> . . . if anyone knows anything about what it is that makes the sound of each
> harp so distinctive, I'd like to know. It doesn't seem like there should be
> that much . . . variation.
My opinion, particularly after reading historical disputes about metal versus
wooden flutes, is that one thing you can rule out is composition of the comb
and cover plates (e.g. wood, metal, plastic). If I may hazard a short list
of the remaining variables, in approximate decreasing order of importance:
1. Reed size and shape for any given pitch. When Kitt Gambel (sic)
was Lee Oskar Corp.'s player/tech, he said the LO harp had shorter,
wider reeds than e.g. a Marine Band, to which he also attributed
the "dog whistles" one often gets when trying to overblow a LO.
I have made replacement reeds for an ancient reed organ by hand,
plus played around with radical filings of harp reeds, and you can
get all sorts of tone differences by varying heel vs. toe thick-
ness, reed curvature, etc.
2. reed composition (stainless, various brasses, copper!, plastic!).
3. thickness of reedplate, but only as it affects the sha
pe and depth of the "box" within which a reed swings. You can add
reedplate composition to the "no effect" list above.
4. air chamber dimensions and shape, a laudry-list of things including
hole shape, size, and smoothness; and shape, size and smoothness of
the space between reedplate and coverplate; and size of air outlet
size and location.
A footnote to #1, which most are aware of, is that two reeds can produce the
same pitch and yet be RADICALLY different is size. I have organ reeds as
long as my little finger that are tuned to the C that hole 4 plays on a C harp.
The enormous weighting at the toe is countered by the enormous stiffness at the
heel. You can bet that the tone is quite different.
All this being said, I don't find tonal, or more formally, _timbre_ variations
to be all that remarkable among the common diatonic models, particularly com-
pared with the timbre differences possible with changes in mouth, throat, and
cupped-hand size and shape.
- John Thaden
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