Monday, January 30, 2012

First aid tuning

"First aid" tuning, that is how I would call it.

I accidentally mistuned a harmonica while doing the final touches on an Hohner Super Chromonica 270  which I listed for sale on eBay and a bid is already placed.

The problem is I do not know how to tune; I have no tools and  I do not know someone I can run  to for help.  

Fortunately there is the internet and with a bit of luck at improvisation the harmonica is back to correct tuning.  Thanks to "first aid" tuning. 

The harmonica is special because I had it previously customized -  bolts and nuts have replaced the nails and the wooden comb is sealed with Salad bowl finish.  

While working on the comb assembly, making sure the screws are tight,  the screwdriver slipped out of one of screw heads.  (This is the reason why I prefer philips from slotted head.)   I did not know that the wayward screwdriver caused damage to  a reed until I had the harmonica assembled and tested.

I find to my dismay that the six hole draw note, which  was playing properly before disassembling, is now mute and not making any sound at all.  After taking out the cover plate I carefully examined the reed.  I notice the reed is embedded inside the rectangular opening and there is a long scratch mark from one of the screw heads,  which I previously tightened, all the way up to and over the sixth reed.

Carefully the embedded reed is pried out.  I must have given it a hard jolt because as soon as it came out the gap has become much larger than the gap of the adjacent reeds.  Using my smallest jeweler screwdriver I gently push the toe of the reed  back until I see that the gap is just about the same as the other reeds on either side.

After installing the the mouthpiece I draw on the sixth hole.  I  hear a sound, only it seems the note it plays is not F but a little higher than note E.  Was the reed damaged by the accidental scratch from the screwdriver that slipped?  To find out, I had Moonlight Serenade played and my fears are confirmed that the harmonica is indeed out of tune.  In short, the harp is not ready for the bid.  Either I ask eBay or the bidder to cancel the bid, a very embarrassing option, or have the harp tuned within the day, a somewhat impossible task at the moment.

Before panic completely engulfed me, my internet search on tuning how-to brought me to  Angelfire website.  I read that tuning a reed is done by scratching a little metal on the heel to lower the pitch,  or on the toe,  to make the pitch higher.

My next problem:  what tools will I used?  The website is talking about special tools, like the expensive  tool kits from Hohner and Seydel, including a miniature grinder used by jewelers.

As a matter of vain hope I had my small plastic tool box checked for something there that might help.  And my eyes focused on the improvised windsaver remover and reeds plate cleaner.

Actually, these are parts of  a whole piece of one-edged blade which I cut into three pieces with a plier and a hack saw.  They come in sizes from about three-sixteenth of an inch to about half an inch. I made out these improvised tools because they come in very handy when cleaning the reeds plates or removing the windsavers.  I thought one remover with its handle removed can be placed under the reed to support it, while a smaller remover does the scraping of the metal.

I did exactly what the Angelfire website says and guess what?   it worked!

After many scratches followed by tests, the sixth hole finally played the correct F draw note.  How glad I was to know that the work is very simple and not as complicated as I had first imagined.   I have not even used the tuner of my violin-student granddaughter. Of course, this involved only one reed.  Perhaps the complication comes if the work involves a whole set of reeds.

I am very happy because the eBay bid is saved and I am a beneficiary of a new practical knowledge of tuning a harmonica, in the manner of a "first aid".

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hohner 64 Chromonica 280

The Hohner 64 Chromonica 280 chromatic is one of three Hohner models of 16 holers.  In this group are included the regular 64, the Super 64 and the Super 64X.  An older fourth version, also dubbed 64 chromonica 280, has a wooden comb and the reeds plates are nailed, just like the Super chromonica 270, but I count the model among the regular 64.

I have a regular 64, a Super 64 and a Super 64x  which are shown in the following picture:

Moving up from the regular 64 to the more modern looking  Super 64X is like being transported in time from Sherlock Holmes' to 007's.

The regular 64 and the Super 64 are almost identical except that the Super 64 has a streamlined look on account of the tapered ends of the plate covers, while the regular 64 still carries the old Hohner tradition of squared corners. However, the Super 64X is set apart from its older "brothers" with a gold-plated mouthpiece assembly and studs, see-through natural finish, plexiglass comb, thicker,  modernized brass reeds plate, on top of contrasting colors of heavy black and gold.

I reserve this space for the discussion of the regular 64 and other two models will be dealt in later posts.

Here are the notes of this 16-holer:

The notes chart of the regular 64 is identical to its younger brothers, the Super 64 and the Super 64x.  These 16 holers are capable of producing 64 notes, or 4 notes from each hole.  The notes are set cross-tuned in 4 octaves, with each set of 4 holes constituting one complete notes of scale.  The older, wooden-combed 64 is easily distinguished from the later Hohner 64 models because the holes in the mouthpiece in the older harp are lined up straight, in other words, the older 64 is straight-tuned.

The first four holes of the 64s are extra lower notes, lower than the lowest notes of  the Super 270, which means that the regular 64 is actually a 270 padded with four additional holes, which are the equivalent of an octave of low notes. Thus, the numbers etched on the cover plate are not numbers 1 to 16, but 1 to 4, then 1 to 12.

I like the sound of the regular 64.  The melody that comes from the lower notes seem to ramble through the air like a solo-playing trombone, while the swarming middle notes seem to sound once a saxophone then a violin.  I think the regular 64, or the 280, has totally drawfed its kid brother,  the Super Chromonica 270, and the big brother, or the "battleship", a name someone has coined for it, will likely push the "kid" to the back stage.

Here is a sample of music from the regular 64:

Here is another piece:

I always open up a harmonica just to see what is inside.   Here is the semi disassembled view of the regular 64:

The comb of the model in the picture is synthetic, but older models have wooden combs too, just like the Super 270.  However, the regular 64 carries over Hohner's tradition of using nails to hold together the comb assembly. This design has been discontinued in the Super 64 onward with the use fastening screws.  And like the 270, the reeds plates are attached to the plastic comb with nails, or better still with spikes, that are pressed fit in one reeds plate and through to the opposite reeds plate.  Anyone intending to take apart the comb assembly of the regular 64 should think twice before proceeding.

But I was undaunted, perhaps because of having done this kind of procedure very easily on several Super 270s and I thought it would similarly be an easy job to take apart the regular 64.   And take apart I did, because I wanted to see the inside and replace the "spikes" with screws, to make easier the job of cleaning or repair. If only I knew what I know now, i.e., it is not a joke to separate the spikes from the reeds plates, I would have preferred keeping the comb assembly intact, but I went ahead and almost lost a very nice Hohner 64 chromonica 280.

The difficult part is removing the spikes from the reeds plates. The spikes stays with the plates after separating the plates from the comb because the spikes are pressed fit into the hole of the reeds plate. In other words, the plastic comb is not pierced by the spikes, but is provided with holes for the spikes to go through to the opposite reeds plate, which means that for the reeds plates to hold fast to the comb, the spikes must press fit to the opposite plate.  This design is like a simulation of the screwed design now used on most modern harmonicas and a departure from the design of the Super 270 where the reeds plates are literally nailed  to the comb. In the regular 64, one reeds plate is "nailed" to the other reeds plate,  and the comb is sandwiched in between.

In separating the comb assembly, I employed the technique that works well with the Super 270s, i.e., using a one edge blade alternated by a box cutter blade to ease out the reeds plate from the comb.  And with the help of a plier I pushed down the pointed end of the spike.  I was able to separate both plates from the comb.  But, as mentioned earlier the spikes were still in the reeds plate and I am now faced with the very difficult task - removing the spikes from the  reeds plates. 

First, I tried pulling out the spikes from the reeds plate with a plier with all my strength.  But the spike passively resisted and I was successful in one only after an ardous struggle.  So I rested for quite a while thinking of a better way to remove the spikes.  Finally I thought of shortening the travel of the spike in the hole, and the way to do this is cut the spike near the hole and then pull with the plier.  Using a wire cutter I cut the spike all the way into the very surface of the plate and pulled out the remaining spike with a plier.  It was too much an easy job pulling out the rest of the spikes from there on.

These are all the tools I used to do the job:

I took a video of this procedure but  it still has the unnecessary clips.  As soon as I am done with editing, I will have it posted here.

So, here is the fully disassembled view of the regular 64:

The screws shown on the left side are replacements to the spikes that were discarded.  I used a 2mm x 16mm  size machine screws and the holes in the entry reeds plate are size 5/64", while the exit holes in the opposite reeds plate are size 1/16".  To avoid confusion, I did not follow the original alternating pattern of the spikes - head, point, head arrangement, but confined the entry holes in one plate and the exit holes in the other plate.  I also tapped the exit holes because the machine screws were not self-tapping.  I would have preferred self-tapping screws but I could not find any in the market.  The smallest I found is size 2.2mm x 15.9mm, but the 4mm head of this screw is just too big to risk as it might throw off the plate cover out of position.  Or, I could have drilled one size holes and use nuts, but for personal aesthetic bias I prefer the look of the protruding thread end, which is how the comb assembly of later models of most harmonicas look.

Note also that the slider assembly has only two parts, the back plate and the slider.  There is no cover plate  as in the Super 270 because the mouthpiece has been redesigned to act as the cover plate of the slider.  

Another key design difference between the 280 and the 270:  the hole in the slider of the 280 is situated not in the middle of the slider, but on its side, unlike in the 270 which is in the middle.  The 280 design prevents  an incorrect reassembly of the slider because there is only one correct fit of the wire spring into the tiny hole of the slider.

The first hurdle in reassembly is finding the correct side of the comb to attach the reeds plate.  This would not be a problem if the match was marked after the disassembly.  Otherwise, here is the step by step reassembly procedure.  

Step 1 - Install the slider wire spring.  The wire spring is installed inside a rectangular space at the end of the comb where the shorter reeds are positioned.  The longer end of the spring goes out of the rectangular hole on top of the comb, the eye fits into the round seat, and the shorter end is coiled inside its housing, and is pushed to fit with a flat screwdriver.  

Step 2 - Match the reeds plates with the comb.  The correct match should have the two reeds plate fit into the guide at the base of the comb and the one that go to the side of the comb where the spring is fitted should have a windsaver as first in the row of alternating reeds and windsavers. Otherwise, the plate should go to the other side of the comb.  This first windsaver actually covers the blow reed that plays the lowest note, which is a C.

Step 3 - Install the screws.  Recall that the removal of the nails or spikes has rendered them useless, so replacement screws had to be fitted.  It may be possible to install spare nails from Hohner (I have not asked Hohner about this, but I would think it will be much more a problem fitting the nails, than tapping the holes for the replacement screws.  In working with the comb, I was hesitant to lay it flat on a surface and apply some force on it for fear of damaging the windsavers or the reeds.)

Step 4 - Install the studs.  These are the small leaf-like shaped four pieces of brass which are pre-positioned near the center of the comb to serve as support studs for the cover plate.

Step 5 - Prepare the cover plate for each side of the comb.  The plate with the numbers must be placed on top of the comb assembly, i.e., the side facing the sky with the harp in playing position. 

Step 6 - Install the cover plate bolts and tighten.  

Step 7 - Install the slider and the mouthpiece.  This is a very delicate operation and must be done with care because an incorrect reassembly can damage the slider.  Follow these steps: 

a) position the comb with the short reeds section on the right  side; 

b) place the slider back plate on top of the comb, with the wire spring positioned inside the rectangular hole of the back plate;   

c) fit the wire into the tiny hole of the slider and lay the slider along the comb on top of the back plate; 

d) prepare the  mouthpiece and the two screws -  insert screw no. 1 into the hole on the mouthpiece end with the lug and screw no. 2 in the other end and secure both with the plastic bushing; 

e)  position the end of the comb where screw no. 2 is located against a stopper, or something to hold it back;

f) place the mouthpiece with the screws on top of the slider, making sure that the mouthpiece end with screw no. 1 sits top of the wire spring; 

g)  slightly tighten screw no. 2 just enough to hold the mouthpiece; 

h) push the slider slightly to position its hole on top of the hole of back plate and lightly tighten screw no. 1;  

i)  complete the tightening of the full torque of the two screws while making sure that the mouthpiece is correctly fitted into the slider. 

j) test the function of the slider for smooth operation and untighten the screws as needed.

Here is my own specification of the location of screw no. 1 and 2 in the reassembly of the mouthpiece:

I have a video showing this reassembly procedure, but I need to clean it first with unnecessary clips, and when I am done I will have it posted here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

How I repaired a cracked comb

A seller on eBay offered a used Hohner Super Chromonica 270/48 for sale, without realizing the comb had a crack, which showed on the base of the comb, and the seller neither presented a picture with the crack, nor mentioned any defect in the item description, and in answer to a question, even gave assurance the harmonica looks and sounds great.  After the sale and informed of the undeclared defect all my payments were refunded and the seller left me the harp to keep.  

The crack
The crack in the comb is not obvious even if a cut at the back of the harmonica shows as in the picture below:

I needed to take off the mouthpiece and slider assembly to find out if the cut above is confined to the lamination, or if the comb itself is damage.  And here is the crack which shows on the third hole:

Taking the comb assembly apart
Given the nature of the crack it is necessary to dismantle the harmonica, which means taking off the nails, a very delicate and difficult task.  Below is a video showing how I took the harmonica apart:

The comb separates in two sections as soon as the reeds plates are unfastened. 

If the two sections are joined at the point of cut the smaller half angles slightly upward.  

if the two sections are laid flat on their base a gap at the top of third hole as wide as 1/8" shows.

 It seems to me the comb is badly damaged beyond repair.

Options at restoration
Two alternatives are open.  First, join the two halves using the base as reckoning point and fill the resulting gap at the third hole with filler wood. If I do this, the third hole will probably be wider by 1/8" and most likely the 4th hole all the way up to the 12th will move slightly out of position viewed from the mouthpiece. Second, use the cut as reckoning point and join the two halves there without regard to the effect on alignment. This option will make the smaller half slightly angle upwards and protrude out of the reeds plate and will throw off the mouthpiece and slider assembly out of position. 

I took the second option - glue the two pieces together following the match-fit at the cut on the third hole and deal with the resulting misalignment.  

I thought perhaps the procedure of correcting a warped wood by heating it wet can be applied to correct the problem. The procedure involves wetting the area of the warp, positioning it in such a way that the base lies on a very flat surface; another flat object is placed on top serving as weight and a small heater slowly drying up the comb. I was not sure if this would work, or if it would further aggravate the problem, because the weight might reopen the old crack or new cracks might develop, or the heat might actually warp the comb out of proportion.

Using heat and weights
Here is the picture of my initial attempt to correct the misalignment by applying the water, heat and weights solution:

As seen in the above picture the comb is set on a flat surface with weights placed on top of it, and on the side is a small heater to dry it up.  On the left side is a water sprayer which I used to apply generous amounts of liquid from time to time on the misaligned section of the comb.

A lost comb?
After all the trouble that the comb went through the warp and misalignment worsened as seen in the pictures below:

I eventually abandoned the effort because the comb ended up longer than its original size and the position of the hole of the cover bolt had moved farther away by a few millimeters.  The heating procedure had terribly warped the comb and I ended up losing the comb.   Or, did I?

Saving the comb
Several days after I stowed it away I revisited the comb to find that the misalignment is not as bad as when I stowed it, although one end still angles upward.  But I was encouraged to find that the holes of the reeds plate match the holes in the comb which means the comb has retreated back to its original size.

As I examine the comb a thought came to my mind that  if only I could straighten the slant near the third hole I could still use the comb. And considering I had given up the comb for loss I thought there is no harm experimenting with it and even applying extreme measures if that is what is going to restore it.

Using clamps
Before making attempts at correcting the warp and misalignment, I patched up the unnecessary holes of the comb with tips of toothpick.  Then I took out the clamps from the tool cabinet and used them on the comb:

I used the clamps to force the warps to align and normalize, progressively tightening the clamps as the comb shows it can take the pressure.  I applied this procedure on all sides of the comb.

The solution worked !  I needed only to repair a small slit at the top of the comb at the location of the third hole where the original crack was.  I was so happy of the results.  The comb is actually restored and has come back to life. 

Sealing and waterproofing
 The final touch is sealing and waterproofing the comb with Salad Bowl Finish:

I had the comb immersed in the sealing liquid three times for less than a minute each, drying it each time using my small heater and again using clamps to immobilize the comb and prevent any more warp or misalignment.  As soon as the comb is completely dried, I had it fanned by the same heater for about half a day to soften up the strong smell as a result of the sealing.



Back into service
As soon as the comb is ready, I gathered the parts together and assemble them into a working harmonica.

The final outcome is a restored, good playing harp previously given up for loss.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Swan 1664 Chromatic

I received my new Swan 1664 chromatic harmonica after almost two weeks of waiting from the time the item was shipped.  It took such a long time because I did not realize that the supplier is a company located in Hongkong, China.

The inside of the carrying case is damaged when it arrived, but I was able to contact the supplier through their chat facility and received a replacement.

Here is the Swan 1664:

The harmonica is called Swan 1664, firstly because "Swan" is the brand name of good harmonicas manufactured in China by a reputable Chinese company; 1664, because the harmonica has 16 holes producing four notes each, or a total of 64 notes, making it a four-octave chromatic harmonica.

Here are the notes of the Swan 1664:

Out of the box, the Swan 1664 is difficult to play on the first and fourth octave - a lot of wind is needed on the first, while very faint sound comes out of the fourth.  The slider is soft and quiet.  Obviously, a little tweaking might be needed.  

One only needs a philips mini screwdriver to disassemble the Swan 1664.  Here is the semi-disassembled view of the Swan 1664:

The craftsmanship is excellent and it looks like a clone of the Hohner Super 64 chromonica 280.   Here are the two harmonicas set against each other:

Without the labels, the two harmonicas can be mistaken from one another.  Even the carrying case of the Swan 1664 seems to have come from the same mould that produced the carrying case of the Hohner Super 64.  But looking at the mouthpiece, one notices a difference - the Swan 1664's is thinner and the holes are arranged in straight line while the Hohner Super 64 has its holes alternating up and down.  In technical terms, the notes of the Swan 1664 are straight-tuned, while the Hohner Super 64's are cross-tuned.  

I went all the way to a full disassembly, i.e., I also took apart the comb assembly.   The first thing I noticed was some screws that attach the reeds plates to the comb were loose.

Here is a view of a fully disassembled Swan 1664.

The comb assembly of the Swan 1664 is beautifully done, with the red colored windsavers and solid cylindrical support studs.  The comb is synthetic and the reeds plates are attached to the comb with screws that thread to the opposite plate.  The slider assembly is a copy of the 3-piece design of the Hohner Super Chromonica 270, a system discontinued in the later versions of 16-holers of Hohner, which now use a 2-piece slider assembly, the mouthpiece having been redesigned to serve also as the cover plate.

Except for the cylindrical cover plate support studs that are bolted into the reeds plate, the comb and the reeds plates look almost like the Hohner Super 64's.  I noticed however that the material used for the reeds plate looks more like brass alloyed with steel.

I again played the Swan 1664 after the reassembly and checked the notes played on the first and fourth octaves and I noticed a marked improvement in tonal quality.

Here is a full piece, "I'll walk alone" in G major on Swan 1664 Chromatic:

But it seems to me the similarity with the Hohner Super 64 stops at the physical appearance and does not extend all the way down to the quality of the sound.  A hard draw on the higher notes gives an extra  whistling sound.  And after playing quite a bit, the mouthpiece corners start to irritate my lips.   I am not sure if this peculiarity is isolated to my harp.  Hands down I would give the gold medal to the Hohner Super 64.  And even against the older Hohner 64 Chromonica 280, the gold still goes to Hohner.  However, I think the people at Swan will not stop until they grab the lead and take pole position in this field of 16-holers.

In sum, I am very much impressed with this harmonica.  It is comparatively cheap, good practice harmonica, and could be a usable workhorse, considering the quality vis-a-vis the price, which is way below $100. I would think the full power still has to come with use. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Hohner Super Chromonica 270 Chromatic

Coming from a tremolo background and egged on by a cheap chromatic harp, the Hohner Super Chromonica 270 Chromatic, Super 270 for short, harmonica easily becomes a highly coveted instrument for its widely acclaimed distinct melodious tone. 

Laid side by side with the Hohner Echo Celeste, its shortness can throw off the uninitiated because what it lacks in size, it shows off in its muscle. The 12 holes actually produce four notes each, making the Super 270 a 48 notes instrument. In other words, it is a 3-octave harp with the full notes of the scale, i.e., including the sharps and flats, available in each octave.

Notes Chart .  Here are the notes forming the tuning chart of the Super 270:

To say that the Super 270 is a 12-hole instrument is a mistatement because as can be seen in the above pictures the mouthpiece has two rows of 12 holes each.  The slider mechanism makes it possible to play both rows containing each of the 24 holes that hold two notes each, a blow and a draw.  This makes the Super 270  a 48-note harmonica, hence its complete description is Hohner Super Chromonica 270/48 Chromatic.  The top row is activated with slider in "out" position, or at rest, while the lower 12 holes are activated by pushing the slider in.  All the sharp and flat notes are produced with the "slider in" operation, while major notes are produced with the  "slider out" operation. 

Regular Maintenance.  The effect of liquid and saliva on the longevity of the Super 270 is much more pronounced compared to other makes of harmonica.  This is because the comb of the Super 270 is wood, and wood is susceptible to warping if liquid is absorbed or if exposed to extreme temperatures.  As a precaution the Super 270 and every harmonica for that matter is usually tapped several times against the palm of the hand after every use to take the saliva out.

But even with this precaution there is a need for a  regular cleaning of the Super 270.  The parts where the mouth comes in contact with and where saliva will accumulate, i.e.,  the mouthpiece and the slider assembly, should be pulled out regularly and washed thoroughly with soap and water.   

Here is a video showing  how I clean my Super 270:

Here is the semi-disassembled view of the Super 270:

The Comb Assembly.  Note in the above picture that the comb assembly is shown intact.  Actually, there is really no compelling reason to take apart the comb assembly for cleaning purposes because the parts forming the assembly - the reeds, the windsavers and the wooden comb - do not need regular cleaning. The windsavers are the white strips of plastic material, as differentiated from the strips of brass metal called the reeds, which produce the notes. The windsavers act like open and close valves such that if a blow reed in a hole is being activated the draw reed is closed so air leak is minimized, if not prevented.

While the windsavers are glued to the reeds plate,  the reeds are riveted.  Thus, these parts are very delicate and are the key to the acceptable level of performance of the Super 270, and is better left alone untouched.  This is perhaps one of the reasons why the comb assembly is held together by nails and not by screws, in order to discourage untrained hands from making unnecessary access and in the process disturb the proper functioning of these delicate parts.

The use of the nails is peculiar to the Super 270.  Its comb is wood and the reeds plate are attached to the comb with nails. This wooden comb is claimed by some enthusiasts the reason behind the mellowed sound of the Super 270.  However, the wood makes maintenance and repair of the reeds and windsavers a very difficult operation. But it does not explain why the latest models coming out of the Hohner factory are now equipped with synthetic combs and the reeds plates are attached with fastening screws.

The problem with wooden comb and fastening nails is the inconvenience, if not extreme difficulty, in pulling out the nails.  And once pulled, the nails will, of course, lose some degree of hold on the wood.  Thus in many cases, once the nails are pulled out, these are discarded and replaced with screws. In fact, the upgraded version of the Super 270, the Deluxe Super Chromonica 270, has plastic for its comb and the reeds plates are held by fastening screws.

In reassembly, it is important to make sure that the slider is properly fitted into the housing created by the match-fit of the back plate and the plate cover.  The back plate has six flanges that match the six lugs of the back plate.  These flanges and lugs must be wedded together to create an even space between the cover and the back plate which serves as the housing for  the slider to operate.  An incorrect matching could damage the slider due to obstruction in its operation.

Here is a video demonstrating how I reassemble my Super 270.

Taking apart the comb assembly.  In exceptional cases such as when the comb or the inner reeds and  windsavers need to be accessed for repairs or replacement, there is no option but to take the comb assembly apart.  The most important consideration in doing this disassembly procedure is making sure the reeds plate is not bent or twisted as the nails are pulled out.

A special technique using a single edge blade alternated by a box cutter blade is the method I follow in loosening up the nail and preparing it for removal by a plier.  Using a thicker blade pen knife is not recommended because it can bend or warp the reeds plate and cause it to malfunction.

video showing how I take out the nails can be viewed in this posting: How not to repair a cracked comb 

Replacing nails with screws.  Here is a picture of  a comb assembly of the Super 270 which I have taken apart, showing the tiny screws that have replaced the nailswhich have been discarded:

Thread-through design.  Fastening screws that thread to the opposite plate of the Super 270 is also an alternative.  In fact, the better alternative,  and is used in new models of most harmonicas.  The superiority of the thread-through design lies in having the wooden comb pressed from both sides, instead of being pulled, as in the case of separate screws driven on opposite sides of the comb.  

Whether the wooden comb is affected by the pull exerted by the screws is difficult to ascertain, but I would go for the thread-through design because no pull pressure is applied on the wooden comb.  Rather, the comb is sandwiched between two plates and pressed from both sides, thus the design could actually help in preventing warping or misalignment of the wooden comb.

Here is an example of a thread-through design applied on the comb assembly of an Hohner 64 Chromonica Chromatic after replacing the nails with screws:

Note the screw head in the top picture and the thread end in the lower picture.  The same renovation cannot be done fully on a Super 270 because the head of the four screws that will be placed near the two cover bolt holes will put the cover plate out of flush.  Instead, tiny flat head screws can be used near the four cover bolt holes while thread-through screws can be used for the rest of the holes.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

My eBay (Mis)adventure

"You win some, you lose some".

This statement epitomizes my experience in buying through eBay. Still fresh in memory is my first purchase more than 10 years ago of a pair of golf shoes. When the shoes arrived, not only was the other shoe smaller but the pair was both left footed.

The Ioncare Ozone Sanitizer.  I had several good "buys" from eBay.  Apart from the brand new Hero Chromatic and the Hohner Echo Celeste tremolo harmonicas, I had the luck of not purchasing from a non-eBay supplier an Ioncare brand ozone sanitizer for $47.00, which I was able to find in eBay and buy for only $19.95 plus shipping of $9.35.

The sanitizer is one of my earliest purchases from eBay.  It is the first item on my list because I needed to sanitize my harmonicas, including my other personal things like dentures, cell phone, watches, eyeglasses and the like.

So, let me proceed with my first booboo, (yes, this is the second after the shoes).
The Swan 1020 7 set (C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C) diatonic blues Harmonica.  I bought through eBay a set of brand new, made in China Swan 1020 7 set diatonic blues harmonica (keys C,D,E,F,G.A and B) from a company located in Great Britain for 44.99 pounds, plus 15 pounds shipping, or approximately US$98.00.  But before I decided to buy, I had my wife, who was coming over to the U.S. in second week of November, canvassed the item in either Raon or Evangelista street, in Quiapo,  Manila, Philippines,  where all kinds of musical instruments are sold.  My wife would rather not go to the place, and preferred shopping in suburban Makati and Ayala Alabang.  She found an identical item but the price was over $100.  So, she advised me to go ahead and buy what I saw on eBay.

I liked what I received, until I found out later by chance that another British company was selling through the same item for only 21.99 pounds. Rough calculation shows I was priced more than double. I tried to salvage the deal by complaining to the seller about the apparent overprice. I even found out from another eBay supplier that there is a Deluxe model that cost about the same price I paid, but what I got was apparently not the Deluxe model.  Seller refused to recognize my claim and insisted that what he delivered was what was described on eBay.

Here is a picture of a Deluxe model.  Note the difference in packing, labeling - both the harmonicas and the carrying case.  

On the cover plate of the harmonica I bought is engraved: "Swan Harmonica", while on the Deluxe model, it says: "Blues Power Swan Harmonica".

Here is the picture of the carrying case of the model I bought:

And here is the picture of the carrying case of the Deluxe model.  The material, color and   labels are almost identical except that the word "Deluxe" included in the label of the carrying case of this model.

I elevated the case to the eBay buyer protection program, and supported my claim with the fact that seller used the words Deluxe in the item description, and what I received was not what was described, and asked for discount, replacement or a full refund.   Despite the glaring differences bewteen the two models eBay's final judgment favored the Seller.  I surmised that the unfavorable decision must have been influenced by the fact that I had all the time to make a study of the purchase and therefore my complain was a delayed reaction common to those dissatified with a transaction.

Hohner Super Chromonica 270/48 Chromatic C.  I also bought from eBay a used 12-hole Super Chromonica  270 Chromatic from someone I will call seller A. It was advertised to the effect that it was a Christmas gift to his Dad who never played it, but kept it in his drawer.

Here is the picture of the item as advertised on eBay:

The harmonica glowed like shining brass in the picture, perhaps done on purpose with proper lighting effect,   to give the impression that the harmonica is almost like new. I was encouraged to bid at the time when there were already 7 bidders and the current bid was at around $30. Simultaneously, there was an identical model offered by someone I will call seller B which had only two bidders and the amount of the current bid was only $15. I reckoned if I lose in seller A's bidding, I will end up with nothing, so I played safe by placing also a maximum bid of $51 on seller B's. This bid closed earlier and I won it for $44.05 plus $5.50 shipping. On seller A's bidding, I placed a maximum bid of $101, on the basis that the brand new price was over $200, and I won the bid for $61.99 plus $10 shipping.

Now, here comes the bombshell. Seller A's Super Chromonica 270 arrived earlier and immediately I inspected the item. It looked very nice from the outside, the metal covers were shiny, no scratches and the protruding reeds plate, while showing signs of age , appears clean. Then, I took off the mouthpiece and the slider assembly, and while I was unscrewing one of the screws, it was wobbling from side to side. When it had fully come out I found the screw was crooked, like it had a zig and a zag!

I complained to seller A that he misrepresented because if the item was really unused or slightly used, if ever, the screw should not be crooked, and sent him pictures of the crooked screw. I threatened to void the sale and return the item for a full refund, but seller A was hospitalized (at least, according to the email of his son) and I relented and agreed to have replacement screws he offered, which arrived directly from Hohner parts center.  While I was disappointed with the item from seller A, I was overjoyed with the item I received from seller B because it looked almost like new, very much better than seller A's, and cost much less.

The two 12-hole Super Chromonica 270/48 Chromatic C's underwent extensive cleaning, disinfecting with 91% isoprophy alcohol, and sanitized with my ozone sanitizer. When I tested both, the notes from seller B's harmonica sounded more melodious and stable, while that of seller A, one of the notes actually shrills when blowed a little stronger. These two harmonicas will eventually  undergo modification and upgrade - metal polishing, comb sealing and replacement of nails with screws and will be offered in eBay.

Here is a picture showing the two 270s side by side.  Even in this picture, Seller B's harmonica looks newer in comparison to Seller A's.  Note the faded brass metal on both ends of Seller A's, while that of Seller B shows no smudges or fade.  Even the cover plate of Seller B's is more silver that Seller A's.

With all my bad experiences, I did not seem to have learned my lesson. Perhaps the urge comes from the confidence that I could tinker with an old harmonica - clean, sanitize the instrument and upgrade it by replacing the nails with screws; water-proofing and sealing the wooden comb with non-toxic Salad bowl finish,  replacing defective reeds and windsavers, and  retuning.  Someone might ask why I consciously subject myself to suffer all these troubles.  Perhaps, I enjoy and crave the satisfaction of bringing forth the hidden craftmanship  in me, like an artist taking a step backward to appreciate what he has accomplished on canvass,  and seeing that the reconditioned harmonicas will really sell in eBay. So,here I am, still fishing for usable and good Super Chromonicas, and in the process almost always catching some non-edible ones, so to speak.

Hohner 64 Chromonica 280 Chromatic C.  The next "non-edible" I got was a bid I won for a used 16-hole Hohner 64 Chromonica Chromatic 280 harmonica, a more advanced design compared to the Hohner Super Chromonica 270/48 Chromatic. The seller must have been in the pawn shop business judging from his eBay identity and business association and did not know much about harmonicas because the item description he provided in eBay was practically lifted from the description of brand new late model. The word "plastic comb" appeared in the item description, so I was encouraged to bid because I knew I could take off the reeds plates and the plastic comb and do a good cleaning and sanitizing job. And to make sure I was not buying junk, I inquired from seller if there were any visible damage and seller replied "looks good and sounds good." I won the bid for $26 and $9.35 shipping. As soon as it arrived I took off the mouthpiece and slider assembly. I was so disappointed with what I found.

The inside was not only dirty and showed signs of abuse, but more importantly the comb was not plastic but wood, and the hole dividers were warped, some already showing signs of deterioration. I complained to seller who immediately offered  me a full refund, including the cost of  shipping in and out, accompanied by seller's expression of apology and protestation of good faith.

Hohner 64 Chromonica 280 Chromatic C.  The setback in my first attempt to get hold of the more advance 16-hole 64 Hohner Chromonica did not stop me from looking for a really nice piece, and I finally got one.  Shortly after, I won a bid for a used 16-hole Hohner 64 Chromonica 280 chromatic key of C,  for $38.59 plus $7.00 shipping. The harmonica appears slightly used and the inside is very clean. The comb is plastic although the reeds plates are nailed to comb and not screwed, which is the design of the latest version. I am very happy with this purchase because not only is the item slightly used but I could have the nails removed and replaced with screws and give the comb and the reeds plates a thorough cleaning and sanitizing job, which means upgrading the harmonica to premium class.

However, I cannot do it yet because I have not received my order for 2 mm x 16 mm screws, which I intend to use on all my upgrades.  In the meantime,  I have already tested  the tiny 5 mm screws on one of my 270/48 (the better screw size is 1 mm x 16 mm, but I have searched all over and cannot find a supplier).  I prefer the longer screws that thread to the opposite reeds plate because in this design the comb is clamped or sandwiched between two plates and any warp movement of the wood will likely be minimized.  Using  tiny 5 mm screws that thread halfway through the wooden comb and coming from opposite directions has the tendency of creating a pull pressure on the comb, which could contribute to warping.

Hohner Super Chromonica 270 Chromatic G.  Still the itch to buy from eBay does not seem to subside. Just two days ago ,  I sent an email to a seller of a Hohner chromatic 270/48 key of G, which I won for $23.10 and $3.08 shipping, complaining that the wooden comb is cracked and is very likley split in two, which renders the harmonica practically unusable.

The crack can be clearly seen in the following pictures.


When seller did not reply after two emails, I told seller that I intend to void the sale and demand a full refund including the shipping cost, saying further that seller can pick up the harmonica, or I can have it shipped, but seller has to send me in advance the shipping cost. Seller, apparently a "she",  replied that she just got out of the hospital and has not read my emails, and asked to be given 24 hours to study the whole thing.

After lapse of a day and half, I needed to prod her again with another email, and she came back with a statement that the published return policy is for the buyer to submit photos of the damaged item in order to claim a refund.  I pointed out that two photos of the defective harmonica was already sent to her in my second email as attachments.  Anyway, I resent the photos and seller confirmed receipt, but saying further the photos will be compared to the one published in eBay, and denies there was a crack  when the item was packed.   We were unable to resolve anything because seller excused herself for a doctor's appointment, while I tried to put across a request to settle the problem no later than tomorrow, to which she did not say a word.

Seller came back and offered to refund half of the price.  I countered two-thirds saying the harmonica is not usable and is good only for parts.  She refused and said she will just follow the procedure on returns where she is obligated only to refund the price, making me absorb both the inward and return shipping cost.  I opened a case with the eBay customer support and the following day the seller offered full refund including inward shipping which I readily accepted.  She said she is not giving the return shipping money and I can keep the harmonica or throw it away.

The harmonica is still with me and I am at a loss to decide how the cracked comb should be repaired.  The damage seems to be unrepairable because if I try a match-fitting the smaller half angles upward and will surely pose seating problem to the mouthpiece and slider assembly.  On the other hand, if I follow the straight line of the base of the comb, I need to glue filler wood on the third hole and the result is it will be wider than the rest of the holes and will surely impact on the quality of the sound.  I have not started working on this cracked comb until I am positive the repair job will work.