beginner forum: for novice and developing blues harp players > I'm Addicted - 2nd Harmonica?
I'm Addicted - 2nd Harmonica?
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BCubed
9 posts
Jul 12, 2019
11:30 AM
It only took this 52 year old about 10 days to become addicted to learning to play the harmonica!!!

Just so many things I love about playing it that brings me joy! The learning, the playing, the sounds, the fact that you can get so many sounds you can get from this 10 hole four inch instrument, etc. Absolutely amazing!!!

After a trip to the doc today and finding out I have a herniated disc (doc said not a huge problem, just in the worst possible position ever), it looks as though I'll have between 6 and 12 months away from tennis/pickleball/discgolf so I can dedicate even more time learning/playing the harmonic!

So I'm wondering, since I have a Hohner Special 20 C, what might be a good choice for a second harmonica?

Do I go with a similar harmonica, just in a different key? If so, which key?

Or do I go with something slightly different - maybe a similarly priced harmonica with a wooden comb...just to hear/feel the differences in harmonicas? If so, same key or different key?

Or do I go with an option other than those two?

Look forward to hearing your advice!

Thanks for all the help!!!

BCubed

Last Edited by BCubed on Jul 12, 2019 11:59 AM
SuperBee
6058 posts
Jul 12, 2019
1:40 PM
It’s a dilemma alright. If you get a harp in different key you’ll be able to play along with different lessons or songs, backing tracks, and you’ll start to understand how the different keys respond a bit differently.
If you choose a different style harp in C, you’ll begin to understand more about those design features and how you respond.
Since you’re enjoying playing the sp20, and they are definitely a great unit, you won’t be missing out on much if you choose to get another key, but you might choose a harp with full-length covers, say, like a golden melody or Suzuki pro master or olive, or seydel session or kongsheng bluebird, to see whether you like that shape.
Or you could try a Rocket, which is like a Sp20 but with vented covers, and most people perceive them to be louder.

If you choose a different key, I suggest A.
ME.HarpDoc
367 posts
Jul 13, 2019
5:23 AM
My second harp was the same model (Hohner Big River) in the key of A ( which is a good key selection for your next harp). It wasn’t until my third harp (Suzuki Bluesmaster in C) that I realized I wasted my money on the second harp as I realized the Big River was not my favorite harp. My point is I’d recommend a different model/brand for your next harp.

I have a lot of brands and models now after five years of playing. Some are full covers like the Bluesmaster or Seydel Session Steel and Suzuki Hammond. Most are standard sandwich construction. I like most of them. After a while, the cover plate design was not as important to me as the tone.

Most of my harps have plastic combs. I’ve got a few wood or wood composite combs (Hohner Marine Band Deluxe, Suzuki Manji) as well as several harps with custom combs from Blue Moon or Andrew Zajac.

Personally, if you want to try a wood comb, I’d go with the Manji. The Marine Band is classic but maybe not so early in your development from a maintenance standpoint. The Marine Band Deluxe is nice. I didn’t find the Crossover was better for the higher price.

So in your price range of the Sp20, you can look at the Suzuki Bluesmaster, Suzuki Harpmaster, Suzuki Manji, Seydel Blues Session and Lee Oscar (I haven’t tried LO’s and they have mixed reviews). Hope this helps.
ME.HarpDoc
368 posts
Jul 13, 2019
5:24 AM
Oh, I also like the Easttop harps and they’re a really good price.
BCubed
10 posts
Jul 13, 2019
11:54 AM
Thank you for all the great tips and insight!

After reading your responses and thinking about where I am right now in my learning (just starting), I think I want to stick with the key of C and try a different type of harmonica than my Special 20.

I'm still working my way through some educational videos and books so I think it will be easier if I stick with the key of C for right now.

Some harmonicas that you mentioned that intrigue me that fall around $50 are:

- Suzuki Manji ($49)...similar shape to the Special 20, composite comb, different company

- Suzuki Hammond ($55)...different shape entirely from the Special 20, beautiful black shell, different company

- Hohner Golden Melody ($46)...different shape, equal temperament tuning, still plastic comb I believe but beautiful red coloring

- Suzuki ProMaster ($53)...different shape from Special 20, aluminum comb, different company

- Suzuki BluesMaster ($34)...different shape from Special 20, different company, cheapest

Again, thanks so much for the advice and options!

BCubed
dchurch
265 posts
Jul 13, 2019
7:04 PM
Sorry about the disc news

A second harmonica is a great idea and another C will give you the fairest comparison, although I'd give a slight edge to getting an A harp. And, if you truly love the Special 20 there is nothing wrong with just sticking with that model and collecting a full set.

But most folks want to try different harps. There are plenty of good choices listed here and on your "First Real Harmonica" post. You might want to go back and read it again; maybe something will jump out at you. Did you have a second choice harmonica at that time?

Regardless here's my opinion of your current list:

Manji: Significantly different from the Special 20, exposed reed plates, slightly more difficult to play, one of my favorite harps after doing a little bit of work to them.

Hammond: Nearly identical to the ProMaster & Olive but I do prefer the beautiful black finish of the Hammond. I have a set made up of these three cousins. In my experience they are very tight harps and play very well straight out of the box. They are compact and feel very solid.

Golden Melody: The rounded ends just fit great for me. It’s my favorite harp to hold. I'm not bothered by the exposed reed plates but I do polish the edges of all my exposed plates. I like the GM for melodies, folk songs and gospel. The GM is fine out of the box but I like them a lot more after I fit them with a solid custom comb.

Blues Master: I only have one. I have it playing pretty well but I would not buy another. It’s a fine harmonica but not great.

Others:
Seydel makes a line of great harmonicas including the Session. I have cracked more Seydel brass reeds than any other, so I quickly switched to their steel reeds.

The Lee Oskar is a good solid harmonica. From my experience and comments by others they do hold up well to abusive playing. For that reason the Lee Oskar is also a good beginner harp, w/ plastic comb and inset reed plates. It’s similar to the Special 20 design. I spoke with Lee after one of his dinner shows. He played a very cool mix of jazz, pop and blues using a variety of his tuning options.

Last but not least I think every blues harmonica player should own at least one original Hohner Marine Band harmonica (wood comb, nails and all). I think it's important for appreciating the history of blues harmonica music. Playing the Marine Band is also a good way to (slowly) break in your chops. Start with 10 minutes a day and work up to 30+ minutes. In time you will be able to play any type of harmonica without discomfort.

Good luck with your harmonica and solving the disc problem.
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It's about time I got around to this.
SuperBee
6062 posts
Jul 14, 2019
2:06 AM
I wrote a very long review which will not fit into a single post.
I figured nobody needs to read all that.

If you’re really hooked, I think it’s inevitable you’ll continue to acquire harps as you go. Enjoy this phase.

You’ve begun with a really good harp. They’re all a bit different, even within the same model. The difference between keys is also significant. Some people like low keys of one type and high keys of a different type, I’ve heard. Others like all types, some of us only 1.

I know what I like, but that may not be what appeals to you.

A bit like bicycle saddles, it’s hard to predict what is going to suit you, and sometimes it takes quite a long ride to discover that the thing which appealed at first really aren’t as important as the things which show up on a long or multi-stage ride.
And then there are other changes which might occur as you develop your skills or approach, which change your preferences.
BCubed
11 posts
Jul 14, 2019
12:15 PM
I guess in regards to what harmonicas jumped out at me from my first post, or even now that I look back and am possibly getting something different from my Special 20, I'd say probably something from Suzuki:

A) the PM Hammond because of the different shape (compared to my Special 20) and beautiful look; it is a plastic comb right?

or B) the ProMaster because of the different shape and the aluminum comb

or C) the Bluemaster because of the different shape, but mainly because of the $34 price tag

To be honest I thought I would be looking at a harmonica with a wooden comb as my second harp but the different shape is more intriguing right now to see what feels comfortable in the hand/mouth than getting something with a wooden comb.

The shape, great reviews, and unique red comb of Hohner Golden Melody really draws my attention, but I'm thinking I'd like to try brand other than Hohner.

Again, thanks for all the help, advice, and guidance. It is greatly appreciated!!!

BCubed

Last Edited by BCubed on Jul 14, 2019 12:18 PM
DanP
416 posts
Jul 15, 2019
6:25 PM
BCubed, the ProMaster Hammond has a metal comb. Like the Suzuki Promaster, it has an aluminum comb except on the Hammond, the comb is black anodized aluminum while the ProMaster is silver. I have both and I think I like the black aluminum best because it doesn't take as long to warm up in cold weather.
ME.HarpDoc
369 posts
Jul 15, 2019
7:01 PM
If you're looking at the Suzukis with full cover plates, I'd go with the Hammond (aluminum comb) over the Bluesmaster (plastic comb) if you've got the resources. The twenty dollar difference gives you a harp that feels and plays well. It's a little heftier than the Bluesmaster and will be a significantly different feel than the SP20 for a notable comparison. The Bluesmaster is still a good choice for trying a different manufacturer and cover shape.
DanP
417 posts
Jul 15, 2019
7:50 PM
BCubed, I just saw on Amazon, an key of A Suzuki Hammond harmonica for $11.80. A $70.00 professional harmonica for $11.80! If you live in the USA, I would snatch that up ASAP. It even has free shipping.
SuperBee
6066 posts
Jul 16, 2019
12:29 AM
It really does take all sorts. I’ll share my Hammond story.
I was sent a Hammond to repair. I don’t recall the issue, but I remember effecting the repairs and tuning the harp, then testing it.
Mainly I remember how I felt about the job.
I take pride in returning a harp that is ‘better than new’, and specifically one I’d be happy to have in my personal kit. With this Hammond though, I really couldn’t honestly say I’d feel good to have this harp in my hand on stage. It just sounded dull and lifeless to me.

However, I knew I’d done my best with it so reluctantly I prepared it and sent it back to its owner. I felt rather embarrassed.

A couple days later I saw a photo of it on Facebook, and got ready to read the scathing review of my work.
To my surprise, this was the harp which the owner was most pleased about. He praised my work and particularly in respect of this harp.

So there it is: I thought the Hammond was an absolutely dull, dud harp, but some people really love it. Personally I’d never have one, nor a Promaster. I have a Bluesmaster I’d much rather play than any of the 5 Promaster I own.

I’m convinced that with these good quality harps, personal preference is quite unpredictable.
BCubed
12 posts
Jul 16, 2019
5:11 AM
Thanks for the clarification on the Hammond comb. Glad to hear the Hammond would feel a lot different than my Special 20...definitely what I'm trying to find in my second harmonica.

I took a look at that $11.80 Hammond...checked the seller and he has several Suzuki harmonicas, mostly around $75, but this one at $11.80. Seeing how he only has 35 reviews during the past year and has this one harmonica at such a low price, makes me wonder what's wrong with it :) It may be legit though and worth the $12 gamble.

Funny how different harmonicas are loved by some and hated by others - it's the same way with tennis racquets too (something I'm much more familiar with after playing tennis for 46 years).

Thanks again for all the help!

BCubed

Last Edited by BCubed on Jul 16, 2019 5:14 AM
dchurch
266 posts
Jul 17, 2019
11:26 AM
Loved/hated*
Yes, especially with so many respected musicians here. I remember researching the subject a few years ago thinking none of these guys can possibly be wrong, how can there be so many polarized opinions.
Here are some possible factors that I considered.

People are into different styles, sounds and responses. For example, some folks are very focus on a specific tone coupled with an amplifier others strive for a particular acoustic sound. People measure good/bad based on different things like: wanting high volume, high speed play, melody verses chords, overblows or not, durability... What is important to one player may not be a priority for another.

People are different physically and physical differences change how a particular harmonica will play and sound. A major component of this instrument is the player’s cavities: mouth, throat, nasal passages and the player’s hands. It’s not like a piano.

Luck is unfortunately a real factor. If you buy 12 harps of any model you will find one that plays worse than the others and one that plays better. So it’s possible to try one harp and get lucky or unlucky. Folks hear talk about consistency and out of the box (OTB) performance. That factor may be critical to one player but of little importance to another.

You learn to trust and love the harmonica that you play. Ask a truck owner and you will hear the same thing, Ford versus Chevy. Change can be difficult. If you have played a Special 20 for years it could pretty uncomfortable switching to a model with exposed reed plates. I prefer swinging my Woodie Prince racket, I fish with Fenwick glass, and I like my music on vinyl.

Any of these factors can be the cause of a strong opinion. If you read a lot of posts it may help you understand where individual members are coming from.

OT: 46 years of tennis is awesome. I’ve played off and on over the years, nothing serious. I really enjoyed watching Wimbledon this year. The Nadal/Fed match was epic! I love how the old guys continue to dominate. Talk about the blues how about the hits that Nicolas Mahut took in the doubles. The one above his eye was not the least bit funny but I have to admit that I laughed my butt off when he took the groin shot.

I’d love to read a follow up post about the 2nd harp that you get, and your opinion of it compared to the Special 20. It’s also good reading for future beginners in your position.

Best of luck, Dave

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It's about time I got around to this.
SuperBee
6068 posts
Jul 17, 2019
6:20 PM
This is one of the things I like about the forum; there is some continuity and, generally, posts are relatively well-considered.
I may be wrong but I expect there are many more people reading these pages than contributing.
ME.HarpDoc
373 posts
Oct 12, 2019
1:32 PM
Bcubed
I was hoping to hear what you chose for a second harp and your impression
Dai
6 posts
Oct 13, 2019
12:29 PM
Just my 2 cents but I'm new at this as well. I have both Suzuki Bluesmaster and Seydel blues Session/Session steel harmonicas both makes are good and would vouch for them. Seydel is a warmer tone than the Suzuki. Years ago I had a Honer Blues Band and a Lee Oskar didn't get on with them as they got caught in my mustache.
SuperBee
6206 posts
Oct 15, 2019
3:21 AM
we may never see B3 again. The addiction can spiral out of control quickly and OD or rehab or just plain poverty and homelessness is always just around the corner.

There are just so many harps to choose from; B3 could be stuck in an OCD loop of indecision.

I’ve been reviewing all the things I tried on my way to what I’m playing now.

I got my first harp so long ago but it was at least 15 years later before I made my first serious effort to learn how to play.
That first harp was a Marine Band key of G. Probably Hicksville era, around 1980-81.
I know I had a few other harps over the next 10 years, I think a pro harp was one, and maybe a blues harp was another.
Funnily enough I just a few moments ago finished assembling a key G Hicksville era Marine Band. It plays ok but could be better. A job for another day. I’ve improved it but there’s more to do. Those 70s-80s Marine Band harps are not the best.
This one probably would go better on a flat comb. I’ve got the first 5 slots performing well now at least.

When I began learning, I had a no name harp. I replaced it with a special 20 but in those times the special 20 was issued as an MS harp. Mine was really bad and I didn’t know anything about setting up a harp at that time. I just thought Special 20s sucked. I held onto that view for a long time past it’s use by date.
I had a couple of Huang Silvertone Deluxe harps. In those times they were pretty good, and value. Sadly they disappeared from the local shop and when I next heard of them the quality had declined to a very low point.
I had a Suzuki Folkmaster key G. It was ok but kind of quiet.
For a few years I played the MS Blues Harps. I thought they were ok and when I learned about how to set the reed offsets (gaps) I thought life was fine.
I did break a few harps in those days.
I bought a Marine Band Deluxe. It was a bit ‘soft’ I thought; as in it didn’t seem to like how much air I was putting through it.
I discovered the internet and online shopping.
Sometime around 2009-10 I tried a Suzuki Bluesmaster. I really hoped I’d like it, but it was squealy around the 3 draw bends.
I found a Marine Band Classic. The comb swelled and I pared it back but then I hated the feeling under my tongue.
I tried Seydel Solist Pro. They pulled my moustache and the E broke quickly. I really wanted to like them but I didn’t much.
I tried a Seydel Blues Session. It felt very big in my face and then it broke.
I tried crossovers. At last I had something I really liked.
I tried an 1847, believing from what I’d read this would be fantastic.
I never bought another one. Very disappointing harmonica for me. I played it for a while because it was Low F and I was studying a song which used it, but when I was done it went in a box and it’s rarely been played since.
The crossovers started breaking, due to my clumsiness, and this presented a problem. I couldn’t afford to replace harps at this price. The Australian dollar had dropped against the greenback and postage was high. Local price was over $90. I learned to repair and in doing so learned a lot more about how harps work. I found I could buy or scavenge old marine band and Special 20s and fix them up to play like a new harp, and often better.
So that’s what I do know. I’ve stopped breaking them too.
Along the way I bought some custom harps, to help me understand how well a harp can play and also to observe as best I could and attempt to understand and copy.
Of course I play those harps I bought. I can’t see much sense in leaving nice custom harps unplayed.
So now I’m really happy with a good sp20 or Marine Band. That’s as good as it gets for me but I tried a fair few on the way.
Since I’ve been doing repairs for folks I have had the opportunity to play lots of other types and various custom harps. I’m still happiest with my harps although sometimes I get one I don’t want to send back.
That’s really my personal motto; I try to fix a harp to a standard I’d be happy to play on a gig.
teahika
70 posts
Oct 16, 2019
2:54 AM
Has anyone tried the OZ Jarrah comb and marine band parts "Harp Dude" from Australia is selling on EBay. Just curious as they are $25NZ dollars cheaper than a USA customised harp shipped to NZ.
SuperBee
6209 posts
Oct 16, 2019
4:04 AM
Have not tried, sorry. I was looking at them on eBay a couple days ago; he is asking $160 AUD, not sure about shipping. Did see one for sale 2ndhand for <$50 but I don’t need to be buying stuff. I need to be selling.
I see a few positive reviews for Jamie’s work and I guess I should try his combs but last time I needed combs it was cheaper for me to deal with Andrew in Canada than to get the unknown wooden comb from the nearest big town, crazy as it sounds. I knew Andrew's comb would be dead flat and stable, and I’m not saying the jarrah would not but just at that time it was gonna cost me $8 more per comb to find out, so I went with the Zajac product.
I’ve tried a few blue moon combs but I’ve never dealt direct with blue moon because it’s so expensive shopping in USA when you add in the postage. Exchange rate is sucky too.
Canada is not too bad for postage but Europe has been really good, especially when I deal with Hohner, but I have had stuff shipped from Britain too and post has been quite reasonable iirc.
teahika
71 posts
Oct 16, 2019
10:22 PM
Thanks for your info SuperBee.I have a blue moon harp which is my No 1 harp.As you say shipping is the big cost now.I used to buy tube amps from USA, but those days are gone due the price they ask and mainly shipping costs.Will check out Britain and Europe.What harps do you have for sale SuperBee?PS Have some of your band vids on my playlist and enjoy what you all are doing.
SuperBee
6211 posts
Oct 17, 2019
11:17 PM
Thanks, teahika. I think the band is better now but its been well over a year since ive got any new video. Our 'new' guitarist has been with us a year. We have had some video taken twice but the first lot disappeared in a disagreement between videographer and the person who tee'd it up, and the second lot has yet to materialise.

I'm not currently selling anything, but i need to sell a bunch of stuff. i have too many things i don't use. I have plans to do some restorations and set ups and sell at very good prices but i can't see it happening this year because i have a pile of repairs on consignment i need to get done..
Christian Wasmer
19 posts
Oct 18, 2019
7:29 AM
After a (too ?) fast look at this post, it looks as if nobody mentioned Hohner Rockets and Rocket Amp models. I must admit I am totally sold to them, they are very powerful and responsive compared to MB, Sp20, Crossovers or Big River.
Other very goo harps I have are old marine bands retrofitted with Alan Zajac combs

(Sorry, it is Andrew Zajac, not Alan)

Last Edited by Christian Wasmer on Oct 19, 2019 1:29 AM
SuperBee
6214 posts
Oct 18, 2019
3:24 PM
The Rocket is a great harp. I like them very much but they are so similar to a Special 20 that I sometimes forget to distinguish them.
Yes, they have a unique comb and the covers of the standard model makes them sound louder to the player than a special 20, but the reedplates are exactly the same as the special 20.
I was told by a member of the Hohner-affiliated customisers that the Rocket comb is not well-liked. That was news to me, but he is better placed than me to know about this so I’m taking his word for it.
I guess it’s the larger hole size/narrow tines which some may find off-putting. Not me though, I actually find it helps me.
However, I own only 1 Rocket, which is an ‘amp’ version given me as a gift at HCH18, in acknowledging I had travelled the furthest to attend. It’s kind of special to me!
Most of my experience with the Rockets is from repairing those sent from clients. Without exception they’ve been excellent.
From memory, Hohner use a couple extra reed plate screws on the Rocket. Maybe that helps too.

While I think of it, one thing I sometimes see is harps which have been screwed together very tight. It’s a bad idea. I was just cleaning some last week and noticed the rings on the blow plate which had been etched by the screw heads.
I know it seems like doing them up nice and tight should be the go, but because the screws thread into the draw plate, doing them up super tight can actually cause distortion and make them less airtight, as well as weakening the soft brass threads in the draw plate.


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