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

Brendan Power bren@xxxxx
Sat May 14 06:31:46 EDT 2016

Replying to Tom Halchack (see below):


Tom, the outcome of that 2010 SPAH test was widely discussed immediately after. I said exactly the same thing publicly then, on Harp-L and on a dedicated page on my website. 


It was a real pity, as Vern and I put an awful lot of work into the preparation. We came up with a concept for a weighed test harp that would mask comb weights, and would allow fast comb swaps. Vern kindly made the test harp, and I didn’t see it till arriving at SPAH. Though he feels it was sufficiently good for the test, neither I nor the participants (all top diatonic players) felt it was. 


Chris Michalek was one of the testers, and he was so unimpressed with the leakiness of the harp that he deliberately subverted the test by putting in identical scores for every comb. He also persuaded some of the other guys to do similar in a meeting between them outside the room. Vern and I only discovered this later. 


It would have been far better if Chris had stated his contempt for the test harp openly at the time. As a man renowned for expressing strong opinions, it was surprising that he went about undermining the test in this secretive manner. But nonetheless he was right: the test harp was not good enough.

I think part of the issue is that top diatonic players/makers like Chris are obsessed with comb flatness, reedplate flatness and perfect mating between the two - rightly so. Vern is a brilliant man who I like and respect a lot, but he comes from a different era and background as a chromatic player. Because of that I don’t feel he grasped the extreme degree of scrutiny that a test diatonic harp would come under from guys like Chris Michalek. I was partly responsible because, though I didn’t make the test harp, I approved the design.


I hope that gives you the background Tom of why this test was a failure, and restores your power of speech! It’s certainly a cautionary tale for anyone who wishes to conduct a truly impartial, scientific test of this vexed question. 





Brendan Power said, "Just for the record, the 10-hole diatonic test that
Vern and I did together
at SPAH a few years back was invalidated by an imperfect test harmonica, so
shouldn't be cited in any discussion.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmm. ​

​I'm speechless.​



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