Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Rarity of a Pre war marine band
Rarity of a Pre war marine band
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logansays
120 posts
Nov 14, 2019
12:31 AM
Hi Everybody,
I know that you can find mint to really good condition Pre-war Marine bands on Ebay.I see a lot of pre-wars in C and G. what about other keys? how rare are they?

I was building my collection of Pre-wars and I have managed to get C,G,E and F keys. been looking for other keys but Just can't find them!!

Thanks Guys
groyster1
3477 posts
Nov 14, 2019
4:29 AM
Bb is there also A...….but that's pretty much all

Last Edited by groyster1 on Nov 15, 2019 5:14 AM
logansays
121 posts
Nov 14, 2019
5:09 AM
Do you Mean on Ebay?
jerome
10 posts
Nov 14, 2019
5:58 AM
Pre-war marine Bands and Old Standbys came in G, A, Bb, C, D, E, and F. C and G as you have found are the two most popular keys, with the others being harder to find.
I would recommend contacting Tom Halshak at *Blue Moon Harmonicas. He has been quite successful in tracking down Pre-wars.
regards, Jerome

Last Edited by jerome on Nov 14, 2019 5:59 AM
groyster1
3478 posts
Nov 14, 2019
8:42 AM
there are only 7 keys available.....bear in mind the other 5 keys just were not available in the 30s
logansays
122 posts
Nov 15, 2019
11:08 PM
Thank you Jerome / Groyster1
florida-trader
1465 posts
Nov 18, 2019
7:13 AM
As many others have posted, the pre-wars were only made in 7 keys – G, A, Bb, C, D, E and F. Of those, C is by far the most common. G is a strong second with the rest of the keys being pretty rare. Of the remaining five, if the buyer is looking for harps to play and not just collect, A, Bb and D are more commonly used in the popular traditional blues music, so they become more valuable. By the way, Hohner did make Marine Bands in the key of Eb in 1936. They are super rare. I am fortunate enough to have one and I know of one other guy who also has one.

FWIW, I noticed the interest in pre-wars about 10-12 years ago. Honestly, I didn’t understand “the market” for them at first but I knew that guys “wanted them”. So, I started looking for them and buying them whenever I could find them at a good price. I never really intended to be a collector. I was doing it to make a buck. I’m more of a buyer and a seller. I bought some real junk at first because I just didn’t know any better. But as time went by, I learned what to invest my money in and what to stay away from. For the first few years of my buying spree, I didn’t do anything with them. I just bought them and sat on them. At that time, I didn’t know how to work on harps. I was just a comb maker. I started my “refurbishing” or “restoring” career by using some of the harps that were in excellent to mint condition. They were the easiest to work on because they required the least amount of work (and skills). I replaced the nails with screws and installed one of my custom combs on them. I just did the build and had someone else adjust and tune the reeds. That’s when I began to understand the market. Pre-wars are not valuable because they are rare and collectible. They are valuable because they play so well. The harps being built by Hohner today are excellent harps, but there was a period back in the 80’s and 90’s when the quality was poor, so I’m sure that had a lot to do with developing the mystique of the pre-wars. I think the argument can be made that today’s harps as just as good as the pre-wars. I have no problem with that. But there are still a lot of people who feel and hear a difference and still prefer the pre-wars. I have no problem with that either. I don’t try to convince people that one is better than the other. I just give people options and let them choose what they want. I will say that using the standards by which I measure harps, and specifically the reed plates, the pre-wars are better built straight from the factory. And they used a different type of brass back then. They called it “Bell Metal Brass”. It is definitely softer than the brass being used today. When you think about the metal used to make reeds, it has to be flexible but not fragile or brittle. Harmonica manufacturers have experimented with all sorts of metals and the preferred metals have changed over the years. People will argue about which is best. I just think it is good to have options.

Over the past 10 years I have bought probably 600 or so pre-war Marine Bands (and some Old Standbys, which have the same reed plates). About 95% of them are the harps with covers that resemble the current version of the Marine Band. About 5% are the Mouse Ear version that pre-dated the single tabbed harps. I have refinished, restored, resurrected, customized (however you want to put it) and re-sold probably 400 or so of them. Several of my customers have purchased complete sets of pre-wars from me. I am proud to be among perhaps a handful of harp builders anywhere who could fill such an order. I have somewhere around 150 or so in stock waiting to be purchased. I pretty much always have a few of them in the works. I have a few projects on the bench right now. I price them according to the key, the condition and the degree of customization the customer wants. I won’t sell a harp that doesn’t play well or look good. A lot of them can be restored to near mint condition with shiny gleaming covers. Others, not so much. Either way, regardless of how it looks, it will play well. A lot of the junky harps I bought before I learned to stay away from them have come in handy as a source of spare parts. At least I can replace a blown-out reed with another pre-war reed harvested from a junk harp. Way back when, I was so focused on promoting my own custom combs that I routinely replaced the stock pear wood comb with one of my customs. In the past several years, that trend has changed. More and more people want the original stock pear wood comb to retain as much of the original authenticity as possible. I have also developed procedures that enable me to replace the nails with screws but also retain the original look and feel of the pre-wars. My goal is to make them look and play like new again. A lot of the guys prefer to retain the original 7-Limit Just Intonation tuning, but others prefer the current tuning which is Modern Compromise Temperament. I will do whatever the customer wants.

Also, even though I am not a collector per se, I have culled out the best of the best for myself. I have managed to assemble pristine complete sets of the regular pre-wars, the Mouse Ear pre-wars, Old Standbys and I have nearly completed a set of the Up to Date, which is the Grand Daddy of the Marine Band 1896.

Probably more information than you wanted, but just in case you were interested.

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Tom Halchak
Blue Moon Harmonicas
Blue Moon Harmonicas

Last Edited by florida-trader on Nov 18, 2019 7:15 AM
jerome
12 posts
Nov 18, 2019
8:25 AM
I knew at some point you would catch this thread Tom, why I mentioned your name as the go to cat.
Bilzharp
193 posts
Nov 18, 2019
8:51 AM
"By the way, Hohner did make Marine Bands in the key of Eb in 1936. They are super rare. I am fortunate enough to have one and I know of one other guy who also has one."

To add to that, the 1936 Hohner catalog shows the Marine Band, Old Standby and AutoValve harps available in Eb. Interestingly, they don't show up again in a catalog until 1967 (which is also when C#,F# and G# first became available). So, 50's and early 60's postwar Eb's appear to be non-existent. My theory is that, in those days, if you were going to play in a "jazz" key, you would have moved up to chromatic.

If you come across one of these rare Eb's, one way to tell if it's truly pre-war and not a later Eb that someone slapped a pre-war bottom plate on, is to verify that the front edge of the bottom reed plate has four nails instead of the three used after WWII. I guess I'm the other guy that Tom knows with a pre-war Eb. I actually have two MB's that I purchased on Ebay about 10 yrs ago. They appeared to have been part of an estate sale of a harp player that had retired to Florida. Among the dozen or so harps that I bought were these two Eb pre-war MB's. My intention was to build up two full sets of pre-war harps but I have so many projects in the que that I think I'll put one of them on ebay. Would it be acceptable for me to link that auction from this thread when I do?
florida-trader
1466 posts
Nov 18, 2019
2:32 PM
Bilzharp - you are correct. You are the other owner of an Eb I was talking about. Thanks again for sending me a copy of that 1936 catalogue. I found another copy on eBay about a month ago and bought it at a good price. Why I need two I will never know, but I have a hard time passing up a bargain. As for those other pre-wars, let me know when you are ready to sell. I'll make you an offer. If it is not high enough, then put them on eBay.
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Tom Halchak
Blue Moon Harmonicas
Blue Moon Harmonicas
SuperBee
6304 posts
Nov 18, 2019
3:16 PM
You know, they are all quite rare over here as far as I know. I have managed to pick up a Songband in G which has same reedplates as MB but it hasn’t been a great project.
Most of the pre war richter diatonics I see here are Seydel-built stuff. Harmonica was the prewar government-school instrument in many cases, although the fife also was used and probably cheaper than harmonicas. I think tremolo harps were more common in the school system.

My mother went to school in the 30s and was part of the harmonica band. My father was a few years older and was a fife guy.

I do turn up a few pre war tremolos and Hohner Chromonicas. Mainly Super Chromonica models, in C.
groyster1
3479 posts
Nov 18, 2019
5:16 PM
love this thread.....I have full set of mouse ear marine bands and full set pre war old standbys.....as far as pre war in Eb that's certainly unlikely to happen.....I used to hate marine bands in the 80s and 90s.....I have the prewars and some custom marine bands tuned to 19 JI...….they cannot be excelled for playing blues
logansays
123 posts
Nov 18, 2019
10:56 PM
wow! Tom, so much good info. thank you..I managed to get a NOS pre war A, with the 4 nails and coverplates opened. now as much as I want to customize them and use the harps, the mint/NOS ones, I think, ill just leave them as is..the boxes and all. they are just beautiful. for me I think the marine band is probably the most handsome harp in production..those coverplates, even the black/orange comb looks beautiful! so ill keep hunting for more, the A however, ill pass it on to my kid..:)
Sundancer
304 posts
Nov 19, 2019
4:24 PM
It’s great to find a NOS pre-war, as they sound as sweet as Tom says and getting them on a new comb with screws makes them damn near the equivalent of a custom IMO. Not constructed as well, but great sounded soft reeds. I’ve got a C and a G marine band from new old stock, bought on reverb.com for about $90 each, that were tarted-up by Burke Trieschmann with screws and crossover bamboo combs, and they play & sound great. They’ve got the six pointed star, so according to Pat Missin they’re probably 1935-7 vintage.

BTW - Burke is a legendary harp smith. I recommend him unequivocally.

But I’ve also got a pretty beat up mouse ears D that I paid $70 for on eBay. Burke put in screws & a sealed comb for me. Turned out great, but it’s not nearly in the condition the NOS harps are - but then again it’s 90 years old according to Missin. If so, it must have been originally purchased right as the Great Depression was hitting hardest. So I look at it and ask it - Who bought you? Where? How many miles did you & your owner travel together? What was your life like? The 7 blow reed was bust, so the owner must’ve played you primarily in first - what songs did y’all play? Tell me please! No response yet other than the songs I ask it to play.

To me, that harp is a window into history. Like a Steinbeck novel. Sure wish I could figure out how to post a photo of it from my iPad.

Last Edited by Sundancer on Nov 30, 2019 10:44 PM
SuperBee
6308 posts
Nov 19, 2019
10:53 PM
That is very nice post, Sundancer.

Tom, I went to your site to check out your store of prewar harps, as Sundancer inspired me with that post.
I couldn’t find any for sale. There is a listing of an E harp but it says ‘sold out’.
I note that in a post here, you said you have around 150 for sale.
I would like to have one, but I don’t know what the going rate is. I gather ‘it depends’ as you mentioned above.

I understand a D or A would generally cost more than a C or F, but would an F generally be priced higher than a C because it’s less common, or would the C command a higher price due to greater demand?
groyster1
3480 posts
Nov 20, 2019
7:07 AM
superbee I can appreciate your interest in pre war marine bands and old standby.....like brother tom they are awesome harps for blues.....Ive never taken one to blues jam but I guess I want to preserve.....Im old but they are older
Bilzharp
194 posts
Nov 20, 2019
11:54 AM
I think I've posted this here before but here's a video of me getting kinda goofy about breaking the seal on a package of six NOS Old Standbys.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eq0ffq3FltE

Like Tom, I went on a bit of a kick buying prewar harps about 10 years ago. Also like Tom, I bought some real junk before I wised up. I gig with a few of them. One of my favorites is a 10-hole Hohner Tuckaway from the late 20's that I restored.

Last Edited by Bilzharp on Nov 20, 2019 11:58 AM
florida-trader
1467 posts
Nov 20, 2019
12:05 PM
I don’t want to turn this into a Blue Moon commercial but in the interest of answering questions that have been asked, here goes.

I do have a substantial inventory of pre-wars and I suppose one approach to selling them would be to restore and build them and then put them up on my website. I have done that to a certain degree in the past when I had some spare time to work on harps that hadn’t already been ordered. These days, I am so busy building Built-to-Order Custom Harmonicas that my customers have ordered and paid for, there is precious little time to pre-build harps on speculation. Regardless of whether we are talking about new Marine Bands, Special 20s. Manjis, etc. or pre-war Marine Bands, I have built my business by offering my customers the opportunity to essentially design their harmonica and then I will build it. They get to choose from the Brand, the Model, the Key, the Comb Material, the Comb Color, Blues Setup or OB/OD Setup, Temperament and they can even accessorize their harp with a custom cover – Powder Coated, Electroplated or Hydrographically Printed. I have all the components in stock. You tell me what you want, and I will build it according to your instructions.

I offer the same flexibility with pre-wars. With pre-wars, you have the option of choosing the key, whether you want to keep the stock pear wood comb or replace it with a custom comb, the tuning (very important), and condition is also a relevant factor. Condition is not a factor with brand new harps, but it is with restored harps. Good old supply and demand is a big part of the equation. I have way more C and G harps in stock than any other key so those will be the least expensive choices. A custom comb will add to the price. Keeping the original pear wood comb will keep the cost lower. A mint condition harp will cost more that one that is in very good to excellent condition. I don’t really sell harps that are in worse condition than that. I don’t buy the junk harps anymore, so I have plenty of nice harps to work with. And, I do know how to take a harp that might look a little worse for the wear and make it look pretty darn good by the time I’m done with it. There are a couple of sliding scales in there that help me determine a price. Generally speaking, you’re looking at anywhere from $100 to $200, maybe $250 for something really rare and in mint condition. It is a conversation between me and you and hopefully we come to an agreement we are both happy with. Ultimately, everything I offer is backed by a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. If you don’t like it, I will buy it back from you at full price.

By the way, I am not the only guy out there who buys, restores and re-sells pre-wars. Burke Trishmann is a good friend of mine and he does great work. We collaborate on a lot of projects and have picked each other’s brains many times. And there are plenty of hobbyists who buy pre-wars off eBay and fix them up themselves. That’s great. It is a fun hobby. I so much agree with Sundancer. I do a little forensic analysis of every pre-war that I restore. I wonder who owned it, what kind of music they played (you can tell by which part of the reed plate is tarnished the most), was it played on a back porch or a smoke filled speak easy? I also think about the craftsman at the Hohner factory who made it. Frequently you can see a fingerprint on the reed plates. That little bit of oil from the maker's hand causes the brass to oxidize a little differently so that their fingerprint stands out plain as day. I wonder if they are up in heaven watching and are grateful that I am bringing something they built 80 or 90 years ago back to life and putting it into the hands of someone who will make beautiful music. Sounds a little goofy, but sometimes you get lost in thought while you are working on a vintage harp. Do harmonicas have souls? I dunno. Maybe.

But I digress. Buying pre-wars off eBay and fixing them up is fun to do. Not every harp you get off eBay is a winner. You might have to buy two to get one good one. And then, there is a learning curve when comes to resurrecting them, fixing them, breathing new life into them. Sometimes you can buy a harp for $25 or $30 thinking that you will save a few bucks by fixing it up yourself. It might work out. It might not. It might be an education. I have zero issue with anyone who wants to tackle this project on their own. Just as I have gleaned valuable information off the web about working on harps, I have given out plenty of free information that Do-it-yourselfers will find helpful. What you get from me, or a guy like Burke, is someone who will deliver a product that works. No muss. No fuss. Is it worth the extra $$$? I hope so. I think so. I guarantee it.

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Tom Halchak
Blue Moon Harmonicas
Blue Moon Harmonicas

Last Edited by florida-trader on Nov 20, 2019 12:19 PM
groyster1
3482 posts
Nov 20, 2019
5:10 PM
my collection is awesome......had a hard time bidding on that Bflat mouse ear...…….hehehawhaw…...but the other bidder threw in the towel!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Iceman
3964 posts
Nov 21, 2019
9:03 AM
Have played a few pre-war Hohners and really liked their responsiveness....was told by someone in Trossingen during one of the festivals that the "formula" for the brass changed during WWII, resulting in a slightly different metal composition used for the reeds post war...
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The Iceman
florida-trader
1468 posts
Nov 21, 2019
9:37 AM
Iceman – I have heard that before. I can tell you from my own personal experience that the brass on pre-wars is different that the brass on the current Hohner reeds. Customizing harmonicas involves maneuvering the reeds, bending them, shaping them and tuning them via the removal of small amounts of material from the tip or base of the reed. I build a lot of Manjis, which have phosphor bronze reeds. The difference between brass and phosphor bronze would be totally obvious even to a novice. The stainless steel reeds on Seydels also have their own characteristics. So, if you work with the different metals, you definitely get a sense of feel for them. There is absolutely a difference between the new reeds and the pre-wars. The pre-wars reeds are softer, easier to adjust and easier to tune, but the metal still holds its shape. That Hohner changed the metal is not really in question in my mind. The question that I have never heard an answer to is why? One would think that if there is really something to the pre-war mystique and that they do sound better (subject to debate) then Hohner would be somewhat compelled to consider using it again. What is the reason for the change? Hard to say. Companies make changes for a variety of reasons. During WWII, certain metals like copper and nickel were channeled towards the military so that would necessitate a change in certain industries. Sometimes the bean counters get in the way and make changes because it is more economical to do something a certain way and they forget the impact on quality. It is a mystery to me.
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Tom Halchak
Blue Moon Harmonicas
Blue Moon Harmonicas
The Iceman
3965 posts
Nov 21, 2019
10:08 AM
I believe it was the channeling of metals towards the military that was the reason for the change.
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The Iceman
florida-trader
1469 posts
Nov 21, 2019
11:16 AM
Probably true, but the question is, if the Bell Metal brass was better, why did't they go back to it after the war?
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Tom Halchak
Blue Moon Harmonicas
Blue Moon Harmonicas
SuperBee
6312 posts
Nov 21, 2019
12:06 PM
Tom, thanks for your post. I feel understand much more from reading it.
Regarding the change in brass alloys used for reeds, I’m sure I’ve heard the prewar brass has a higher lead content. I can’t speak about the immediate post-war period with any authority but of course it took a long time to rebuild after that war. I believe rationing carried on in some form until the early 60s in Britain for example, so perhaps it wasn’t an option for Hohner to revert to prewar brass, or perhaps there wasn’t any real clamour to do so at that time. They probably didn’t have much competition either.
In fact, the lack of competition and their lack of interest in their product can be seen in the state of the Marine Band by the late 70s and the way it continued to be a rather shoddy product through the 80s and into the first half of the 90s.
Now of course they are making excellent harmonicas but I think that prewar brass with its high lead content is ‘off the menu’ for musical instruments now.

Ha! My captcha begins with VW and ends with 47. My brother always referred to that marque as ‘hitlers revenge’
groyster1
3483 posts
Nov 21, 2019
2:39 PM
spot on david...….the EPA probably would not allow bell metal brass due to the lead content
logansays
125 posts
Nov 24, 2019
11:00 PM
@Superbee, since you mentioned high lead contents I the pre war brass, does that make them unsafe? ( Pardon my ignorance).
barbequebob
3622 posts
Nov 25, 2019
9:55 AM
Long before the EPA ever existed, the famous bell metal brass went completely out of production just prior to WWII.
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Sincerely,
Barbeque Bob Maglinte
Boston, MA
http://www.barbequebob.com
CD available at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/bbmaglinte
SuperBee
6322 posts
Nov 25, 2019
12:23 PM
Yeah, Bob, I don’t think anyone is saying otherwise.

I’m not clear about the EPA, I gather that’s an American thing.

Logansays, there are good reasons to be concerned about the lead content of brass as it can leach out.
I do not have any specific knowledge in this situation though.
I expect it would be more of an issue in industrial situations, and if you were tuning a lot of brass reeds with relatively high lead levels or otherwise regularly handling the metal I expect you’d be wise to take precautions.
I really don’t know though, only a little cursory reading has led me to speculate.
I doubt you could get that brass back now if you wanted to.
SuperBee
6324 posts
Nov 25, 2019
3:51 PM
This discussion probably raised most points of view but conclusions were scant

https://www.modernbluesharmonica.com/board/board_topic/5560960/1315628.htm
logansays
126 posts
Nov 25, 2019
10:30 PM
https://www.modernbluesharmonica.com/board/board_topic/5560960/1315628.htm

That was an interesting thread! but yes non-conclusive! however I'm a little less excited now about my pre-wars!!
Sundancer
308 posts
Nov 30, 2019
6:33 PM
I’ve been playing my C prewar a bunch lately. It bends better than any harp I own, and I’ve got a half dozen customs from some of the stars of the trade. I think the reason for that is the Bell Brass. So soft. But durable. And potentially hazardous ....

My customs are very very close. So I’d conjecture that the change from prewar Bell Brass to whatever formula is used now is a significant reason that there’s a role for customisers. Modern brass just doesn’t bend the same without a craftsman getting involved. And I sure am grateful for those craftsmen!

Last Edited by Sundancer on Nov 30, 2019 6:40 PM
groyster1
3488 posts
Nov 30, 2019
6:57 PM
why do you feel pre wars are potentially hazardous?is it because of high lead content????
SuperBee
6345 posts
Nov 30, 2019
7:10 PM
As a contrast, I have a pre MS Blues Harp which mbh member MP worked on for me, fitting a new comb. It’s actually a quite decent harp but as Mark said at the time ‘you can’t quite make a silk purse from a sow’s ear’.

I have another early 90s Marine Band which was worked on by Henry Slim. It is a nice player but low volume.

I believe the customisation thing grew legs because those pre-MS harps had become so poor that they really needed a lot of help.

The (Hohner) harps these days are so good in comparison. I used to do lots of work on them but now most I see play very well without needing a lot of work at all. Thanks are due to Steve Baker and Rick Epping and Joe Filisko I believe.
I have adopted a two-fisted motto I think I first saw cited by Gnarly; you can always improve a harmonica/it’s easy to spend too much time trying to improve a harmonica.

I think 80s Hohners are covered by the second part of the motto

Customisation continues despite the high quality of current harps, partly due to popularity of advanced technique and partly because people just love customisation. In a world of mass production it feels nice to have something made just for you, if you can afford it

Last Edited by SuperBee on Nov 30, 2019 7:13 PM
Sundancer
309 posts
Nov 30, 2019
8:03 PM
Agreed Bb. Harp construction is the best it’s ever been, My point was that the Bell Brass is really special. So special that it takes a customiser to get a modern harp to play as well as a good prewar. But all these posts about the lead content have me slightly concerned. I’d be more concerned if I’d played on one every day during most of my life like the old masters did, because those old master harmonica players weren’t noted for longevity. The lead probably wasn’t the main factor, but it could have been contributory.

GRoyster - I’m 62 now and just got the prewar this year - so I’ll be playing it for awhile regardless.

Last Edited by Sundancer on Nov 30, 2019 8:16 PM
SuperBee
6349 posts
Dec 01, 2019
5:21 AM
I believe Tom and I have made a deal so I’m looking forward to acquiring a ‘players’ C and an F sometime soon ish.
I’ll have to decide a couple songs to learn on them each. I’ll definitely be playing them at least long enough to learn a song or 2.

Very interested to discover what they’re like.
Gnarly
2728 posts
Dec 01, 2019
5:58 AM
@Superbee Thanks for the shout out--I think Tom probably puts as much time in as is financially feasible.
It is a great time to be a harmonica customer.
Just remember everybody, when you break a reed, don't throw the whole stinking thing away--just put it in a box somewhere, "message in a bottle" LOL


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