"Tone combs": the tonewood of the harmonica world

Tonewood is often a debated and heated topic in the guitar world. Some guitarists will swear on their lives on a specific sound just because of the wood used to make one and diss all the others. It has also come to my attention that it also happens in the harmonica world too with comb materials. I’ve been told many times from people who claim to be “harmonica players” on Facebook about how wooden combs have a tone that’s superior to my plastic combed harps and tell me that I’m wrong for having my own opinion, which I just don’t get to be honest about it.
I have a wooden combed harmonica in my collection, a Hohner Blues Harp in C. I’ve had so many memories with this harp as it was the one I did my first performance of “Ain’t Goin’ Down ('til the Sun Comes Up)” with back when the pandemic just hit my homestate of Ohio and it was also my first harmonica that wasn’t a Special 20. As much as I liked the tone, I didn’t like the comb at all. It felt so rough on my lips and whenever I did octaves, the wood was digging into my tongue. This is why I will not get a Marine Band and prefer the feel of non-organic combs like plastic and acrylic.
I’d say I have a decent enough tone across all of my harps. I really like the brassy and powerful tone of the original Hohner Golden Melody, especially when Terry McMillan played them on tracks like the aforementioned “Ain’t Goin’ Down” and how bright his tone was. I also like the warmer tone of the Suzuki Bluesmaster. Both of these harps have plastic combs by the way, just in case if you’re wondering.


Hey @KeroroRinChou the Blues Harp and the 1897 are VERY rough on the lips. But if you try a Marine Band Deluxe or a Crossover, I think you’d be very pleasantly surprised at the difference!

I’m sure it affects the tone to some degree. But people make a bigger deal about this then it really is in my opinion.

I’m buying some more Spiers harps (thanks Todd :unamused:) and opted to get some of Todd’s custom acrylic combs for them instead of wood using Spiers’ customized Marine Band Deluxe comb (which does sound awesome) just so that I can have ease of washing them since I don’t open up my harps to clean them.


I had to deal with another tone comb snob again. This time he had “research” (and by that, I mean he looked up something random on the internet) trying to prove his point after I asked a question revolving around the texture of the Manji’s comb. I know that the reed isn’t resonating with the comb. The reed resonates with the reed plate and cover plates. sigh. Harmonica purists are a different breed, let me tell ya what.


Hey Luke, I just purchased an East Top Lightning .
I have a Crossover, a Lee Oskar, Special 20 and others.
I didn’t know what was meant to say a harmonica was air tight, easy to bend, etc. until I played this thing.
This is the best harmonica I have.
I will say, it’s a little rough on the lips compared to the Lee Oskar and Special 20.
If you get a chance, try one out. I would like your opinion.


I just went down this rabbit hole myself it seems. I bought one of the Andrew Zajac combs for a Low C Thunderbird I got a while back. I know the lower harps take more air to make the reeds do their work, but I felt like it was leaking air too. Got the new comb installed today (had to flatten/sand the draw reed) but it was a night and day difference. It doesn’t feel as responsive and tight as a regular C, but it was a drastic difference in how much air I needed to expend…I probably won’t pass out now playing around with it!


@Barber2020 - Yeah man the quality control on the Thunderbirds is atrocious, I’ve never had one play right out of the box. They are never airtight, and I’ve had significant issues with reeds as well.

I had @Boaz_Kim_Music customize my Low C for me. He did a lot of reed work on it so that I can play overblows and overdraws, and I also had him Parrott-tune it for me (tuned down the -7 a half-step), and put in one of Todd Parrott’s combs that bought and now the thing plays LIKE A DREAM. Super-responsive, and having the -7 tuned down and being able to get the -7 overdraw and -10 overdraw means I can play the blues scale in the top octave which is super fun.

The Thunderbirds are the best sounding low tuned harmonica’s on the market imo. It’s a shame that the quality control is so bad.

And to keep this post on-topic for the thread, switching from the bamboo comb to the acrylic comb did not negatively affect the tone.

As @KeroroRinChou said, comb materials is one of the smallest impacts on tone in the equation. Reed material and shaping/gapping I think is the biggest.