What to Do with a New MB?

Okay, so I finally broke down and bought a brand new MB. It’s fantastic, and a great upgrade compared to my old Bluesband that I’ve still been playing on (and still keep around, of course). Anyway, I know we’ve covered this before at some point, but I can’t remember where, so…

The comb swells. I knew it would when I got it, and it’s not too bad, except when I’ve been playing for a while. (I’m sure any of you who’ve played with MBs for a while knows exactly what I’m talking about. :)) Anyway, what do you guys do about that?

I just wanted a general consensus, since I know some people say to seal 'em and others say not to, etc. Sanding? Sealing? Just-getting-used-to-it? (Do the sides of your lips eventually callous after continuously playing one? ;D)

Click on “Search” above and type in “sealing comb”. You will get step-by-step instructions on trimming and sealing your wood comb.

Sanding would be more effective than trimming, but beginners will screw up some harps before they get it down. Go for it, it’s the way you learn.

Its the way we all learn SP! If you ain’t ruined a harp yet, you ain’t tried hard enough!

I did a combination of the two…and skipped the sealing, and its the harp I use for everything!

Opinions are like noses, everybody has one, and mine run in the family!

Peace out and Harp On!


Yeah, BT, how do you not seal it? I guess what I mean is, should I take the whole thing apart to deal with the little bit of wood, or can I get away with just trimming the comb teeth? I’ve already kinda killed one MB, and I haven’t got enough extra $$ to be messing them up a lot at this point… I guess what I’m looking for is the easiest, cheapest solution. I like the MB, and I’m willing to do the woodwork, since I’ve already done it once, I’m just hoping there’s a simpler solution for a new one.
I hope that makes sense. If not, I can try to explain it better…
Thanks, BT!

Having been instructed by Frank Farrell, and having twenty years experience working on harmonicas I don’t screw them up any more. An MB that has been disassembled and put back together with the old nails is gonna be leaky (airy). I drill them out and replace the nails with screws and nuts. I used to tap the reedplate for the screw, but taking them apart causes to much chance for the tap to stripout of the soft brass. I use food grade beeswax to seal the comb. A Special 20 is the exact same reedplates as the MB, the difference in tone comes more from the Sp20 having closed mouthcovers, than the plastic comb.


Do not sand the comb. It sounds logical, but it isn’t. (Speaking from experience.)

If the MB is swollen past a certain point, it’s virtually useless. (Again, speaking from experience.)

Meaning, if you [anyone] goes from an old Bluesband into the MBs, it’s not considered an upgrade, just a slide over. (So sad, but so true.)

A few more minutes of consideration, and a few more extra pennies, and a great virtually maintenance-free Spec20 could/would have been yours! (And you would have been happy as a [fill in the blank] in a [fill in the blank]!)

Am just saying…

Keep On Harpin’!

I probably did what you’re not supposed to do…but it worked for me and my gigs.

I VERY CAREFULLY took it apart and sanded the comb teeth down a little bit, so the teeth were a bit shorter. This was because the comb had swelled so much it was kinda like playing a chainsaw…they stuck out so far they were never going to go back on their own.

The teeth sit back a bit farther than previous…its not as airtight as it could be…but I use it for almost every performance, gig, busk, jam session and otherwise that I have! In fact, its the harp I use in all my videos to date!

Now, I am totally and completely not trying to knock down what SPD is saying. We all have different standards, uses, experiences, tools, and time to devote to harp-fixing!

Is my ole MB something that the likes of JP Allen or Howard Levy would use? No way…they’d probably argue that it even was a harp! Does it work for me? Darn right!

Like I said…everything is different in this world, and when it comes to music and instruments…there are somethings that just ain’t written about in the Good Book, and there ain’t never gonna be a law about fixing your harp. What works for SPD and SP may or may not work for you! Probably will! I’d say do what they advise!

Like I’ve said before…I’m just an old boy that plays harmonica as much as possible during the day, and dream about it at night! I do what works for me and my situation! Just because I practically breathe the harmonica DOES NOT mean I’m an expert, just someone that breathes a harp!

Peace Out!

Opinions are like noses…everybody has one, and noses run in my family!


Okay, sounds good BT!

Perhaps I should’ve been a bit more clear…

If you’re going to actually do the work on the MBs, you’re better off doing it prior to actually playing it.

Meaning, opening it up; pulling out all the brads; treating the comb in the butchers block sealant or salad bowl finish; drying it; sanding it, if necessary; putting it all back together again –

Then play it!

David Payne of Elk River Harmonicas has some excellent youtube clips on the subject.

Also, as I read the original posting, the MB teeth had already swollen past the top of the harp. And from my experiences as well as many others, if you just sand down the tops of the teeth without prepping the whole comb as explained, it can really cause and do more harm than good.

And yet too, if you really like the sounds and feel of the wooden combs, the easiest best way I found to do it is to purchase the already treated wooden combs from a maker of such things. Hetrick makes such customized combs for many makes/models, at reasonable prices: http://www.harpcase.com/harmonicacombs.html

I swapped out my Spec20 plastic for a wooden comb on my Bb. Sounds and plays great!

Bottom line: If you want to tinker with the standard MBs, knowing that it takes work, patience, etc. – Then more power to you!

And consider yourself a rarity, because most people I know don’t want to go through all those hassles. Especially once the comb expands and becomes a saw blade of death to their tender bloody lips across the hardened jagged teeth!

Am just saying, yo…

Keep On Harpin’!

Thanks, guys! :slight_smile:

Actually, SPD, when I was in the music store picking out the MB, I was really thinking as I was taking it off the rack about what kind of flack I’d get from you if I mentioned it on here. :wink:

Especially if I mentioned that I got it in the key of “G”… ;D
(I had my reasons for that–I got this to play along with my guitar, and I needed a G harp.)

But, I’m kind of a goofy purist when it comes to musical instruments, and if the stuff I like to listen to is on older instruments, I’d like to play it on the closest thing to the original. Unfortunately, my '70s one isn’t quite right, even though I followed all of those tutorials that you guys suggested to me in a previous post. I’m willing to try it again if necessary. If I can add “harmonica maintenance and repair” to my list of things I can do, well, I guess I’d consider that a plus on some level.

I guess what puzzles me is that the MB has been around with essentially the same construction for over 100 years. What did people do before? Is sealing ‘em something that people have been doing since the "good, ol’ days", or are we just being wussier about it today than people were?

And thanks for the information, BT. I knew you said something about how you’d sanded it, but I didn’t know how you’d done it from what you said in your previous posts. I’ve played enough for it to swell up, but it’s gone back when I left it on the shelf a while so far.

Thanks again, guys!

No worries ole bro!

All well understood and friendships still stand! :wink:


There’s supposed to be a 10-video series somewhere on YT, where you can see all sorts of improvements you can do to a stock MB classic.

Yo, FP!

A G is good; but being a ‘purist’ for the 70s, why wouldn’t a Lee Oskar work too?!

Just aksin…

INRE: Wussies

Yeah, well, although those old MBs have been around for 100 years, methinks back then, those who learned to play the harps were more patient and willing to put in the time for their learning curve.

Being that harmonicas were treated as real instruments not the toys many of them have become, and even selling at a buck or two wasn’t exactly cheap either in them days –

Meaux_Jeaux (our friend over at Harmonica.com) played some old 1929 recording of how the great Deford Bailey learned to prep his harps from others. He soaked them in water; then dried them out by carrying them in his pocket and under his arm.

Jon Gindick talks about soaking his harps in vodka or gin when he started; and even I did the same thing to my first $7 MB way back when. Well, water, because I was too young to drink! Hehehehe!

Thing is, in my case, on my own, having no one to ask or bounce things off of, I didn’t exactly do a good job of it. And had to wait to get another $7 to get another new harp.

Besides that then, I had heard about sealing the comb in beeswax. But then that takes work and tools; and safety as melting beeswax is highly flammable and dangerous if you’re not watching what your doing. Anywhat…

Sure, there are some tinkerers who still take the time to prep these old MBs. And yet they are few and far between. And if you want to get your harps from them, well, they do make a living at it, and if you’re in the market for them, their worth looking up.

And David Payne will even help walk you through the process, if you’re so inclined to contact him.

But so too, it’s not so much peeps being wussies as they are being impatient as well.

They buy an MB and think they’ll be sounding like (fill in the blank) in no time. But five minutes later, as the comb swells, they’re all asking themselves WTF?!

And then they come to forums like ours and first thing they do is start crying about how their MB is broken or whatever. (Yeah, we all heard it before; and will hear it again soon enough, no doubt! Hehehehe! Oh well!)

Peeps got their fingertips on so much information in Harmonica Universe, but they don’t take the time to understand it either. Again, oh well! No tears from me, yo! Anywho…

If you’re delving into customizing and sealing your MBs, good luck and god speed!

But now too, if we’re talking wussies here, well, anybody who depends solely on GPS units in their cars to drive them around on streets and roadways that have been around long before they were ever born - ooh, these friggin moronic idiots! It’s a wonder they could ever find their cracks to wipe their butts without one!! Oh, don’t get me started!!! Mwuahahahaha!!!

Keep On Harpin’!

Hey, SPD! Thanks for takin’ the time to reply!

I haven’t tried out a Lee Oskar, yet, but I did just see a bunch of harmonica tutorial sets online with John Sebastian playing them, so I was thinking about trying one given that he’s a pretty great harpist himself. (“Night Owl Blues” was probably the first recorded harmonica song I’d ever heard, and I’d love to learn how to play that someday.) As it was, they only had Hohner stuff at the store I was visiting (I think), and the stuff I wanted to play before was on a Marine Band. But, I will definitely keep an eye out for Lee Oskars next time I can justify spending the money on a new harp. Although, they weren’t around when Sebastian would’ve done that song, so I don’t know that it would fall under “old enough” in my book. :wink: We’ll see…

'til then, how does water or alcohol treat the wood?

Given the time, I hope I can learn to do my own customization. Maybe it’s just plain beginner’s folly, but it doesn’t seem that difficult to do, based on the videos I’ve seen and the potential to ask people who’re in the business.

And, yeah, the GPS(/cell-phone) conundrum is something that could get me going, too, so I definitely won’t talk any more about it. :smiley:

Thanks again, SPD!

Water and/or alcohol will cause swelling in a pearwood comb (Hohner MB).
Hohner says their new combs for the MB are sealed, however I suspect that only leading edges are sealed, leaving the insides of the comb tines as well as the top and bottom of the comb unsealed.
Any liquid will cause a wooden comb to swell if it is allowed to soak, when using any sealant whether salad bowl finish, beeswax, etc, use a thin coat the first coat followed by sanding and another coat.
I have used food grade beeswax as a sealant for some time now with good results. For one harp, I would advise some “Burts Bees” type lip balm
the cost is minimal and the results minty. Make a “boat” from aluminum foil large enough for the comb to fit with room all around. Cut the balm from the tube and put into the foil boat. In a sauce pan or other utensil place the boat in 1/2-3/4 inch water and place on medium low heat and allow to melt (145 degrees) when the wax is liquid place the comb in and allow total coverage, take it out and using a hairdryer blow the excess wax away. After cooling, sand the comb with 200-300 sand paper, and repeat the process. Hint, be mindful of the divots on the top of the comb, they are there to recieve the rivets on the top reedplate, don’t sand them away. Good Luck!
Super Prez

I was in the market for a new harp and was looking into buying a MB in D. After reading all this I think I’ll stick with the SP 20’s. I would rather spend my free time learning to play right now. Maybe once I can play decent I’ll get into the more complex harps.

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