Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Any good budget harmonicas ?
Any good budget harmonicas ?
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Bob E
1 post
Jan 10, 2019
8:12 PM
I'm getting back into playing harmonica after about a decade. Decided to buy a new set, but dang, the prices have climbed!
Are there any good lower priced ones?
nacoran
10033 posts
Jan 10, 2019
9:13 PM
Easttop aren't bad. They're about $20. I've only got one, a low f. I've heard they don't sound as good in higher keys possibly, and at least one guy on FB keeps saying he breaks reeds on them but then he went into a kind of racist rant against Chinese companies so take that with a grain of salt. I've heard that maybe their reeds aren't as well designed as the big name ones. They seem to get their airtightness from thicker reed plates, which, I'm told, is kind of the route of least resistance and requires less engineering and makes them less customizable.

The one I've got plays fine though and has nice sound. I'm hoping to try a Kongsheng soon, but the model people seem to like is in the $40 range, which is about where all the harps start to get pretty reliable. You can probably find a pro-player who endorses any of the brands/models once you get to that price point. Some of the more expensive ones are a little nicer, but it's diminishing returns at that point and becomes a matter of personal taste.

Rockin Rons has pretty competitive price on whatever brand you want, fast shipping and great service.

It's inflation. Whenever anyone tells me back in year X they bought Marine Bands for X I just run the numbers through an inflation calculator and it usually comes out fairly close. I keep having a heart attack when I get a value meal at Burger King and they want me to give them $10 instead of $5. :)

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Nate
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First Post- May 8, 2009
Martin
1521 posts
Jan 11, 2019
5:41 AM
I´ve worked my way through several Easttops by now. Contrary to the info nacoran relates above, I´ve found the higher keys to be more stable -- especially an E harp that I´ve been abusing a great del for quite some time. (Higher harps last longer generally.)
I´m a hard player, but my G and A specimens from the same company were not terribly impressive: they played alright but did not hold up.

If you´re looking for a budget alternative I´d second the opinion that they are well worth a try. I got mine for around $10.
Rontana
506 posts
Jan 11, 2019
6:32 AM
I like the Easttops as well - have a set of them - and the prices at Ron's are very good. Like most harps, they'll likely need some gapping and tweaking, but they sound fine and are reliable.

That said, I've never felt they played quite as smoothly as something like a Special 20 or (my main harps) the old' reliable Marine Bands. As of today (1/11/19), I see that Amakazon has a C Sp. 20 for $34.

Still, for something that plays okay at the lowest price available, I'd agree that the Easttops are a solid choice
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RobDawg
2 posts
Jan 11, 2019
7:05 AM
If I had to start over again, I'd still choose to buy Special 20's.

They're not "cheap", but worth it in my opinion. These harps are easy to open to maintain. In my experience, they work very well for years.

Fair deal on 5 Special 20's with Case

Last Edited by RobDawg on Jan 11, 2019 7:09 AM
Bob E
2 posts
Jan 11, 2019
8:06 AM
Huh, just yesterday I was looking at the 5 pack of Special 20's on musicians friend and they were the same price as the 5 pack of marine band's.
I see specail 20's aren't even marine bands anymore... Did they change something about them to make them progressive?
Also easttop vs big river, any opinions?
florida-trader
1406 posts
Jan 11, 2019
10:03 AM
I don't know about East Top Vs. Big River, but in my opinion, the Big River is the best bang for your buck if you are looking at Hohner, Suzuki or Seydel. You can find them on eBay for $22-$25.00
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Tom Halchak
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RobDawg
3 posts
Jan 11, 2019
12:01 PM
Here is a link to another thread here with a video where Isaac compares the 2 Sp. 20's. I don't notice much difference when playing or feel.

Isaac's Awesome Thread - Progressive vs. Classic Special 20.
nacoran
10035 posts
Jan 11, 2019
12:08 PM
Bob E., the only change was a couple screws and the cover plates! It's marketing. I guess when they first switched over they gapped them a bit higher too, so new players would be less likely to blow them out, but regular players revolted and they put them back. :)

If I had to guess maybe it was because Popper played them and a lot of harp players kind of rag on him for being in a band called Blues Traveller and not being terribly bluesy? Just a guess. He's great at what he does and has managed to get mainstream attention in a way most harp players would kill for.

As for the Big River, I've always heard they are decent. I've actually got one that someone gave me. They'd got it to play in a rack and never really learned it, but when I get a new used harp I am pretty OCD about disinfecting it. While it was sitting around waiting for a disinfecting the guy who gave it to me's significant other had a massive, massive mouth herpes outbreak. I've got the thing sitting in a plastic bag. I don't think there is enough disinfectant in the world!

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Nate
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jbone
2805 posts
Jan 11, 2019
4:51 PM
I used Big Rivers for a couple of years because I played hard and it was pretty cheap to replace one when I killed a reed. Then again the MS reed plates were not too expensive so that was a way to go. Why toss a whole harp if you could just swap plates? Something I liked better came along and I switched.

I have had 3 Eastops, one I blew a reed completely out of it. Key of A. The other 2 have stood up for quite some time in my gig case.

I've opted to spend more $ for better harps in recent years and even have had a couple repaired by a good tech.

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Glass Harp Full
193 posts
Jan 11, 2019
10:33 PM
Here in Australia Big Rivers aren’t exactly budget, selling at A$40-50. Not much difference between that and a Special 20 etc.

I like the feel of the Big River as it’s a bigger, heftier harp. I do find the corners are quite sharp and they get uncomfortable to hold though.

The Hohner Blues Bender is not a bad budget option. They have a pretty good sound and volume but won’t last as long as more expensive harps. They usually go for around A$25-30.


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groyster1
3298 posts
Jan 12, 2019
6:58 AM
big rivers have lousy combs.....don't have any now and gave them to my brother.....I replace comb on one and it did away with the bad leak it had
dougharps
1884 posts
Jan 12, 2019
8:10 AM
I have a guitar playing singer/songwriter friend who loves his Big Rivers for rack playing, and has used them for many years. My experience (purchases from years ago) is that the BR comb is leaky and they are more difficult to bend. MS Blues Harp combs are leaky, too. Maybe more recent combs have improved (or not)?

Hohner's recent price hikes seem excessive to me as compared to others, such as Manjis and Seydel Session Steels.

I DO have some low BRs I bought on clearance at a SPAH and an F Blues Harp that play much better now because of me installing Andrew Zajac's aftermarket combs in them. However, aftermarket combs will add cost to Big Rivers and then they are not such a bargain.

I have some $20 EastTops that play well, better than stock Big Rivers. However, I don't care for the feel of the black painted covers, because they seemed to cause lip friction when playing. I had some old Big River covers on junk drawer harps that I swapped for the painted covers (bending the back tabs in), and now they play well. They aren't my first string for gigging, but they would work at a gig if needed. I haven't played them long and hard enough to know if I will make reeds fail prematurely. So far, so good!

I understand that a beginner wouldn't have all kinds of spare part lying around to mess with part swaps.

There are downsides to everything. You save some money, but you give up something in playability. The painted covers on EastTops don't seem to trouble everyone, so I would suggest trying a couple EastTops and see what you think. With BR covers they play just fine for me.

Oh, if you get a good price, Lee Oskars are pretty durable and play pretty well. I used them for years and gigged with them, but then I was drawn to other brands.

EDIT: I have early model Delta Frosts (no longer available) that were supposed to essentially be Suzuki Harpmasters. They play OK and I thought they were better than Suzuki Bluesmasters. I did gig with them a couple times, so perhaps a Harpmaster would be worth trying. They have thinner reeds, and if you hit the 2 bend a bit hard it seems to me to easily go too far. With a light touch, they are pretty decent, better than Big Rivers.

These days I gig with Crossovers, Marine Band Deluxes, and Special 20s along with several early model Deak Harps from when he lived nearby. I use Session Steels and a couple 1847s, too. I really like my Low F 1847 and Low D Session Steel. For loud situations where I may play too hard when rocking out I use Manjis, which I find to be more durable than my Hohners if I get carried away.

EDIT: Last summer I put Blue Moon combs on a few Manjis and they got even better than with stock Manji combs, which are OK OOTB. It was a SPAH indulgence, and I bought some very pretty covers, too!
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Doug S.

Last Edited by dougharps on Jan 12, 2019 8:49 AM
groyster1
3299 posts
Jan 12, 2019
8:19 AM
very good advice from you as always
dougharps
1885 posts
Jan 12, 2019
8:51 AM
@groyster

Thanks!

I have invested a lot of time and gig money in trying things out over the years. If my experiences can help someone, I am always happy to share my perspective.
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Doug S.
Thievin' Heathen
1099 posts
Jan 12, 2019
9:22 AM
It took a while for Lee Oskars to make it into this thread. As I remember it, they were $38 for years. Mine have lasted for years. They are $44 now. Very good harps. A lot of people who I pay to see play them.

@JBONE
"I have had 3 Eastops, one I blew a reed completely out of it."

Did it fly across the room and stick in a wall? Land in a diner's soup? :)
agarner
39 posts
Jan 12, 2019
4:16 PM
Bob E. It seems that you are serious about harp and truly want to get after it. If you are going to buy them with the intent of sticking with the instrument, then buy quality.

After trying to find cheap alternatives to the pro quality; harmonicas, guitars, skis, surfboards, cars, bicycles, the list continues. I have come to a conclusion. There are no shortcuts, you get what you pay for. (Until you hit the designer level ripoff merchandise)

If you look it at it from a percentage point of view, an Easttop or similary priced harp is half the price of a really high quality instrument. But, the prices (though more than years ago) are still relatively low, so an extra $20 gets you way more intrument.

I would rather spend money on a few harps in keys I will use, than get many mid level harps just to fill a gig bag.

And though Easttops or similarly priced decent are really good for the money, they are hit or miss, and I feel lack the fine tuning I look for. Why settle when only saving $15-$20?

But.... If a friend who wasn't sure if harp was for him/her..... Easttop

Last Edited by agarner on Jan 12, 2019 4:18 PM
BeePee
133 posts
Jan 13, 2019
3:16 PM
@Bob E: Chinese harmonicas have come a long way since you quit playing 10 years ago. Quite a few have recommended Easttop as a reliable brand to go for, and I'd second that.

I'd also suggest trying Kongsheng harps. Their recent models are very good, in my opinion. The Amazing 20 is a nice lipped-comb harp for about $15, and the oddly named Ting Harp is an excellent resin comb traditional sandwich type for around $20. Their metal comb Solist is really classy, and still good value at $50. You can find them on Amazon, AliExpress, eBay etc.

Last Edited by BeePee on Jan 13, 2019 7:38 PM
KeithE
240 posts
Jan 13, 2019
3:49 PM
> oddly named Ting Harp

Ting can mean to listen. It's my daughter's nickname, so maybe I'll have to buy her one ;-)
jbone
2806 posts
Jan 13, 2019
3:59 PM
@ Heathen- Usually if a draw reed breaks, well who knows. On the Eastop- a high end model with gaskets between reed plates and comb- it fell out when I was giving in a rinse.
Back in the 90's one night I killed reeds on 4 of my 7 SP20's. At least 2 reeds got swallowed I think.
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BeePee
134 posts
Jan 13, 2019
7:37 PM
@KeithE: thanks for that. 'Listen' would be suitable for a harp. I did a Google search on the meaning of ting in Chinese, and apparently it has many meanings!

Among them are "pretty, graceful, attractive" . Appropriate for both harmonicas and young ladies :-)


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