To lower (flatten) the pitch, file from the back of the reed. To raise (sharpen) the pitch, file from the front of the reed.
Tuning Melodica Reeds
OK so you bought your Melodica and you find a sour note or two. By following these instructions, with the right tools, most people can tune a melodica. The following is a concept of touch up tuning. Reeds will change pitch with time & use. Our objective is to take out of tune notes ( I can’t live with this) and bring them in the window of acceptability (I can live with this).
I recommend buying a digital tuner (electric tuning fork) Most tuners will let you calibrate where A is.
You first need to understand that all free reed instruments require tuning at some point. Melodicas perhaps less frequently than most. A starting point might be to find where your Melodica is at in terms of relative pitch. In this case the majority rules determines what our relative pitch is. If all your notes are sharp (A= 444 for example) from A= 440 except for 2, it makes much more sense to accept that your melodicas relative pitch is say A =444. so you’re tuning the 2 reeds to match the others (the pitch one is seeking, is essentially in relation to all the other notes on the instrument) rather than trying to tune 35 notes to match the 2.
Often when playing with other instruments I find it nice to have an instrument that resides a little sharp from the others instruments. I know it doesn’t make sense but a slight tuning alteration can sound nice and add new color in the final mix.
Hohner’s end of the production line tuning for most chromatic harmonicas is A-443. The reason is that a reed that is mounted, valved, tightly housed then blown or drawn…It goes flat…hopefully to no more than the threshold of A-440.
Once you have established which reeds you want to tune, mark the keys (with tape) & corresponding reeds (with magic marker) This is important to keep track of our objective. No sense (un) tuning a good reed.
Now you must prepare your instrument for surgery. Explain to your Melodica that this operation is a necessary procedure, performed successfully most the time, that it probably take less than an hour or two and is no more dangerous than having laser eye surgery. Once you’ve convinced your patient- prepare a clean table, well lighted, a magnifying glass is sometimes helpful, small curved files (not flat files. Find small curved files as you are working above the reed at an angle), a shim to support the reed (something thin like paper ), a tuner, a couple of small screw drivers, and an empty shot glass for placing the screws in. Keep track of which screws go where, some of the melodicas are puzzle like. Photos with a digital camera help keep track of the order of events and document your success. Place your melodica face down on a soft white towel. Take the back of melodica off. On many models you will now have access to the reed plate, if not continue dissection.
You will make more drastic changes in pitch the closer to the back or front of the reed that you file. I tend to stay about an eighth of an inch from the ends. Do not try to file with a fast moving miniature grinding wheel. Use small curved files available from hobby shops/jewelers/disbarred optometrist/etc. Small battery powered engravers also work very well. Once apart one no longer has an air chamber to blow into so, to produce a sound place your mouth over reed an gentle inhale or exhale depending on which side of reed plate your on. This will produce a sound so you can gauge your progress. Some tuners are sensitive enough so you can pluck the reed with the aid of the melodica pickup and check the pitch. To lower (flatten) the pitch, file from the back of the reed. To raise (sharpen) the pitch, file from the front of the reed.
NOTE: ALWAYS SUPPORT REED WITH THIN SHIM BEFORE FILING
It is a trial and error process, as you do not want to exceed tuning your desired pitch, only to have to further remove metal to achieve a targeted tone. This can weaken the reed. File, check pitch, files again and rechecks pitch. Slower final tuning actually speeds up process, because you sneak up on the real desired pitch without having to repeat in order to keep correcting yourself. Believe me it stills happens that some repetition occurs.
If this process seems overwhelming get an old harmonica and practice on it. Many people find this method is fun. Once your surgery is finished, take the shot glass, fill with beverage of choice, and toast extending the life of your melodica.
Cheers from Sound Electra
Curved File. This double ended curved file works well for tuning the reeds. They are $15.00 . shipping $2.00
Constant request for this information has led me to write this page. It is not as detailed as it should be but may serve a starting point.
(Thanks to harmonica guru Dick Gardner for patiently explaining this process to me)
Sound Electra assumes no responsibility for damage resulting from information posted on this site.
Copyright © 2001 [Sound Electra]. All rights reserved.
Revised: May 08, 2009 .
Dear John letter
Just a happy note to say thanks for the (complimentary) file and let you know it works GREAT!!!
I purchased a tuner from Guitar Center Sunday, per your recommendation with a very accurate needle gauge plus digital readout. After fiddling with it unsuccessfully to register a plucked reed ambiently, I discovered that connecting the surface pickup I bought from you last year solves the problem. I plugged it into the tuner jack, attached the pickup to the reed plate and it works perfectly. I also discovered that calibrating the tuner to 445 for a ‘plucked’ reed puts it in the proper tuning range (versus 443).
Following directions, I ‘practiced’ filing the reeds on two of my oldest melodicas and restored them both to perfect tuning, never breaking a reed. It’s very simple process and I look forward to restoring the remaining two. I shouldn’t need to break out the new Melodica for some time now. Just awesome!
Thanks again, John