The Seydel Toolset Basic has been around for a while now, but has just recently been improved with a neat new case, a little more compact than the previous one. This kit includes all you need for basic adjustments of your harmonicas, plus the replacement of individual reeds - file, reed support, de-riveting tool, various screwdrivers, drill bit, reamers, tap and tiny screws and nuts. Additional screws and nuts are available and many of the tools can be purchased individually. Seydel also have available the Tuning Kit, which consists of a set of feeler gauges for reed support, a small rotary tool with the appropriate bits and an electronic tuner. I must admit that I prefer the use of hand tools over electrical tools when it comes to fine tuning work, but there is no denying that a good rotary tool is extremely useful to have on hand when dealing with the insides of harmonicas and they can certainly speed up the otherwise rather slow process of tuning stainless steel reeds.
New from Seydel is the Seydel Setup Pack, which is a very innovative and quite unique product. After tuning and reed adjustment, the next most useful thing for getting your harmonica to sound and respond at its best is the process variously known as embossing, or burnishing the slots. To put it simply, this involves reducing the clearance between the edge of the reed and its slot, resulting in more efficient airflow and therefore a more responsive harmonica. I first learned of this process some years ago from Douglas Tate, who I believe learned about it from Rick Epping, former technician for Hohner and inventor of the XB-40. Various methods have been employed to this end, most of them involving a hard rounded object being dragged along the slot to force the edges of the reedplate a little closer to the reed. Over the past year or so, I have been privileged to test a few different versions of one of the first tools created specifically for this task, designed by Swedish harmonica craftsman Dick Sjoeberg. Dick called this tool the UST, which stood for Ultimate Sizing Tool (I was pleased that he chose to use the term "sizing", which I think more accurately describes the process than the various more commonly used terms) and it makes the job considerably quicker and easier.
Anyway, Dick has now collaborated with Seydel to produce a tool which combines the function of the UST with various other useful features. Made of top quality stainless steel, I'm tempted to describe it as a Swiss Army Knife of harmonica customisation, except that it packs its five different functions into something much more compact than a pocket knife. It addition to being able to size reedslots in a extremely easy and efficient way, the Setup Tool also includes a built in reed wrench to help centre reeds correctly (works on most brands, with the exception of Lee Oskar/Tombo) a reed support and reed lifter to help set the correct gap and curvature of the reed and an extremely sharp scraper for fine tuning work. Included along with the tool are some useful pieces of shim stock and a USB stick with full instructions on using the tool, background information on the how reeds work and interact, a demo video and tuning software (requires Windows, but presumably can be run on a Mac with Windows emulation). For about the price of a new harmonica, plus a little bit of practice, you can make dramatically improve the performance of all our harmonicas. This is definitely a cool tool!
For more information about these tools, step by step guides on how to use them and much more besides, check out Seydel's "worth knowing info" page.
If you've done much work at all on harmonicas, you will no doubt have discovered that draw reeds are a lot easier to work on than blow reeds. Whilst the draw reeds are conveniently mounted on the outside of the reedplate, you don't really get complete access to the blow reeds without taking the instrument apart. Then to test that you've got the tuning and reed adjustment correct, you've got to put it all back together again. This is especially inconvenient if you are dealing with a harmonica with nailed-on reedplates, like the Marine Band. It is possible to tune the blow reeds of a diatonic (chromatics offer other challenges) without complete disassembly - the standard method for this is to remove the covers and poke a small screwdriver into the chamber and through the slot of the blow reed, lifting the tip of the reed up above the surface of the reedplate so you can get your file to it. However, this has numerous disadvantages - for starters, it's quite easy to mess up the reed adjustment unless you are very careful and the fact that you are juggling a harmonica, a screw driver and a file all at the same time increases your chances of an accidental slip. If you have a good eye, a steady hand and a rotary tool with a nice fine engraving bit, you can reach through the slot and just lightly touch the reed enough to correct the tuning, but again, accidents can happen. Thankfully, a nice convenient solution is at hand, courtesy of Harmonica Einstein's Tuning Table.
I had the pleasure of meeting the multi-talented Einstein (AKA Rick Trankle) in Chicago last year and whilst his invention is not going to revolutionise the world in the same way as Albert Einstein's work, the Tuning Table could make life much easier for people wanting to tune a diatonic harmonica with less fuss and/or less swearing! The tool itself is extremely simple - it's a piece of firm plastic with a flat base and an "anvil" like piece attached to it. This anvil has two ends, one to be inserted into the reed chamber to support the full length of the blow reed, the other thinner part to be slid under the draw reeds. You can securely hold the tuning table and your harmonica (minus the covers) in one hand and apply your file or reed scraper with the other hand. Slip your harmonica off the tuning table again, hold the covers in place, check the tuning, repeat as necessary. Simple!
As a special bonus, the Tuning Table comes with another Harmonica Einstein invention for free - the Harmonica Einstein Reed Plinker. It's generally a good idea after working on a reed to pluck it a few times to make sure that it swings cleanly through its slot and to make sure that it returns to its correct offset. Again, easy to do with draw reeds, not so easy with blow reeds. The Reed Plinker is made from extremely thin stainless steel with the tip shaped into a tiny hook. It easily slides in between the edge of the reed and its slot and when you pull it back out again - TWANG! If you've adjusted a blow reed using a toothpick, use this tool to plink it a couple of times to make sure it's holding its new gap. If got a stray particle of tortilla chip jamming up a reed, don't frantically suck and blow at it, just take off the cover and plink it until the reed frees up.
Two brilliantly simple ideas that make life a lot easier for harmonica players. For more details, check out www.tuningtable.com
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