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Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Inflated Hohner Harmonica Prices?
Inflated Hohner Harmonica Prices?
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dougharps
2309 posts
Jun 24, 2022
8:27 AM
Over the years harmonicas have become increasingly expensive. In the '70s a Marine band was $3 or $4. There was gradual price creep to $20, $30, and $40. Now I see that Special 20s and Marine Bands are priced around $55.

I expected and accepted that the Hohner premium and other brands' more premium models would come at higher costs. Seydel and some Suzuki models use steel or phosphor bronze reeds to attain higher reed durability.

While I have greatly moderated my use of excessive air while playing over the years, I still get carried away on occasion.

To me the Marine Band and Special 20 have been the basic reliable instruments for beginners and pros that are relatively affordable and still very responsive. The Marine Band and Special 20 have no special construction or metallurgy that make them more durable than other now comparably priced harmonicas.

Until now I have chosen Hohners for more nuanced playing, because their reeds seem to respond more readily and subtly than Suzuki or Seydel reeds. Jason Ricci once said that Manjis (compared to Hohners) was like playing with heavier guitar strings and took time to adjust.

The instruments I regularly use that are the most prone to reed failure have had Hohner brass reeds, so when I know I will play hard I use Manjis or Seydels.

The possible earlier reed failure of Hohner Marine Band and Special 20 models seemed to be the price of having more responsive reeds. Marine Band and Special 20 harmonicas seemed suitably priced compared to Manjis or Seydel Steels until now.

If a D Manji can last me twice as long as a D Special 20 at the same price, why would I buy the Special 20?

Just my observations and opinions...
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Doug S.
Gnarly
3055 posts
Jun 24, 2022
4:42 PM
The warranty is better for Suzuki and Seydel.
Jus’ sayin’ . . .
Todd Parrott
1529 posts
Jun 25, 2022
8:26 AM
Lee Oskars outlast them all, though I don't care for Lee Oskar harps. Does anyome know why the Lee Oskar reeds have a longer life?
nacoran
10404 posts
Jun 25, 2022
9:47 AM
Todd, if I had to guess, I'd guess it's because they have shorter, wider reeds... which is also why they don't tend to overblow without a lot of work.

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Nate
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First Post- May 8, 2009
dougharps
2310 posts
Jun 25, 2022
11:52 AM
I still have more than a full set of LOs I keep in my truck. They are all set up for 6 OB passing notes.

I don't bother with attempting to set up my harps for sustained overbend notes. I don't usually think those other OB notes when playing diatonic. If I am thinking more chromatic notes I usually use a keyed chromatic harmonica in a friendly key.

To me LOs seem to leak air more than SP20s, I think they last better than SP20s and other Hohners due to LOs leaking some air and reducing reed stress. I prefer Hohners, Manjis and Olives, and Seydel Steel reed harps over LOs for gig use.


Since I saw the price jump on SP20s I have been repairing SP2Os from my harp junkyard so I am fine for now. I notice Ron has some multi harp pick your keys deals that save some off the $55 new prices.
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Doug S.

Last Edited by dougharps on Jun 25, 2022 11:57 AM
the_happy_honker
350 posts
Jun 25, 2022
2:57 PM
Hohner has always charged what the market will bear. I bet they are seeing an increase in market share and inreasing prices accordingly. It would be nice to have cheaper harps, who doesn't want that (my neighbors, maybe!), but we harp players have it pretty good these days. Lots of giggable harps from a variety of vendors. Crappy Hohners is no longer the only game in town.

I have standardized on Hohner (MB Classic and Deluxe) for playing out, but I could easily switch to Seydel if I had to.

My daily ground-and-pound harps are Hohners and Seydels of various sorts, but there are a few Suzukis as well. I pull out a Pure Harp to play Bach's Aria in D.

I haven't tried Kongsheng, but I could never switch to Easttop. I once bought a C and found it acceptable, if a bit harsh on the chords. I then bought an A with similar results. That encouraged me to buy a set of 7 harps, all of which were just trash. Way, way out of tune. Never again.

One thing I like about Seydel is the elastic 'ceiling'. Push the harp a bit harder than normal and you still get usable volume and tone.
Gnarly
3056 posts
Jun 25, 2022
7:31 PM
Anybody know what the warranty period is for easttop harps?
dougharps
2311 posts
Jun 26, 2022
7:36 AM
On Rockin' Ron's site EastTop T008K diatonics are noted to have no warranty. The text says that they may need tuning adjustments. They are about $22, a seeming bargain, but with reservations I note below.

Danny G's New Harmonica has no mention of any warranty on this diatonic, but offers a one year warranty on chromatic harmonicas. I think that Danny G. provides this chromatic warranty, not EastTop.

I have some EastTop T008K riveted diatonic harps that I use as backups and for loud playing situations. I don't find them as responsive as mid and upper tier Hohners. They play more like Manjis than SP20s, but not as good as Manjis. They seem about as responsive as Big Rivers.

I had to adjust the tuning on some of my T008K harps. I also found the black covers to not be slick enough for me as they dragged during fast play. I replaced the the black covers with used Big River covers with the back tabs bent in to the reed plates. Someone I know suggested Carnuba wax might make the black plates slicker, but I used the Big River covers.

As modified by me they are OK to play, loud and useable at a gig, but not my first choice for gigging. I view them much as I view my LOs, though for different reasons.

I had no difficulty setting the EastTop T008K gaps for the 6OB that I sometimes use. If you can work on harps and don't mind the black plate lip drag, they are a bargain. However, a beginner would not know how to adjust the tuning.
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Doug S.

Last Edited by dougharps on Jun 26, 2022 8:01 AM
Caitlin P
16 posts
Jun 26, 2022
9:30 AM
Weirdly, the Rocket and Rocket Amp have been the same price forever. That makes them a really good deal as the Sp20 and MB approach their price.

$55 for a SP20 or $60 for a Rocket Amp? Seems like a no-brainer.
dougharps
2312 posts
Jun 26, 2022
9:44 AM
I initially wondered if this SP20 price increase was a step in phasing out the SP20 so players would switch to Rockets.

However, Rockets went up to $65. To me, the Manji or Olive is a better value based on durability.
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Doug S.
Soap Music
100 posts
Jun 26, 2022
10:38 AM
£33+ for Hohner and Oskars in Ye Olde England.
I bought a second hand resonator guitar and slide to mess about with and l haven't played harmonica for a year. Strings are cheap and the callouses on my fingers are even cheaper. And l can smoke while l play, which l couldn't do when blowing the harmonica.
Happy (heart attack) days.
Soap Music
101 posts
Jun 26, 2022
10:38 AM
£33+ for Hohner and Oskars in Ye Olde England.
I bought a second hand resonator guitar and slide to mess about with and l haven't played harmonica for a year. Strings are cheap and the callouses on my fingers are even cheaper. And l can smoke while l play, which l couldn't do when blowing the harmonica.
Happy (heart attack) days.
Caitlin P
17 posts
Jun 26, 2022
3:06 PM
That idea really only works if you like the Manji. Most people don't. The spike in popularity of that harp lasted about 2 years and it fell off everyone's radar again.
Gnarly
3057 posts
Jun 27, 2022
6:26 AM
I have gotten used to the Manji, but the Hohner SP20 is a harp I still use.
Never bought a Rocket, I have too many harmonicas.
These days I am having loads of fun with used 365 MBs, I received a dozen or more in a trade for services. I am changing the tuning, almost finished with a Newton Fourkey.
dougharps
2313 posts
Jun 27, 2022
7:56 AM
I like the Special 20, MBD, and Crossover for when I am playing with amplification on a stage with moderate volume levels or for quiet acoustic playing. They are great harps!

If the stage is very loud or in acoustic playing if I am trying to be heard over many acoustic instruments, I tend to play harder than is appropriate. This can damage reeds on the Hohner harps named above.

I recall sitting in with Kilborn Alley 7 or 8 years ago using a vocal mic with poor monitoring on a very loud stage. My brand new D Crossover blew a reed because I could not hear myself and played too hard. The reed material is great for nuanced playing, but does not hold up well to hard use. The Hohner reed lifespan is shortened by hard playing situations.

Manjis hold up MUCH better in these potentially abusive playing situations. Manjis do play differently than the Hohners and require a different attack, but with use we compensate and learn how to get the best out of them. Manjis (and Olives) are fine instruments.

Beginning players tend to play too hard most of the time, and tend to wreck reeds. Beginners do not earn gig money to be able to invest in frequent instrument purchases. I would not have accumulated my wide array of harmonicas if it were not for earning gig money over many years to fund my exploration of brands and models of harmonicas.

If mid-level/pro harps are priced around $55 to $60 each, and newer players need at least 5 keys (I think all keys 12 are needed, eventually, plus low and high keys) then the durability factor gains importance in choosing harps.

When SP20s were priced lower than Manjis it was a judgement call as to cost/benefit. Now that SP20s are priced the same as Manjis, I believe Manjis make more sense financially, because they will last.

I still like my MBDs, Crossovers, Special 20s, and Hohner custom harps and will still use them. However, I rely upon Manjis (and Seydel steel reed harps) for situations in which I judge that I will hammer the reeds. I will continue to repair my Hohners and maybe even buy replacement Hohner reed plates on rare occasions.

If I were a beginner again I could not afford to invest in Hohner harps that easily blow out reeds when they are sold at the same price as Manjis.
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Doug S.
the_happy_honker
351 posts
Jun 27, 2022
9:01 AM
I was one of those who was initially positive about the Manji. Like Seydels, the Manji has an elastic performance ceiling. The 'heavy strings' aspect could be gotten used to. It looks cool.

In the Manji, somebody designed a great harp, with lots of new, new technical wizardry in production to support it: machines that could move the reed to the exact spot over the slot and then spot-weld it to the reed plate. The wood-resin combs promised stability and airtightness. Stainless steel was a pretty new thing in cover plates.

The implementation, of course, was lacking. It is true, I never saw misaligned reeds. But it did nothing to tighten the lateral gap between reed and the reed plate, which is what everyone wanted and expected. Suzuki were disingenuous when they claimed their process produced the tightest tolerances in the industry.

Furthermore, the spot-welding introduced an error of its own. I bought several harps where the welding heat bent the reed ever-so-slightly up away from the reed plate, creating a vertical gap at the base of the reed, which is pretty bad in every respect. I resorted to some very violent banging on the base of the reed, but it never really solved the problem.

Riveting the reed also bends it upwards. But Hohner has been riveting reeds for over 150 years and cared at some point to correct the problem.** Has Suzuki?

The combs were NOT flat. In fact, they were U-shaped, as if the resin blocks they were cut from were not fully cured. Big bummer.

The edges of the reed plates where the harp fits into the web of the hand is really sharp. For all the smooth lines of the Manji, that is one line they didn't think to smooth off.

Who is responsible for the Manji intonation? Who thought that just whacking a few percent off ET would make chords sound good?! 'Nuff said. Auugh!

Lots of good ideas in the Manji that just needed some adjustments to be great. Soon Suzuki would be out with the steady, incremental improvements Japanese manufacturing is famous for and the Manji would be a great harp. After all, the founder of Suzuki put his name on it. He wouldn't do that if this was going to be just another harp, would he?

As long as I drank enough Kool-Aid, I could look at my heavily worked-on Manjis and say they were great OOTB harps, with "just a little tweaking." I saw them not as they were, but what I knew, I just knew, they would become.

But changes were not forthcoming and the Kool-Aid wore off. If Suzuki would commit to the Manji like Seydel committed to the 1847 and steel reeds, I think they could have a great harp and people would buy it, even today.

I bought a Manji three years ago for curiosity's sake. I won't be buying another for a while.


** Tuners at Hohner will sometimes insert a gapping tool at the base of the reed and pull up, which introduces a vertical gap, but the reed brass is pliable enough that it can be bent down again. Suzukis phosphor bronze formula doesn't allow that to the same degree.
Lou
130 posts
Jun 27, 2022
1:59 PM
I was a lucky beginner & never really blew out a reed on a Hohner mainly played Lee Oskars at 1st than switched to the SP 20's. Now I have 4-5 Blue moon custom SP 20's & a Suzuki Pro master in D that I play a lot & hard can't belive it's still sounded good. I've tried Manjis and for some reason I can't play em very well, seems like there not responsive & leak air ?? I've had em apart tried to tune em up a bit flatten comb, adjust reeds but never made any real improvement. I like Suzuki's but never gonna buy another Manji.
I guess the Hohner's don't seem to last but I'm only playing a few times a week & 1 0r 2 times a month with a band.
Sundancer
409 posts
Jun 27, 2022
10:32 PM
A couple thoughts:
1. Germany and the EU also are experiencing high inflation. Ya just don’t hear about it it because it doesn’t serve any US political agendas.
2. Everyone thinks they should get a pay rise, but no one is happy that “things” cost more now. It’s a chicken - egg sorta conundrum.

Last Edited by Sundancer on Jun 28, 2022 9:04 PM
dougharps
2314 posts
Jun 29, 2022
7:35 AM
Apparently I have had good fortune with my Manjis compared to the above descriptions, though I admit that custom combs helped a couple and there is some comb sanding planned for others. I like the Hohner tuning scheme better than Manji, too, but I am too lazy to retune them all.

As noted above, I like my SP20, MBD, and Crossover Hohners quite a bit except for the lack of durability if I get carried away. They cost too much to be disposable.

I have worked on and improved my breath control to reduce reed damage. Since lowering the gaps for some overbends I choke the reeds if I push or pull too much air, so I get quick feedback if I get carried away. Still, I find a need for durable harps that can handle hard play in certain situations.

We live in a time when there are many choices of decent diatonics, but the prices of all are elevated beyond being a casual purchase. I personally can bear the cost, if I must.

I think the days of decent playing harps, the affordable pocket instrument that anyone can afford to try, are past. My OP was based on the loss of an inexpensive instrument that anyone could afford replaced by significantly more expensive diatonic harmonicas priced for serious players.

The price of the Marine Band in 1970 vs. today has gone from under $4 to $55 dollars.

A quick Google search about inflation from 1970 to now yields the following: $4.27 in 1970 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $32.17 today.

If Marine Bands and Special 20s were priced at $35 (or even $40) I would not have started this thread.
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Doug S.
SuperBee
7072 posts
Jun 29, 2022
7:58 PM
I came here to find out if Suzuki harps had a good warranty.
;)

Seriously though, I think you all in the states are just starting to catch up. I think you’ve been shielded by having a distributor in US which has an exclusive deal with the manufacturer.

You’re at $55 now for a MB? I’m fairly sure that’s what we were paying in Australia 10 years ago. These days we are at closer to $80.
Okay, the Aussie is only about 70 cents these days, but back in 2010-12 it was more like parity and even as much as $1.07 for a while. It hovered around parity for a good while though and you all were getting MBs for like $30 while we were at $50.
The thing I remember very clearly is buying 4 Crossovers and a Thunderbird from rockin’ Ron, and including the shipping I still had a free Tbird and change compared to what I’d have paid in Australia.
Ron sold me the 4 xovers at $60 a piece. They were $92 in Australia.

But I get it. I didn’t enjoy paying those prices either, and I did break reeds.
In those days I couldn’t find anyone in Australia who would repair such harps for a price which made sense.
The replacement reed plates were marginally cheaper but didn’t strike me as a good deal.
At one point I packed up all my broken harps and shipped off to Mark P (RIP, Mark) to mend.
MP did a good job at a fair price, but shipping was a tax and Mark would only work for cash which was another big tax as the bank really slapped me hard. Not the exchange rate, but the fees they hit me for.
Mark wouldn’t do PayPal (can’t rob Peter to PayPal, he said) but it would have been much cheaper all around…
Anyway, when I broke a crossover I really couldn’t afford to go through all that business of buying several from Ron or shipping off to Mark again, so I bought some tools and buckled down to learn to mend my own.
And this is why I stuck with Hohner!
I can get individual reeds from Hohner for all my MB and Sp20 type harps. I can get 5 reeds for less than the price of 3 from the other German manufacturer, and the shipping is also cheaper and the service is excellent. I’ve had generally good service from other makers too, but it’s been patchier.
I repaired a lot of harps for people 2014-20 and I definitely preferred to work on Hohner…specifically the MB and Progressive lines.

Back around 2010 I was still looking around at different harps. I tried the seydel brass, and the steel, the various Suzuki, the LO.
They all had their good and not so good points. Some were a bit cheaper, others more pricey. For me, the best option was the ‘handmade’ Hohner harps and some repair and maintenance.

Oh, another thing too. Those 70s Marine Band harps were made on equipment which was wearing out and not getting the renewal it needed. By the end of the decade those were some seriously dodgy harps. By contrast, the MB of today is in my opinion a superior instrument, probably equal or better than at any time in its history. I haven’t played a lot of prewar MBs but I do have 4 thanks very much to Blue Moon Harmonicas. They are very nice harps, which Tom has restored of course. I asked Tom to leave them as close as possible to ‘original condition’ ie no embossing or heavy reed work. I wanted an idea of how they would have played back in the day.
That’s the only basis I have for my statement that I believe the modern Marine Band is just as good, if not better.
The point is, that Hohner sunk a fair chunk of capital into the Marine Band manufacturing plant in the 90s and 00s. In the 70s, and right up to the mid 90s based on what I’ve read they were not investing in that production line, and the product reflected that state of affairs. So the comparison is not exactly just one of CPI across the decades. It’s significantly better unit you get for the money these days. I understand the issue of durability is still an issue for some, but in my experience that really is something which the user can control to a large extent. After I went through that process of learning to mend my harps and taking on work for others, somehow I learned to play without breaking reeds, even though my frequency of playing with bands increased significantly through 2016-2020, I haven’t needed to mend a harp for myself since January 2017.
Gnarly
3058 posts
Jun 29, 2022
8:41 PM
I began modifying harps when I found it too expensive to have others do it for me.
Same thing for repairs, bought a reed replacement anvil from Bill Romel.
Save your broken harps, people.
I am happy to repair harmonicas for folks, but Diatonics are relatively easy to work on, and I encourage people to try to do their own work. Practice on your Hohners lol
sonvolt13
262 posts
Jul 01, 2022
2:40 PM
Special 20s have been my go to for 20 years or so. Airtight and I like their dark tone. You can find them a little cheaper if you shop around (harmonicaland.com) and eBay. They definitely respond better to a soft touch.
Thievin' Heathen
1243 posts
Jul 02, 2022
7:36 AM
@SuperBee,

Re: shipped off to Mark P (RIP, Mark)

I'm ashamed to say I had forgotten about Mark's passing, but I'm going to stop short of thanking you for reminding me.

I took a few lessons from him when I was stationed in HI in the late '80s. I can't put a value on what it meant then to step out of the drunken sailor culture I lived in for a couple of hours in the harmonica player culture I belong in. He was 1 cool guy.


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