Richard Sleigh, for those of you who don't know, is one of the most respected diatonic harmonica customisers in the world, a long-time associate of Joe Filisko and a great harp player to boot. Not surprisingly, the kit that he's put together for sale contains some top notch items, useful for working on both diatonics and chromatics. Most of the tools have been specially made to Richard's specs, the exception being a three sided file made by the Swiss company Grobet, specially selected for tuning reeds. The other tuning tool is a draw scraper. I've had a few of these over the years, but this is by far the best. It's extremely sharp (keep your fingers away from the cutting edge!) and very easy to control, mounted in a sturdy steel pin vise. Also mounted in a pin vise is Richard's burnishing tool, for decreasing the gap between the edge of the reed and its slot. Again, very easy to control, it allows you to size one side of the slot at a time (extremely useful if the reed is not perfectly centred in the slot), or by using the opposite end of the tool to work on both sides simultaneously. I found I could use both this tool and the draw scraper for extended periods of time without my hand fatiguing.
A brass reed tool allows you to lift, poke and reshape reeds in all sorts of ways. Made from a nicely finished, hefty piece of brass, this won't scratch your reeds or your hands. Great for setting gaps, adjusting reed curvature, freeing stuck reeds, etc. There are two different combination reed wrench/reed lifter tools included, both made from extremely well finished stainless steel. One has a standard reed wrench (will fit most reeds except Tombo/Lee Oskar) at one end, with a support at the other end for tuning blow reeds with the reedplates mounted on the comb. Simply slide the brass reed tool into the chamber, lift the tip of the blow reed, then slide this tool into the slot and it will hold the tip of the reed at a perfect angle for filing the tip. A better method than the old standby of slipping a screwdriver through the slot. The other wrench/lifter tool features a really neat design that allows you to move the reed backwards and forwards, as well as side to side. This is great for adjusting reeds that you are reattaching using screws or nuts and blots. The other end of this tool has a support for tuning draw reeds, or for blow reeds with the reedplates taken off the comb.
The kit comes bundled in a hefty black felt wrap that can be spread on a table to give you a great working surface. It also comes with a jewellery polishing cloth (puts a nice shine on your covers!) and a white microfibre cloth that provides a high contrast background for your work, as well as providing protection for these tools and any others you decide to carry along with them.
As if these professional quality tools weren't enough, the cost of the kit also includes free phone or email support to answer any questions you might have about using these tools. There is also available a stripped down version of the kit that just includes the draw scraper and the two reed lifter/reed wrench tools. If you are serious about working on your own harps, or working on harmonicas for other people, then you should really take a look at these tools:
This page also includes a video demonstrating the tools and the basics of using them. While you are at Richard's site, you should probably also check out his book "Turbocharge Your Harmonica"
If you have never worked under the covers of your harmonicas, you would be amazed at just how much difference a few simple adjustments can make. True, it will take you quite a while before you are anywhere near as good at this as someone like Richard, but the basics are really not that difficult to learn compared with the degree of improvement they can give your instruments. Even if you already have some experience of tweaking your own harps, there is bound to be something in here that can help you to do it better. Rather than simply sharing a few hints and tips, Richard presents a thorough coverage of the essential fundamentals of harmonica reedwork. Written for what Richard describes as the "intelligently lazy musician", it focuses primarily on the single reed diatonic, although most of the information is readily applicable to the rest of the harmonica family.
The book is nicely designed to be used on your workbench - its relatively small size and spiral binding means that it takes up little space and is easy to leave open at the appropriate page. There's a bit of theoretical stuff, but mostly the book concentrates on the practical side of things, with advice about tools, succinct step-by- step instructions and nice clear illustrations. I can't even begin to imagine how much time and frustration I would have been saved if something like this had been available 30 years ago.
For about the price of a typical diatonic, you can learn how to get all your harps working better and lasting longer - and if that isn't a bargain, I don't know what is.
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