How (not) to Clean Your Reed Plates

My key of A harp is an absolute cracker. It’s about two and a half years old I think. It’s a Marine Band that Sugar Cain worked some magic on. It gets played every single day, it’s the one I usually carry with me and since the majority of the time during lessons we’re working in the key of E (2nd position on an A harp) it’s being used there too.

I’ve had it open a few times for cleaning and for tightening up nuts that had worked loose. I think somewhere along the line I put an Andrew Zajac Dark Comb in there too.

This morning I opened it up to diagnose and fix a rattle. One of the reed plate nuts was loose. No big deal, and quickly fixed. Didn’t even need to take the reed plates off the comb. But since it was open I gave it a quick clean anyway. It was absolutely full of gunk as you might imagine.

I always use a soft toothbrush and a mix of spirit vinegar and backing soda to clean the plates. Today, something happened that has never happened before. I got a toothbrush bristle caught right near the base of the hole one draw reed.

Ungh. That’s a pain. After some head scratching I managed to remove it with a pair of needle nose pliers, but in the process the reed got pretty banged up. It was at an angle – meaning the tip of the reed was not parallel with the reed plate – and it had gone out of tune by damn near a semi tone.

I’m no expert on the finer details of reed work, but with a little care and patience I managed to straighten the reed, file it back into tune and get it gapped just about right. It’s not up to Cain’s standards for sure but it’s very usable.

If I’m honest, this post is just to brag that I managed to do it without killing the reed for good, but there’s a serious lesson to be learned. I’m suddenly not at all sure that a toothbrush is a good tool for this job – even if it has got a cool dinosaur on the handle.

I’ve not had a problem before now. I guess to minimize the chances of that happening you could always brush along the reed from the base to the tip, but even that now feels less than ideal. Anyone got any handy cleaning hints?