Subject: [Harp-L] was Embossing, now controversy (Long)
- To: harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx
- Subject: Subject: [Harp-L] was Embossing, now controversy (Long)
- From: EGS1217@xxxxxxx
- Date: Sun, 30 Dec 2012 19:30:52 -0500 (EST)
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Dave: this may come as a surprise (or not), but I've long held (and
written) that I can also hear differences in different materials AND been jumped
on for it. Specifically for chromatics, though.
I was referring to both combs AND cover plates.
Someone on the Slidemeister board (although I didn't know it at the time
since I bought them on EBay) made in his home workshop beautiful sets of
chromatic wood coverplates out of oak and maple, to fit either a Super 64 or a
280 (he even included extra screws depending on which model you'd bought
them for). His EBay price was incredibly reasonable. I bid on and won two: A
birds-eye maple set which I haven't yet used and a gorgeous oak set.
They're STUNNING (and a deeper colour than the maple). But more than that, they
alter the sound of my Super 64.**
(**he's no longer doing this, btw, deciding that he'd now rather play
chromatic than work in his woodshop, so those of you who want the same kind of
covers will have to find another source.)
I have several Super 64's. I routinely took two with me (along with my
CX-12's) to the GSHC bi-monthly meetings. The first time I substituted the Oak
coverplates on one--I went up to play and was asked after the song what it
was I'd been playing--was it a 'new' instrument because its sound was
entirely different from my usual. This was from really good (older) chromatic
players sitting just a few feet away who have excellent ears.
~I~ already knew the covers muted the tone of this instrument and wanted to
get unbiased opinions without prior discussion. Since my chromatic is
usually at least partially hidden behind the mic and by my long hair, I doubt
any of them were actually focused on it: most people don't stare at the
player, preferring to listen intently while looking out the window, or down at
their tables. No one commented on noticing anything different visually
UNTIL I went over to show them what it was they'd heard and only then did the
reactions begin: 'Wow, how gorgeous is that'! - and so forth. Of course they
all wanted to know where to get the same covers and at least 3 of these
people mentioned the softened-up quality the wood imparted to the 64's usual
Likewise, I'm always aware of Smokey's metal combed chromatic: a reason
I've long-wanted a brass or steel comb, AND I can tell when anyone plays a
Suzuki chromatic. There's a sibilance/tone to them I can hear from rooms away.
I'D posit that since we're all so different in our bodies and embouchures
and since no one can know just what it is other people can hear, no one can
also decide that another canNOT hear something specific. I do know my
hearing is far more acute than that of all other members of my family - luckily,
because it's a fluke: I nearly lost my hearing after bursting my eardrums
on a very bad plane flight some years ago. Perhaps what the doctor who
saved my hearing did served to alter my ability to hear nuances? I'm not
certain, I only know I'm exceedingly grateful to him.
I believe and back up everything you consider 'controversial' here, btw.
Date: Sat, 29 Dec 2012 22:07:18 -0800 (PST)
From: David Payne <dave@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: [Harp-L] was Embossing, now controversy
To: Harp L Harp L _harp-l@xxxxxxxxxxx (mailto:harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx)
I would oppositely posit, as I'm sure you understand. Personally, I never
found a need to try to deduce it with math, nor do I have the booklearnin'
for it, I was an english and history major, you know. Although, I've got a
good ear. I've never thought of it as an interaction of sound in moving
air... in fact, that idea makes as little sense to me as it does to you. I
believe it's about the reed and how it vibrates. What, I don't know, but the
tonal change is from the reed itself. It is the reed itself and how air gets
to it that is key.
When airflow from the side is restricted there is a drop in treble
overtone. It's there. I can hear the change. When altering this, I can hear a
certain tone, then an addition of another tone and I can hear both those tones
at the same time. To me, it's like if somebody saw a cat. He would say,
"there is a cat." Then, a dog walked up next to this cat. Then, he would say
"there is a dog next to this cat." To me, perception of those tones is no
different than seeing dogs and cats.
This airflow concept is not new. Of course, Brad explored it to great
length with the B-radical, but it is way older. Richard Seydel Sr. was
apparently the first to understand it and explore it in the 1890s.
Most of the sound of a harmonica comes from this chopped column of air
from the reed.
Think of that as the cat. It's the base tone... the things I'm delving
into are other tones that are additions to that base tone - the dog.
Now, I will make some far more controversial statements myself that what
Vern said and they will get more controversial as you read on. This isn't
stuff I just thought up one day, it's from constant thinking and testing for
years at the Elk River Institute for Advanced Harmonica Studies, I know
it'll get picked to death, but this is stuff I've confirmed with repeatable
tests. I seriously think about this stuff all day. It's very controversial and
is dismissed by almost anybody - at least from what I've seen written -
that is an authority on harmonicas. Ironically, it is the absolute easiest
dynamic to confirm with a simple test.
"The coverplate acts as a sounding board and works in a similar, although
less significant way, as the top of a guitar."
That's another old concept. The man who came up with that was Jacob Hohner
and he designed a harmonica to take advantage of this dynamic - the mouse
ear Marine Band.
It's really simple to test. Grab a diatonic harmonica, hold it with a
thumb on one end and a finger on the other end. Do not touch the coverplate in
anyway. Blow any note (tonal changes seem to be easier to hear on blow
notes). Then, take a finger and press it upon the top coverplate. Then release
the finger. There is one tone that diminishes when you touch the coverplate
and another that remains constant. When the finger is pressed upon the
coverplate, there is a certain tone. That's the cat. Then, when the finger is
released, there is a treble part of that tone that is increased. That's the
For those who do not think coverplates vibrate, blow a note (lower the
better) and touch the top coverplate lightly against a tooth. You'll feel it.
Now, blow that note and lightly touch the BOTTOM coverplate against another
tooth. You don't need a tooth, you can feel it with a lightly-applied
finger, but the tooth rattle is really obvious. It also vibrates. Again, when
stuff vibrates, sound comes from it.
Now, that largest surface of that bottom coverplate is, on the diatonic I
just checked ( a Optimized session Steel), about 1.3 cm from the vibrating
reed. Even the top coverplate is about 8 cm from the vibrating reed.
Sound has to travel through a medium, be it solid, liquid or gas.
Now sound waves traveling through air seem pretty weak to make all this
coverplate vibration happen. That seems to be the case. This can be tested.
Blow the same note with another harmonica 1.3 cm away (basically just get
them as close as you can without touching). There is no perceptible vibration
in the second harmonica's coverplate. Or, you could just lay a coverplate
by itself down, whatever you want, there is no perceptible vibration. I
have never found anything acoustically resonant whatsoever about a harmonica.
So, the vibration in the coverplate doesn't come from the sound waves in
the air. It travels through solid material to get to the coverplates.
Sound travels differently through different solids. Go to your kitchen
table and put your ear on it and rap your knuckles at arm's length, or better
yet a ringing cell phone set to vibrate. Try the same with the countertop.
Or the floor. A board. Whatever flat, solid surface you can find. The
sounds, to your pressed ear sound different based on the material and
construction of that flat surface.
So, again, most of the sound from the reed doesn't get to the coverplates,
it is traveling through a solid material to get there.
What solid materials are there for it to travel through? Well, there's the
reedplates and .... drum roll, please.... the COMB.
By my theory here, metal combs would provide the best means of sound
transmission. I - and there are people, some on this list, who can confirm - I
can pick out a metal comb from another type on otherwise identical
harmonicas even on the phone nearly 100 percent of the time. With wood vs. recessed
reedplate plastic - I can pick out about 75 - 80 percent of the time. I
think I could do better if I actually were to train myself. What I hear is an
addition of treble tone with the wood, but it is very slight. Vern says
people can't hear it. I think he's probably 95 percent right. But a difference
exists and some people can hear it. There are ears far better than mine.
With plastic vs. wood combs of the same construction - and the 1847 and
1847 Silver are the only ones I know of that are like this - I can tell hear
no difference whatsoever. None. zilch, nada.
But with metal vs. anything, it's a different story. There is a particular
tone that is there with metal. I can only describe it as when a bell is
rung, at almost the point where you can no longer hear it, but you can still
kind of sense the vibration. I think that different vibration can also be
felt. I'd like to know if that's true, or if I imagine it. I would like to
test that sometime. I would need somebody to play a couple of harmonicas,
one with a brass comb and one without while I've got earplugs in and see if I
could tell a difference. That would be fun and I'd be interested to know
how it turns out.
I am well aware this will get picked to death and I only ask that folks
try some of these tests. Either each and every harmonica sounds exactly the
same or they do not. It's one or the other and if they do not, I'm open
testing out alternative suggestions. I might have tested them out already. Or
maybe not. I've tested about everything I can think of on that subject...
but there is a lot of stuff I've yet to explore, like what would a harmonica
sound like if you blew helium into it and stuff. Haven't tried that yet.
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