Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Advice please. Haven't played in over 30 years.
Advice please. Haven't played in over 30 years.
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1 post
May 20, 2020
4:53 PM
Hello. I first picked up the harmonica in the 70's. My Dad was a pretty good player back in those days. He played a bit of blues, but most of it was bluegrass. We loved Charlie McCoy and owned a few of his albums. I know this is a blues forum, but my roots were in bluegrass and blues.

I listened to my Dad play a lot. I decided to try one of his harps one day and in no time at all I was learning songs from a couple books he had. I could play well from ear also. I don't remember the names of all the songs I could play, but these are a few:

- The Wreck of the Old 97
- Wabash Cannonball
- Old Joe Clark
- Blues Stay Away From Me (A few bars only)
- Shanendoah
- Pretty Polly
- Orange Blossom Special (A few bars only)

"Orange Blossom Special" was way to difficult for me or my Dad. I could get through a few bars, but at some point it was just too much. I probably could have learned "Blues Stay Away From Me" all the way through, but never did.

I tried to learn the tongue method, but never figured it out. My Dad was good at it. I puckered my way through everything and I could bend notes like nobody's business. I was pretty good for a kid under 10 years old.

My favorite harp back in the day was the Special 20. I remember it being a bit louder or more powerful than the other harps or just having a few holes that sounded better to me. My Dad played Golden Melody but we had a lot of harps in the house. He liked Golden Melody because it was easier to tongue than the Model 1896.

I was listening to Charlie McCoy yesterday on YouTube playing Working Mans Blues. I was really feelin' it. I want to jump right into that song and have at it. I think I can eventually figure it out even though I haven't really played since probably 1990.

So anyway, here I am at the ripe age of 48 looking to pick up a few harps and have at it.

I went to Ebay and there's a lot of harps to choose from. Guys are selling refurbished 1896's. I figure I should probably buy an 1896 in C for sure and probably a Special 20 for old times sake.

Question is, is there any benefit to buying used, well worn in harmonica vs a new one?

I could always just buy new harps, in C, G, D or whatever, but I was curious about your opinions of buying used vs new.

If I buy used, I'll clean it well for sure.
595 posts
May 20, 2020
8:46 PM
There is no intrinsic benefit in buying a used harmonica.It would be a crapshoot in that you just wouldn't know what you are getting.
Buy brand new ,at least they will be clean and untampered with.
323 posts
May 20, 2020
10:37 PM
Metal fatigue is irreversible. Blues players are especially hard on holes 4 and 5 and these reeds commonly go flat. They can be retuned by scraping metal from the tip of the reed, but it will need tuning again and eventually it will fail.

Whether that works for you depends on your playing style (do you bend past the reed "floor" or play with a lot of breath force), the luck of the draw and the price compared to new.

Go for it, if the option is attractive. You won't be risking much.
3214 posts
May 21, 2020
7:03 PM
My vote is for a fresh new harp. You can get lost in choices these days. Hohner, Seydel, Lee Oskar, Suzuki, DaBell, Eastop, and other brands. Hohner makes 3 different Marine Band these days. I don't even know any more how many Special 20 based harps. Suzuki has some well done instruments. Brendan Power is coming up with esoteric tunings as are Blue Moon and Andrew Zajac covering aftermarket combs and covers. I think you may find a lot of options that just were not there 30 years ago. My kit is a mashup of several brand/models which I find a place for in my song list.
I do a minimum of work on my harps aside from keeping them clean and not blowing the sh%t out of them. If a reed craps out I send the harp out and have it gone over and spruced up. I've had a few custom Marine Band and still have one in my kit. Great harps but it's spendy to buy a harp, then get it customized, then play it until a reed gives out, the n wait for it to get fixed. So my custom comes out for special occasions only.
I like Rockin' Ron's Music for less. Good pricing on good choices and the best service.
Music and travel destroy prejudice.




2113 posts
May 21, 2020
8:03 PM
Unless you already know that you REALLY like restoring and working on old harmonicas (many of which will already have problems and require serious cleaning and sanitizing in addition to reed work and possible comb replacement) I would strongly recommend starting with new harps of a type assembled with machine screws and not held together with nails or drift pins.

Rockin' Ron's has very competitive pricing and ships fast, though other vendors occasionally will offer good bargains, too. Some brands of harps may offer discounted sets of 2 or 3 or 5 keys, so you might look for that.

I like Ron's and jbone noted the same in his post. I have no affiliation with Rockin' Ron's, other than being a very satisfied customer.

As you use your new harps eventually they will start needing maintenance and repair. Fixing your own harps is the best way to gradually learn repair skills.

Fixing a used harp is a project that some players may really enjoy. I can do some repairs and improvements on my harps as needed, but I do not seek out extra work fixing old harps. I would rather play good new harps and adjust and repair as needed...


Doug S.
2 posts
May 21, 2020
11:09 PM
Thanks to all of you for your response.

Metal fatigue isn't something that I thought about. That's a good reason to avoid used. The reason for this thread is that I wondered if new harps are too rigid, stiff or firm in their sound and need to be broken in before they really shine. I suppose that might be true to some degree, but I guess that's probably not a good reason to buy used. You don't know just how used it is.

It seems that buying new is the way to go, especially for someone like me who doesn't know anything about harmonica maintenance. I can learn over time via YouTube and what not.

I think jbone has made an interesting point about multiple brands. You're not likely to find a single harp that does it all. You can play most anything with one harp, but if you're looking for a different sound or a different timbre, you'll need more than one. Just like a guitarist needs several guitars depending upon what he wants to sound like.

I'll buy a Model 1896 C and start there. There's a lady on YouTube who plays Suzuki. She's incredible. Kinda curious about that brand now.
3215 posts
May 22, 2020
4:44 AM
I like the 1896 Deluxe model quite a bit. It costs over $60 typically but it's screwed together and has a sealed wood comb. Much as I tried to deny it for years the MB with wood comb has a unique and attractive sound. If I was limited to 2 brand/style harps it would be the 1896 and the Suzuki Manji. I have 2 kits to work with now. MB's and other various brand/models for amped playing, and I like those Deluxes a lot for this. The Deluxes are working well in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd positions for me. While I have a couple of Seydels, an Eastop or 2, Lee Oaskar, and even Hohner Big River in my amped kit, my go to is the Deluxe.
And then I have an acoustic set of all Manjis, for street/farmers market/party out back play. The Manji has a composite comb, resin and wood, solid and dense. Also features durable phosphor bronze reeds and laser aligned braised on reeds. They can't shift in the slot like I have had a few other harps do. They are louder than any production harp I've had so they project well in street situations. They are a bit raspy sounding but respond well for my needs.

My evolution in playing has depended on trying different harps over 48 years. Of course I had to learn to respect the instrument and find focus rather than force, or keep killing reeds. I don't see how any manufacturer can do better than what I'm seeing today. It's become a competitive market and makers are rising to the quality challenge and keeping prices as close to realistic as they can.

I hope you stick around and keep us up to dare on your progress Gravy. Plenty of knowledgeable- more so than me- players here who will answer any question you have.
Music and travel destroy prejudice.




365 posts
May 22, 2020
9:38 AM
The acoustic guitar phenomenon of opening up significantly with play does not apply. And, as said, definitely go with screwed on covers so you can minimally clean up a reed/slot that has gone dead. Go for it!
32 posts
May 22, 2020
11:04 AM
Seems like you are not sure what make to go for. My advice would be an Easttop good harps for little price.

For $21 you can get one then in a few weeks once you're back in the swing of things either get another one or go for a different brand.

Here is a video to give you an idea on cheap harps done by Tim Douthit.


Last Edited by Dai on May 22, 2020 11:04 AM
3 posts
May 22, 2020
5:07 PM
I bought a MB Deluxe today in C from Rons. I would have bought it from Musicians Friend, but they don't carry the Deluxe.

I was reading today about the differences between the 1896 and Deluxe. It said that the 1896 comb swells over time and causes the sharp edges to poke out. I actually remember this happening when I was a kid. The Deluxe was a few bucks more and seemed like a good idea. Can't wait for it to get here.

I also spent some time studying the holes and notes. This stuff is really interesting.

*Edited to remove a paragraph here with incorrect information.

Would I be wrong to assume that the tongue method is used mostly for blowing with the idea of playing a chord?

Last Edited by Gravy on May 22, 2020 8:35 PM
6643 posts
May 22, 2020
7:46 PM
Hi, Gravy,
Welcome to the forum, and good decision to get a MB Deluxe. Not the only possible good decision but as good as any.

I’m not sure what you were reading but the info you’ve reproduced above is slightly garbled.

The note layout you’ve described is for a key of G harmonica not a C.

For any given key, the 1st blow note will be the tonic of that key, not the 5th.

Regarding the question of MB1896 combs swelling due to absorbing moisture, this was much more of an issue in the pre-2012 product. The combs are sealed much better now and far less prone to swelling. It’s true that the deluxe is better-sealed though, and finished more nicely. For me, the biggest difference is ease of maintenance provided by the threaded fasteners.

Regards your question about the tongue method (“tongue blocking”, TB), you’re on the right track, but it’s also useful for the draw chord;

On a C harp the blow notes are:

So blow any 3 adjacent holes and get a C major triad or inversion thereof.

The draw notes are DGBDFABDFA

The holes 2-4 are the G major triad and the draw 1 is the 5th below so this can also be included.

The C major is commonly played in G, so you can employ TB to access both the tonic chord G and the 4th chord C.

TB is not only about these chords. It is also used to play split octaves (and other splits), flutter effects, articulations, and other textural effects

Last Edited by SuperBee on May 22, 2020 8:22 PM
2115 posts
May 22, 2020
8:13 PM
Major Diatonic Lee Oskars are labeled the same as other brands for the tonic on blow 1, 1st position. Harmonic Minor is also labeled for 1st position.

Melody Maker and Natural Minor are labeled for second position playing.

It is a confusing issue since the labeling is not consistent across tunings.



Doug S.
6646 posts
May 22, 2020
8:21 PM
Thanks Doug. I don’t play Lee Oskar and should have checked.
I’ll edit that post So that it doesn’t add to confusion about Lee Oskar labels. That might make yours seem strange but that’s on me for posting incorrect information which you were clarifying.

Last Edited by SuperBee on May 22, 2020 8:24 PM
4 posts
May 22, 2020
8:33 PM
My bad.

I think I did a google image search for the notes of a C harp and didn't notice that what I found was a G harp. What a drag and time wasted.

Should probably delete the post. Yikes.

I suppose the notes you mentioned do make it easier to play a C Major scale considering there's more C's available. Duh.

On the bright side, the tongue method makes more sense now. Thanks for the much needed explanation.

When my harmonica comes in the mail, I'll put together a short video of my playing songs from my childhood. I'll do some practicing first. :)
2116 posts
May 22, 2020
8:59 PM
I played LOs for almost 10 years, starting when Hohner harps were at their worst and coming back to Hohner after I read of improved quality control. LOs held up well for me and I liked the modular construction. However, even when adjusted they are a bit more "airy" than a well adjusted Special 20 AND they are equal temperament tuned while I prefer compromise tuned harps.

I still have a full set of LOs filling the role of car harps kept in my vehicle (not in the glove box where they would overheat: on the floor!). Having played them a lot I knew they were labeled the same as other brands.

I had to learn about the labeling of LO when I tried the Pat Missin LO reed plate switch for 4 keys of harps, mixing tops and bottom plates between Melody Makers and Major Diatonics to get double country tuned ( cross harp major 7ths) and "Paddy Richter" tuned harps with the 3 blow tuned up a step.

In the linked page below he suggests other LO reed plate switching to get other tunings, too.


The C Major Diatonic is labeled in the usual 1st position fashion, but Melody Makers are labeled cross, so a "G" MM is based on C. To get a C country tuned and a C Paddy Richter tuned I mixed plates from a C Major Diatonic with plates from a G Melody Maker.

I still have to think it through to be sure!

EDIT: Sorry, my enthusiasm has apparently taken me way off topic!

Doug S.

Last Edited by dougharps on May 22, 2020 9:13 PM
6647 posts
May 22, 2020
11:19 PM
I have a few LO major harps which I’ve accepted as payment for service work. I mean to restore them ‘someday’ and pass them on to a new player or student.
When I started playing, LO was the popular choice of the local players of note, and most of the interstate ‘pro’ players I knew of. They are still favored by many of those same people.
I could just go and look, but I have to go dig carrots in a minute so I’ll just speculate rather than search for the harps. I think LO combs are labelled with the cross harp key as well as the straight key? Am I dreaming that?
2117 posts
May 22, 2020
11:25 PM
One end gives the key in first and the other gives the key of second position.

Doug S.

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