Reassembling a Marine Band

Since I started playing the harmonica, I wanted to get a Marine Band harmonica in the key of G so I could play along with my guitar. And, being sort of a purist about playing older music on older instruments, I wanted an older harmonica.

I got one recently on eBay that was advertized as 30 - 40 years old and new in the box (the guy’s grandma’s, and kept in an attic all these years). Well, as it turned out, it wasn’t new as the seller suspected. It is, however, in pretty good shape, and when I got the issue sorted out with the seller, I ended up paying only $5 for it for the shipping! (I started taking it apart to clean as soon as I got it; and, needless to say, was pretty nervous when I didn’t know that I was going to get my money back on it. Now that that’s settled, it’s much easier to work on, knowing that it’s a much smaller investment that I could lose out on.)

This is my first time cleaning a harmonica, so I’m a bit timid about the whole thing. I’ve got the plates off, and bought some 91% isopropyl alcohol to clean it with. One nail broke in the process of taking off the plates, and another got a little bent, but I think it’ll go back on. (Here’s hoping nobody’s reading this in horror at my potentially really goofed up a very nice, older instrument.) :slight_smile:

I’ve just been using the rubbing alcohol with some Q-tips around where whomever was blowing in it 30 - 40 years ago would have blown on it. So far it seems to be cleaning up alright. There’s a little bit of mold or something on the comb, and I’ve scraped it off a bit as gently as possible without hurting the wood.

So, here’s what I need some help with:

  • is it okay to reassemble the harp with one or two nails missing? (Hopefully, I can find another old harp and get a couple nails from it sometime this summer.)
  • is the little bit of green on the wood something scary that I should be doing more about than just scraping off the surface of the wood?
  • is it okay to just be “spot cleaning” the plates with the isopropyl alcohol, or should I be soaking them like I’ve seen people do when they clean them online?
  • and, finally, what’s probably a stupid question because I can’t seem to find any videos that show it: how do you reassemble the whole thing when you’re finished? I mean, do you very gingerly tap the nails back in, or what?

Thanks a lot!

You ask some very good questions there, FP!

From the information you gave, since the MB harp you received wasn’t a prewar model – the S&H was probably more than the harp itself was/is worth.

It would definitely take awhile to go through all the things you really need to do if you really really want to customize this thing…As the entire thing should be pulled apart and cleaned as well as the comb sealed –

So we’re going to have to go to YouTube and hopefully you’ll be able to find the vids that answer your specific questions.

But upfront:

  1. No, the harmonica will be so airy with its nails missing, that the first time you draw you’ll probably pull the back of your head inside out along with it!

  2. Mold and mildew is not good for anybody…Yuck!

So let’s start here:

How To Customize a Marineband Harmonica With Bolts Video 1

You’ll have to go through them to find which one suits your needs…

However, I can tell you that Dave Payne of ElkRiverHarmonicas is an excellent teacher and customizer.

Plus, word on the street is, after a short gig with Harrison Harmonica USA, he’s back to doing his own thing. So dropping him an email on your particular case would be of great value for both of you.

If all else fails afterwards – The Spec20 in C or any key is your next harp and upgrade!

Good Luck!

Keep Us Posted!

Keep On Harpin’!

Yup, I saw that second video before. That’s partially why I was asking if the spot-cleaning was alright. Also, should I be using oxyclean, or the isopropyl alcohol to soak it in?

And, that last question about how to get the nails back in?

Thanks again!



So as old regulars here will already know, my first customized harp was a Dave Payne Seydel Soloist. It’s my favorite harp. However, it’s my only customized harp. So since Dave left to go work for Harrison USA, as a New Year’s present to myself – I ordered up a whole set of them.

With their extraordinary backlog, they’re not due to arrive until December 23, 2012 – The day after the Apocalypse and the End of The Mayan Calendar World anyway!! O lucky me!

However, from one of our good friends over at Harmonica Club, he posted that Dave no longer works for Harrison, and is back at Elk River.

Seeing as how Harrison is in big city Chicago; and Elk River is in big woods West Virginia – Guess it’s true then: You can take the boy/man out of the country; but you can’t take the country out of the boy/man!

So with all that, here is Dave’s ElkRiver site link up:

Once I get everything straightened out over here, I’ll be sure to check him out over there!

But for those who don’t have my headaches or worries – Have fun!

Keep On Harpin’!


It’ll probably require you disassemble the whole harp first;

Cleaning the covers and reed plates with alcohol, oxy-detergent, and so forth will not hurt them at all. It’s highly recommended you do so.

For the wooden comb, light sanding as well as dipping in sealer is recommended.

And here’s Dave’s vids on those procedures:

Now it’s been awhile, but it was either in Dave’s vids, or Richard Sleigh’s book or Rupert Oysler’s maintenance DVD set whereby - as a replacement for lost or broken brad nails - One of them used the tips of a toothpick that fit the hole; and pushed that through and into the hole; then carefully broke it off; and made sure to do the same for the other side. Know what I mean?

Sleigh and others replace the brads with little screws/bolts and nuts. And customizing your own MBs is a project to be sure. But then again, that’s why they charge and make the big bucks for them too!

However, if you’re going to do this as your own learn-it project for yourself – By all means keep us posted and updated on your progress!

Good luck!


Keep On Harpin’!

Now just to let you and others know – I’m not wanting to discourage anybody from this do-it-yourself project on the MB 1896s. Far from it; yet I do know what’s involved. It’s just not for me (and others who have told of their tales from hell when attempting this on their own projects.)

Regardless though:

You can even order replacement covers, combs, and cases from Hohner USA:

Unlike the MS series which is similar to the Lee Oskar with its available parts – What you probably can’t/won’t get are the replacement reed plates. After all, that’s the inner workings of the harp itself. And for this $15-30 retail harmonica, Hohner just doesn’t carry them.

Sure, Hohner offers warranties on new 1896s. But for such a cheap made in China harp, the wait and hassle is more a pain in the ass than the learning experience is/will be that you just have to upgrade into another harp, such as the Spec20 or better.

Oh sure too, you might get Hohner to send you some of them tiny nail brads to tap into your old 1896. But after three calls and being told they’d send me some screws for my set of Spec20s and Big Rivers, plus a few other extra tidbits – All last year, and I’m still waiting…

Well that’s just me. Hopefully, perhaps, possibly maybe you’ll have better luck!

So again – If you’re seriously going to tackle this as a project, well, get all the information you can beforehand - along with the supplies such as sealer, tools and such at the ready - and more power to you!

Good luck!

Keep us posted!

Keep On Harpin’!

Those brads aren’t specific to harmonicas. Take a one of the brads to a building supply or hobby shop or nut & bolt shop to match one up. If all else fails, find any brad of the correct gauge or diameter and shorten it to the length of the others. After you get the comb well cleaned, carefully sand the surface with progressively finer paper. Have the paper secured on a good hard, very flat surface, and then work the comb over the sand paper. You’ll be watching as you sand for warping. If the comb is warped, you’ll see places the sand paper has missed. Sand the comb, keeping it absolutely flat on 120 or 80 grit paper depending on how much wood you need to remove…then switch to 180 grit…then 220…then even finer until you get an unbelievably fine finish. MB harps have pear wood combs which resist warping and have good shape memory, so there may be very little warping. You still need to put a new finish for the reed plates to mate with. You don’t want to lose air there, or the harp won’t play well or easily. Sealing the comb is your choice. I say don’t. Slight painting errors will give as many sealing problems as warpage…probably more. If you do, use food service quality sealer like that used on wooden bowls and countertops for obvious reasons. The sealer will need sanding too. Nail holes that are too loose can be fixed by inserting the point of a toothpick …no glue. I’ll tell more later what I’ve done with my MB. Works GOOD!


OK, posting from my phone doesn’t make for the best spelling. Just adding this to the last message: when you sand the comb, make sure you keep the comb pressed flat on the paper which is on a good solid, flat surface. Don’t get more pressure on one end of the comb, and don’t take too much wood away. As soon as you’re sure the sand paper is not leaving any unsanded spots, switch to finer grit. Use that until the scratches are gone that the heavier paper made. Once you see the finish change, switch to finer paper. You can go to as fine a paper as you can find. The finer the finish, the better the seal.
You can also “open up” the back of the covers by carefully folding flat the 90 degree fold at the bell end of the cover. I did this, and spread the covers open a little to bell out a litttle more in the center, and you wouldn’t believe how it improved the sound and volume. This little MB bends so easily and sounds so good.


Sounds like you’re ready to start a harpin’ customizing business… :slight_smile:

Good luck & much success on that for sure! :wink:

Rock on, yo!! 8)

HAHAHA!!! Yeah, right, SPD (chuckles stupidly)…but I do love working with wood, so the comb is one thing I can do well. I haven’t tried much with the reed plates yet. I just wait til I have a good MB that plays pretty well, and then I make the most of what I can do. Finishing wood is one thing I do know. I haven’t tried screwing down the reed plates yet. I’d love to have a tap small enough to tap one plate so I could have a screw for each brad hole. That would make a TIGHT connection for sure. Maybe I’ll find the tap and screws I need soon. I don’t want to use anything larger than the screws on plastic comb harps. What I have done sure makes a world of difference. If I could find enough old MB’s, I’d start trying out working on the reeds too. My MB wouldn’t need much tweeking though…maybe a little to get better control on the blow bends up top. Of course, better control on me would make a huge difference too! To me, playing around with the inside of a harp is as much fun as playing them.


Wow, thanks for all the advice, BB! I was wondering where I could find brads that were cheap enough (especially since the antique places around here with a harmonica or two want like $80 or something insane for them), so I’ll have to go to the hardware store–that’s a much better alternative.

I’d like to keep it as much like it was when I got it as possible, while still getting it adequately cleaned up.

If I don’t seal it up, what do you think about using a really fine sand paper (very gently) just a little between the teeth? (Not my teeth, SPD! ::)) Just to get the little bit of green out of it…?

Yeah well, I promised myself I wouldn’t say what do you call 32 flatpickers from the midwest all on one stage? A full set of teeth. But like I said, I promised myself I wouldn’t… :-X

So um yeah, I took my Hohner 12-hole Solo Tuned to a local Ace Hardware store; it was difficult to match up the brads for screws and nuts. But it can be done.

I’m sure a light sanding on the green stuff wouldn’t hurt. Another harpster said he actually used Burt’s Beeswax Lip Balm to seal his harps. He cut it up in small pieces, melted them in a pot on the stove; then while warm, applied it to the comb.

Worth a shot, I suppose.

And I do recall customizer Rupert Oysler has some links for acquiring smaller parts for harps on his DVDs.

Perhaps I’ll dig them up and check it out again; just as soon as I use this lone bristle to brush my own tooth! :o

Rock on, yo!

Not meaning to sound like a know-it-all or maybe stating the obvious, but… if you have never melted wax other than dripping it from a candle, be sure to melt it using a double boiler method with the can containing the wax to be sitting in another pan of water.
I am an ex-beekeeper and have melted my share of beeswax. It has a higher melting point than common waxes. Direct heat can cause the wax to reach its flash point (which will be hotter than most). Also the hotter wax spilt on any skin is more painful.
In short BE CAREFUL!
It may be easier to use a hair dryer and heat the wood comb some and melt wax flakes on it or drip from a candle!

You’re absolutely correct, PB!

My sainted mother (God rest her soul!) used to work with beeswax and various soft candies. She used the double pot method you related above to slowly melt everything down so it would be pliable, then shaped into the forms she needed.

And the harpster who told me about using Burt’s Beeswax Lip Balm said the same thing too.

When working on something as simple as a harmonica comb, always use non-toxic all natural sealers, including brushes.

And if you’re going to melt beeswax and apply that – Remember: Safety First!

Keep On Harpin’!

Whatever you melt or paint on, you will taste when you play. Pear wood, finely sanded will seal better than you would imagine, and warp much less than a new MB out of the box.


I’m sure you were all on the edge of your seats just dying to hear how this project came out…or forgot about it completely. :wink:

But, anyway, after “this topic has not been posted in for at least 120 days…”, I’ve finally gotten all the pieces back together, and it sounds just fine. I thought this was a much more precise work, but it really wasn’t all that difficult.

For anybody who would like to know how I finished this project, here are some details:

When I got this harp several months ago, it was not in the “brand new” condition it was advertized to be in (which is why you have to be careful buying harmonicas on eBay), so I took it apart and cleaned the plates with 91% isopropyl alcohol.

Then, it sat in a drawer in pieces for a couple of months while I slowly got together the stuff I’d need to finish the project and tried not to lose all of the tiny nails I’d pulled out of it.

Long story short, I sanded it like one of the people in one of the previous videos did–with sandpaper on a straight piece of wood. I used food-grade mineral oil to seal it. I hope that’s okay, since I don’t remember seeing anybody use that particular stuff, but apparently they use it to coat Swedish Fish, so it can’t be that bad for you. :smiley:

Finally, I just tapped the nails back in gently with a small hammer. Some of them went right back in the holes without the hammer, but others needed to be forced back in.

Now it’s all back together, and sounds great. And, I do like MB harmonicas best, I think. It’s much better than my old Bluesband that’s still the only other semi-okay harp I’ve got.

Thanks again to everybody who gave me the info on how to finish this project!

P.S. SPD, in response to this:

I didn’t try to put the harp back together without all the nails, but I don’t know that it would have much of an effect if it were missing one or two nails (probably depending on where they were. When I was putting it back together, I put the reed plates on the comb without any nails and tried playing it while I was just holding the plates to the comb. Even without any nails, it still sounded pretty good. Just in case you wanted to know… ;D

Food Grade Mineral Oil should be good unless it gets gummy or if it attracts dirt/grime. Oil may need to be reapplied as it will evaporate over time. Like a cutting board or furniture it won’t last 4ever.

Yeah, that seems to work alright. The only trouble now is that the 6-blow quits after one or two good draws on the same hole. Not exactly sure what to do about that… I already tried to take it apart again and make sure everything was tight enough and that the reeds weren’t damaged; everything looks alright.