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

Vern jevern@xxxxx
Sun May 8 16:49:04 EDT 2016

> On May 8, 2016, at 9:15 AM, philharpn at aol.com wrote:
> ……..Now,, what I need is the reassurance that reed material makes no difference is sound (output) or playability. That the whole issue is really reed adjustment…………

Short answer: You are so reassured.

Long answer:

I know of no public blind tests comparing different reed materials.  I have a harmonica having 47 brass reeds and one SS reed that no one has been able to identify. You could play that instrument all day and never realize that it had one SS reed.

There is reed-design theory that indicates that reed material makes little or no difference in sound. The fatigue life of some materials (SS) is better than others (copper alloys).

Two reeds of different materials that vibrate at the same pitch and are equally stiff* may have different thickness profiles but produce the same sound.
* The pitch of a reed is determined by the ratio of mass at the tip and the restoring force experienced by that mass as the reed vibrates.  A reed having more restoring force and more mass can have the same pitch but would feel different to the player and possibly sound a tiny bit different. I posit that the difference between Hering and Hohner reeds is because Hohners are a bit more stiff.  

Reeds are not like a bell whose moving surfaces displace air molecules. In a bell, the internal damping properties of the material are important. There is a “bell bronze” that is thought to be optimum.

 Reeds produce sound by modulating the flow of air through the slot.  IF the size and shape of the opening in the slot as the reeds swing back and forth is the same, then the sound is the same.

You are safe in the assumption that perceptible reed differences reside in gapping/adjustment and not materials.  

I define the optimum gap as the one that allows the reed to start to speak at the lowest pressure and not choke at much higher pressures.  0.5 to 12 inches of water pressure is a typical range.  I believe that the optimum gap for bending is less than that, reducing the upper limit of the range.  Great reputations have been built on the search for the magic compromise.


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