Hohner Classic Harmonicas hot-rodded for 21st Century Blues

Here’s the deal, harp freaks…

You send me a Hohner Crossover / Deluxe / Golden Melody / Special 20 / Rocket 10 hole diatonic harmonica in great shape and I re-do the reed plates for high performance.

This offer applies to the Hohner hand made series harps made over the last 15 years IN GREAT SHAPE with all screw construction. Please don’t send Marine Band 1896 put together with nails.

You can also have Rockin Ron ship harps to me for this deal. Just tell him what you are up to and he will know what to do.

I’ll set up the harp for:

– airtight, buttery bends up and down the harp

– over blow friendly reeds on holes 4, 5, & 6

– extra attention to holes 2 & 3, 9 & 10 to balance out the presence and clarity of the bent notes as melody notes

– a tuning formula very close to 19 limit just intonation for smooth chords while keeping the 5 & 9 draw notes on pitch for playing melody lines.

– reed action that balances out bending and over-blow playing without having reeds “blank out” from harder attacks that come from “adrenaline” situations…

Then here is your chance to turn your harp into a high performance machine at half the price of a full custom Marine Band harmonica. You supply the harp, I supply the skill and attention.

Here is what I do for this version of the overhaul:

1. Step one was to use a big ass heavy duty tool that a friend of mine made for me for moving reeds while still attached to the reed plates with rivets. He swore me to secrecy on the design of this tool and it’s one of those things I’ve kept under my hat for years cause I don’t want people getting mad at me for having an unfair advantage (or bugging me to “just show it to me I won’t tell anyone)

Anyhow I use this thing to center reeds at the root to make embossing more consistent. Some reeds are really off center from the factory – like diagonal. Most customizers just work around the reed as best they can, and over-emboss to close up the wide areas.

I also use this tool to close the space between reed tips and the end of the slot when they are too far away.

Here is a video of the before and after on one reed plate:

2. Make sure the reed plates fit the comb with no air leaks.

3. Emboss reed plates and shape the reeds – this usually means making about 3 passes to get the reed where I want it with various tests and a lot of plinking the reeds to make them settle. I fuss around a lot on holes 2 & 3 to get good raspy bends and also re-test all over blows in holes 4,5, & 6 and blow bends…

4. Rough tune the reeds and then let them sit for a few days.

5. Wax reeds in slots 2,3,4,5,6, 9 & 10 – this gives helps the bends and over blows in these holes, and gives you more control over high note bends ( and overdraws if your technique is good )

6. Two more tunings to dial in the reeds. Sometimes more. Testing for octaves smooth chords, in tune melody notes. The general temperament is close to 19 limit just intonation, but i tweak it a bit to give you a little more room for high note bends and a couple other things I like to hear in a harp.

7. Check harp with cover plates screwed on and tweak things if necessary if the screw pressure brings out some minor slot / reed alignment issues.

8. Test one more time and then get ready to ship…

These harps are very close to the flagship Custom Marine Bands that I have been making for $197. The full custom Marine Bands have some minor extra tweaks plus the custom combs and the re-shaped cover plates.

I am now taking orders for a small batch of these overhauls for only $95.


October update – The harps for October are sold out… Please contact me to get on the November list.

Harpe Diem!

PS – if you have harps to send me for the hot rod treatment you can use this address:

PO Box 23, Boalsburg PA 16827


My Favorite Screwdrivers

wiha screwdriver


Wiha Scredrivers are super high-quality tools made in Germany and widely distributed.  The type I use are called precision screwdrivers (pictured) and they have a red tip that rotates that you can put one finger on to guide the tool while using the rest of your fingers to rotate it and drive the screw.

Right now a 7 piece set part # 26190.MC (the same one I have been using for years) is on sale for $19.99.

They also have a pozidrive screwdriver #26210 that I use for the screws on Hohner crossovers and many other harmonicas. Pozidrive screws look like Phillips head screws at first glance but they have 4 thin lines that make the head look like a fat x over a very thin x. The blades in a pozidrive screwdriver and the walls in the slot are parallel so the screwdriver fits snugly and does not have the wiggle room you get with phillips head screws and screwdrivers.


I priced the 7 piece set of screwdrivers (26190.MC) and the  pozidrive screwdriver (26210) with UPS shipping to Pennsylvania for a total of $31.82.

You can find these screwdrivers at http://www.wihatools.com/


New Tools!

Scraper / Embossing Tool

Reed Wrench / Reed Support Tool

Reed Shaper Tool Back in Production

The tools you see in the videos above are all in production now and available as pre orders. The draw scraper / embossing tool will be available in about a month. The reed wrench and reed shaper will be avaiable in two weeks. I have the stock for the reed wrenches and reed shapers. I’ve been holding off on announcing the new scrapers until I got the green light from the machine shop that is making the tools that they had an opening in their schedule to make the tools.

If you pre-order now you will get your tools first plus I’m including a free reed wrench / reed support tool with orders of the scraper / embossing tool.

Here are the details:

Draw Scraper / Embossing Tool

The scraper / embossing tool is a combination of a 1/8″ wide draw scraper and an angled chisel point embossing tool. It is made of heat treated high carbon steel that is machined into shape and the final polishing and sharpening is done by hand. I made the original wide scraper for someone who wanted tools to tune a shruti box with. A shruti box is a bellows instrument from India that has brass accordion reeds that look like giant harmonica reeds.

I started using the large scraper for tuning harmonicas and was impressed by how well it worked. It is still small enough to reach inside a standard diatonic harmonica to drop the pitch of blow reeds without removing the reed plate from the comb. It is also easier in general to use and to sharpen. A major upgrade in one of my favorite tools for harmonica work. Please don’t use this tool on stainless steel reeds – the super sharp edge cuts brass easily without breaking down but breaks down against the much harder stainless steel.

The other side of the tool has a chisel point embosser. This tool really excels at closing the embossing at the end of the slot where the reed is attached. The tempered steel gets polished so it is smooth but still has a well defined point that will reach to the very end of the slot. You hold it like a pen and it is much easier to control than flat angled embossing tools. Once you get a feel for it you can close the slot with a much lighter touch than other tools designed for the same purpose. The tempered high carbon steel holds its shape and will not distort and break down like softer forms of steel.

The middle of the tool is covered with clear tubing that makes a comfortable handle with a bit of give. The tool is 5 inches long.

Reed Wremch / Reed Lifter and Support Tool

The new reed wrench / reed support tool replaces the two different wrenches that I used to include in my tool kit. I combined elements of both reed lifter / support tools into one design that works for exposed reeds or reeds that are inside the chamber. The other end of the tool is the reed wrench that has the gripper nibs that allow you to move reeds you are attaching with screws in any direction. A standard reed wrench won’t let you back up a reed if you get it too close to the end of a slot.

Reed Shaping Tool

This tool design is basically the same tool I have been making for a few years with a few refinements in the shaping and polishing process. It is Stainless Steel and works quite well with brass reeds and will also hold up well for shaping stainless steel reeds (it just takes a lot more pressure to work the stainless steel reeds) I use this tool constantly when customizing reed plates. It focuses pressure on exactly the part of the reed that you want to curve or straighten out and with practice becomes a very predictable extension of your fingers.

All of the tools above are in the store on this website:

Draw Scraper / Embossing Tool

Reed Wrench / Reed Support Tool

Reed Shaping Tool

How to Replace A Harmonica Reed with its own Rivet…

Hi Folks, this video will show you how to move a reed from one reed plate to another using the rivet that is already in the reed. I used to think this was a great way to destroy a reed plate, but I’ve learned how to carefully stack the deck in your favor to make the process close to bulletproof. The tool you see in the video is available in the store on this site, at Rockin Rons, and at Blue Moon Harmonicas. Enjoy the show!

R. Sleigh Harmonica Reed Replacement Tools Have Arrived!

Yes! I now have in Stock the Reed Replacement tools including the 2 ounce brass mallets and the optional “lazy susan” base.

Get the low down on this tool in the following videos:

This video gives you some historical background and a basic tour of the prototype:

This video shows me using the new version of the tool with built in reed jigs & base:

You can find the Reed Replacement tools and bases at the store on this website

Reed Jig for Enlarging Rivet Holes for Screws

Before you can attach a harmonica reed with a screw you need to enlarge the hole in the rivet pad with a reamer or round file or similar tool. The tricky part is holding it firmly while you do this. It gets even trickier when you are dealing with stainless steel reeds. Jon Harl, a harp tech in San Jose, specializes in the stainless steel screws and described a jig he was experimenting with and let me run with the idea. So I’m going to have these tools machined by Tom Halchak at Blue Moon Harmonicas. They let you hold the reed firmly in place with your finger or thumb and support the rivet pad solidly while you work. They will be machined from aluminum and the channels are roughly as deep as the average reed and in 3 different widths to adapt to most any reed you may want to work on. Stay tuned for details on when they will be available…Reed Jigg 2.0Reed Jig 2.0

Harmonica Reed Tool in Production…

Harmonica Tool Freaks!

The R. Sleigh Reed Tool is now in final stages of tweaking and will be in production very soon. At this point (June 20th, 2015) I’m waiting to get reed tools delivered to me so I can ship them out to the people who ordered them through an offer I ran for a week. Once I ship these out, I will make the tool available on this website and at RockinRon’sMusicSD

This tool has been a long time coming. My goal is to make available the best possible combination of rivet punch and rivet hole flattener with a base that gives you enough mass to focus the force of a light mallet strike directly where it will do the most good.

One of the things I learned in the process of developing this tool is the difference between a hammer and a mallet. The important distinction is that a mallet is made of material that will give before it deforms what it is striking. the original definition of a mallet was a hammer with a wooden head used to strike a chisel.

I recommend using a brass 2 oz mallet with this reed tool. It gives you more control once you get used to the feel of the brass head striking the top of the punches. You won’t deform the top of the punch. This guarantees that the way the punch reacts will not change. I have an old Farrell tool with a punch that I clobbered with steel hammers and the top looks like a mushroom. I should have restricted myself to using the 2 oz mallet that came with it. Live and learn.

I’ll update this post when the Reed Tool is available again. In the mean time, I’ll finish developing a series of updated tools and supplies for reed replacement to complement this new tool… Stay tuned!


T.R.Y. !


The way you breathe, keep time, and hold your body will make you or break you as a harmonica player. The harmonica is the box of reeds. The resonator, the bellows and the metronome are all built into one amazing instrument: your body.

You can customize harmonicas to be louder and more responsive. You can also customize your body into a world-class musical amplifier and rhythm section, funky as a monkey and natural as a tree.

Use the word TRY to remember how to set up your power stance for playing harmonica.

Look at the illustration and start from the T at the bottom and then work your way up. The three-step process starts with the T…


  1. T stands for (lower) Trapezius – the name of the muscle that you engage to straighten up your upper back. The lower trapezius muscle is v shaped and pulls your upper back and shoulders into an upright, balanced position.


When you engage the lower trapezius muscle you will feel the sensation in your mid back, and your upper body will move into alignment, with your head balanced on your shoulders. The lower trapezius starts the process and then as you roll your head up you will feel the back of your neck relax because it is no longer struggling to hold the weight of your head.


It can help to visualize a string attached to the top of your head pulling your head up gently as you do this.


  1. R stands for Rhomboids. The rhomboid muscles are deep muscles, located under the trapezius muscles. They are shaped like a fat upside down V or chevron. When you engage the rhomboid muscles your shoulder blades move toward the spine and you open up your chest cavity. You will feel your shoulders moving back a little as you do this.


  1. Y stands for Yawn. Now that you have your stance in place it is time to melt upper body tension and open up your throat by yawning. When you do a nice luxurious yawn you will feel your shoulders and neck relax, and this feeling will sink down into the rest of your body like a wave.


Now breathe into this new posture and feel the difference that it makes in your entire body. When you engage the lower trapezius and the rhomboid muscles you start a chain reaction that aligns your entire body. Your pelvis will shift. You will find all sorts of changes happening as you hold this new stance and get used to it.

TRY this three-step process – it will change the way you feel and the way you play the harmonica. It works on many levels. It is the stance of a champion: relaxed, alert, confident, open, ready for anything.

For more information on this process and how to breathe through the harmonica, contact Richard Sleigh: rrsleigh@gmail.com with TRY in the subject line… Thanks!

Reed Tool Prototype!

reed tool3reed tool 2reed tool 1

What you see here is a harmonica reed tool prototype made for me by Tom Halchak at Blue Moon Harmonicas. It is based on the legendary Farrell reed tool that is no longer available. One side has a hole that allows you to push rivets into. There is a ramp under the hole that lets the rivet that has been punched out slide down in front of the tool.

There is a pointed punch for removing rivets and a flat punch for installing rivets and flattening rivet pads and the area around the rivet hole in a reed plate.

The tool is made of aluminum and air hardened tool steel. The base is tool steel. The overall size is 3″ x 2″ and the base is 1 3/4″ wide.

There is enough mass in the base that you can use this tool on a tabletop, but if you put it on top of an anvil it increases the mass and stability and improves performance. I plan on using mine on an anvil at the shop and as is when I am on the road.

This tool will be available after the testing and tweaking process is done. Stay tuned!


Light Box Update

Here are photos of the latest version of the adjustable light box for reed / slot work.

It now uses an LED light bulb with a dimmer switch. I also built in a compartment for the wax / oil lubrication for the embossing tool, and a magnet to hold the reed wrench / lifter handy. The translucent panel for sighting reeds with a back light swaps out with the wood panel that has the slot. The work surface is mounted on a 3 inch pipe section that allows you to rotate it for your line of sight. It also has the clear cube with hairlines on it that allow you to check to make sure your eye is centered while you work.

photophoto 4photo 3