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Image originally posted by Dan Kamminga. Copyright cc-by-2.0

I have been learning to play the chromatic harmonica. Compared to most of the people that I visit with in my forum, I have a different preference. Many of them like the sound of the Hohner chromatic harmonicas. I, on the other hand, like the sound of the Suzuki chromatic harmonicas.

To each their own.

The problem arises in my trying to describe the difference between the two. That leads me to timbre (I know, I know… it’s pronounced TAM-ber). It seems to be customary to describe timbre in relation to color or, perhaps, shade. For example: It can be either light or dark. It can also be bright along with a whole slew of different adjectives. What I am having problems with is putting those adjectives on a scale so that I can have a common frame of reference with other people.

Perhaps it is because I am also color blind, but I can’t make heads of tails over whether one tone is brighter or darker than the other. I can hear the difference, but I can’t find someone to lay out which is brighter or darker than the other. When someone tries, they just substitute different adjectives in place for brighter and darker. That doesn’t help me.

Them: Banjo v.s. guitar: do your hear the difference? One is brighter than the other.

Me: Great! Which one is brighter?

Them: Obviously it is the one that sounds happier.

Me: That is singularly unhelpful.

I have now listened to hours of YouTube video about the different timbres and colors of sounds and I am not a single step closer to answering the question which sounds brighter – or happier – than the other.

So, in the tradition of substituting adjectives in place of brighter and darker, I am going to substitute a phrase into the description that has meaning to me. Hopefully, someone will come along and put this entire timbre/color mess in its proper perspective for me.

So here it is:

I think the Suzuki harmonicas sound more like a finger slowly circling the top of a crystal champagne flute producing a bell-like tone. On the other hand, the Hohner harmonicas sound more like pissed off bumble bees after they have had the contents of the crystal champagne flute thrown on them.


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I am a writer of words, a thinker of thoughts, a changer of genders, and a queerer of life. I am an antagonist of the ordinary; and while I do tolerate it, I also look at it with contempt.

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