Tuning of harmonicas

Tools for Tuning

We provide the right >tools for tuning your harmonicas. The rotary grinder works much better than a tuning file, especially with stainless steel reeds. The chromatic tuner measures the pitch very precisely.


How to check the pitch of a harmonica reed?

General considerations: Please make sure that you set your tuning device to A=443 Hz (basis frequency) - some players prefer 442 Hz or even lower. SEYDEL uses 443 Hz for tuning a Richter harmonica. If you play it live and with cover plates you will land at 440 - 441 Hz which is fine for most of the instruments you play along with. Please make sure to hit each note with a neutral and relaxed embouchure if you like to check single notes on a tuning device. The instrument should be "warmed-up" a little bit and also be a little wet already.

Finding a "neutral" way of blowing/drawing a single note is not easy and the result depends on the player who checks the pitches because all players have an individual way of checking/playing a note.

Therefore check each note individually by applying different playing pressures (soft, medium, hard). In order to tune the octaves to sound without a beating tremolo, you have to be able to play two notes at once ("splitting technique") by covering two or three (-- or ---) holes with your tongue. This is a real challenge especially for the draw octaves (s. below).



Tuning a harmonica

You should regularly check the tuning of your harmonica – reeds suffer from use and wear out, just like car tyres.

Using a file (or the scraper with brass reeds), remove material from the reed tip (#) to raise the pitch – the reed becomes lighter and vibrates at a higher frequency (faster). Support the reed while filing it by using the reed lifter or the reed support of the setup-tool. In order to lower the pitch (b), remove material from the rivet end as shown in the figure below. Make sure not to touch the sides of the reed. In case the reed does not work (buzzing or no sound) please use the reed wrench to re-center the reed (described later) or remove material from the reed edge with the straight edge of the reed-lifter part of the setup-tool or by using the shim.


Important note: Always file along the reed and not across. Cross filing can seriously reduce reed life - especially if filed into the reed-surface when you tune the pitch down.

The following step-by-step description shows in which order you should tune your harmonica to the "Compromised tuning".

For checking the pitch after each alteration hold the harmonica with covers pressed to the comb! Play it softly, medium and hard using the “t”, “g” and “h”-embouchures. Avoid bending the notes - breathe through the instrument rather than drawing/blowing the air forcefully.

Tip: hold the harmonica loosely with two fingers of one hand rather than pressing it to your lips by holding it like usual.

Tuning a harmonica - suggested procedure

Warm up the harmonica a little bit by playing it for a minute at least. You can also warm it up by placing it on a heater.

Blow notes:

- tune root note 4 blow (basis frequency A 443 Hz)

- tune the lower octave 1 blow so that is does not beat (1--4 blow) (0 cent)

- tune all thirds (2, 5, 8 blow) to -14 cent. Check the octaves while using tongue splitting. Start your test very softly and then at maximum volume, best check with covers! (2--5, 3--6, 4--7, etc.)

- use the already perfect pitched lower note as a reference for tuning the upper reeds within an octave always

- tune the fifth (3, 6, 9 blow) to +2 cent (check the octaves, as single notes and sounding together. Listening, no «beating» sound should be produced, regardless of playing (air) pressure

Draw notes:

- tune 2 draw identically to 3 blow

- tune the octaves 1--4 draw to +4 cent (no beating)

- tune 3---7 draw to -12 cent, check the octave with splitting (three holes must be covered by the tongue)

-repeat the procedure with 4---8 draw, 5---9 draw and 6---10 draw


Check everything again after a day and some playing - reed pitch sometimes drops after settling.


Important note: Playing in octaves is a technique commonly used in Blues and other playing styles. So make sure to tune them to be "no beating". Find out which of the notes is too high or to low by playing them individually. Tip: You can even check octaves visually while recording the octave-sound on your computer by using a program that displays the envelope curve of the recorded sound (e.g. the "Audacity" freeware). If the envelope is even and flat the octave is in-tune. If you can see oscillating parts in the envelope the pitch of one of the notes is not right.

Try to avoid changes in the reed offsets while tuning - a small electric drill with a fine bevelling tip is suited best for tuning your instrument without effecting the offset too much. A file is suited well as well, but you need a lot of experience if you do not want to have to redo the reed offsets.

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