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MMD > Archives > October 2003 > 2003.10.16 > 01Prev  Next

Double Combs in Musical Boxes
By Jim Heyworth

David Sharpe has asked some good points further to my recent discussion
regarding double-comb musical boxes.  I'll be lazy and edit my way
through his questions rather than write a separate note.

> ... I was surprised to hear that the combs are played separately
> so that each star wheel plucks only one comb.  Is this true of many
> double comb boxes?


> In my Regina each star wheel plucks two teeth, one tooth from each comb.

This would be a sublime harmony box.

> Mention of the Symphonion sublime harmony boxes was also interesting.

For the typical Symphonion with the diametrically-opposed combs a
sublime harmony effect is possible on _some_ notes since many notes are
the "same" pitch on either comb.  Most are not the same pitch.  I don't
personally know if they are used in such a way but it is quite possible
and I expect it likely to have been done.  Likewise on a regular disc
(or cylinder) box with sufficient teeth to allow it, a sublime harmony
effect can be obtained by arranging teeth of similar pitch to be
sounded simultaneously.

> I did not realize that the combs could be on opposite sides of the
> center post. This must mean that the disk has to have twice as many
> projections to play both combs. I assume the "tracks" are interlaced ...

They are.

> but those on my Regina are so close together I can't imagine twice
> as many in the same radius. Did they use wider spaced combs?

Yes.  Each comb has the normal tooth spacing of a standard single-comb
disc box.

> Now if the whole composition has separate projections for each comb
> did they do any variation where some of the piece uses only one comb
> and other parts of the piece use both -- either for volume change or
> turning the "celeste" effect on and off?

See above.  The "celeste" effect is the same as sublime harmony.  Two
teeth tuned to nearly the same pitch (one off by a very small amount,
a few cents) are sounded simultaneously giving a sort of choral effect
similar to that of the celeste on an organ where two similar pipes of
very nearly the same pitch are sounded simultaneously.

> I may be mistaken in calling this sublime harmony since Heyworth talks
> about each star wheel plucking two teeth in the sublime harmony setup.
> But one of my reference books (which I had never looked this closely at
> before now) describes sublime harmony as having the combs on opposite
> sides of the center post.

The position of the combs bears no relevance to the sublime harmony
effect which is a matter of two teeth of similar pitch sounding together.
The first sublime harmony boxes were cylinder boxes with two "sort of
identical" combs side by side playing simultaneously from one cylinder.
This setup does allow for turning the effect on or off simply by how
the cylinder is pinned and can be mimicked, as mentioned above, by the
diametrically-opposed combs of the Symphonion on selected notes or on
any box with sufficient teeth to spare.

I hope this clarifies my understanding of the situation.  Since disc
boxes are not my primary interest I may not be entirely correct
regarding some of the manufacturer's definitions.


Jim Heyworth,
Sechelt, B.C., Canada

(Message sent Thu 16 Oct 2003, 20:02:46 GMT, from time zone GMT-0700.)

Key Words in Subject:  Boxes, Combs, Double, Musical

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