When I recorded with the band in Philadelphia for my upcoming record “The Lucky One,” we had to turn off the air conditioning in the studio every time we did…

When I recorded with the band in Philadelphia for my upcoming record “The Lucky One,” we had to turn off the air conditioning in the studio every time we did a take, and that room got pretty toasty after a while. On some of the tunes, especially the ones where I was blowing hard for three minutes straight, my hands got sweaty and the harps got slippery. I had to put a lot of energy into just holding on.

That’s not tops. I decided to make my harps grippier. After soliciting advice on that subject on the Harp-L list, I came to the conclusion that 1) no one is commercially offering cover plates with grippy surfaces, and therefore 2) I had to make them myself.

Some of the solutions offered on Harp-L were, to say the least, impractical. (Coat the cover plates with glue and apply sand? Please. I put that thing in my mouth.) Ultimately I decided that the easiest thing to do was to cut some kind of grippy tape to size and apply it to the cover plates at the outer flange.

I found egrips .75 inch wide tape on Amazon.com and ordered a roll. At $40 per roll, it’s not cheap, but one roll is enough to do over 100 diatonic harp cover plates, top and bottom, so if you’ve got plenty of harps it’s cheap enough. So far I’ve treated 28 harps with the stuff, so the price per harp is currently a little over $1.

To fit a harp with the tape, I cut off a 2″ long strip from the roll, then cut that in half lengthwise to make two strips 2″ long by 3/8″ wide. That’s just about the same as a finger’s width, so I can apply it to the plate without worrying about my mouth coming in contact with the tape.

Here’s a picture of a Seydel Session Steel with the tape in place. This harp also has its key spelled out with a 1/2″ tall stick-on label, which I applied so I can see the key of the instrument on a dark stage.

Seydel Session Steel with grip tape

Seydel Session Steel with grip tape

When you’re holding a harp, the tape is invisible to the audience, and when you’re not it looks pretty good, as opposed to looking like an obvious hack. That was important to me. I don’t want other musicians catching a glimpse of the inside of my harp case and thinking “What sort of musician has a box full of that kind of jury-rigged crap?” (My cases, including the cloth 14-piece Seydel case in which I currently carry 19 harps, the aluminum purpose-built one fromcustomharpcases.com., and the 8-piece compact folding case from Suzuki, all look nice, but still.) Once I got the hang of it, it only took a minute or so per harp to cut the tape and fit it. I did all 28 harps in well under an hour.

So my harps are now non-slip, and I can play in a hot room without worrying about the instrument popping out of my hands in a spray of sweat. A small thing, perhaps, but better is better.

From my point of view, I’d rather be able to buy something like this off-the-shelf (ideally, as part of a new harp, rather than an aftermarket add-on) than spend my own time putting it together. But this is a pretty simple, quick mod that’s easy to get right on the first try, so I’ll live with it until harmonica manufacturers realize that it’s better to sell instruments that people can hold on to even when they’re sweating.

4 Comments

  1. Sounds like you have something there. Great job! I was wondering if the tape would be effective with Hohner’s Flexrack harmonica holder. When I put some types of harps (mainly the Golden Melody harps) in the “gripping” vice on the Flexrack, the harps tend to “slip” somewhat after a minute or two pushing forward when being played. Do you think (1) the tape on these harps will help hold the position better, and (2) Do you have a Flexrack by chance (or something very similar) to test and let me know what you think. Thank you so much in advance for your comments/advise.

  2. @Jeff: Haven’t tried it with a rack because I don’t use a rack. As I recall, the racks I used to use gripped the harp at the flange on the cover plates, so the tape should work with that too. Regards, RH

  3. Really enjoyed to listen to the short track of your new album. Quick question: Did you merely buy the KEY LABEL dots at Office Depot? If so, how did you write the key so neatly on the dot? Are the Dots “see thru”? Thanks

  4. Hi Leonard, don’t know what you mean by the “key label dots”–the key label is a 1/2″ high white paper stick-on letter. I bought a sheet of them at the local Stop and SHop grocery store in their office supplies section. I’m sure any office supply company can supply 1/2″ white stick-on labels.

    Maybe the “dots” you refer to are the nubbles on the grip tape? They kind of look liek dots. Anyway, I put the letter on first, then applied the grip tape, and the grip tape overlaps a little with the letter.

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