[Harp-L] Comb Materials: the Perfect Test Harmonica?

Emily Keene esalisburykeene@xxxxx
Sat May 14 00:48:56 EDT 2016

Message: 8
Date: Thu, 12 May 2016 16:48:20 -0700
From: "Bob Laughton" <bob at pacific.net>
Subject: Re: [Harp-L] Comb Materials: the Perfect Test Harmonica?
To: harp-l at harp-l.org
        <eece0cb7d622661655df6ba596184f65.squirrel at webmail.securepacific.net
Content-Type: text/plain;charset=iso-8859-1

On Thu, May 12, 2016 1:13 am, Brendan Power wrote:

> Richard Weiss, Hohner's product manager, has patented a very interesting
> chromatic harmonica comb that I understand will be released by Hohner
> sometime soon.
> [...]
> 2. Different comb materials can be inserted in wedge-shaped blocks
> from the rear. These could be wood, stone, metals, whatever. They can
> presumably be bought as a pack and the player can change materials if
they wish.
> This could be the ultimate harmonica to settle the Great Comb Debate!

Nice. I'd say compare wedges made of foam vs. wedges made of depleted
uranium, and settle the controversy once and for all.

By the way, I've known lots of traditional Irish flute players over the
years, most playing high-quality vintage or custom flutes made from wood
or plastic, everything from African Blackwood to Delrin, and I've never
hear a peep about which material is 'best for tone'.

Bob Laughton

I'm afraid your luck has run out Bob. I have both a rosewood and Delrin
Irish flute  (by the same maker) and the tone is quite different. It's not
supposed to be-theoretically you make a column of air vibrate and the
material it's made of should make no difference-but it does. One theory is
that the inside finishing (or lack of finishing) contributes to
"turbulence". Some say it has to do with the difference in the depth of the
holes that are drilled (the ossus effectivus), again causing
turbulence-which could explain the plastic/wood comb difference. Others
ascribe the difference to the way the tube surrounding the aforementioned
column of air vibrates, so mass, resonance, and damping could make a
difference (not that I actually know what that means). There are a lot of
variables in flute making, and I can't say I've played a lot of different
flutes. However, I have played a lot of tinwhistles, and I can tell you
that switching the barrel on a tinwhistle can make a big difference. If you
go to a delightful website called "Chiff and Fipple", you'll see whistle
players involved in debates that make this pale by comparison. Several good
whistle players I know claim that no two whistles sound exactly the same
(even though they're mass produced). The sameness of the tone of the
different comb materials could be caused by the player unconsciously
adapting their technique to a harmonica with a slightly different
response.  About thirty some years ago, I heard three great fiddle players
(one of whom was the great Benny Thomasson) play Benny's new fiddle. Each
player had a distinctive tone when they played their own fiddles and they
produced that same tone while playing Benny's fiddle. But if for no other
reason, I prefer plastic over wood because it's more hygienic and doesn't
swell. Perhaps someone can make a comb out of Pyrex or Corningware. Cheers,

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