I've been playing the harmonica for almost a year now (some months I've been more dedicated to my practice than others). I've been learning on a Hohner Special 20 in the Key of C using mainly videos online, but also the Harmonica For Dummies book and How to Play the Harmonica by Sam Berry.
I'm looking to purchase my second harmonica and am wanting to get your advice:
1) What key should I get next? A? G? Right now, and probably for the foreseeable future, I'll be playing solo.
2) Should I stick with the Special 20 for consistency or since I'm still a "newbie" should I venture out and try another brand/type of harmonica?
3) If something different, what would you recommend (would like to stay under $50 US)?
Thank you very much for your advice! I was sort of leaning towards A, mainly because from what I've read it lends itself really well to the blues. Thanks for the input on D.
I really like my Special 20...of course I still consider myself a 'newbie' so I'm not exactly what characteristics make a harmonica fantastic.
But I've got that itch to try something new just to compare the Special 20 to it. Of course with the new harmonica being a different key, I wouldn't be comparing apples to apples so to speak - but I think I could still see how different they feel/play.
Before you responded, two of the harmonicas I was looking at (just because of price and outstanding reviews) were the Lee Oskar ($43) and the Marine Band ($38). So it was interesting to see you mentioned both! I haven't really read much about the Seydel harmonicas...yet!
I read in a review (not sure if it's true or not) that the spacing and holes on the Lee Oskar are larger than with the Special 20. Is this true? If so, would that make playing single notes a bit easier (something I struggle with from time to time)?
Again, I appreciate you taking the time to respond with this helpful advice!!!
Last Edited by BCubed on Jun 11, 2020 6:55 PM
Seconded! An A harp is essential. I don't know what your goals are or what style of music your listening to, and those are important considerations but i'm firmly of the view an A harp should be (at least) one of the first 2 harps.
If you stick with Sp20, you'll do no harm. You already know what the Key of C Sp20 is like, so a Key of a Sp20 will give you a sense of the difference in playing feel contributed by the pitch.
If your budget is going to be fairly modest per year. It may be prudent to "stick with what you know". Especially for the most common keys and in terms of your playing development. That still gives you a lot of choice of recessed reedplates style from all the major brands. Hole spacing has never bothered me too much but I suspect it's very much an individual choice.
The big difference with Seydel is they have stainless reeds. They have a different tone that I like but again, an individual choice.
Over time,a set of say, 5 x Sp20s (or LOs, or MBs,or SSs, or GMs etc)in the most common keys would be a solid base to build on. They are reliable, easy to work on, and no player is going to sneer at them as being "lesser".
In fact it would be fun to see a list of how many famous songs were played using Sp20s. If anyone is going stir crazy there's a little task for the weekend!
As far as which model, I'm still leaning towards the Hohner Special 20 ($40) or the Lee Oskar ($43).
Seydels seem like incredible harmonicas but I'm just not quite ready to put that money into one right now...of course what's an extra $20...right? LOL
I know I'm probably not ready for a wooden comb yet, but I'm seeing the 1896 Marine Band for $38, which makes it enticing! Someone in a review did mention that the feeling of the MB in the mouth is definitely different than the feel of the Special 20: not as smooth or comfortable.
I see so many Hohner harmonicas with plastic combs: Big River ($32), Blue Midnight ($38), Special 20 ($40), Pro Harp ($50) - is the Special 20 the best one under $50?
On another note, I'm thinking of getting a cheaper harmonica (such at the Fender Blues Deluxe C, $11) just to leave in my car 24/7. So if I forget to take my quality harmonica along with me I'll still have one. Is this a ridiculous idea? Will the plastic comb melt in the Southern US summer heat?
Again, thank you for your help and your patience with all my questions! Have a fantastic weekend!!!
Last Edited by BCubed on Jun 12, 2020 1:24 PM
In my opinion the sp20 is a better harp than those others you mentioned, mainly because the comb is better. The reeds are different too, but I don’t know that’s really a better/worse scene, just different. The MS harps with plastic combs are not constructed like the sp20 though. With the 20, the reed plates sit behind a lip on the comb, and your lip doesn’t touch them. With the Big River et al the reed plates just sit on top the comb, same as a marine band, so if you find a marine band uncomfortable, there’s every chance you’ll feel the same about a Pro Harp.
Tangent: I’m not a good person to talk to about this Marine Band hurt my mouth stuff. Or, maybe I’m a great person to talk to about it; because I have no tolerance for it. If you get one that’s a bit rough, smooth it off. The reed plates are very easy to work with. There’s no reason an 1896 to be worse than a Deluxe. They are the same harp with different fasteners. If you have a MB1896 (or any sandwich with exposed reed plates) and you think the edge of the reed plates are rubbing you raw, get some fine sandpaper and rub the corner off the edge. Takes about a minute to fix. Easier than making a video. You probably don’t even need to remove the covers.
I don’t know those fender-brand harps but I would expect most harps to survive ok in a hot car as long as they aren’t getting direct sun. The reed plates will expand a bit when they get hot and they can get mighty hot in a car in direct sun. In the glove box etc should be fine.
I don’t know if you shop at Rockin’ Ron’s Music but you should check his online shop. He’s the best harp dealer in the USA, possibly in the world.
I can't say I've made my mind up yet (other than the key if A), but you've given me a lot of great suggestions and info!
If I "followed my curiosity" I'd probably go with the Marine Band 1896, but I'm not sure I'm at a level I should even consider going with a wooden comb. Plus, going with a different key and different comb and a different model...it would be tough to really compare it to my Special 20 C.
I guess at this point I'm leaning towards another Special 20. Funny, when I decided to get a second harp I thought I'd be getting a different model that what I already have so I could compare them and see if there's something I like better than the S20. I guess that's why the Lee Oskar is still in the running.
Out of curiosity though:
1) What makes the Rocket an upgrade from the Special 20?
2) When you mention the Seydel Session Steel - is that the Seydel Blues Session Steel ($60)?
3) Let me just throw this out there...IF I UP MY BUDGET TO $60 (US), WHAT ADVANTAGES DOES THAT TYPICALLY MEAN OVER THE $40 SPECIAL 20?
4) IYO, WHAT'S THE BEST HARMONICA (plastic comb) AT THE $60 PRICE POINT?
Arghhhhhhhh - so many choices!!! What the heck, if it took me a whole year to buy by second harmonica I might as well see what's out there if I up my spending by just $20! LOL
One more question, for a long time in the future...I have a bass guitar amp, can it be used to play a harmonica through (with a mic if course)?
Again, I appreciate your time!!!
Last Edited by BCubed on Jun 13, 2020 1:30 PM
1. The Rocket is an upgrade of the SP20 because the corners of the comb are rounded and smoothed and the holes are beveled a bit so easier on the tongue. I've got a couple and I like them but I'm not sure the upgrade is worth it for you at this stage of you're playing.
3. $60 will get you a MB Deluxe, a Seydel Session Steel, a Rocket or a Suzuki Manji. Hard to say any are significantly better than the SP20 (Well, maybe the MB Deluxe)
4. Sp 20 is great, Suzuki Harpmaster would be a good comparison to SP20. Session Steel is good ( I only have one and that's in F so I can't honestly say I'm experienced with that model). MB 1896 and MB Deluxe are wooden combs. 1896 is just difficult to take apart which you should eventually learn to do and the front to back width is smaller than SP20 which I do find noticeable but they sound great. Again, Rocket is good with a comfortable comb. I don't own any Lee Oscars but you might want to search opinions on this forum re LO's (to search, go to drop down on left of page, click on Blues Harp Forum then click on forum search and type in Lee Oscar Harmonicas).
I've been playing about 6 years and I've owned all the harps I've mentioned plus a few more. Like many on the Forum, my "favorite" changes over time as I become more aware of tone, ease of bending, etc.. Right now I'd have to say my current favorites are my SP20's with custom combs by Blue Moon and my MB Deluxe. (in A I currently have a Suzuki Bluesmaster, Suzuki Harpmaster, MB Deluxe with an Andrew Zajac comb, an Easttop 008K, a SP20 with a Blue Moon comb, and a Suzuki Manji with a Zajac comb).
I'll defer to others on your question about amps.
Oh, and the best "cheap" harps I leave in the car are the Seydel Session Standard (about $34) or the Easttop 008K ($19, which would also give you a feel for sandwich construction like the MB's). DON'T try the Suzuki Folkmaster or lower priced Hohners you'll be disappointed. (I have a couple of Big Rivers but they're not my favorites and the Session Standard is a better playing harp IMO for the same price.)
Last Edited by ME.HarpDoc on Jun 13, 2020 5:21 PM
1) mainly the comb is a different design and is more rounded and shaped to be more comfortable in the hand. The covers are also a different shape and a nicer finish. I think they are more comfortable and possibly enhance the perception of volume for the player. The standard Rocket covers are vented like a marine band. This does affect the sound. Some longtime sp20 players complained the Rocket was less suitable for amplified playing as a result; that the unvented covers were one of the reasons they liked the sp20 for use with a cupped mic. Hohner responded with the ‘Rocket Amp’, which is the same as a Standard Rocket except for green coloured comb and unvented covers.
The Rocket and Sp20 use the same reedplates and are tuned the same. If you buy replacement reedplates for either, there is no distinction between them on the Hohner online ordering system.
Rockets are held together with 2 extra reedplate bolts: 8 instead of 6 for the Sp20
The entrance of the chambers on a Rocket have been chamfered which leads some to say the holes are bigger. It sort of feels that way but really they have just tried to shape the ‘tines’ in a similar way to the marine band Deluxe.
That is kind of the idea with the Rocket; it’s like a Sp20 ‘Deluxe’ except the difference is not quite as marked as with the Marine Band.
When the Marine Band Deluxe was released (in 2005) it made a lot of sense for 2 main reasons.
The comb was sealed and resisted swelling. This had been a big deal with the Marine Band forever. Swollen combs were a real drag.
The other big deal was the use of threaded fasteners instead of nails. The nails had been a hurdle for maintenance of Marine Band harps and many hours were potentially saved by being able to take the harp apart with a screwdriver. Personally I believe a good nailed Marine Band is potentially more airtight than an average Deluxe but on balance the screws are a plus.
Between the Sp20 and Rocket though, the difference is not so obvious to me. The Sp20 was already a great harp with few vices, so it’s hard to improve. The upgrades are more subtle finesse points rather than obvious practical matters.
I really like the Rocket and would be happy to have a whole set, but as it is I have only one, which was a gift. I’ve had it 2 years and I rarely play it although I’ve recently resolved to use it more as it’s a great harp and should be in my rotation.
2) i believe that is the case. They do use the ‘blues’ word in the official name of the session (brass) and session steel.
3) I can’t think of any, but I’m not familiar with US prices.
4) imho, the Sp20 is superior to the Session and the session steel. I’d give the nod to the Rocket over the Sp20 in absolute terms but the Sp20 is better bang for buck.
I don’t rate the Session but many do. You will have to try them. You might really like it. The one thing I will say in favour of steel reeds is that they stay in tune pretty well. I can understand the appeal of that especially if you make a living playing these things.
I am really wary of recommending any harp over another. I know what works for me but my views are formed over a long time and in response to a unique set of experiences. I’ve seen enough to know that people have very strong and often opposing points of view about it. It’s as bad as political opinions and often just as misguided. Very personal stuff.
Thank you so much...that was the exact information I was looking for!!! Thank you for your honesty as well - some may have said you should spend more money and get a top of the line harmonica! So thank you for being truthful about what the extra money will or won't get me!
From what little I've read about the Rocket some say it's louder than the Special 20! Is this the case? My son has a condition (misophonia) in which certain noises (crunching ice, whistling, etc.) irritate him...and it seems like me playing the harmonica is one of those sounds. So louder probably isn't better for me.
I appreciate you taking the time to give me your experiences with the various harmonicas - hearing from someone who has actual experience with them means a great deal (much more than seeing some review by someone at an online store)!
Thank you also for the info on a harp for the car. I've not heard much about Easttop but I'll definitely check it out.
Hearing how the extra money won't get me a huge step up for my ability level has caused me to have an incredibly ridiculous thought....
Get a Lee Oskar and a Marine Band? So for $80 I would get to try out something comparable to the Special 20 and also a harmonica legend (and try a wood comb)? Is that as ludicrous as it sounded as I typed it?
One of them (probably the Marine Band) would be in the Key of A. Not sure about the other key...G or D?
Again, I honest appreciate you taking the time to respond and your honesty! Thanks for both!
Wow, SuperBee you responded before I could...let me add more to my response....
Thank you for the in depth comparison between the SP20 and the Rocket...and which is the better bang for the buck!
Your info on the Marine Band Deluxe makes me rethink my decision on getting a standard Marine Band (and a LO).
Again, thank you for taking the time to respond with so much incredible information...and your honesty as well.
I look forward to experimenting and learning for myself some of the differences you all mention in the info you are giving me. I'm already 53 so I better get started! LOL
Last Edited by BCubed on Jun 13, 2020 6:26 PM
I should add; in 2011 Hohner upgraded the comb in the 1896 MB, and now the swelling problem is pretty much eliminated, so it’s just the nails and standard of finish which set the Deluxe (2005) apart from the 1896 now.
It's nice to hear that you like the Special 20. It's a great first harmonica and fine model to stay with. But if you want to explore, I like your inkling toward the Marine Band. IMO every blues harmonica player has to at least try one if not own one. It's the historic blues tin sandwich. Love it or not you will never experience that bit of history until you try one.
The Lee Oskar holds up well to beginner/intermediate abuse. LO are also comfortable and allow for swapping reed plates to explore alternate tuning, if your are curious about that. But, the LO is similar to your SP 20. For something completely different I'd say the MB is a great choice.
Tons of players learned on the MB. I suspect you will find it uncomfortable at first. You can address that by smoothing the edges with some fine sandpaper... Still, exposed reed plates take some getting used to. It helps to work up to longer sessions. Start with 10 mins then then 20, 30, 40... It may take a few weeks before your chops are broken in.
The MB is historic, the Deluxe is nicer, and the Crossover better yet for a price. If you have a desire to work on your own harmonicas you may want to consider spending $15-$20 on a decent second hand MB. Take it apart, clean it, seal it and adjust the reed gaps... It's not that hard to transform an average harmonica into something really nice.
If working on harps is not in your future the MB Deluxe or Crossover is a better match but $$. The Manji is also a nice comfortable harp and very different from your SP 20. The Manji is a good value OTB and can be made excellent by flattening the comb and adjust the reed gaps (if needed).
I love my Seydel harps but I stick with steel versions $$. The Golden Melody is very comfortable to hold. The GM temperament is different. The reeds are interchangeable with your SP 20 (and with MB). That's another plus if you end up repairing your own harps over time.
My 1st harp was a Special 20. I have several but they did not become my personal favorite. I have a few complete sets but discovered that I like playing a mix of makes and models.
Best of luck with your 2nd harmonica. I'm sure you will like the A. After a year on the C you have certainly earned it.
Thanks for the clarification SuperBee - definitely going to order the Marine Band in the Key of A!!!
Thanks for the heads up on the Marine Band. I'll make sure I take my time getting used to the wooden comb and the exposed reed plates...I'll not give up on the MB too quickly!
You mentioned that the Manji is much different than my Special 20. Are there harmonicas in the $40 and under range that are different from the Special 20 and the Marine Band?
I'm thinking of ordering another harp when I order the Marine Band and I thought it would be interesting if I had the MB, the Special 20, and then another harp that was made differently. Then I could compare all three at the same time and get an idea of what I like. You mentioned the Manji being different but I believe it's $60. And from what I've read the Lee Oskar is pretty similar to the Special 20.
If I have a C Key and an A Key, what key should I get for my third harp? D or G?
For the foreseeable future I'll be playing solo and a variety of types of music.
Again, thanks to everyone for your input...I would be completely lost without your advice!!!
Last Edited by BCubed on Jun 14, 2020 10:46 AM
I recommend waiting until you get some milage on your new MB and develop an opinion of exposed reed plates. That will broaden or narrow your 3rd choice.
SuperBee makes a good point regarding your personal path. If you like playing along with other music or want to study a particular song or harmonica player... look into those keys. You mentioned using video lessons or maybe backing tracks. You could do a YouTube search for "D harmonica", "G harmonica"... and weigh the results.
D is a popular key but if that's not your priority I think Bb is more pleasant to play. G is cool, so are the L and LL keys. I like the almost sax sound you can get. They will challenge your technique on the low end. On a similar note, the E and F harps are very different from C and A harps. The high end of these keys are another distinct challenge. You may enjoy the challenge or not.
The D Golden Melody is a good recommendation. FYI, the G Golden Melody has a tendency to rattle on the 1 hole at times because of low cover clearance. I really like upgrading the Goldem Melody with a solid comb. BTW if you find out that you prefer a different temperament it's easy to adjust that. It just take time and some patience.
Congrats, the Marine Band officially makes it a collection!!!
SuperBee...thanks for the advice on the various keys, what you use most, and why my keys of choice might vary from others! A tremendous help moving forward!
dchurch...you're probably correct on waiting until after I've had the Marine Band for a little while before I order my 3rd harmonica. I've waited a year to get my second one, no reason to rush getting a third when I can wait a bit and see whether I prefer something like the Marine Band or the Special 20.
Funny you should mention sax. I played the tenor sax for 7 years in school and then off and on (mainly off) since then. I can't remember if it was a song by Jason Ricci or who, but I swore I heard a sax but when I watched a video of the song it was a harmonica...I was floored!
Glad to hear the Golden Melody is a solid choice for a third harp. After I've tried the MB for a while I'll know whether I like it or the Special 20 feel a bit better - eventually I would like to try something entirely different from them both.
Thanks...I'm pretty excited to get it and see how it compares (sound, feel, etc) to the Special 20!
Again, thanks to you both for your input, time, patience, and help!
Last Edited by BCubed on Jun 15, 2020 6:18 AM
When you're ready for a third harp and want a different feel from the SP20 recessed comb or the MB sandwich exposed reed plate, the choice of a Golden Melody is good because it has what's known as full covers (meaning the covers extend all the way to the end of the comb/reedplate). This is a different feel than the harps that have a flat section at each end where the screws holds down the cover plates. The reed p[lates are usually recessed as well which is kind on the lips. Other really good harmonicas with full covers in the $40-50 range include the Seydel Blues Session Standard (has brass reeds like Hohner) $35; Susuki Bluesmaster (phosphor bronze reeds) $45; Suzuki Olive $53 (very solid feeling harp). The Golden Melody comes in at $49. These prices are all from Rockin Ron's website.
I don't own a GM but I have all the others and they all play well. I have heard about some concerns with the GM combs chipping but I have no first hand knowledge. Like Bee says, I'd probably go for key of D next then G.
Thanks for the thumbs up on the Golden Melody as well as your explanation of the differences in reed plates (I was still a bit confused by that so your info helped a lot).
My Marine Band arrives Thursday and I can't wait. But I did a little more reading last night and got a bit worried about how it will feel on my lips (that have been used to the Special 20 for a year now). Yesterday I practiced for about 2.5 hours (part of which was some reading) and I wonder what I would have felt like if that time was with the MB instead of the Special 20.
So it seems that the Golden Melody is kinder on the lips than the MB. Do the others you mentioned (Seydel BSS, Suzuki BM/Olive) have a feel like the Golden Melody? And then the Lee Oskar has more of a Special 20 type feel?
Do you know if the Hohner Rocket is like the Special 20, the Golden Melody, or the Marine Band as far as the way the reed plates are made and/or protrude?
It looks like there would be a website that showed which harps were similarly made to other harps.
Will definitely get a D next.
I appreciate your time and your expertise - I'm learning so much here!!!
Last Edited by BCubed on Jun 16, 2020 8:21 AM
As already mentioned the Rocket uses the same reedplates as the SP20. The Rocket Amp doesn't have side vents, so is more SP20-like than the standard Rocket which has vents
I've only got experience of the Seydel Session Steel not the standard but I imagine the covers and combs are identical.
Seydel coverplates are completely sealed, just like the SP20. However they are slightly taller at the mouthpiece. This has the effect of feeling "fatter" in the mouth. Some hate this, others get on with it fine.
My opinion, is that whatever harp you choose, providing there is no obvious fault/ sharp edge etc. It is more a case of getting used to the differing feel.
GMs feel, play and sound great. I've got 2 GMs C and D neither suffer from the dreaded reed rattle but I suspect lower keys would be more susceptible.
Thanks for the input and reminding me that it had already been mentioned about the Rocket reed plates!
Honestly appreciate everyone's input. I make sure I read each response carefully so that I can have this valuable information at hand in the future!!!
As for now I have my Special 20 (C) and will have my Marine Band (A) on Thursday!
I look forward to seeing how they compare then deciding on which D harp to get in the future.
You've offered some amazing suggestions and I can't wait to check out everything I can find/read/view about them: Golden Melody, Rocket, Seydel Blues Session Steel, Lee Oskar, Marine Band Deluxe, a couple Suzukis, stick with Special 20, stick with Marine Band.
Tremendous amount of information and advice - thank you!!!
Last Edited by BCubed on Jun 17, 2020 6:39 AM
Ymmv but in general I expect it’s tougher to play the extreme ends of the standard range. As in new players probably find anything above D is a bit different to play and I personally think G can be a handful for the beginning player and also all the Low tuned harps, but some people seem to do ok with them. When I got a Low F I was shocked to find I couldn’t bend the 1 draw. Even now, after several years I recently assembled my Seydel 1847 Low F and found I had to really concentrate to play it properly. I’ll have to try my Thunderbird; I think that was always a bit easier to get on with. But it’s really just a matter of practice.
Should you avoid them? I would not think so but you might get more value from your time staying with Keys G to F.
Keys Db B And F# are not at all common. Ab is also relatively rare but a lot more common than those 3. E and Eb are a bit more common than Ab
The big 6 are A D C G F Bb, but the order of frequency for G F and Bb is not clear.
Loved your keys thread...tremendous amount of helpful information!
After reading what you said about the G Key there I guess I just wanted some clarification. I love the lower keys (comes from tenor sax days I guess) so I was just trying to see how low I could go...LOL
Again, thanks for the other thread you started and everyone's help on this one! Much appreciated!
Last Edited by BCubed on Jun 18, 2020 9:38 AM
I purchased a Seydel Blues Session Steel in the Key of C because, as I've mentioned, I've struggled for about a year with single notes. So I gave the Session Steel a shot because the holes seemed to be spaced further apart and the tines are a bit thicker on this harp compared to most other harps. I thought maybe with the thicker tines (even though the holes seem smaller) I'd be able to hone in on the single holes - and it seems to be working. I'm getting single notes easier on it compared to my Special 20. It takes a little more air to get the solid sound out of this Seydel (especially on 9/10 holes) compared to the Special 20, but it sounds excellent and I'm happy with the ease of getting single notes.
I mentioned this in my other thread but I'll put the info here as well...I also got a Hohner Marine Band 1896 in the Key of A and absolutely love the sound of it...I'm not sure if it's the harp or the key, but it definitely has a more "bluesy" sound to it than any other harp I've ever tried. It's almost as if it has a tiny growl coming out of it (especially on the low end) and it takes absolutely no air to make this thing sing!!! I will say the wooden comb may take some getting used to, but it isn't quite as rough on the mouth as I was expecting!
As far as single notes...it easier than the Special 20 - the holes are smaller but the tines are wider which makes finding a single note easier for me.
So, is that sweet bluesy sound from the Marine Band, the harmonica, the key, the wooden comb, or what?
Right now I'm wanting to play it more than my C harp...but all the lessons I'm going through right now use a C harp so I'll be using it for those.
I'm just amazed at how incredible it sounds as well as how little air it takes to get that sound out of it!!!
Thanks to everyone for your honest answers, your patience, and your help!!!
Last Edited by BCubed on Jun 28, 2020 4:46 AM
Key of A is 3 semitones lower than C so that contributes something. The Marine Band covers are vented, unlike both the Sp20 and the Session. That contributes a lot to what you’re hearing, I believe. The reeds and slots are the same as the Sp20. Discussion about the difference made by a wooden comb usually draws lots of contrary opinions. To me, this means it’s a pretty subtle difference. I’m probably judging others by my own soulless inability to differentiate. I used to buy into the idea that wooden combs had some intrinsic quality of mellowness but I was always bothered that I really couldn’t tell and it was just a sentimental notion. Tom Halchak has described a lighthearted experiment he conducted using lots of harps and different comb materials and a room of harp players trying to make objective statements about them based only on what they heard. The results indicated that most people couldn’t hear the difference between wooden combs and various other materials ie resin-based, acrylic, Corian, ABS, etc. But most people could detect a difference between these combs and aluminum or brass combs.
Last year I obtained a brass comb and an aluminium comb made for Sp20s. I could notice the difference in the brass comb straight away. The aluminum was more subtle but I could hear it too. I have played enough aluminium combs to know I don’t usually like them but the one Tom makes was different to the usual offerings, it is coated and doesn’t feel like the usual aluminium offerings.
Anyway, some will say the comb is definitely a factor in the MB sound. I’m not among them. Covers and key are what you’re hearing I expect. And maybe 120 years worth of magic formula for success. I’m glad you got a good one. When I started really working on learning to play it was always a concern whether the harp would be a good player or a source of frustration. I didn’t know if it was about keys or models or what. After a couple of years I learned about ‘gapping’ and that was such a huge relief to be able to buy new harps in the knowledge that I could adjust them to play how I wanted.
For me the big difference in tone is the reed/plate material. But agree the comb and coverplates all have a contribution. I took a Hohner 360 clear comb and put 1.05 plates on it. The difference was marked. But then put thicker gauge MS Sp20 coverplates on it and the sound seemed somehow more full than the thin 360s.
Thickness of reedplates definitely makes a difference. My experiments have led me to conclude that reed material doesn't make much difference.
Once i had a brass Seydel to repair and I posted a question about obtaining a suitable reed. Greg Jones, who posts here as Gmaj7, and is Seydel's 'official' repair and service tech for USA commented to the effect that he would not consider using a brass reed, but would only use steel reeds to repair a Seydel harp.
That was very surprising to me. i had to that point assumed it was necessary to replace like with like, but since Greg was working for a major harmonica manufacturer i thought there was at least a chance he knew what he was talking about, so i gave it a go.
I replaced the 5 draw in my Low F Session with a steel reed. Once i'd adjusted it and tuned it, the harp seemed to play entirely consistently. I sold that harp to a local player at the blues club. A couple of years later he asked me to repair it again, and this time it was the 6 draw. I again used a steel reed.
He gets quite a bit of use from this harp. I can't notice any inconsistency in tone or even in the feel.
another time i was sent a Seydel Big 6 to repair. They are a little unusual in that they are not just an 1847 with the end cut off they are more like an 1847 with both ends cut off, so finding an appropriate reed to replace 4 blow meant that i had to search among Low Tuned harps. In this C Big 6 the 4 blow was like a 6 slot reed from an 1847 but tuned like a 4 slot. The only reed i had was from a brass harp. rather than wait 3-4 weeks for $5 worth of reeds plus $12 postage (AUD), and with agreement from the client, i opted for the brass reed. Again, once adjusted to play consistently with its neighbours, i could detect nothing in the sound or otherwise to suggest there was anything 'off'.
This experience really made me sceptical about things i'd often read regarding the difference contributed by different brass 'recipes' in various harps across the years. I thought, if i cannot pick the difference between brass and steel, how much difference can there be among brasses and bronzes with slightly different ratios of alloyed elements.
I've since used Lee Oskar reeds to repair a Hohner 365 on a couple of occasions. I've used reeds from 80s/90s Marine Bands to mend modern harps.
I have also considered whether i might just have too insensitive an ear to detect the differences. Its definitely something to consider, especially since i'm also not a big believer in the idea that wooden combs make a significant contribution to timbre; at least not by virtue of their 'woodenness'.
Some harp builders i have seen come out on the side of the idea that reed material makes a big difference. Andrew Zajac for instance, has told me that he wont do the steel/brass exchange because the difference is too great. Andrew has also stated in the past that pre war Hohner reeds sound different.
Who am I to argue with Andrew, who after all is a HAC and has done a lot more work on all aspects of harmonica repair and customisation than i ever will?
I'm clearly not in a position to argue. I'm not hoisting a white flag though. When the topic was discussed among a group of people involved in harp repair and customisation, i saw that my view is certainly not placing me in some lunatic fringe minority, and some big names were out in support of the idea that reed material is not such a big deal. Obviously there are limits. the mechanical properties of reed material must be such that they will respond appropriately, as a spring.
the way the reeds are milled may make some difference to how they feel to play, but i think probably the dimensions make more difference, and when you consider the dimensions of reeds in each slot is different to its neighbour, then it seems to me that players are dealing with these types of factors constantly and the difference between the milling of a Lee Oskar reed and a Hohner reed will be relatively subtle.
Richard Sleigh produced a document about the differences in Marine bands across the years. He suggests that some are not worth the trouble of restoring or 'hot rodding' because the intrinsic flaws are too great, but he also said they are worth keeping as a supply of reeds to use in repairs. AZ has written that the reeds in some Hohners from the bad old days (approx '82-'95)are no good, and these can be recognised by looking for 'clipped corners', which was probably done to avoid problems with reeds hitting the sides of the slot due to poor alignment. I noted a lot of the reeds in a batch of Seydel 1847 reedplates i recently repaired had this same clipping, and i wondered. I've noted that the seydel steel reeds are more prone to have alignment problems than most other types, but its for a different reason than with those old hohners. The problem with the old Hohners was all about wear and tear in the machines and reeds being installed off-centre. In the Seydel steel harps i believe its just an inherent issue with the material and the capacity of the steel reed to bind to the rivet. with a brass reed the material is easier to stretch so when the rivet expands on setting the reed, there is quite good binding. this can be seen when you drive a rivet out, its very easy to leave it in the reed and used reeds can be stored with a rivet inserted. they wont fall out. steel reeds are not like that. when you pop the rivet free of the reedplate the reed will immediately swing free on the rivet and the rivet will usually just fall out of the reed. in my experience, the low tuned Seydel steel reeds are particularly prone to alignment problems, but really all the weighted reeds. If you drop a seydel steel reed harp, particularly keys A and below, and subsequently think its a bit 'tinkly', its possible that a reed has moved slightly. i expect this is no news to seydel, and is probably why they clip the corners.
Sorry, i realise thats a bit OT but having written it, i am leaving it because i don't know if ive ever put that info in writing before, and i do not believe ive ever seen it mentioned
Last Edited by SuperBee on Jul 01, 2020 5:42 PM
I wish this tread was around when I was looking for my 2nd harp.
BCubed, Congrats on your new additions. I'd give the Session some time on the top end. It's great that you are loving the MB. I believe the key of "A" is a very sweet spot for most harmonica players.
Regarding tone, I have no doubt that comb material, reeds, covers... each affect tone to some degree. Just as I'm sure that different harmonicas play differently. That's why I like the idea of trying a variety of harmonica makes and models. A very slight difference may annoy one player but thrill another.
I also believe there are 3 key factors at work:
1. Different players will get different results from the same harmonica.
2. You can produce better tone from a harmonica make, model and key that you have played for a while.
3. Tone is largely based on an effort to produce it, so the same harmonica can be played with a variety of tone by the same player.
These 3 factors come from my trumpet playing days. BCubed, maybe you can relate to these 3 factors if you replace the word "harmonica" with "saxophone".
Another consideration is that the player can detect the subtle differences while playing much more than being an outside listener.
I think there is a pretty wide range of what is subtle and what is obvious, but again something obvious to you may be subtle to me and vise-versa.
Personally, I don't care as long as the harmonica plays great or can be made to play great with a bit of tweaking.
For what it’s worth, my new Crossover in A arrived from Rockin’ Ron’s today. It’s the first one I’ve purchased and I’m stunned how great it sounds & plays. Seems like all the kudos the Crossover gets are well deserved.
Last Edited by Sundancer on Jul 09, 2020 3:58 PM
Sundancer, I can believe it. Sometimes I forget about my Crossovers because I’ve wound up with a few really great custom harps which I tend to use a lot Before all that happened though, I was a committed player of the Crossover.
I mentioned recently about how well I found my G Crossover performed in comparison with a number of other G harps.
I did a similar exercise using A harps and again found the Crossover only inferior to my very best-performing custom harp, which means I rate it a little better than a couple other custom harps I have.
I guess it’s not strictly stock though, as Mark Prados made a repair to it once and may have tweaked it a little. No doubt I have too. And it’s on a Zajac comb
Especially if the original comb is faulty in some way/s.
I think I have 8 harps in the regular rotation which have AZ combs. And 5 with Blue Moon combs.
I remember (“like it was yesterday”), Back in 2012 I was taking lessons with Jimi Lee and it was all on A harp. I was using my Crossover and eventually I broke a reed, so I started using my Deluxe, which was about 5 years old by then. It occurred to me that I could put the Crossover comb into my Deluxe, so I did that. Wow, what a difference that made. I inspected the comb from the Deluxe and saw it was rather warped. I had used that harp quite a lot and I believe the original Deluxe combs were not as heavily sealed as they are now.
I was a bit sad when I got the Crossover mended and had to give the comb back. I think that was the trigger for my 1st AZ comb purchase
I found my original MBD. As I though, it had an AZ comb in it. When Andrew started making those combs he was using a lacquer, i think it was shellac, and it was good but on mine it eventually wore away. Andrew has long since changed the product he uses to finish the combs and i have quite a few of the newer ones. I saw the finish was missing from the old deluxe so found a new Zajac comb for it. Played it both before and after the swap. Amazing how much difference the finish makes. Harp could use a touch up on the tuning but its a great player.