Subject: [Harp-L] was Embossing, now controversy (Long)

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 
'ringing' tone.
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. 
"Message: 3
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. 

David  Payne"


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