[Harp-L] Comb Debate

Tom Halchak info@xxxxx
Tue Jul 25 23:46:39 EDT 2017

I have a simple question for everyone.

When was the last time you had the opportunity to play five identical
harmonicas with the only difference being the material out of which the
comb was constructed?  Not, the same set of reed plates swapped from one
comb to the next so there was no ability to play them side by side and do
comparisons.  I’m talking about five brand new, fresh from the factory
harmonicas – no customization, no modifications.  One has the factory
installed comb and then one each with a Corian, an Acrylic, an Aluminum and
a Brass comb.  So, everything about the harps is identical except for the
comb, thus providing you the ability to play each one as much as you want
and then compare it to another one with a different comb and then do A-B,
A-C, C-D, etc. comparisons so you and your audience could listen for
differences.  When was the last time you had the opportunity to do that?
For most of you the answer is………… never.  I know that Michael Rubin has.
So has Richard Sleigh.  And Brandon Baily.  And Todd Parrott.  And anyone
else who wished to do so at SPAH in 2013.

At The Great Comb Debate Workshop at SPAH 2013, I prepared not five
identical harps with different combs.  I prepared 20 brand new harps with
different combs.  Five Golden Melodys in thekey of D.  Five Manjis in the
key of A.  Five Marine Band Deluxes in the key of G and Five Marine Band
Crossovers in the key of C.  Four different models.  Four different keys.
Five different combs on each model.  The only difference in the comb
material was the factory installed stock comb – ABS Plastic on the Golden
Melody.  Wood/Resin Composite on the Manji.  Pear Wood on the Deluxe.  And
Bamboo on the Crossover.  The other four combs, in each case were Corian,
Acrylic, Aluminum and Brass.  The above mentioned pro players demonstrated
the harps in the workshop – one model each.  Todd Parrott the Golden
Melodys.  Brandon the Manjis.  Richard the Deluxes.  And Michael the
Crossovers.  There was no attempt to deceive.  Each player told the
audience what he was playing during his demonstration and offered his
feedback.  The audience could ask the player to play any combination of
harps back to back for comparison purposes.

At the end of the workshop we had a contest to see who could correctly
identify the most harps as they were played from behind a curtain out of
view.  Truthfully the scores were not that high.  Margie Goldsmith won The
Golden Ear Award for the highest score.

It was fun.  It was informative.  It was revealing.  There were about 30
attendees at the workshop.  At the start of the workshop I surveyed the
room to see who believed comb material made a difference and who believed
it did not.  The room was pretty evenly divided between the believers and
non-believers.  Fair enough.  Within about 5 minutes after the
demonstrations started, there were no more non-believers in the room.  That
was when Todd Parrott picked up the Golden Melody with the Brass comb and
played.  That was also when the jaws hit the floor.  Everyone was stunned
by the difference.  And so it went.  Without getting bogged down in too
many details, the consensus that evolved is that the metal combs are louder
and brighter than the Pear Wood, Corian, Wood/Resin Composite Acrylic or
Bamboo combs.  There are subtle difference between those materials too but
the most pronounced difference is between the metal combs – especially the
brass – and the non-metal combs.

The workshop was on Wednesday, the first day of SPAH.  I had all 20
harmonicas available at my Vendor’s Booth for the entire week, which I made
available to anyone who wanted to play them and conduct their own taste
test.  And a lot of people did.  I didn’t keep track how many, but not one
of them came back to me and said that there was no difference.

I addition to this SPAH experience, in the past 8 years, I have made and
sold 1000’s of diatonic harmonica combs.   Other than the major
manufacturers, I would venture to say that nobody has manufactured and sold
more combs than I have in that time.  I have received 1000’s of email from
satisfied customers who describe their experience and the difference in
tone of one material vs. another is a common theme.  This may not be the
most scientific approach but it is a lot of data and it all points to one
inevitable conclusion – different comb materials produce different tones in
a harmonica.  Could all these people be wrong?  Are they suffering from
some sort of mass delusion?

Bear in mind that different doesn’t necessarily mean better.  Beauty is I
the ear of the beholder.  I have never marketed one material vs. another
with the claim that it will improve the tone of your harmonica.  It doesn’t
matter to me one iota if someone prefers Corian or Wood or Aluminum or
Acrylic or Brass.  I make them all.  If someone is in the market for a
custom comb, do you really think I care which one (or ten) they buy?  The
customer is always right.  They buy what sounds good to them.  That’s all
that matters.  I am just in the business of meeting the demands of the

So, let me repeat my question.  When was the last time you had the
opportunity to play five identical harmonicas with the only difference
being the material out of which the comb was constructed?   I respectfully
submit that this is a valid method of comparing instruments.  Unless you
have had the opportunity to do this, then I would question the accuracy of
your decision-making process.  I find that there are a lot of naysayers out
there who don’t have any first-hand experience with the things they are
expressing their opinion about.  They are simply repeating something that
they read elsewhere and accepted fact.

I’ll set some harps with different combs up for SPAH in three weeks.  If
anyone wants to do some experimenting, stop by my booth.  You will be
welcome to take them for a test drive.

*Tom Halchak*
*Blue Moon Harmonicas LLC*

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