[Harp-L] Re: Comb materials Harp-L Digest, Vol 153, Issue 19

Richard Hammersley rhhammersley@xxxxx
Sun May 15 14:51:58 EDT 2016

The last great comb materials debate made me go back to lurking on Harp-L. But this time round it’s more interesting. There is clearly fervent belief in different materials. The consensus seems to be that the differences on tone are minimal and not as big as most of the other things that affect tone, such as the player and the gear the harp is played through. I wonder if the comb lovers are on to something but are looking at the wrong characteristic? 

As well as, maybe, the different resonance of different materials (but a relatively tiny bit of material is a comb compared to the players resonant breathing chambers), perhaps there are effects on the weight of the harp - which could affect how the player plays - and where the player’s spit goes? 

My own experiences:
Unsealed wood soaks up the slobber. Plastic and metal don’t. Sealed wood is between the two. We know soaking harps in water affects playability, so there is a potential difference. Certainly when I came back to harmonica I had to learn how to play plastic and metal combs, as I found the dynamics a bit different due to slobber and I had learned on unsealed wood. 

Metal combs: They are heavy and they feel different in the mouth, so I think I play them differently. Could not describe how this affects anything. Also, maybe, how you can slide your lips about is different? 

Finally an interesting analogy: Bottleneck guitar players are about as obsessed with finding the right slide as harp players with combs. Amplified the tone doesn’t come from the slide particularly. In fact you can violate “good” bottleneck technique too and still sound good. Acoustic, the slide affects tone. Ah ha but in reality nobody plays or records “acoustically” nowadays not even the buskers. They all amp it up. The different sounds get lost. But different slides still play differently and sound different acoustically. But there is no such thing as a truly acoustic recording, so the differences get lost. 
Harp on

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