[Harp-L] The "newest" Stradivarius of Harmonicas!

Tom Halchak info@xxxxx
Sun May 8 16:44:38 EDT 2016

​​The subject of comb material pops up frequently and the workshop I hosted
at SPAH 2013 (The Great Comb Debate) is often cited.  I always find it
interesting that people who were not there, did not participate and have no
idea how the testing was set up and done feel free to dismiss the results.
Yet 100% of the people who were there and did participate came away
absolutely convinced that tone is affected by comb material – including the
great Michael Rubin.  There were plenty of doubters at the beginning of the
workshop but none at the end.  When we play music, it is not a scientific
experiment that can be measured by statistics.  It is an emotional
experience that we feel as we listen to it.  You can offer all the
scientific mumbo jumbo you want but you’re just being stubborn.  You are in
denial.  I have been in the custom comb business for over 5 years and in
that time have manufactured and sold many 1000’s of combs constructed from
Wood, Corian, Acryic, Aluminum, Brass and Hogany.  I have received feedback
form 100’s upon 100’s of satisfied customers offering their opinions about
tones produced by different comb materials – often with amazement.  But the
naysayers insist otherwise and these people must be suffering from some
form of mass hysteria.  It reminds me of the mother who, when watching the
parade go by said, “Look!  Everybody is out of step but my son.”

I had a conversation with Steve Baker at SPAH back in 2013 on the subject
of comb material.  I was able to find something he posted on these pages
back in 2009.

On Tue, Apr 7, 2009 at 5:17 PM, Steve Baker <steve at xxxxxxxxxxxxx wrote:

'd like to provide some background information on the forthcoming Marine Band
Crossover and answer some of the queries raised by Sunnyside and Jonathan
Compton. As Hohner's harmonica consultant, I've been closely involved in
this development from the word go and have been playing prototypes since

 We've been looking for alternative high quality renewable natural
materials suitable
for harmonica combs for years and I've tested loads without finding anything
that worked better for me than the pearwood traditionally used in Marine
Band combs. Bamboo seemed a suitable candidate, as it's been used in Asia
for millenia and grows really fast while requiring no aging, unlike

 About 18 months ago I got the first fully sealed laminated bamboo
combs to test
(on the basis of an MB Deluxe) and immediately fell in love with the playing
feel and response. I've been playing them ever since and as I got more
stuff to test, I began replacing the pearwood combs in my Deluxes with bamboo.
Now I rarely play pearwood any more except in the case of custom MB1896s. I
recommended Hohner to use this material in a 10-hole model and tests
continued. Last autumn we ran a series of blind tests on reed profiles with
myself, Howard Levy, Joe Filisko and Michael Timler from Harponline. As a
secondary issue we also compared identical instruments with different
comb materials
(pearwood, solid plastic, bamboo), in each case giving points out of 10 for
volume, tone, response, bending, overblow and general playability. The
results were analysed by the Hohner R&D department. Interestingly, all the
above test players independently (at different times and places,
without collusion
and without knowing the others' preferences or the materials tested) gave
the bamboo comb the highest overall rating by a significant margin.

 Hohner decided to use this material in a new Marine Band model, the Crossover,
which was unveiled at the Frankfurt Fair last week (and which Sunnyside got
to play, hence his enthusiasm). The comb is completely water-resistant,
with bevelled corners and channel openings, and the laminated construction
makes it very stable. The sharp edges of the reed plates are de-burred. The
"new compromise tuning" lies between the traditional MB tuning (itself a
compromise between just and equal temperament) and 12TET.  It's basically
how I tune my own harps  -  all thirds (2, 5 & 8 blow, 3 & 7 draw) are
tuned only 6 cents flatter than the root note and the 7ths in the draw
chord are tuned equal. This still gives good chords, but allows you to play
in more than just the first 3 positions and still remain reasonably in tune
with other instruments. All parts are fully compatible with the Marine Band
Deluxe. The Crossover will come in a semi-soft zipper case.

*Tom Halchak*
*Blue Moon Harmonicas LLC*
*P.O. Box 14401 Clearwater, FL 33766*
*www.BlueMoonHarmonicas.com <http://www.BlueMoonHarmonicas.com>*
*(727) 366-2608*

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