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