By Lee Oskar. Though our harmonica tool kit is not currently available for purchase, we have made this informative guide available for your use. Many of the steps outlined in this maintenance guide can be performed with a ‘rotary’ tool, files, and a Phillips #1 screwdriver with a large handle, for easy assembly, disassembly.
Get a fast hold on the fundamentals of playing Lee Oskar Harmonicas along with other instruments. This QuickGuide booklet gives you a head start, and is a companion guide to our educational website LeeOskarQuickGuide.com . Feel free to download and/or print the PDF above.
While we have endeavored to provide complete, in-depth information about our products on our Web Site, we cannot possibly answer every question on the subjects of harmonica and harmonica playing. Below we have provided a list of links for those who are interested in the further exploration of these subjects. Also, in the event that you are unable to locate a retail outlet in your area that carries our products, we have provided a list of places on the net where our harmonicas are available for direct purchase.
Harmonicas are not exchangeable, refundable, or serviceable by retail stores due to health regulations. Once a harmonica has been played by any person or removed from a store (purchased), it is considered to be used merchandise, and must be returned to the manufacturer by the purchaser for warranty service.
An obvious reason harmonicas are not returnable is the fact that they are mouth-blown instruments, and as such are susceptible to being carriers of germs. Many times a “defective” harmonica needs nothing more than a good cleaning. Why not learn to clean and maintain your own instrument, thereby extending its life, and keeping your cost down?
Since the harmonica is a mouth-blown instrument, the very act of playing it contributes to the deterioration of tone quality, reed pitch and instrument life. The human breath carries with it many contaminants that build up residue on the reeds, inside cover plates, and the comb. Each person’s body chemistry is different, and varying levels of sugar and other chemicals are present in the saliva. These contaminants, together with any others that may be present from eating or drinking, will collect within the harmonica and solidify on the various components. Any build-up on the reeds will obviously cause the pitch to vary. Since the build-up most often occurs on the free end of the reeds, the pitch will flatten.
Heavy residue on the reed plates themselves, as well as the inside surfaces of the cover plates, may cause a loss of tone brilliance. Particles of food, hair, and pocket lint often become lodged between a reed and the reed slot, interfering with the action of the reed. Careful cleaning at regular intervals will help prevent corrosion and preserve your harmonica, extending its life. Also, from an aesthetic point of view, frequent cleaning of the comb cavities and the outer surfaces of the cover plates, will keep your harp looking presentable.
Periodic rinsing of your Lee Oskar Harmonica, which has a plastic comb, in plain water will go far to keep it clean.
For a more thorough cleaning, the following suggested materials are readily available: Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, small spray bottle, lint-free cloth and small round brush (i.e. electric shaver cleaning brush).
Before disassembling your harmonica, spray a light mist of alcohol on both cover plates and wipe clean with a lint-free cloth.
Using your tools, carefully disassemble the cover plates and reed plates from the comb.
NOTE: Any time the cover plates are removed, it is of utmost importance that exposed reeds be handled very carefully, and not disturbed or snagged.
Cleaning the Reed Plates – spray both sides with alcohol and carefully wipe the plates clean. On the side of plates having reeds attached, wipe in parallel direction of reeds, starting at rivet end, being careful to not snag the free ends or disturb them in any way. DO not use a brush on the reed plate, as the brush may get caught or snagged between the reeds.
Cleaning the Comb – spray with alcohol and use small round brush to clean holes and chambers. Then wipe dry with cloth.
Cleaning the Cover Plates – spray with alcohol and carefully wipe inside and outside surfaces with cloth.
When all components are completely dry, reassemble harmonica according to instructions provided in the Lee Oskar Harmonicas Tool Kit Maintenance Manual. DO NOT play harmonica before all alcohol is dry. Inhalation of Isopropyl alcohol fumes may be harmful.
Check out the Harmonica Maintenance Videos below for tips to disassemble and reassemble the Lee Oskar Harmonica.
Below is an excerpt from Lee Oskar’s book, “THE ART OF HARMONICA MAINTENANCE”
This is a common problem caused by improper offset of the reed.
Adjust reed offset using the pick or flat end of the Offset Tool.
Too little offset.
Correct offset. Will respond to both soft and hard playing.
Too much offset.
Correct offset. Will respond to both soft and hard playing.
Correct offset. Will respond to both soft and hard playing.
Fine tune reed using chisels and/or file to remove metal.
There are several common difficulties that you may experience when learning to play the harmonica. For example, draw 1, 2 or 3 may sound muted, airy, distorted, or flat. Other notes may sound shrill, unclear or might not play at all. Many players assume that there is something wrong with the harmonica. However, it is usually improper playing technique that is causing the problem. You can overcome these problems with practice and by learning correct playing technique, correct positioning of the tongue/oral cavity and developing proper breath control.
Difficulty with 2 & 3 draw notes is the most common problem. Beginners and even some experienced players may have problems with the 2 & 3 draw. This is because the 2 & 3 draw reeds bend more than the other draw reeds. Bending is an advanced playing technique that occurs when we constrict the air flow. This results in varying tones and notes, delivering greater musical expression. Bending notes does not refer to bending the reeds physically.
Tech stuff: What makes a bend happen? And what governs whether or not a reed will bend and by how much? Each chamber shares two reeds, a blow and draw reed, which interact with each other. When the two reeds are more than a semitone apart, the higher pitched of the two reeds, as in draw hole #2 and draw hole #3 (with proper technique) will produce the bent note, or notes.
However, when a beginner constricts the air flow too much by using improper technique, the note will sound muted, airy, distorted or flat because they are bending the reed accidentally. Some brands of harmonicas are made with a less exacting design or inferior quality materials and will have air leakage and poor reed response. These leaky harmonicas require a player to use a lot of air to get the reeds to respond. Lee Oskar Harmonicas are designed and manufactured to be very airtight using a plastic comb and high quality materials that provide reeds with very responsive action. However, because our reeds are so sensitive, sometimes even an experienced player may encounter problems because they are constricting the air too much, out of habit. This is especially common if they have been playing other brands of harmonicas that are less airtight.
Refer to the chart below for further help if you are experiencing these problems.
Remember, take your time and practice each step and technique.
Embouchure is the actual method of applying your lips, tongue and mouth on the harmonica. Many beginners may have playing difficulties which can be attributed to incorrect embouchure.
Draw: 1 thru 3
You are bending a note unintentionally by sucking the air through the harmonica in a constricted way.
Say the syllable sounds “EEE” or “UUhh” verbally, and notice the position your tongue and mouth cavity are in. The tongue and mouth in this position will cause too much suction and constrict your air flow.
Comment: Lee Oskar Harmonicas are very air tight. These reeds are very sensitive and if you are not focused on playing with a large warm embouchure, you can easily bend or distort these reeds.
Learn to unbend notes, by drawing the air through the harmonica in a more relaxed way.
With long and steady breath say the syllable sounds “Aahhh” or “Ohhh” verbally and notice the position your tongue and mouth cavity are in.
Your jaw should drop way down and your tongue should be on the bottom of your mouth (between your lower set of teeth). In this position you will have a nice, clear air passage.
To avoid sucking in too hard, also try to breath partly in through your nose, taking some of the pressure off the reed. Think of yawning; play with a yawn-like mouth cavity when drawing in air.
Pucker higher than wide; the inner part of your lips should cover a large area of the cover plates for a nice tight seal.
Tilt the back of the harmonica upward and draw gently, long and steady; open up and relax your embouchure.
Blow: 8 thru 10
Blowing too hard without proper air flow and embouchure.
With long and steady breath say the syllable sound “EEE” or “SSS” verbally and notice the position your tongue and mouth cavity are in. Use this position while blowing in holes 8 through 10 as a reference to give you proper air flow.
Pucker higher than wide; the inner part of your lips should cover a large area of the cover plates for a tight seal.
Blow gently, long and steady; open up and relax your embouchure.
Draw: 7 thru 10
Comment: Draw 7 thru 10 cannot bend notes. Do not play with constricted air passage.
Same as Draw 1 thru 3 difficulties.
Note: Another reason a reed may have poor or no response is due to not enough reed offset (gap). Refer to the harmonica maintenance overview for more info on reed offset.
THE CUSTOMER SERVICE AND WARRANTY INFORMATION LISTED ON THIS WEB SITE APPLIES TO UNITED STATES & CANADIAN CUSTOMERS ONLY. FOR CUSTOMERS OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES & CANADA, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LEE OSKAR DISTRIBUTOR.
Our service department takes great pride in providing fast, friendly warranty service for NEW Lee Oskar products. We stand behind our products 100%, replacing or repairing them free of charge if we find a manufacturer’s defect. However, before assuming that one of our harmonicas is defective, please understand that many players, especially beginners, have problems getting the harmonica to play and sound as well as they would like. The 2 & 3 draw reeds are the most challenging notes to learn to play correctly. Almost always, it is improper playing technique that is causing the problem and not a defective harmonica.
If you are encountering a playing problem, especially with 2&3 draw, take a minute and read our helpful page entitled “Overcoming Common Playing Difficulties”. We think you will find that with some simple instruction and guidance from us, together with a little practice on your part to develop the proper playing technique, you will be able to get all of the reeds to respond properly.
For more instructional material, visit our harmonica links page. There you will find many resources offering instruction on-line as well as in the form of classes, books, videos, etc.
ALL REEDS HAVE A LIMITED LIFE SPAN Harmonica reeds may eventually fail to react, go out of tune, or break off entirely from use and normal metal fatigue. Certain styles of playing can also fatigue reeds prematurely. We have no control over how our products are used after purchase, therefore our limited warranty covers only new harmonicas and/or new replacement parts.
CONSUMER SELF-SERVICE Our replacement reed plates (in every key) allow consumers to rebuild their own harmonicas economically, at about half the cost of a new instrument. Although we recommend that players learn to service their own harmonicas, we cannot guarantee our products after they have been disassembled or tampered with. Damaged goods from improper handling do not qualify for free replacement.
WE DO NOT OFFER REPAIR SERVICE FOR USED HARMONICAS
New Lee Oskar Harmonicas and replacement parts are warranted to be free of defects in material and workmanship at the time of purchase. Any NEW Lee Oskar products which appear to contain defects will be, at our discretion, repaired or replaced at no charge, providing they are shipped to us prepaid by the consumer, immediately after purchase. Proof of purchase and a brief description of the problem should be included. Continued usage will render this limited warranty on new products void.
This limited warranty does not cover damage resulting from accidents, misuse, alteration or normal wear. Due to health laws in some states, mouth-blown instruments are not exchangeable by retail stores.
Lee Oskar Enterprises, Inc., does not offer repair service for used harmonicas. The Lee Oskar Harmonica System allows players to service their own harmonicas with parts and accessories which are available at retail musical instrument stores.
Lee Oskar Enterprises, Inc.
PO Box 2210
Everett, WA 98213
Many novice players ask us for advice about which keys of harmonicas they should start out with. To determine which keys will be best for you to buy, ask yourself these two questions:
If you intend to play solo, or simply for your own satisfaction, then any key can be used. In other words, any song can be played in any key, regardless of what key the original composer, or artist, may have selected.
However, if you plan to play with someone else, such as a duo or group, or to play along with a favorite recording, your key selection would be governed by those situations.
In order to know which keys of harmonicas to buy, it is necessary to first determine which style of playing you will be using, 1st Position or 2nd position.
If you want to play simple melodies and folk music, you will probably be playing in 1st Position. This means you would start from the blow, accenting the blow notes and blow chords. You would use a C harp to play in C.
If you want more “expression” for playing Blues, Rock, Country and Pop music, you will probably be playing in 2nd Position. This means you would start from the draw, accenting draw notes and draw chords, and bending. You would use a C harp to play in G.
It’s important to understand that although the note layout for each key of Major Diatonic will be different, the PATTERN of notes, chords and bends will be the same. This means that once you learn to play “Jingle Bells” on a C Major harp, you can play “Jingle Bells” on any key of Major harp (G, A, Bb, Low F, etc.) using the exact same blow/draw patterns.
The following information relates to the Major Diatonic tuning. To learn more about the Melody Maker™, Natural Minor and Harmonic Minor tunings, see the harmonicas page. We also suggest that you consult our Pitch Charts to know which keys are highest in pitch and which keys are lowest, for all four tunings.
C A G D E F Bb Eb – in that order.
If your goal is to be able to sit in with others, jam with bands and play in most any situation, it would be ideal to have all 12 keys, plus Low F and High G. However, if you are just getting started, we feel that owning the first 5 keys listed above would give you enough flexibility to play in many situations.
Click Here to go to the Major Diatonic Key Chart, showing the various keys of music that each key of harmonica can play in, using 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th positions.
Key selection charts are included with every Lee Oskar Harmonica.
Although it is possible to play in many keys of music on any one harmonica by using various positions and techniques, most players use only the first two positions; 1st Position (also known as Straight Harp) and 2nd Position (also known as Cross Harp).
NOTE: It is important to know that 1st Position (starting from BLOW / EXHALE) plays in a different key from 2nd Position (starting from DRAW / INHALE).
It is necessary to determine which style of playing will be used to know which key of harp to select. To determine the correct key of harp to use, refer to our Notation chart samples below and review the Resources section of this website.
For each harmonica tuning (the Standard tuning and our three Altered tunings), essential points are explained below, using specific keys as examples; however, the same patterns shown below can be used regardless of the key chosen within each tuning.
NOTE: With different techniques, you can obtain additional notes by using bending or overblows/overdraws. Some reeds can be bent to achieve multiple notes – we recommend you review the Notation Charts which includes bending to become familiar with bending patterns.
The Major Diatonic Harmonica was originally intended for playing simple Folk music of the nineteenth century and its notation layout was adequate for that purpose. The original style of playing, known as 1st Position (Straight Harp), is suitable for playing simple melodies, Folk music and various other types of music that call for melody lines, along with some chords.
1st Position (Straight Harp), is still used by many players today, but due to its simplicity of sound, it is not as popular as 2nd Position (Cross Harp).
The evolution of music introduced Blues, Rock and Country and along with these new forms of music came the need for greater expression. Harmonica players began to experiment and found that when they primarily used the inhale (draw) notes, a different kind of sound was provided. This resulted in a new and more fluid style of playing, known as 2nd Position (Cross Harp). 90% of today’s players use 2nd Position for Blues, Rock, Country & Pop music.
2nd Position (Cross Harp), is a Blues scale that offers a more expressive and soulful sound. Many of the draw reeds can be bent (a technique used to change the pitch of a note.)
The Melody Maker™, with its three altered notes, is intended for playing Major scale melodies in 2nd Position (Cross Harp). In 1st Position (Straight Harp), you can play: Irish, Clave/Afro music. In 2nd Position (Cross Harp), you can play: R&B, Country, Reggae, Pop, Jazz, Latin.
(The Melody Maker™ is NOT recommended for Blues).
The Natural Minor, with its five Altered notes, is a natural choice for playing minor music in 2nd Position (Cross Harp), such as: minor Blues, Reggae, Ska, Latin, Funk, R & B and Hip Hop.
The Harmonic Minor, with its five altered notes, is ideal for playing World Music, typically played in 1st Position (Straight Harp). It offers a soulful, Eastern European sound, perfectly suited for playing traditional ethnic music spanning many different cultures, including: Eastern European, Gypsy, Yiddish, Asian, Tango and Reggae music.
NOTE: The Harmonic Minor is a unique “modal music” tuning with different Minor/Major scales. Please refer to our Position Charts to learn more.
Explore, experiment, and express yourself with our different Lee Oskar Harmonicas tunings in various keys!
In the following diagrams, a C Major harp is used as an example only. Although the notation layout for other keys will be different…
Example: Key of C
It is possible to bend certain reeds down (flatten) to produce a more fluid and expressive sound that can be obtained by playing exact notes precisely. Also, several important notes that are missing on the Major harmonica (in 2nd Position) can be found by bending.
Bending Technique: Start drawing gently on hole #3 until you get a clear, clean tone. Then drop your jaw slightly and draw your tongue back toward your throat. This will cause the reed to flat or bend. Saying the syllables “AAH-OOH” helps with draw bends and “EEE-OOO” with blow bends.
With practice, you will be able to control the amount of bend, and also you will be able to maintain the pitch. Eventually it will be possible to play the exact bent note directly, without having to bend down to it.
Example: Key of C
Notice that Draw # 3 will bend from B to Bb to A to Ab, or three half-step intervals. Other reeds will only bend down one or two half-step intervals and some reeds will not bend at all.
This same pattern of bent notes is available on all 12 Major keys.