Schmutz In My Harp

Regular readers of this site (both of you) might recall how I had been working on bringing harmonica on the rack back into my act. In pursuit of that, I bought a sparkly fresh set of reed plates for my Lee Oskar C harp, which had gotten so old that it was all blown out of tune and, after some moderate kerfluffle, got them installed.

Only to discover that one of the reeds didn’t work well at all.

(Full disclosure: the pic is of a Hohner Blues Harp. I chose it because, unlike with the Oskar, you can see the reed plates when it’s assembled. They’re the brass bits in the picture.)

Now, taking apart and re-assembling a harmonica is a bit of a chore. The top and bottom covers are held on by wee little bolts and, in the case of the Oskar, weirdly shaped and equally tiny nuts. The bolts are sized so that when everything is tightened up, only a smidgen of the bolt comes out the other side of the nut. This is a good thing for a variety of reasons, but it makes it damned difficult to put the bolts back in. So, when I discovered that one of the reeds was only going to make odd little sounds I set the whole thing aside for later, sniffling a little bit about the $25 (+ shipping!) that I thought I’d just wasted.

Oh yeah. And the ~$6 I spent getting a stubby little #1 Phillips head screwdriver.

Then life continued happening and I didn’t get around to popping the thing open until yesterday. I thought maybe I could give recalcitrant reed a little prod and free it up. I got the bolts out and carefully placed where I wouldn’t lose them and pulled the top off.

What’s this? A little piece of brownish schmutz, maybe a bit less than twice the size of a kitchen match head. Tilting the thing made the schmutz drop off and a bit of testing (prior to messing about with the bolts again!) revealed that the reed was free to vibrate in its proper fashion.

But here’s the weird bit. When the harp is assembled properly there are no openings large enough to let mister schmutz get in. I mean, it was soft enough that if you poked it with a hairpin or something like that, you could force it in. But I certainly didn’t do that.

So I’d managed to inadvertently introduce ol’ schmutzy to the interior of the harp when I was originally re-assembling it. Without knowing I’d done so. In fact, I can’t for the life of me figure out just what the schmutz is made of, so I can’t even hazard a guess on how I managed to pick it up and secretly slip it into the works.

Oh well. I guess it’ll have to remain one of life’s little mysteries. Meanwhile I’ve got loads of practicing to catch up on.

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