Header Graphic
Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Questions about Hohner Marine Band Deluxe
Questions about Hohner Marine Band Deluxe
Login  |  Register
Page: 1

1 post
Feb 24, 2021
6:01 AM
Hi all,

I have been using special 20 harmonicas in a rack while I play guitar and I love them but I am looking at getting a marine band for a more accurate Neil Young harmonica sound. I am looking at both the 1896 and deluxe marine bands but I could use some advice.

I have tinnitus and I see the marine band deluxe is advertised as having more volume but this is actually a downside for me. Is it really louder then the 1896? Also are both of them much louder than a special 20 that I currently am using?

The replacement Reed plates for the 1896 marine band are much cheaper than the deluxe ones in the UK. Do I have to buy deluxe marine band Reed plates when they need replacing? Or do the regular marine band Reed plates work in the deluxe too? Here are the website links showing the different Reed plates



I did try googling this information but I couldn’t find the answers so I thought I would be best off asking on here.

Thanks in advance
3322 posts
Feb 24, 2021
7:56 AM
I play MB Deluxe and have also played many 1896 models. The 1896 is the "traditional" model, meaning the comb is not sealed, it's nailed together, and the reeds are not set as well IMHO. I let go of 1896 a couple or 3 decades ago because I was not getting consistent performance from them. I switched to SP20 for some years because they were readily available and pretty consistent.
I looked into many models and brands over time. I have also learned a lot about the quality of workmanship over many different harps. To me the key thing is how the reeds are set up on a harp. Many players immediately go into a harp and open the gaps on the reeds and this would seem to improve the playability. I do this sometimes.

That said, it's much easier to take a harp apart and clean and regap if it's screwed together as opposed to the old style nails. MB Deluxe is screwed together as are many other models, in fact the 1896 is kind of a holdout with the nailed assembly.

I don't know which harp would be louder, a SP20, 1896, or Deluxe. I play mostly Deluxes of the 3 models. I play both acoustic and amped. Acoustic on the street they work well but I have learned to use focus and not force of air. I do well and reach plenty of ears.

If you want a vote I'd say go with the Deluxe and if you need to you can get reed plates, but I have yet to need a set and I have several I play frequently over nearly 3 years and no big issues.

Music and travel destroy prejudice.




1532 posts
Feb 24, 2021
8:49 AM
@ NeilYoungFan – your question(s) are fraught with Rabbit Holes. For starters, not 1 in 10,000 people could distinguish the differences in volume (if there is any) between a Marine Band 1896 and a Marine Band Deluxe. Second, the reed plates are not directly interchangeable. The MB 1896 is fastened together with nails. The MB Deluxe is fastened together with screws. It is a very common practice for harp players and customizers to convert a MB 1896 from nails to screws – in essence converting a MB 1896 to a MB Deluxe, but even after that is done, it does not mean that the components are interchangeable. There is no guarantee that if/when you drill holes in the MB 1896 to replace the nails that they will be in the same place as the screw holes in the MB Deluxe. Lastly, while it is common for a Marine Band of any kind to require some repairs, it is not necessary to swap out the entire reed plates. Generally, if/when you blow out a reed, you only need to replace that one reed as the other 19 on the harp are perfectly fine. So, if you are looking at your long term options, rather than thinking in terms of replacing reed plates, your best bet is to find a good harp tech who can replace the individual reeds for you when necessary. Or, you could learn to do it yourself, but that is another Rabbit Hole.
Tom Halchak
Blue Moon Harmonicas
Blue Moon Harmonicas
2 posts
Feb 24, 2021
11:55 AM
Thank you both for the advice so far. I have had a problem with one of my special 20s where the notes all worked but it went way out of tune with my guitar across a couple of notes on the harmonica so I assumed the reeds had worn out and needed new Reed plates. I am still very new to harmonica and have no real technical knowledge.

So in this case it wouldn’t be a big price difference if a marine band 1896 or deluxe needed repairs?

Also if there is not a big volume difference to an audience then playing either model of marine band will not be louder in db by my own ears than a special 20? Is the more volume claim just marketing? I am just double checking as I really want to be careful with my hearing now. The special 20s haven’t caused me any problems so far.
10342 posts
Feb 24, 2021
12:30 PM
A few thoughts... there are two big differences between a Special 20 and a Marine band for sound. They use the same reeds and the only difference on their plates is the Marine Band has a ridge along the front to seat the front of the cover which the Special 20 doesn't need because of it's comb shape.

The comb, in my opinion, isn't much of a difference for sound, although a custom comb can improve both.

The big difference in sound. The Marine Band has side vents which allow you to hear your playing better on a loud stage, but make it harder to get a tight cup if you want to overdrive the microphone- but if you are playing in a rack you are probably playing a more acoustic style anyway. The Marine Band also has more open backs on the covers, which gives them a bit brighter sound rather than the warmer sound of the Special 20. The Deluxe has even more open backs.

I don't like Marine Bands because of their nails and their comb having swelling problems. I haven't played a Deluxe. They use screws and the comb is supposed to be better sealed, but I still am not a fan of pearwood combs. They are much easier to switch to a better comb though.

But really, a Special 20 and a Marine band are pretty similar. They use the same temperament tuning (there is a chart on the Harmonicas for Sale tabs that shows the temperament- how sharp or flat the notes are relative to a reference Equal Temperament note... it's a whole rabbit's hole, to use Tom's term, where they balance good sounding chords vs. good sounding single notes).

The simplest and cheapest way to see if you'd like the sound of a Marine Band better is to just open up the back on one of your Special 20s. That will give you an idea of what the audience will hear. I've seen people even cut side vents into them. I've opened up the backs on some of mine before. A seeming tool works well- (Tom, I think, uses one he's customized so it fits better), although if you don't care about the looks even pliers can do the job.

Basically at that point you've converted your Special 20, more or less, into a Rocket or Rocket Amp. I don't know if the screw holes align for the Rocket line covers, but that could be another option. Rockin Rons sells covers for both models.

Tom, do you know if the Rocket cover holes align with the Sp20s? That might be a cheap, small rabbit hole way to get an idea bout the sound differences of side vents and open backs.


Thread Organizer (A list of all sorts of useful threads)

First Post- May 8, 2009
6903 posts
Feb 24, 2021
4:29 PM
I'm not Tom, but I know the answer.
No, they don't because the comb is not drilled in the same place.
Easy enough to drill a clearance in a Sp20 comb though.
I'm really reluctant to suggest anything which requires people to get out the tools.

There's no difference in volume between a deluxe and an 1896.
I do think people (players) perceive a marine band to be louder than a special20.
Maybe an audience can pick a marine band from a special20 tone, but id be very surprised

To me, the volume thing is not an issue and I really couldn't care less if the harp is a sp20, deluxe, rocket, or 1896.

I feel like if I'm drinking instant coffee, really I don't care whether it's moccona or Nescafe and I care even less whether it's espresso or blend 43. We are already in instant coffee zone. Yes there are some differences but we are drinking instant, now is not the time to act like we have standards to maintain.

This is how I view the harmonica. It's really more a question of practical considerations than nuances of sound created by design factors of the harp.
I am thrilled when people say "you know, I hate the harmonica but I've been listening to you play for 2 hours and I'm still here."
That's when I will often release the cuffs.

That's the level. No one ever said "I'm so glad you left the Sp20s at home and brought the Marine Bands tonight".

Last Edited by SuperBee on Feb 24, 2021 4:31 PM
804 posts
Feb 25, 2021
7:33 AM
You guys(people) are right and you are wrong. First, if you have had no problems with your Special 20, and you want the quieter harp, then why would you even consider changing? Secondly, Nate, there is a difference on the reed plates other than the holes, and perhaps a little difference in the reed plate size to accommodate the set in comb. The reeds on the Marine Band, are riveted closer the the edge of the reed plate, which means that they are closer to your mouth, when means that they could react quicker to certain techniques than the special 20s, which are farther away from your mouth. With the set in comb, they are even further away yet. I don't think Neil Young would care one way or another, nor do I. However, there are some very technical players that want a Marine Band for this reason, though I don't know if they really know the reason they prefer the Marine Band. As a side note, the Golden Melody reeds are a little further back from your mouth than the Marine Band, though closer than the Special 20.
Now I can not speak for other techs, but when I am sent a harp for repair, It is always better than a brand new one when I get finished, and it always is cheaper and plays better than replacement reed plates. So my advice is find a good tech in your country, and send him your harp for repair.

3 posts
Feb 25, 2021
8:22 AM
‘First, if you have had no problems with your Special 20, and you want the quieter harp, then why would you even consider changing?’

This is a good point but it’s not so much that I want the marine band to be a more quiet harp than the Special 20. I would still keep and use my special 20s it is more that I’m hoping the marine band will give me a different sound without being louder to the point it will trouble my ears so that I could play both.

So I should have been more specific such as would the marine band be the same volume as the special 20 or 5db louder for example.

When I listen to Neil Young songs or watch live videos of him the harmonica sounds totally different to my special 20s. I know this will probably be technique rather than the specific gear used like with guitars but I don’t imagine he would be considered a really technical harmonica player especially as a rack is used.

This is an example to me this sounds much different to my special 20s


However could this be more the microphone and recording that makes it sound different?
2247 posts
Feb 25, 2021
11:26 AM
What you as a player hear on a Special 20 is affected by the unvented cover design. Vented covers give a brighter sound to the player. Closed covers give a mellower sound to the player.

Regarding the audience, the wider openings on the back of the MB varieties when played without cupping a mic seem to disperse sound into the room more than the narrower openings on the back of a Special 20.

If you play cupping a mic you can get better over driven mic sound with unvented covers using a tight seal on the mic. That is why some players filled the vents on MBs and why the Rocket came out with Rocket Amp harps: vented or not vented covers.

Personally, I like playing unvented covers on higher pitched harps and vented covers on lower pitched harps, but that is just me being picky.

Vented covers on higher pitched harps can sound pretty shrill, and you can still hear those frequencies with closed vents. On a loud stage having unvented covers on lower pitched harps can sometimes make it hard to hear the lower notes. Just me being picky...

Doug S.
3 posts
Jul 08, 2022
5:59 PM
Started down the blues path with a B flat "Blues Harp" in 1968, ripping lips and struggling to comprehend Butterfield's wizardry, leading to Sonny and Brownie, Walter, Junior, et al. Neil Young and Dylan provided the basic songbook I could accompany guitarist friends on. Their harp neck rack avoided any hand shaping of tone, and they used very little vibrato, intentionally mimicking old folkies like Woody Guthrie, with basic chord rhythms that were really rudimentary and easy to copy - but Jimmy Reed and Slim Harpo made a lot more sound using the same rack. MB Classic works, but the Deluxe or Crossover with bamboo comb solves all sorts of issues, while keeping the distinctive open sound the closed covers of Special 20, Rockets AMP mute. Frankly, you must at least listen to Sonny Terry, or Taj Mahal for a contemporary hint of all the richer nuances in chugging, percussive rhythms the instrument is capable of. Harmonicas are worthy of so much more than just mimicking Neil Young fifty years on, and while some modern alt-folk progressives incorporate similar old-timey sounds, by and large you should know every experienced blues harp person who is sitting in the crowd when these rudimentary chords hit their ears is fighting the urge to leap onstage and yank that rack right off your earnest neck.

Post a Message

(8192 Characters Left)

Modern Blues Harmonica supports

§The Jazz Foundation of America


§The Innocence Project




ADAM GUSSOW is an official endorser for HOHNER HARMONICAS