Design Study: David Kettlewell’s Frictionless Harmonica Mouth Piece

David Kettewell’s idea to introduce a frictionsless mouthpiece on the harmonica, is not only fascinating, it’s just briljant. That said, it’s easier said than done to ‘materialise’ the idea. We dicided to take on the challenge and are currently doing a feasibility study on design, material and technicalities. Here’s an excerpt from David’s post on the ‘Masters of Harmonica‘ Facebook page to give you an idea of the concept: 

“There are two basic types of frictionless mouthpieces (as were defined in the copy and drawings of my donation of the frictionless mouthpiece to the public domain.)

The 1st is SLEEVE…this is a very simple design…you just plop a very thin sleeve on top of an existing mouthpiece…and the upper portion slides Left and Right. Well it’s a little more complicated than that!

You do have to mill the top of the trapezoidal mouthpiece until it’s pretty flat…this is done so that the SLEEVE will be airtight against it.

The SLEEVE is the part your lips touch, it just wraps on the mouthpiece…and thus can easily slide Left and Right. It could be as thin as 1mm.

The Sleeves could be made with anywhere from 1-5 holes. With a bit of slide oil, they should work well and would be very inexpensive to produce.

By having the lower edges of the SLEEVE bend under just a bit, that “lip” can easily fit into channels cut low in the mouthpiece…this will keep the Sleeve on the Lower Mouthpiece portion.

I’m guessing these will not be retrofitted mouthpieces, but made for a given brand of harp where you get the Lower and the Upper, and just screw the assembly on the harp.

The 2nd type, and far more complicated but more likely to be successful in use by professionals, is the ARTICULATED type.

An easy way to visualize this is to picture a portion of a mouthpiece, let’s say 4 holes worth, cut from an existing mouthpiece and then lay that on top of a harp with mouthpiece.

The Upper one can slide on the Lower one.

In actual practice, it’s much more complex. The Upper and Lower parts will be fabricated after careful design planning, to provide for easy movement and airtightness of the Upper to the Lower.


It’s fascinating that once you no longer have to slide back and forth on the mouthpiece using saliva as a lubricant, that Upper portion which your lips rest on can take on many new ergonomic shapes.”

Comments from deQuelery:

Will we ever commercialise the idea? Who knows, when there is demand, there is a market. As the title of this post says, this is a ‘design study’… No obligations, no strings attached. Just an idea we picked up and like to play with.

A first study lead us to draw an even surface on the lower and upper part, where the upper part embraces the lower (we’d like to call this ‘the base’) partly, and moves in two ‘rails’ alongside it while making maximum contact with the top of the upper part. The upper part (we’d like to call this ‘the runner’) here is still a basic shape, however we (or others) could design a number of optional fitting mouth pieces, making it an open source platform. In order to come to a ‘frictionless’ movement, we need to carefully study both the surfaces and finish of both the upper and lower parts, so that we get a long lasting as-frictionless-as-possible movement, which is also air-tight. This is probably the biggest challenge.

The initial concept reached the next phase, and the ‘runner’ now has a small part of the lip plate (or mouth piece) on top. This way, players still have the feeling as they used to; the mouth piece part stays stationary relative to the lips, while it slides across the lower part (‘the base’). We are also looking at possibilities to make the runner modular so that various types of mouth pieces can be used.

Next step for us is to get these pieces made in our CNC milling router and test finishes, materials, lubricants, etc. Stay tuned!

Design registered with The Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP).

This post is also available in: Dutch

By | 2017-04-08T20:14:50+00:00 February 20th, 2017|deQuelery, Harmonica|0 Comments

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