[Harp-L] Comb Material

Tom Halchak info@xxxxx
Tue May 10 09:24:21 EDT 2016

Good Morning Daniel and all my harp-l friends –

Daniel stated in the thread about  "newest" Stradivarius of Harmonicas!

".............. you come to this issue with an inherent conflict of interest
and a bias."  Nothing could be further from the truth.

With all due respect, I think you are making the same mistake that a lot of
others are making.  That is, you are assuming that I have an agenda and my
purpose for posting my comments is to sell harmonica combs.  I am a very
good natured guy so please don't read any anger or vitriol into my words.
 I challenge you to find even one scintilla of a suggestion that anyone buy
one of my combs on my post.  The conversation is about comb material and
whether or not it makes a difference in the tone of the harmonica.  It is
not a debate about whether anyone should buy a custom comb from me or any
other comb maker.  To the best of my knowledge, all the major manufacturers
use different materials in the construction of their harmonica combs.
 Hohner uses wood in the Marine Bands and Blues Harps and several of their
Chromatics.  They use ABS plastic in harps like the Special 20. They use
aluminum in the Meisterklasse.  I'm not sure, but I don't think they use
brass combs in any of their models.  Suzuki uses wood, plastic, aluminum,
brass and even a composite comb in their Manjis.  Seydel uses wood, plastic
and aluminum.  So when talking about comb material preference, the default
conversation should be about what people are buying from the manufacturers
- not what they might buy from Blue Moon.  I am flattered to be put into
that conversation but the number of customers I have is but a spit in the
ocean compared to the major harmonica manufacturers.

The perspective that I bring to the table is that my “claim to fame” is
that I am quite confident that I have more conversations about combs, comb
design, comb construction and comb material in a single week than most of
you will have in a lifetime.  The debate about comb material rears its ugly
head maybe 1-2-3 times a year here on harp-l.  For me, it is a daily
occurrence.  Daily.  But “debate” is a poor choice of words when referring
to the conversations and email exchanges I have with my customers.  We
don’t argue about which comb material is best.  We discuss options.
Harmonica players are notorious for being on eternal quests for the Holy
Grail – the sound that resonates with us.  We are all guilty of this to a
certain degree, whether that be comb material, brand, model, diatonic,
chromatic, lip pursing vs. tongue blocking, overblowing, overdrawing, etc.
etc. etc.  Many will let out a collective groan when the subject of comb
material is mentioned but if that’s not your thing, it is a safe bet that
you have a different axe to grind that others find boring.

The irony here is that Blue Moon Harmonicas exists as a direct result of my
subscribing to and reading harp-l about seven or eight years ago.  I have
been playing the harmonica since 1972 but did not discover that there was a
thriving online harmonica community until I stumbled across harp-l sometime
in 2007 or 2008.  I was fascinated.  I caught the fever bad.   I started
buying harps, and CDs and books and gear and, and, and……….  Can anybody
relate?  I devoured the harp-l posts every day hungry for new information.
One common thread that I kept seeing was about combs.  “Where can I get
some good combs?”  Combs, combs, combs.  People wanted combs.  But nobody
seemed to be doing a particularly good job meeting the demand at the time.
And the horror stories were in abundance.  “I bought a comb from so-and-so
and is terrible.”  “I bought a comb from XYZ and it cost a fortune.”  “I
bought a comb from ABC and it took three months to get it.”  And the worst
of all, “I sent $200 to __________ (fill in the blank) for a couple of
custom harps.  It’s been six months and now they won’t return my calls or
answer my emails.”  Sound familiar?  And the cycle would repeat itself.  It
was like watching re-runs of I love Lucy.  Same thing over and over.  I
kept saying to myself, “There’s an opportunity here for someone to step up
and meet the demand.  These guys all want combs.”  Little did I suspect
that it would be me.

And so, in the summer of 2009, I looked into making harmonica combs.  I had
no clue what I was doing.  None.  Zero.  Zilch. Nada.  I managed to find
someone who could laser cut wood for me and made some Golden Melody Cherry
and Maple combs.  Foolishly, I had 175 combs made in my first batch.
175!  I had them spread all over our dining room table (my wife is a good
sport) until I had to get them out of the way because we were having a
birthday party for one of my kids.  So I threw them all in a shoe box and
put them in the garage.  That was August.  The next thing I know its
December and while rummaging around in my garage I stumble across this shoe
box full of harmonica combs that I had paid a bunch of money to get made
back in the summer.  Reluctantly, now with the simple goal of just
recouping my investment, I created a couple of eBay listings and “launched”
my comb making empire.  I was not prepared for what happened next.  People
starting buying comb from me and I was embraced by the harmonica
community.   I got tons of great feedback.  I learned what I was doing
right. I learned what I was doing wrong.  Quality improved.  And then guys
wanted more combs.  More models – not just Golden Melodys but what about
combs for the Marine Band and the MS-Series and the Special 20 and Lee
Oskar and Seydel?  I went from making 2 products in December to 45 products
within three months.  None of it was my idea.  I was just listening to what
my customers told me they wanted.  I went nuts.  Every dollar that I took
in went right back into buying more inventory.  I did not take a dime out
of the business for over two years.  I changed the name of my company to
Blue Moon Harmonicas in September 2010 and launched a website.  I now make
over 400 different combs and have 1200 – 1500 combs in stock at any given
time.  I’m working on the 4th iteration of my website.

This may sound a bit like grandstanding but really, that is not my point.
My business is a reflection of the demand for harmonica combs that exists
in the harmonica community.  You guys created this monster!  All I did was
listen.  I listened as you told me how to make my products better. Thank
you for that.  And I listened when you told me what you wanted.  And what
you told me was, “We want more colors because I want to use different
colors to create a key coding system so it is easier to find the right
harp.”  “We want Corian.”  “We want Aluminum.”  “We want Brass.”  “We want
Hogany.”  “We want combs for Chromatics.”  (I haven’t bitten the Chromatic
bullet yet.)  So I make it all.  See what an accommodating guy I am?

Here’s the big takeaway from this.  I did not invent custom combs.  I am
not the first to use different materials to make combs.  I did not invent
this industry.  You did!  I am not trying to convince anyone that they
should use custom combs.  I don’t have to.  The demand is already built
into you guys.  It’s in your DNA.  I can hardly keep up with the demand.
You guys said you wanted it, so I built it.  You told me how to make it
better, so I did.  You told me what you wanted and so I made it.  I didn’t
have to do any of the thinking.  All I had to do was listen to you and you
told me exactly what to do.   And you didn’t lie to me either because the
support I get from you guys is amazing.  I am humbled by it. Thank you.  If
Blue Moon disappeared tomorrow, what would change?  Would the demand for
custom harmonica combs suddenly vanish?  I doubt it.  You would just have
one less supplier, but the thirst would still be there.

Oh, yeah, and by the way, yes, I am a Capitalist Pig.  I do want to make a
profit.   If Blue Moon is not profitable it will cease to exist.  If that
offends some of you, well then, I’m sorry.  Actually, no, I’m not sorry.
Get over it.  (remember, I’m a guy with a sense of humor).

So, when I state, with confidence, that comb material does produce a
different tone in a harmonica, it is not just me speaking any more that it
was just me who built Blue Moon.  I am just a conduit.  It is you who is
speaking. I am simply regurgitating what you have told me over and over.
Blue Moon has become the Wikipedia for harmonica combs.  I hear it with my
own ears and it has been confirmed hundreds if not thousands of times by my
customers.  100% of the people who install a brass comb on their harmonica
have told me that it made their harp “louder and brighter”.  Does that mean
that the tone produced by brass combed harmonicas are “better”?   No.  It
just means they are “different”.  Does that mean you should use brass
combs?  That’s up to you.

I will close with a question.  When was the last time you had the
opportunity to play five brand new identical harmonicas, same brand, same
model, same key, with the only difference being the comb material?  So you
could do an AB comparison or an AC comparison, or AD or AE or BC or BD or
BE, etc. etc.  And how about setting up four different sets of five brand
new identical harmonicas  - five Golden Melodys (in D), five Marine Band
Deluxes (in G), five Manjis (in A) and five Marine Band Crossovers (in C),
one each with a stock comb, a Corian comb, an Acrylic comb, an Aluminum
comb and a Brass comb?  And what if you had all these harmonicas at a
convention where hundreds of harmonica players could do their own “Taste
Test” and you could observe their reactions and listen to their feedback?
And what if the overwhelming majority of people claimed that they could
hear a difference in the tone produced by the different harmonicas with the
only difference being the comb material?  That is essentially the Great
Comb Debate Workshop that I set up at SPAH in 2012.  I’m tempted to do it
again this year.

And what if over the past five years you had hundreds of conversations with
people and their observations were entirely consistent with the SPAH
experience?  What would you say?  What conclusions would you draw?

Sorry to be so long winded.  Amazing what two cups of coffee will do to you
in the morning.  I hope that I don’t have to answer any questions tonight
after I’ve had a couple of beers.   Might have a different tone to it. J

*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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