the box, our techs will:

  1. Remove your harmonica from its box and visually inspect it to verify there are no defects.
  2. Fire 10 shots (Play all 10 holes.)
  3. Confirm that the harmonica cocks reliably for all notes.
  4. Verify that the reeds function reliably for all notes.
  5. Enclose frequency spectrum tape of 10 played notes.
  6. Make sure your harmonica doesn’t leak .
  7. List the db pressure used to test your harmonica .
  8. Sign & date a certificate stating when the test was performed.
  9. List the name and serial number of the tested harmonica on the certificate.

I’d pay for harmonica service like that!


Hello @Jeff_Engineer,
I bought a Seydel Lightning A in a local specialty store in my city in November. The price was the same as the various online shops. When I bought it, I took a close look at the harp and then all the tones were played using technology at no extra charge. Then she became mine. :relaxed: I found the service good, even if the harp had to be ordered first and cheap harps are not available there. Many greetings from Astrid


Those are toys for your grandson, my friend.

As we say in music mix engineering, “You can’t polish a turd.” :joy:

You can check out my article on brands for my thoughts on what’s worth investing in.

Rock on,


Blockquote @Jeff_Engineer
"For just $10.00, you can buy peace of mind that your airsoft harmonica won’t be a lemon!

That’s exactly the service he provided! Except he didn’t check to see if my harps reliably cock. Oh, and I didn’t get a certificate with a serial number. On the plus side though, I don’t have to store them in a “harp safe”. :wink:

Perhaps some of the more experienced players could answer this; is the problem of quality harps needing repair or adjustment to play properly right after purchase a common one? (I’m defining quality harps as the sales price being over $40 U.S.)

I don’t want to have to work on my harps. One out of ten harps with a defect would make it worth paying a bit to have them verified prior to purchase. If defects were one in ten thousand, I wouldn’t worry about it at all.


Hi @PineComb,

If one defines “to play properly” to mean all blows and draws work as they should and most of the important bends can be played with proper technique (meaning all draw and blow bends, but the blow bends on maybe hole 10 being excluded) then I would say most harps in the $40 U.S. and above class do not need any adjustments. That is not to say that an individual person might find it easier to perform a particular bend by adjusting the reed(s) slightly – this, however, is again one of those personal preference things. Someone else might have no trouble at all with the exact same harp.

It’s a different story when you want to play those rather exotic and difficult overblow bends and overdraw bends! :point_left: Almost no mass production harp can deliver the degree of fine set-up required for these (although you might get lucky and on an occassional harp be able to overblow hole 6 or 5 right out of the box). That is why people who use these techniques either do the adjustment themselves or pay (usually a handsome price) for a harp customizer to do the needed work. People like Jason Ricci, Howard Levi and Filip Jers and others use custom harps not because of a commission or because they might get the custom harp cheaper (or for free). They use them because it saves them the time and trouble of doing the work themselves (although they still sometimes might do it themselves) and the harps are set up to deliver what these people can and want to play.

Don’t think that just because the harp has been set up by a professional customizer that anyone can regularly, reliably, in time and in tune with the music play overblows or overdraws without knowing and perfecting the techniques required! It’s like an “average Joe” buying a Formula One Mercedes and expecting to simply jump in and start winning road races. The car may be the best, but the techniques must first be mastered. :grin:

– Slim


Thanks for the in-depth answer @Slim. Yep, I was asking about harps having just the normal basics inexperienced players would use. Blow and draw on all the holes, as well as the draw and blow bends a beginner would be using.

So it sounds like your experience is that for harps in the $40++ range, it would be uncommon to receive a new harp that wouldn’t work properly for a newer player. That’s good to know!


Hello @PineComb,
of course there are also the so-called Monday products. I was unlucky with a Hohner Blues Harp G. A note just couldn’t be played properly. At first I thought it was up to me as a beginner. But on the other harps this tone wasn’t a problem. I complained about it and quickly got a new one in exchange. This tone works there too. I now have 16 harps and none of them have problems. Many greetings from Astrid


Yes, and I second that. It would be uncommon in that price range to receive a new harp that wouldn’t work properly for 90%+ of harmonica players.


Hey Slim - I agree 100% with everything you say here. And even the folks at Hohner would agree with you. My friend Drew who works for Hohner is bass player and he always says when he buys a bass, he sets it up for his playing style, and harmonica is no different - it needs to be set up for an individual’s playing style. To which I always reply, “yeah, but everything is so SMALL to work on in harmonica!” To which he replies, “That’s true…”

However, just FYI: I just got a Crossover, Marine Band 1896, Special 20, and Golden Melody all in the key of A, and I can overblow holes 4,5,and 6 on all 4 of them right out of the box.

All these instruments are set up by hand in Germany, and they do not use measurements. They are just experienced people setting them up by eye.

BTW - this is the 3rd Crossover that I’ve purchased, and all of them I’ve been able to overblow.

Just thought I’d share.



Ok… I’ll confess right now. This is proof that I’m certifiably insane.
I continued to flog on that cheap Hohner .

It sounded like there was air leaking so I decided either a gasket or some sealing fluid is needed between the reed plates and the plastic comb. Loctite or airgun chamber oil would have been the best fluids to use but for health reasons, I’d have been reluctant to draw a note . I used a thin layer of canola oil instead. Mmmm… deep fried Hohner…
I lubricated all the sealing surfaces and carefully put it all back together again, using a cross pattern on the screws. I torqued and retorqued each screw evenly, wiped off any excess oil, And…
It was still missing some notes

I put it in the dishwasher. Let it dry, And… it still doesn’t work.

Even though 75% of the holes play, I am officially retiring it and will let my grandson use it as a Matchbox car obstacle. He can even take it apart to see how it works.
I’m done.


Hi @AstridHandbikebee63,

So out of seventeen harps, there was one, with one note that wouldn’t play properly. You mentioned the concern I have had, how to tell if it is me or the harp. (as a beginner)


Thanks @Luke. So it sounds like the key here is to make sure your first C harp is a quality harp, I think once folks have completed the Beginner to Boss course, they should be able to tell the difference between a technique issue and a harp issue. (at least the basic ones)


Like my old buddy Big Chuck says, “You pays yer money and takes yer chances.” but I gotta say – if your compressor is anything like mine you can wreck a good harp blowing high pressure through it.


If you google Andrew Zajack he has a cool course for about 20 bucks that teaches you basic harp maintenance. I’ve been working through it and it’s been a fun and rewarding experience! Good luck to you!



I don’t want to say, “I told you so,” but… :wink:

You can’t polish a turd.

It’ll be a good matchbox car obstacle, no doubt!