Turbocharge Your Harmonica!
Do you ever feel like you have to work twice as hard for half as much when you are playing one of your harmonicas? Wouldn’t it be great if you knew you could take a stock harmonica and get it to play in tune and have an even response, get all the bends without having to work your ass off for one or two of them? Do you ever find yourself at a jam session hoping that they don’t throw you a solo when the only harp you have in that key is a real dog? Maybe you now have some custom harmonicas that play well and you really want to conserve them, but get really frustrated with everything else you try to play.
Let me confess something – I used to be totally frustrated at my ability to make a harmonica respond to me and stay in tune. I even gave up playing the harmonica a couple of times over the years because I got so tired of trying to fix the damn things. It just didn’t seem fair – I got hooked on playing an instrument that seemed so simple, but I could not find anyone who could explain how harmonicas really work or how to work on them.
Back in the dark ages of the blues harp (OK, I guess I have to reveal my age, sort of – I started playing in earnest in 1969) having a great harmonica was pure voodoo and good luck. I was allowed to try out harmonicas in the music store, even though you weren’t supposed to, and I just bought the ones that worked the best. If I got one that was particularly nice, I did everything I could to make it last, and I grieved when it died. Because there was nothing I could do about it.
I became determined to learn everything I could about how reeds work, what makes them bend, what makes them overblow, how you tune them, how you replace reeds. I made a series of prototype harmonicas, a version of the idea that the XB-40 uses to make all the notes bend on a diatonic. I repaired and customized thousands of harmonicas and made thousands of mistakes and went down countless dead ends figuring out the best tools and the easiest ways to work on harmonica reeds.
I studied with the best teachers out there and I ended up helping to develop the method that is now the standard by which all modern custom harmonicas are judged. If it’s a fact, it ain’t braggin. I played a big part in developing the Filisko Method, the process that rocked the harmonica world in the 1990s.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because if you are looking for tools and methods that will save you time and effort, if you want to understand how the harmonica works and how to work on it, I want to make this as easy as I can for you. I want you to cut through the line, skip the dead end experiments, and focus on a few skills and techniques that really get the results that you are looking for. And to do all of this with some tools that won’t let you down.
Now I can’t take you and turn you overnight into a top harmonica technician. That takes a lot of time and patience. But it is just like playing the instrument – if you find a good coach, some good books, and some good tools then you can make more progress in a month than you would in years of working alone.
If this sounds good to you, check out the tools and resources below!
“Turbocharge Your Harmonica Volume 1- Straighten Up and Tune Right” ” is the title of a book that I am in the final stages of writing and illustrating. This book will give you detailed information on how to tune, adjust and maintain your harmonicas. The main focus is on the diatonic, but the information on reeds and slots can be used for any type of harmonica or free reed instrument. If you want to pre-order to be one of the first to get a copy, please contact me at: email@example.com.
In the mean time, I am working on some projects to make it easier for people that want to improve their own harps, including tool kits , Marine Band Kits, and harp tech instruction.
Harp Tech Instruction
If you want to learn the most efficient ways to work on your harmonicas in record time, consider studying harmonica technology or music with me at my shop in Philipsburg PA. This is by far the fastest way to learn how to take control of your harmonicas. For more information contact me and I will put you in my schedule.
I also teach harmonica technology via webcam, email, and phone consultations. I can supply you with drawings related to your specific questions, evaluate your harmonicas, and generally support your efforts as you work on your instruments.
Many of my students have ended up changing the way they play the instrument as part of the process of learning how to work on them. If there is any question that the way you are playing the instrument is throwing off your tuning, the response of the reeds, or shortening the life of your harps, we can figure this out and correct it.
I have been playing Richard Sleigh’s harps for years (and believe me, I ain’t gettin’ ‘em for free!!). But even though I’ve spent a chunk of change on them and had to wait a long time for some of them, I’ve never regretted the investment that I made. Playing music is what gives me some of my highest highs, and these harps have taken me to places that I didn’t know I could go to. For example, I fell in love instantly with his low D for fiddle tunes, and it completely changed that game for me - and it is so much kinder to my neighbor’s pets than the standard D, to boot… I play a wide range of styles from Blues to Old Timey, standards, and Richard has dialed in the harps for my needs and then some. They are extremely even in their response from reed to reed, and when it comes to playing bends and overbends, it feels like I have power steering. They are WAY more playable than any production harp or other custom harp I’ve tried.
In the past few years I have also studied with Richard at his shop and I’ve been using his tools as well, and my sense of control over this part of my musical life has increased immensely. Working directly with Richard has been a series of breakthroughs and his tools just make tuning so much easier that I look forward to it (sometimes). I have even gotten good at replacing reeds, and it really makes it easier to know that Richard will bail me out if worst comes to worst.
Trip Henderson ~ New York, NY
“I greatly enjoyed working with Richard. I had a lot of ah-ha moments as Richard cleared up one mystery after another with his demonstrations and explanations. Watching a master technician at work and being able to ask questions on the spot is so easy and fun that I did not realize how much I was learning until later on. We worked on a wide variety of harps including XB-40s, chromatics and standard diatonics, and Richard’s approach seemed direct and right on for all of them.
Being able to try things out immediately and then have them critiqued gave me a chance to do an on the spot reality check on what was actually sinking in and uncover more questions and clarifications.
Whether it was routine maintenance, emergency repairs, or just to get a better understanding of the principles which make these instruments work, I found the instruction invaluable. Learning from Richard was a rewarding experience that gave me the confidence to go beyond basic repair to trying out some of my own customizing ideas.”
I was fortunate to have spent two weekends with Richard at times when he had gigs in nearby State College, PA (Penn State Univ). Working by day and enjoying great music at night was the perfect combination if it can be arranged.
I hope to return again to take advantage of Richard’s experience as a harmonica instructor as well as have him critique some of the customizing work I have done since my last visit.”
Silver Spring, MD
“I consider myself pretty mechanically inclined and thought I knew my way around a harp before our session. Boy was I wrong! I didn’t know how much I needed to learn until Richard showed me his invaluable techniques and tips.
I just finished my first “on my own” harp tuning session. Wow what a difference in the sound… I can’t say enough about the value of the techniques and tips he shared with me. Run
don’t walk to the master!”
Indian Mills, NJ