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Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Vented vs non vented
Vented vs non vented
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340 posts
May 19, 2016
11:40 AM
From a listeners perspective, is there any difference in sound?
Are non vented covers slightly better for hand effects and amplified playing? They seem like they are.
Are vented covers simply there to benefit the player for the sense of apparent volume?
1428 posts
May 19, 2016
12:17 PM
I think i prefer non vented specifically for the reasons you mentioned.

You can get a real good mute effect with the non vented. Aswell as really being able to POP those hand wahs.

Helps for amped too, i think. Maybe why the session steel sounds so good to me amped?

Not a make it break thing though. Just a preference. I still play manjis and mb. But if they made them non vented how would they sound? Hmmm.

Ill tell you that i prefer the 1847 classic covers to the noble.
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Last Edited by Killa_Hertz on May 19, 2016 12:19 PM
122 posts
May 19, 2016
12:42 PM
A friend of mine who plays in a lot of acoustic jam sessions has a set of vented harps for precisely that purpose - so that he can hear himself better in that particular situation. Says that, if everybody else is getting loud, he can better keep track of what he's doing.

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Last Edited by Tiggertoo1962 on May 19, 2016 12:43 PM
190 posts
May 19, 2016
1:23 PM
I prefer the sound of vented covers. There's a bitey, brashiness with the high frequencies they allow to escape the harp (especially when playing acoustic) that lend some sparkle that is missing for me with non-vented covers.

just my opinion and what my ear prefers.. YMMV.

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1433 posts
May 19, 2016
1:56 PM
Tigger that's true. I don't ever have to play over people so I've never experienced that. But i can see how that could make sense.

Slap .. i agree with that also. I guess it depends what your playing. I've been using my Marine bands a bit more lately because I've been playing more with tongue pulls and such. And i feel like the marine band reeds just are the only ones for that sound. Manji is just not tuned right, but more importantly its too stiff. You just dont get the manji reeds really popping and vibrating like you can on the MB. Know what i mean? When them reeds just start slappin'? Thats the MB sound all day.

1847 works ok, but the marine band is just made for it. Atleast that's what it feels like to me. And while playing this way i do also prefer vented to get that brashness your talking about. So ... i guess it all depends.
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Last Edited by Killa_Hertz on May 19, 2016 1:59 PM
3729 posts
May 19, 2016
2:43 PM
It's one of the things about which I have no particular preference. May mean I have a big blind spot. To me, the instrument just sounds like 'harmonica', and whether that's good or bad depends largely on the player and the listener.
Which is not to say I don't prefer some harps over others, just the vents or absence thereof are not something I pay attention to. I mean, sp20 or marine band I'm equally happy with whether playing acoustically or amplified. May mean I don't take it seriously enough, I'm quite willing to be shown that
1441 posts
May 19, 2016
3:16 PM
Bee when you play acoustically, do you use tight cups like a horn player would use a mute (if that's what is called, hopefully you know what i mean)

I really like that effect. And This is where i find the most difference.
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3732 posts
May 19, 2016
3:44 PM
Well...I've been accused of sounding like a trumpet on the 3 holes, while playing a marine band.
I do think the vents give a less muted sound but it's not something I really care about, in that I don't think it's significant. At least with the harps I generally play...but you know, I don't mess with all those 'other' harps unless I'm working on one for someone. I do have an 1847 but I only use it for a couple of songs which I rarely play, I do have a couple of playable suzukis which only get played to determine whether they are playable. 99% of the time I play marine bands or sp20s and I just play them. I never select one or the other on the basis of whether it has vents or not. But I'm probably playing marine bands 80/20 and I am aware there is a difference, just it's so far down the list of things I gaf about when I play, it doesn't register.
But I know people I respect who say marine bands don't do it for them when playing amped. So I figure I probably just don't have an appreciation for that aspect of playing. Maybe why I tend to just sound like me whatever gear I use. You know what they say, a crappy player with a custom mic and a bassman just sounds like a loud crappy player
342 posts
May 20, 2016
4:27 AM
Kinda follows my thoughts I guess.
Not the be all and end all but interesting nonetheless.
Thanks for your input
389 posts
May 20, 2016
10:55 AM
I like non vented covers when i play amplified. It give deeper tone and less feedback. I get better response with different hand techniques too
Dick Sjoeberg learned me a trick with surgical tape and clear varnish how to close the ventilation on Marine bands. It works very good. I have used the same coverplates for the last 5 years without problem.

Vented coverplates is best to acoustic gigs.
36 posts
May 20, 2016
2:45 PM
I sometimes lose the ability to hear myself in a band. Vented helps prevent this. Not sure what I prefer. Audience notices nothing from my experience.
1098 posts
May 20, 2016
3:04 PM
In general I prefer unvented both amplified and acoustic, but sometimes vented is good for certain tunes played acoustically.

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Last Edited by boris_plotnikov on May 21, 2016 3:33 AM
21 posts
May 21, 2016
2:35 AM
I prefer un-vented (closed covers). Both for the sound and also playability, in particular for the lower keyed harps, like A and down to Low C. On the Manjis I have, I use surgical tape to close the ends and I feel that the reed response improves.
673 posts
May 21, 2016
4:13 AM
That is quite a statement Filip, especially from a player as accomplished as you.

The notion that cover plates have an impact on reed response in any way is a new one for me. I can't wrap my feeble old brain around why that could possibly be. Have you any ideas that might explain it?



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1388 posts
May 21, 2016
5:46 AM
Michelle, I had not heard of it either and I can't say I've noticed. I play plenty of both and my thinking on reed response would most always target the usual suspects. But it's possible that non-vented contains and directs the air flow better.
3220 posts
May 21, 2016
8:13 AM
If I were playing a harp tuned to ET, I would go for non vented covers with a more closed back because it cuts down on the harsh odd numbered harmonic overtones you get from that tuning. Harps tuned to JI or compromise tunings I can go either way, tho I do have more of a preference for open vents, as the actually allow you to hear more of what the audience is actually hearing, and the original intent of design for it was to make harmonicas play louder and brighter, with the MB being the very first to do so (and all harps play at their loudest with the cover plates completely off). For some, it may be distracting, but you gotta get used to it.
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Greg Heumann
3235 posts
May 22, 2016
8:26 AM
For all the reasons above I prefer non-vented. You can't get a "wah" that comes and goes from a full mute easily without it. You CAN hear yourself a little better with vented covers but I'll bet nobody more than 5 feet from the player would hear the difference.

With all that said I know pros who use vented convert and sound find you don't HAVE to have a full mute "wah" or the biggest fattest amplified tone to sound great.

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675 posts
May 22, 2016
9:24 AM
One thing about wahs with vented vs. non-vented covers. It is a moot discussion unless you have ~very~ effective hand cup technique.

I've studied Joe Filisko's and Grant Dermody's hand cups for years. I've queried -- nay interrogated -- them at length about how they get such amazing wahs with their Marine Bands. So far they haven't been able to account for it to my satisfaction. I'd like to put Kim Wilson under the bright interrogator's light but I haven't had the chance. Each of these players gets twice as better cup than I can manage with my un-vented Special 20s. I'm sure that having huge Walter Horton/Rice Miller meathook hands helps but they aren't mandatory.

I have managed to get some hand cupping insights from Sensei Paul Davies, one of today's great players and an equally great teacher. We spent an entire session working on hand cupping alone. I thought I had a pretty good cup until he put me to his cup seal test. He grilled me until I could get an effective wah using only my right thumb, which normally covers the upper 2-3 holes.

To do that well you need to really study your cup. Take nothing for granted. Allow ~no~ leaks! You need to figure out how to mesh your right and left hands and fingers perfectly so that they plug ~any~ air gaps. And you need to cup pretty firmly.

You should feel significant compression when you draw and pressure when you blow. And, of course, your sound should be almost completely muted. Like any other harmonica skill you need to practice this until you can do it automatically. Pick up a harp and your hands fall into that special position you worked so hard to find in the beginning.

Sensei Phil Wiggins starts his students off playing Bye Bye Blackbird totally cupped. He practices his own cup with that song, trying to duplicate the sound of a heavily muted trumpet. He comes mighty close according to my ears, but Phil is never satisfied.

So even the Masters actively and continuously practice their cups. So do I. Do you?


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3446 posts
May 22, 2016
9:26 AM
what's interesting at least to me is...

we all seem to get worked up at times over things that dont matter much. the harmonica is such a simple instrument we have to come up with things to talk about. which is ok with me that is why we are here lol.

i posted a clip of me playing.. can anyone say for certainty
if the harp i used had vented or non-vented cover plates?

for that matter what model harp was used? or for that matter
what tuning? just equal or compromised.

to me the only thing that matters IS the harmonica in tune.
and will it play without the reeds sticking.
3206 posts
May 22, 2016
10:25 AM
Here is what I have come to think after 12 years of playing Harmonica and amassing forty-odd harps (probably closer to forty-odd if you count the ones I killed early on). These harps spread the entire tuning range, and despite a sprinkling of other brands and models, are mostly evenly split between marine bands (vented) and special twenties (non vented). I used to LOVE the sound of a Marine Band. Now, I LOVE the sound of a special 20. They do sound different to me when playing. It's harder for me to discern in a recording, but I can do so if I listen closely. For me, it is more about the different feel when playing. Obviously there is more different between the two harps than just the vents. I'd need to control for all that if I wanted to conclude about what contribution the vents make. I guess I'd have to compare a special 20 and a rocket. Or probably a rocket "amped" and a regular rocket. Same key same tuning. My initial hypothesis is that vents don't affect the playability of the harp, but may have some effect on the Harmonica of the sound (as BBQ Bob indicates). Like I said,while I currently l Ike the tone of the special 20 better than the marine band, I'd need to do that more controlled comparison of rocket and rocket amp to see if it really is the vents that cause that, or if it's the other components that do it..
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3448 posts
May 22, 2016
10:40 AM
i agree the marine band and special 20 sound a little different.

in addition to the cover plates and plastic comb, they have a slightly different tuning as well.

we all have our own preferences, nothing wrong with that.

i remember a time when all my favorite players used marine bands.

i especially liked tom ball only to find out he used a special 20.

i was none the wiser.
22 posts
May 22, 2016
3:04 PM
I canĀ“t really explain, Im no physicist... :-)

Maybe it has something to do with airflow and air direction, that a closed cover makes more air stay inside the covers and before it all goes out in one way direction, which makes the reeds more responsive?

Or maybe the more "compact, mellow and directed" sound of closed covers makes me feel that I have more control of the reeds. (?)

Or maybe its a placebo effect from me.

I should make clear that I notice mostly on lower keys, like Low C-Low F.
545 posts
May 25, 2016
12:30 PM
When playing amped with a cupped mic, I prefer unvented (SP20, Sesseion Steel) because I can get a more airtight seal.

When playing acoustically in front of a vocal mic, I prefer vented (Crossover, Manji) because I like the "reedy" sound, and expressiveness with hand effects.

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