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

MundHarp@xxxxx MundHarp@xxxxx
Tue May 17 10:12:23 EDT 2016

In my opinion the comb material has very little influence on the sound... I 
 used to think "Wood comb mellow" "Metal comb HARSH" Plastic comb "Between 
the  two! The propaganda at the time. 
 Back in Detroit at SPAH 1997 Vern Smith PROVED to  me.... That is RUBBISH
A pearwood comb will rip your lips. a plastic or metal comb is not going to 
 change ANYTHING, SO MUCH.;;;; Except it won't rip your lips
Mostly these days I use Danneker Blues diatonic harps with plated  brass 
combs. Why? Because unlike Marine Bands with pearwood combs... Metal combs  do 
not swell and rip a gigging harmonica players lips to bits!  I do not  
think the sound difference is significant. But I do not want my lips to bleed  
after every gig! I go for stainless steel or plated brass combs. They DO NOT 
rip  up your mouth, as pearwood combs do. I do not think the audience can 
tell any  difference.
Nearly 20 years ago, in Detroit. at SPAH 1997... We came to the conclusion  
that comb material has very little, or NO influence on tone. But it DOES 
have an  enormous effect on the playability of the harmonica.
John "Whieboy" Walden
Just now in bonnie Scotland, but available to play music ANYWHERE in  the 
In a message dated 17-May-16 1:32:07 P.M. GMT Daylight Time,  
mikerockin at verizon.net writes:

I  assumed the bet was really more of a prize. … meaning $1000 is only 
awarded.  In other words, if you took on the bet and lost, you would not lose 
any money.  Right?
I believe this is how the Amazing Randy ( great movie btw ) has it  setup 
with the  One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge  

***  Mike

> On May 15, 2016, at 2:53 PM, Robert Laughlin  
<harmonicaman1968 at verizon.net> wrote:
> Donald Trump  could step up to provide the 1000 dollars. Otherwise, that 
offer just serves  to warn people off, since the parameters are not strictly 
controlled, and  therefore the outcome is not assured.
> Not everyone has an  available G to put up. Most harmonica players, I 
would assume, haven't a lot  of money to spend. Otherwise, they might have 
bought themselves a sax, a  cello, a piano,,etc. To me, that kind of monetary 
"challenge" just borders on  "big talk". It's almost a form of "financial 
bullying", depending on to whom  it's addressed.
> Personally, I wouldn't risk the money, over  questionable parameters, and 
the apparent bias each has for their own view,  one "empirically 
scientific", the other "personal/experiential".
> Having been involved in music in one form or another all my life, I  
prefer my ears as judges. My ears and I have become good friends, and I trust  
them implicitly.
> The aim should not be to "shut up" the  opposing view. Perhaps we all 
have a point that's valid to each  individual.
> No matter how many strict parameters one  espouses, there will always be 
something, some "imperfect process"I would  guess, to "invalidate" the test.
> Personally, I'm siding with  the "ears only" crowd, though it might seem 
less "scientific". I trust my ears  more than I do other people's 
"parameters". Over control would just remove the  element of spontaneity on the part 
of the designated players, I would  guess.
> To each his own.
> I'll go with my  ears, over "Machinery's Handbook". I have to live with 
my ears.
> But then, admittedly, I'm the hippie who wouldn't take engineering in  
college, only because all of "those guys" wore a suit and tie,,,lol.
> My father had an engineering degree, worked for Lockheed in the 50's,  
built his own lathe from scrap parts. We had every machine tool imaginable in  
our garage. It was a hippie craftsman's dream. I made "peace symbol" 
necklaces  out of twisted wire and brass pieces brazed onto a key ring. Lisa Lyon, 
the  world's 1st women's champion body builder got one of these from me. 
She went  to my high school. She saw me wearing one, told me she liked it, and 
I gave it  to her. Sharing was big, back then. Plus, she was a doll. I 
couldn't  resist.
> Anywayyyy,,, I don't expect a reasonable consensus on  this anytime soon. 
Just another day, another issue.
> Buffalo  Bob
> ----- Original Message ----- From:  "Vern" <jevern at fea.net>
> To: "Tom Halchak"  <info at bluemoonharmonicas.com>
> Cc: <harp-l at harp-l.org>;  "Brendan Power" <bren at brendan-power.com>
> Sent: Saturday, May 14,  2016 10:46 PM
> Subject: Re: [Harp-L] Comb Materials: the Perfect Test  Harmonica?
> Thank you for the description of  your test design.   I approve of your 
precautions to make certain  that comb material was the only difference among 
the harps.  In the  following comments, I will explain why I think your 
controls were inadequate  to allow listeners to demonstrate the ability to 
distinguish among comb  materials by their sound alone.
>> On May 14, 2016,  at 10:27 AM, Tom Halchak <info at bluemoonharmonicas.com> 
>> …..And thank you for your account of the comb test at SPAH  2010.  It is
>> unfortunate that in spite of your best efforts  the test did not come off
>> the way you wanted and failed to provide  any meaningful data…….
> Granting that the conditions for that  test did not satisfy Brendan, some 
conclusions  are inescapable.   Players recorded differences that did not 
agree with the materials or each  other.  When someone plays the same exact 
harp three times and perceived  differences cannot come from the materials.
>> …….it is  tragic that one of the participants deliberately sabotaged 
the  test
>> and influenced others to perhaps do the same.
> He did not sabotage the entire test…only a small part that were his  
responses.  It may not have been sabotage at all.  It may have been  that he 
heard no differences and that is what he reported. It is certain that  he wasn’
t happy about the test.   Unfortunately, he isn’t available  to clarify the 
question.  I do not to reveal the names of test  participants.
>> ...there was no attempt to conceal or  deceive either the players or the
>> audience about the comb material  being played …..
> There was no deceit in the 3 previous  tests.  Deceit is causing someone 
to believe something that is not  true.  It was made plain that the 
listeners or players would not know  which material was being played.
>> …….I solicited the  assistance of four very respected professional 
>  Given your goal was to entertain as well as test, this choice is  
understandable. However, machine-blown harps would have eliminated the  spurious 
human-player variables.  Such a machine was used for a part of  the 1997 
test.  Yes…this discussion has been ongoing for 20 years!   It is resurrected 
periodically when newbies  start asserting again that  “wood is warm” or “
metal is bright”.  This old curmudgeon detects the  aroma of BS and comes 
roaring from his den for another round.
>> ….. the demand for high quality custom combs is something that  was 
present before Blue Moon came into existence, it is present now, and it  will be 
present when I am dead and gone.
> Stability, appearance,  resistance to moisture, and other things are all 
valid reasons to  buy  custom combs.  My only point is that comb material 
does not affect  tone.
>> …...Taking the time to  disassemble the harp, clean the reed plates as 
Michelle Lefree has stated she  did, and then reassembling the harp with a 
different comb had to  have
>> taken five minutes more or less.  That’s a long time  between listening 
>> different comb materials with zero  opportunity to do a side by side…..
> The reassembly was a  little over a minute.  However, it took minutes 
longer for each  participant to wait his turn at playing it.  They were asked 
for their  impressions the sound of the harp presented, not for comparisons 
with  others.
> The time-consuming use of the same reed plates was  adopted in response 
to objections to a previous test that the different reed  plates affected the 
> You can’t win.  After the  test, those disappointed with the results 
always find some  “fatal flaw”  in the test conditions.  The claim is: “If not 
for this egregious defect  in the test procedure, we would have been able to 
identify the materials from  their tones."
> Any perceptible difference that doesn’t last  even a few minutes is 
irrelevant in the real world of harmonica playing.  Harmonicas change from song 
to song, not from second to second.
>> At the end of the workshop we had a contest to see  who would win “The
>> Golden Ear Award”.  Everyone had a score  sheet.  One by one each of the 
>> players went behind a  curtain out of sight and played each of the
>> harmonicas in a random  order.
> This was an attempt at blinding the test.   However, a serious effort to 
allow the listeners to demonstrate that they  could detect materials 
uninfluenced by confirmation bias would require tighter  controls.
> What were the recorded results?  What was the  success rate?  Did the 
listeners tend to agree with each other even if  wrong about the material?
> Here are some recommended  controls:
> … The harps should be blown by a machine to avoid human  player variables.
> … The testers should not comment on which numbered  harp is being played.
> … The listeners should not discuss or share  their perceptions during the 
> … There should be more than one  harp with each of the comb materials.
> … There should be fewer types of  materials, maybe just brass and wood.
> … There should be a large number  of playings, 50 or more.
> … The sequence should be random, allowing  repetitions of the same harp 
and material.
> Before the blinded  portion of the test starts, it would be OK to have a “
get-acquainted” session  where harps are played with their comb materials 
known.  It would be OK  to record listener’s impressions to compare with the 
results from the blinded  test.
> There should be someone from your test that would be  willing to accept 
my $1000 wager that they cannot distinguish among comb  materials under the 
controls listed above. You could provide the harps.   Any takers?
> Vern

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