Re: Embossing and other questions

- ----- Original Message -----
From: Howard Chandler <chandler@xxxxxxxxx>
harp-l <harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Sunday, September 14, 2003 12:34 PM
Subject: Re: Embossing and other questions

> G.,
> Thanks for all of the advice.  After years of playing harps straight out of
> the box, I have accumulated quite a sizable boneyard of squeeky, leaky and
> pitch impared harps.  Mostly Marine Bands.  Many have been soaked, which may
> be a bad thing to do in the long run, but often, soaking is required to get
> them going.  Most of my "players" are now plastic combed because they are
> more reliable.  I'd love to be able to breath new life into the old MB's
> though.  Like many others, I feel that the best sound can be achieved on the
> humble old MB.  I've alway's assumed that it was because of the wood comb,
> but if my reading of the accumulated wisdom here on the web is correct, wood
> does not neccisarily make the best comb.  Could it be that the reason I
> loved my old MB's so much compared to the SP20's and LO's is the just
> tuning?  I know the LO's and others are more optimized for single note
> soloing and they've really "fit in" better in my non-blues endevours,

Well, Lee Oskars and Hohner Golden Melodies are tuned to 12EDO, I wouldn't say
they're "optimized" since 12TET is a pretty crappy compromise for a temperament.
But they are definitely tuned to be in tune with most modern western
accompaniment which is generally tuned around 12EDO and are more suitable for
single note playing as you say.

> however, for blues I think the just tuning of the old MB's is the thing.

Possibly.  I am given to understand that Marine Bands stopped being tuned to
Just Intonation around the 70s.   I know for a fact that today's off the shelf
handmade marine bands and special 20s are tuned to a form of compromise between
12TET and Just Intonation.  Still sweeter than 12EDO, but NOT Just Intonation.
If you buy a special 20 and marine band in the same key they will sound the same
when played side by side.   However a Lee Oskar or Golden Melody played along
side them will sound rougher.

> Can the combs of my old swelled up MB's be resusitated?

I belive so, but you have to ask yourself if its worth the effort.
With a bench sander with a sanding wheel and sanding belt, an exacto knife and
some hobiest files you can reshape the comb back into usable form.   If any of
the comb cracks or teeth break off you can glue them back on.

> Is it necessary to use tape to seal the readplate on?

No.  I wouldn't do that except as a step in a process, I wouldn't leave any tape
there myself.  I reuse the nails or drill and tap them.  If a nail hole is too
lose poke the tip of a toothpick in some form of appropriate glue and insert it
into the nail hole and cut it off flush with the comb, let the glue dry before
reassembling the reedplates to the comb, with the nail making a new hole in the

> I'm also trying figure out whether I ought to persue the OB path.  I'm
> thinking that to do so I'll have to change my style radically.

It depends what you mean by that.

> I guess you
> might say that I'm an "acoustic" harper, and so I've developed a robust
> style ie. I really move a lot of air when I play.  I especially like to play
> the big red combed MB's.  Am I correct in assuming that the OB style
> requires a harp that will choke when played in this style, and that it
> almost always requires some form of amplification?


Your marine bands can be set up for this.
Just because less air is used doesn't diminish your tone or volume provided you
have control over your playing.
If anything, as you become better at this approach and your playing improves and
matures it'll improve your tone and volume.  You don't have to play hard to get
those gutteral full bends, nor to get heard.

I believe (meaning: in my opinion from my experience so far) part of what leads
to the falicy that you have to blow hard to get that tone comes from players who
started out with stock instruments and found that they had to play them hard to
get consistant results, and found thats the only way they can get that tone.
Part of the issue is when you play hard you are more likely to open up your
laranyx and embouchure where as the general default shape of your embouchure
will be tighter when playing gently.

The trick is to gain control and familiarity with the back of your throat, to
feel and control what your lanrynx, uvula, throat, jaw and all of your tongue
are doing.  That combined with strong breath support and control (not meaning
forceful, but rather exercised and well practised) can give you a greater range
of tonal control, more power to you tone and with a well set up harmonica you
don't have to move all that much air to make it really happen.

Some trad players don't believe a word I'm saying, so its your call.

> I'm immesuarably grateful for the advice concerning waxing.  It's good to
> know that there are safer alternatives.  Is there a particular brand of
> polyurathane that you find best suited for sealing wood combs?

Not in USA.  Why not visit a paint shop next time you are in town.  A relatively
safe question is to ask for fruitbowl safe polyurethane which is water based and
non-toxic.  There is no scientific proof to its safety, but it works well for
most people I know that use it.

> I'm curious
> to know if anyone has any opinions on using dewaxed shellac for a sealer.

I wouldn't recommend using a sealer that by nature deteriates with exposure to

> It is my understanding that this is a safe, natural, non-toxic finish (and I
> just happen to have a couple of pounds of the flakes).  I've even heard that
> some pills are coated with the stuff.

Pills are intended to be digested by saliva and stomach acid and have a shelf

> One last question.  Is there some sort of way to test a reed while tuning
> that doesn't require putting the harp back together?

Possibly, but the best way to test tuning is with the instrument reassembled.
Especially when you are checking the intervals.  Every component has an affect
on tuning, so you have to reassemble the instrument entirely for fine tuning.

For rough tuning where I'm just getting within 10 to 15 cents of the pitch I'll
use a comb that I've taped one side of, and just hold the reedplate onto.   Or
place my mouth over the reed on the reedplate and play it that way.   Both are
very inaccurate methods, but fine for rough tuning.

> Thanks,
> Howard Chandler
> Who think he's standing on a very slipery slope!

You are...

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