Has anyone swapped out a stock comb for a custom comb? Do you think it made a difference in the sound or ease of playing the harp? I was given a Blue Moon acrylic comb and am willing to spend some time on YouTube to make sure that I can put the harp back together properly, just curious about the end result.
I’m getting my first custom comb soon from my friend/teacher, Todd Parrott. He made it as a gift to me for being his student. It’s an ice blue/pearl white swirled Golden Melody comb. From what I’ve heard, Todd’s combs are leak-free. A custom comb can inprove the airtightness of a harmonica.
I play Suzuki Manji’s and the stock resin combs are great. However, I tried one of the Andrew Zajac “dark combs”. I liked what I heard. Of the 19 harps in my case, most are now his custom combs. The website description notes:
“Dark combs ™ made from an earth-friendly composite of 100 per cent recycled paper resin produced from naturally occurring raw materials and selected natural pigments. This material is strong, dense, waterproof, hypoallergenic, and does not emit any volatile organic compounds, including formaldehyde. It has been certified food safe, contains no petroleum-based chemicals and doesn’t have an odour.”
“Many types of materials including Corian, brass or other metals can make the harmonica sound very bright. Dark combs help your harmonica produce the fat, dark, woody tone you get from a harmonica with an unsealed Pearwood comb.”
I’m not promoting Andrew’s products, but I (clearly) like the tone, they are slightly thinner, nice colour selection, and help with air tight too, so the right choice for me.
Another custom comb I tried is a Brendan Power Extreme PowerComb - 3-D printed ABS Plastic. I’m very happy with it. I bought an old Koch Chromatic and decided to replace the comb. The PowerComb fits well, nice tone. loud, and is everything that was promised.
I love the brass RECESSED combs from Blue Moon Harmonicas.
They are airtight, easy to play, increased acoustic volume and fuller sound.
Yes, I keep hearing about harmonica players who customize their combs or have them customized.
Recently I saw a review that compared several harmonicas that said something like, “these are all straight out of the box harmonicas — except as usual, I had their combs tweaked” (or something like that).
Todd Parrott seems to be very into custom combs. He has YouTube videos on them, but mostly talk about how pretty they are, and a bit about how the rounded ends feel better to him. However, he has also said that what the comb is made (plastic, wood, bamboo, metal) does not really change the sound.
I understand one reason to get a custom comb is to get a tighter seal, but others have also recommended just opening up your harp and sanding the existing come for a tighter seal.
So why to people customize the comb? Is is just about getting a tighter seal and a prettier harp? Or is there more to it? do others feel the sound is significantly different?
There has recently been a discussion of this here in the forum. I agree 100% with Mr Parrott. I think that many harp players believe that they can hear the difference, but they know beforehand what the comb material is and that results in their “hearing what they want to hear” (also known as experimental bias).
A better seal is much more important than the material from which the comb is made.
I agree with Todd as well. I’ve played a lot of comb materials as well and the coverplates only make the major difference, not the comb material. But I’ve been told by Marine Band Fanboys that wooden combs are sonically superior to plastic combs. One guy said to me, “did Big Walter ever say he disliked wooden combs?” And another guy threatened me to say that comb choice doesn’t matter to a bunch of modern Chicago blues players, whom all played amplified.
I even heard a lot of Marine Band Fanboys say that the Golden Melody isn’t good for blues because it’s not a Marine Band or tuned like a vintage Marine Band. They think that just because it has Equal Temperment tuning, that it should only be used for melodies or that it shouldn’t be played in a band situation. I don’t know these fanboys want with me, but they act like only their opinion should be worshipped and not letting anybody, especially women, have their own train of thought.
You already know that Golden Melodies are great for blues and jazz. You’re living proof. Fanboys? (Are they from the 2009 movie of the same name?) Who cares what they think. Ignore them!
Sure, all the great blues guys - Big Walter, Little Walter, Sonny Boy, Cotton, Junior Wells - all played wood comb, Marine Band harmonicas. But that was all there was when they came up. They used what was available. Nobody was offering combs of corian, paper resin, plastic, aluminum or sealed wood. They weren’t being offered a variety of metal reeds. There was pretty much one choice.
The question of the best comb material, harmonica, mic, or amp is subjective and personal.
Reality is that if you take any of the really fine, current blues harp players, guys with great tone and chops - Rick Estrin, RJ Mischo, Kim Wilson, Charlie Musslewhite, Wallace Coleman, Andy Just, etc., it wouldn’t matter what brand of harp, mic, or amp you gave them, or what kind of comb. They bring the tone and skill - 85% of what matters is in them. They’d kill it!
The main reason for custom combs is looks. I tell you what though. As musicians are #1 goal has to be to stay inspired. That’s the key to everything.
I’ve got about 11 Todd Parrott combs in my collection now and couple more in the mail not their way to me. (And don’t accuse me of G.A.S! )
Let me tell you something - I’m SHOCKED by how INSPIRED I feel when I look at my custom combs.
The main reason I decided to buy 7 of the combs was because I was buying Joe Spiers customized Marine Bands, and, because I’m such a muthaflippin’ slob, I like the idea that I can wash these acrylic combs as much as needed with no worries about potential swelling over time.
The other 4 (+2 more in the mail) are because of Todd’s awesome deal on Crossovers. Normally you’d pay $80 for a Crossover anyways, and Todd will install his combs on a Crossover for you, make sure everything is airtight clean, round the corners of the reed plates - he doesn’t do any redwood, but these kind of details still mean a lot - and all that for $100 + shipping.
So it’s like getting a custom comb for ½ price since he sells them for $40, plus he installs it, which I’m either too lazy, busy, or incompetent (or maybe all 3?) to do.
Also 4 of those he’s also been kind enough to country tune for me (raise the -5 a half-step.) I’ve got a Bb and C Country-tuned, and am awaiting an F and Low F.
And one of them he Parrott-tuned for me (lower the -7 a half-step.) at SPAH. BTW - ALL of the Joe Spiers harps I bought I had Joe Parrott-tune for me.
I hope I haven’t deviated too far from the topic, lol. Let me bring it back around:
Custom combs inspire me!