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Reed sticking by saliva

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Boris Plotnikov
Jan 22, 2010 10:31 AM GMT

Almost any gig I have reed sticked by saliva at least once or twice. That means one or two solos from gig is broken by broken lick (this is actually not my fault, but audience don't know it!). I have to change harp fast (if the tune is slow) or to avoid this reed for the rest part of solo which makes me frustrated.

Do you have problems with extra saliva? Do you know some ways to avoid these sticking?

While I play with hard attack and wide gaps it was not an issue. I just blow out saliva with just one note. But now I'm playing soft with tiny gaps and it is really a big problem.

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Comments (31)

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Jan 22, 2010 4:25 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

Sometimes the hard attack can be the culprit because often times the harder the force, the greater the saliva amount tends to increase. One thing that has helped me was when I stopped having alcohol and especially beer because that's notorious for building up saliva and all I do for a drink other than drinking diet coke/diet pepsi is do what vocalists are recommened to do and that's drink some ice water with lemon in it (but NOT sugar and forget lemonade), and that tends to cut that down quite a bit.

Jan 22, 2010 8:55 PM GMT
André D Replied:

The position of your head could be something to check be sure that your not playing your harmonica head pointing down to the floor but up orparallel to the floor. Is it make sens in english ? Anyways i think you get the point.

Jan 23, 2010 2:03 AM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:

I know about head tilt. Slight tilting my head forward helped to relax my neck better when I work on my breath and relax (about 6 years ago) so I get used to that tilting. Last year I start brake this habit and it helps a little against saliva.

I almost never drink alcohol before gig (sometimes after, not before as it reduce control over harmonica) and I almost never drink sweet drinks, I drink only tea without sugar and purewater.

I've found more extreme ways to reduce saliva amount - I try to not drinking anything at all during gig and half an hour before gig. I've tried this twice and it seems to help a lot, but I have to try it more.

Jan 23, 2010 10:07 AM GMT
Chris C Replied:

One thing I have noticed that if you are looking down, adjusting some settings on the ground while playing, the harp can clog up pretty quickly.

Jan 23, 2010 1:32 PM GMT
John P Replied:

This happens to all of us. It is really more of a problem for me when i use custom harps because the tolerances are tighter. I don't OB. But you do and so probably set your gaps low which has the same effect. Keeping the harps very clean helps. Drinking water and sort of rinsing the water around in your mouth before tou go up to play helps (saliva is thicker than water). Not bending the head down as you play helps. But, most of all, swallowing a lot helps so that you are playing with more of a dry mouth. If all else fails, keep a spare set of harps on stage right next to your performing set.

Jan 23, 2010 4:45 PM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

Harpaholic i was thinking the same thing. Taping, I was under the impression that this was a normal habit. I saw Jason play last night at the Back Room. I never saw him tap, but I did see him drink a lot.. im sure it was just soda or something with a hi caffein content. When I get on stage I have so much stage fright that my month is dry so I have no spit.

abner ( BluEyes, )

Jan 23, 2010 4:52 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

Harpaholic, I think you're confusing tighter gapping with tighter reed slot tolerances, which is entirely different. Tighter gapping is gapping closer to the plate for OB'ing and tighter slot tolerances is what you're looking for because when the slot tolerances get tightly embossed, making harps play louder and bend easier, the big drawback is that someone who plays too hard often plays with an extremely wet mouth and besides making harps more easily prone to get blown out by a poorly skilled player and also will get the reeds more quickly clogged up dried on saliva and/or layers of dead skin.

Jan 23, 2010 4:57 PM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

thank BBQ, now I want to clean my harps and make sure no one ever touches my harps... I wont even let them look at it...

Jan 25, 2010 9:29 AM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:

I've tried not to drink anything before gig and while performing and avoid head tilting down (how can I turn knobs at my stompboxes???!!!). It seems that it works for me! Last gig I had no reed sticking. Some my faults, but no stickng. Hope this will working for future.

Jan 25, 2010 9:28 PM GMT
walterharp Replied:

cold harps also sometimes condense water worse

Jan 25, 2010 9:30 PM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:


I usually use harmonica belt (I got one for 12 diatonic, unfortunately no chromatic slots) so I warm my harps with my belly.

Jan 27, 2010 12:32 AM GMT
Andrew T Replied:

Does anyone know what's up with low draw reeds making like a clicking noise. I have experienced it with a number of harps (B-flat or lower). But it's starting to get on my nerves as I recently invested in a MB Deluxe and it cost 50 bux. It's a fine harp except for the 1-hole draw clicking and rattling if I play with any significant force...

Jan 27, 2010 12:34 AM GMT
Andrew T Replied:

As for what your post is ACTUALLY about (I apoligize for my digression), I think the best way to go is to simply tap out your harp more regularly. I have a habbit of hitting my harps against the palm of my hand to knock out extra moisture after almost everything I play and I RARELY experience sticky reeds.

Jan 27, 2010 2:10 AM GMT
Brown Ale Guy Replied:

My reeds stick a bit too often also, but I'm not giving up beer while I play.

Jan 27, 2010 5:22 AM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:

Andrew T

Do you play live with band? Taping harp helps a little but often I play solo with the harp I don't play tonight and reed sticks and you have no possibility to tap it as you have a solo. You have to play without this note (hope it's not a tonic!) or quickly change your harp.

Jan 27, 2010 5:23 AM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:


Yours problem with the reed clicking is a bit offtopic here. 1st draw reed touches the lower coverplate which gives you clicking noise. For lower harps (G, LF and lower) it's ok and uncurable. For higher harps I heavily recommend you to work on your breathing. It seems, that you breath with too hard attack and force reeds.

Jan 27, 2010 12:49 PM GMT
FatJim Replied:

There's not much you can do to reduce saliva production, but you can reduce the viscosity of the saliva and mucous. Avoid dairy products prior to playing, stay well hydrated (just water) and reduce stress as much as you can. I have been told this by a speech therapist (work related!) Of course there's all the normal stuff about bits of food and sugary drinks clogging up reeds, but I'm sure you already know that!

Jan 27, 2010 1:26 PM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:

Hmmm dairy products??? I love them very, I eat at least one yoghurt andcheese curd every day, but not before gigs... I drink a lot, about 30 cups of tea a day... Still this not helps a lot. Really helps not to drink anything before and while performing...

Jan 27, 2010 4:02 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

I was also told to avoid dairy products like the plague before singing for that very same reason by a reputable vocal coach because that makes singing more difficult.

Jan 27, 2010 4:22 PM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:


What is plague???? My dictionary told me it's the same as pestilence...

Jan 27, 2010 6:38 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

The plague is like a really nasty disease that could kill you (at least that's how it is here in the USA).

Jan 27, 2010 6:40 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

Andrew, I have to agree with Boris because the only way other than a burr on the reed or the reed slot on any harp higher than the key of C would happen is if you're playing with far too much breath force and too many players tend to do that a lot more than they're aware of.

Jan 27, 2010 7:34 PM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:

Haha. Thanks Bob I misundertood idiomaabout plaguein your comment, I decide that plague is a dairy product ((: It still seems a little hard to be free in conversation being not a native speaker.BTW, Everyone please sorry for my grammar mistakes, misprints and bad pointing.


Another advice, which is good for low harps (work on breath to avoid buzzing at harps higher than G!). You can just try turboharps or turbolid for special 20. I use one pair for my Low Eb Special 20 and it sounds a bit better and no buzzing on 1 draw. BTW It's hard to avoid buzzing for Low harps with stock covers, but it's possible too, if you can play enough quiet. Practice quiet while playing bends, overbends and scales while full and loud while playing chords. It can helps.

Jan 27, 2010 11:24 PM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

Boris there is no need to apologies. English is my second language. My first and the one I use the most is bad English. Not funny, I grow up poor, in a poor area or Manhattan. Yes thats right, the city that never sleeps. Truth is I did grow up poor my bad english is do to being too lazy to pay attention in class. English was my parents second language and I find any one who speaks more than one language to be very intelligent. I find music to also be a language, for most of you guys the play I find you also be be very intelligent.

You see not only is my English bad but so is my playing. But will not stop me from having fun. Open mic tonight. I am so glad the serve drinks and i get to play when they are all good and drunk.

Zack for a young man your doing great, don't let age or a women stop you.

abner (BluEyes, living the vida loca )

Jan 28, 2010 6:18 AM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:

I noted that smokers have much less wet mouth, I don't want to start smoke, but maybe there are some harmless way of saliva reducing?

P.S. Could you tell me honestly? Are my posts and comments understandable? Just interesting in, I'll not going offended. Do I have much grammar mistakes and wrong word? Do I goes better last month? I'll be glad if someone shows me my mistakes.

Dec 17, 2012 6:48 PM GMT
Harp W Replied:

I used to have that problem. Not any more. Been playing for almost 17 years and at some point in time the saliva rush simply stopped.

Having several in the same key is the best idea and you are doing that already. Change harmonicas frequently to avoid the problem or tap the excess out whenever you can. I know it's a pain; but it does end one day, if that's any consolation.

Dec 18, 2012 9:47 PM GMT
Mondo Replied:

Get some lemon or lime slices from the bar and bite one before you play! THAT should dry you out a bit! (I hope you're a "pucker" player and not a tongue blocker) ;)

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