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Wood for combs

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May 06, 2009 4:30 AM GMT

I don't prefer wood combs from Honer: the pear wood seems rough on my tongue, so I've been sticking with plastic combs. I recently got a Meisterclasse and a Suzuki Promaster, both with aluminum combs. I like the weight, but the galvanic cell set up with the brass reedplate, the aluminum comb, and steel cover taste too tinny for me. I'd like to try brass combs, but I'm a woodworker, not a machinist. I bought some maple and bloodwood to make my own combs, but was wondering if there were materials I should stay away from. I know lots of people have reactions to walnut sawdust, and walnut mulch will kill plants. Pine and cedar are too soft, and will swell. If the ones I bought work well, I might try cocobolo, rosewood, ebony, or bubinga. Are there any woods to steer clear of?



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May 06, 2009 7:23 AM GMT
Oldwailer Replied:

You might do more research on rosewood--I read somewhere that it can be toxic. I don't know about the others. . .

May 06, 2009 12:20 PM GMT
FatJim Replied:

Yeah Rosewood and Cocobolocan cause allergic reactions in some people. You might want to check on the source of Ebony or Bubinga wood too (if sustainability and ethics concern you that is).

May 06, 2009 4:29 PM GMT
Frank V Replied:

As a woodworker(me too) I think you would know if you are allergic to any given species.

I think the problem is limited as far as the general public is concerned such as a percentile of the population is allergic to peanuts.


May 06, 2009 5:50 PM GMT
André D Replied:

You should take a look to this high quality wood harmonicas made in France somewhat expensive but worth the price. The guy's pay many attentions on timbre an volume of his harmonicas and the are very very airtight.

May 06, 2009 6:51 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

The wood combs Hohner used over the years were first peachwood, which you'll find on some made just around the early 1900's and prior, and then pearwood, and on the new Marine Band Crossover, bamboo. One of the problems with Hohner for many years was that until recently, they did a very poor job of resharpening the blade cutting the combs (in the 80's, maybe once every 5 years, but now it's generally once a month) and prior to the retooling they did in the mid-90's, one huge problems were the huge saw marks on the combs.

For decades, many pros had pleaded with Hohner to seal the combs, which would've prevented many of the swelling problems associated with wood and ditch the nails for screws, but they always resisted. When they came out with the MS series, they used (and still use) and African wood called doussie, which was more resistant to swelling, so that "allowed" them to switch to screw tapped construction, but it's a very hard, brittle wood that I've found can crack easily, especially if the screws get severly overtightened, and it can still swell.

Rosewood is hard, but I would never use it unless it was properly sealed with just the right sealing agent because of possible allergic reactions, especially with that wood.

Aluminum makes a very hard, bright sound, but the risk of corrosion is far too high for me. Mark lavoie makes combs out of titanium for the Hohner MS series, and it's the best metal comb material I've eve run across, bar none, and they're available at his site and he also has fully sealed (with beeswax) maple combs for the MS series as well.

Jon Hall tried cocbolo for the Delta Frost, and gave up becuase it was also too hard and brittle a wood to deal with.

Hering came out with the 1923 Vintage Harp in 2003, which used a Brazillian wood called marfim imperial that was partially sealed (along the outer edges) with parrafin oil, and it sold really well, especially on the online harp stores, where they were putting an enormous dent in the sales of the Marine Band that finally in 2005, Hohner came out with the Marine Band Deluxe, which uses screws and is also partially sealed.

In 2006, Seydel came out with the 1847, which comes now in 3 comb configurations, a totally sealed wood comb made of maple (prior to this, the only way you got a haermonica with a comb fully sealed was biting the bullet and paying the big money for a custm harp) with the rest including the reeds and screws, all of stainless steel construction, and reed slot tolerances far tighter than any other company around (with the only tolerances tighter being customs), and the other two versions are plastic, one being of polymer, and cut more like a solid wood comb rather than hollow, and the standard injection molded ABS plastic, with the reed plates recessed into the comb.

This year Hohner has the MB Crossover that's much like the MB Deluxe, but this time with a fully sealed bamboo comb, and it's obvious they did this in response to the growing popularity of the 1847, and in some of the Guitar Center stores here in the US, they're already on the store shelves.

As far as woods, for me, the most ideal are either pearwood, peachwood, or maple, but they gotta be properly sealed. With pearwood, if the wood was clut too close to the knot of the tree, it is much more prone to swelling if it hasn't been properly sealed.

Hering's Master Blues, like the Vintage, and the MB Deluxe is partially sealed, but like the MB Deluxe, it's sealed with shellac and they're both still prone to swelling, especially6 in a high altitude or dry climate area, tho not as much, but the Seydel, that comb was definitely done thr right way. BTW, when talking with many of the old time chromatic players, if they wanted an ideal wood for their combs, nearly all said they'd prefer maple, and sealed as well to.

May 06, 2009 6:56 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

BTW, I should add that brass combs, especially silver or chrome plated, will make a harp play louder and will sound extremely bright, but they weigh like a ton of bricks, and its sound may or may not be to your liking.

May 06, 2009 6:57 PM GMT
Elk River Replied:

I would stay clear of one of the ones you mentioned, cocobolo. It's a bit toxic, or at least allergenic, but with other woods where you have those issues, you can put a few coats of sealant on the wood and you're removed from the wood, you're just touching sealant, I suppose. But cocobolo won't soak up sealant, so it's gonna be bare wood and probably not one you'd want to put in your mouth.

Try mahogany. It is a wonderful comb wood, will soak up sealant and is pretty forgiving of flatness, as it has some give.

May 06, 2009 7:02 PM GMT
Elk River Replied:

Seydel has used beechwood since the 1800s, it is still used in some of the tremolos and the Solist. The wide-profile reeds, 1847, Solist Pro, use the maple comb.

May 06, 2009 7:55 PM GMT
FatJim Replied:

Whilst we're on the subject of comb materials and possible adverse effects, there has been some circumstantial evidence over aluminium and Alzheimers disease; enough to warrant further research. Nothing proven yet, but its enough to make me worry about my promasters. :-(

May 07, 2009 1:49 AM GMT
Philosofy Replied:

OK, here's my next question for the woodworkers. Which way should the grain run? If the end grain is at the front and back of the harp, the end grain will be against the tongue, and might not be comfortable. It also won't look as pretty. :) If the end grain is at the left and right ends, the harp will look pretty, there won't be end grain against your tongue, but the end grain will be on the sides of the slots, and might pick up more moisture that way. If the end graind is on the top and bottom of the harp, that's a lot of end grain exposed, but the reed plates will probably cover them enough that they won't absorb too much moisture, but may be prone to more warpage.

What's the consensus?

May 07, 2009 10:27 PM GMT
Geoff A Replied:

I just got a quote for stainless 6mm thick steel laser-cut comb blanks blanks (I have to drill bolt holes myself as the diameters are less than the thickness of the material) at 4 euros each, plus VAT, it is a gift!

Presently I use standard pearwood, which I seal with a mixture of melted beeswax and vaseline, more to get airtightness than avoid moisture (I play dry).

I have some Al combed Suzies, I'm not too worried about Alheimer's as they are very well anodised, so much more inert than SP Al in its untreated state.

Come to think of it, could I catch dry rot from the pearwood?

May 08, 2009 1:41 AM GMT
Philosofy Replied:

If you're worried about Alzheimers, don't drink soda pop from cans either!

May 08, 2009 1:51 PM GMT
FatJim Replied:

Worried about who!!!???

What are we talking about?

Where am I dear?

May 08, 2009 2:57 PM GMT
André D Replied:

Well the main problem with wood comb is that it's a small piece of woof so you should cut it to avoid warping plus you should avoid that the age circles of the wood pass true the "tooth of the comb" because they make them very fragile and they will broke very easy. Hope this could help i really miss words to talk of woodworking in english.

May 08, 2009 4:38 PM GMT
Elk River Replied:

The grain should run parallel to the reedplates, even sealed. The reason is that really, really weak place at hole 1. If the grain does not run perpendicular to the comb teeth, that will be extremely weak.

May 08, 2009 6:14 PM GMT
Philosofy Replied:

Thanks David. I have another question: are all combs for a harp the same size? Will a comb for a G Marine Band fit an F Marine Band?

Did you get my email? I'm anxious to get some stuff from you: restore my old Marine Band, get a customized Silver, and Rupert's videos.

May 08, 2009 6:42 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

No. The comb for a Marine Band from key of C and lower is different than for they of D and higher, as the lower pitched reeds are using a longer slot and hole chamber.Some pre-WWII MB's had three different combs, one for the very lowest pitched up to about A, then another from Bb to Db, and another from D-F#.

May 08, 2009 7:17 PM GMT
Philosofy Replied:

Thanks Bob. Is this true for other brands as well? I have a friend with a machine shop, and was going to get some brass or stainless combs made for my Sedel 1847 Silver and my Suzuki Promaster. I only have one of each harp, but wanted to get a bunch made for future purchases.

May 09, 2009 6:38 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

The only other models this was true for are the pre-MS Blues harps, and pre-1990 Old Standby's. The Seydel 1847, like the Hohner MS series, and most everybody else only uses one comb. The wood comb used on the MS series is really crap, and a better comb for those already on the market comes from with the fully sealed maple combs, and unlike the stock MS c9mbs, where you can only use 2 reed plate screws, this allows you to use 5 reed plate screws like the MS Meisterklasse, which gives a tighter seal.

The Seydel 1847 stock has the reed plates held together with 5 scrrews, but allow s3 more, but those 3 aren't really necessary and the placement of the screws in stock form is excellent and those other screws don't make a significant difference worth bothering about.

May 09, 2009 8:01 PM GMT
Bulldog B Replied:

I know that if you're making kitchen utensils (spoons, etc.) the only woods that are absolutely, positively safe to use are Maple and Cherry. For what it's worth, the absolutely perfect metal to make a comb out of is gold - non-toxic, easy to work, completely immune to corrosion. I figure about $4,000 per comb. Maybe goldplating? And lower down the cost scale, I think chrome-plating would work well - probably non-toxic, and definitely immune to corrosion. I have a Seydel Solist Pro and it is very comfortable to play. The sealant is so thickly applied that it's more like plastic-coated wood than a sealant.

May 09, 2009 9:11 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

It's the same deal with the Seydel 1847, tho the wood being used is different and on the 1847, they use 5 coats of sealant, and they seal the entire comb and not just the outer edges, which is what's being done on the Marine Band Deluxe, Hering 1923 Vintage Harps, Hering Delta Blues, and the wood combed version of the Hering Master Blues rather than seal the entire comb.

May 10, 2009 2:47 AM GMT
Philosofy Replied:

I wouldn't chrome plate. It uses hexavalent chromium, which is highly carcenogenic.

May 15, 2009 2:39 AM GMT
Al P Replied:

Philosofy, I have made some brass combs and would be glad to make you one if you would like one? Just let me know.

May 15, 2009 6:43 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

Al, are your brass combs silver or chrome plated??

May 16, 2009 1:47 AM GMT
Al P Replied:

Neither, just brass BBQ Bob.

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