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EXTREMELY RARE American Chestnut wood harps available

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Elk River
Jun 09, 2009 12:30 AM GMT

I am now taking orders for a new custom, The Americana, which features a comb made from EXTREMELY RARE American Chestnut.
To the best of my knowledge, no harmonica has ever been available with an American Chestnut comb. Why? Because the wood has been commercially extinct for almost a century.

The American Chestnut's original range was basically all of Appalachia and it was one of the most important trees for young America, both with huge amount of nuts it produced (these are the "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" nuts) and the usefulness of the wood itself. The wood is straight-grained, very strong and doesn't have the radial end grain that most hardwoods have, the latter a major reason I'm thinking of making chromatic combs out of it.
The American Chestnut was wiped out (est. 3 billion trees died in three or so decades after ground zero in the Bronx Zoo in 1904) from a blight introduced with Chinese chestnut trees.

I will make no tonal claims, since all that is SO VERY SUBJECTIVE, Since the tree has been virtually gone since the 1930s, the American Chestnut is the prewariest of all harmonica woods.

For obvious reasons, American Chestnut is no longer available as a commercial wood. The only source is reclaiming wood and resawing. The wood I am using started off life as a barn beam in Washington County Ohio, just on the other side of the Ohio River frontier from West Virginia.

The wood I have was cut from the center of the tree and would have been cut probably in the 1920s - 1930s at the latest. I have no way to know the size of the tree when cut, but this was originally cut as a a 6 inch by 6 inch beam and looking at a cross section of it before I had it recut, this was a big tree in its day. What is also unknown is how long it might have laid on the forest floor before cut for lumber. The American Chestnut foundation tells me a safe estimate for an average tree would be about 200+ or - years. So, it is not improbable that this wood would have grown in the late 1600s or 1700s. Certainly the late 1700s is no stretch. Thus, In theory and for all we know, Adam O'Brien, Lewis Wetzel or George Washington (all of whom were in Washington County, Ohio in the late 1700s) might have taken a leak on the tree ;)

There aren't too many pics and descriptions out there of the wood itself, but this will give some idea of what the wood looks like.
It's chesnut color, ;) obviously, but typically with some nice blonde streaks.

A portion of the proceeds, roughly 10 percent, will be donated to the American Chestnut Foundation (my favorite charity), which has been working for decades to create a blight-resistant American Chestnut tree (they tell me they think they have it now and recently planted some test seedlings). (

No wood is prewarier than American Chestnut. Thus, I will be using only prewary-type harmonicas for the first batch of harps, the Seydel Solist, which uses the same profile (narrower than most Seydels today and even the Marine Band) as Seydel prewar diatonics.

These harmonicas will be embossed, arced and milling marks smoothed out at the rivet end. The combs are cut by Randy Sandoval of Genesis Harmonicas and sealed and finished by me.

I am taking orders for a numbered run of 10 harmonicas, available in keys Low F through E, for $180, first come first serve. These harmonicas will be completed over the next 10 weeks.


Dave Payne
Elk River Harmonicas

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Comments (5)

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Jun 09, 2009 12:31 AM GMT
Elk River Replied:

No. 1 just sold

Jun 19, 2009 4:41 PM GMT
Elk River Replied:

Got the first batch of comb blanks in from Randy today, they are very nice. The wood looks awesome, had to get a rag out of the drawer to clean up all the mojo that was dripping out.;)

Jun 20, 2009 3:28 AM GMT
Randy S Replied:

Thanks Dave,

That wood was a joy to work with. More often than not, grain variation will cause the tines to warp sideways. I have made combs from tons of different woods, And all of them have a certain percentage which will warp. This chestnut is the most stable wood I have ever worked with. I didnt have even 1 warp. Too bad this wood is not more plentiful.

I think you should re classify chestnut as "mojowood"

Jun 20, 2009 4:19 AM GMT
Elk River Replied:

Randy, you did a fine job on those combs. This might have something to do with that stability, that wood has been seasoning for a hundred years.

If this wood is that stable, I think it could make one hell of an UNsealed wood chromatic comb. I always seal stuff, but unsealed wood does have its benefits, it will absorb moisture from your breath, etc., moisture that would otherwise be fouling up the windsavers. When I get around to redoing the windsavers on my Hohner 48 chord, I'm going to have to make a comb for it out of chestnut. Chord combs are something you never want to seal (for the windsaver reason above), there's 396 reeds or something like that in it, it's such a big job to change valves, I might as well make a new comb for it while I'm at it. That wood smells so good and has such a nice taste, it would make an awesome chord comb.

Jun 21, 2009 5:13 PM GMT
Elk River Replied:

I've got the pics up... all harps are unfinished except the Low E Marine Band.

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