[Harp-L] comb materials, 1

Elizabeth wrote:

"yes...but flawed and certainly neither double blind or  scientific.  Way 
before my time, but up pops my disagreement with you  once more.  People who, like 
me have extremely acute hearing  (even within my own family) have come up in 
our discussions.  You  will not allow for any possibility that there might be 
some folks  (not specifically me) who can perhaps hear more differences in 
sounds and  tones...than either one of us...so too perhaps, in combs than other  
people?  "

I have extremely acute hearing by any definition of the term.  My job requires me to hear minute differences in pitch, volume and timbre which are often impossible for the untrained to hear.  I often spend entire weeks simply listening to organ pipes for these factors and then adjusting them as needed. 

This is all a caveat to the following, which is actually on topic: none of that matters.  What matters to Vern's test (and any other scientific endeavor on this subject) is whether or not I can repeatedly show that I hear a difference between harmonicas where the only variable is comb material.  If I can do it once, that is a very good indicator that comb material does make a difference.  But if in subsequent tests neither I nor anyone else can tell the difference, that is a good sign that people can't hear a difference.  What I hear on a daily basis is unimportant, only what can be proven with scientific testing.

This isn't a question of Vern dismissing people's opinions, because our opinions don't matter.  What matters is what is actually going on in physical terms (you know, the science of physics).  Now, people will have ideas and opinions on what is happening, but those are just starting points for investigation, and in the end it is the results of the investigation which matters, not the opinions of anyone involved.  Now, if there are theories of why comb-material (or reed-material, or cover-material) makes a difference, that's something which is interesting to discuss (which leads below), but if those opinions and theories can't be proven, or are actually disproven by tests, then they are unimportant.

Zombor writes (and all subsequent quotes are his):

"My metal combed harps do sound significantly different
from the plastic ones. Im not saying that an audience
could tell the difference, but I hear a significant

Ah, but are you sure you are hearing what you think you are hearing?  This is not to say you hear no difference, but rather what is the reason for the difference.  Comb material is but one possibility, and that's just amongst the physical possibilities.  The psychological possibility is huge: that you know the instruments are different and thus expect to hear a difference.  That is a huge factor, and there is only one way to eliminate it, with blind testing using limited variables.  Otherwise you everything is simply at the level of people claiming to have seen bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster.

" It might also be, because they are unique
constructions, "

Which should immediately point out that the only variable is not the comb material--comb shape, size, etc... are all a potential factor at least as great as material.

"but one thing is sure. Wood absorbs a
whole lot more sound than metal does."

Depends on the metal.  Lead is fairly absorptive.

" In other words
wood is rather a sound insulator, metal is a sound
conductor. Wood is rather a sound absorber, metal is
rather a "sound reflector". This must have got
something to do with the sound of the harp. "

Only if the material of the comb (in this instance) plays a role in the production or projection of the sound of the instrument.  Just because the material when used in another instrument in another manner effects the timbre, volume or other form of sound doesn't mean that it will have the same effect when used in another instrument and in another manner.  Thus, a harmonica comb is not the same as the soundboard of a violin and the nature of the material in those instruments and usages need not be the same.  The first question is whether or not the harmonica comb can play a role in the production or projection of sound.  I have seen nothing which would indicate that it does, but I'm perfectly willing to hear the theories again (I'm sure they will the same ones as given before--and the same ones which are fairly easily refuted, IMO).

"Maybe not
much, but something for sure. "

Which gets to the second question: if it does something, is it significant.  Let's suppose that comb material has an inaudible effect.  An effect which can be tested, proven and measured but which is beyond the range of human hearing.  Even beyond the range of elephant or canine hearing.  If we assume this, then the next question is: does the effect matter?  I don't know the answer to that, but I'd guess the answer would be "no, it doesn't matter because the effect cannot be heard by the people who play or listen to the instrument"--but that's just a guess.

"The reeds attached to the reedplates generate
vibrations. These vibrations are conducted away by a
metal comb. And absorbed by a woodden comb, or at
least conducted in a much worse way. At least this is
what I think. "

It's a theory which has been mentioned many times before.  But the problem is this: the comb is not free to vibrate.  For a material to project or effect sound it needs to do a singular thing: set a body of air in motion.  The harmonica comb can't do that.  It is clamped securely in place by the reed-plates.  It has a very surface area to move the air.  Indeed, it's about as inert a musical instrument part as I can think of (about--I know of some more inert things in musical instruments, but the harmonica comb is pretty close).  

JR "Bulldogge" Ross
& Snuffy, too:)


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