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beginner forum: for novice and developing blues harp players > Confused by Manji
Confused by Manji
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6 posts
Jan 18, 2021
1:15 PM
I started on Hohner Special 20 (in A). Never really try to play blues before - mostly used it for playing Bob Dylan stuff - I play guitar too. Then later I wanted to try harmonica online class with Annie Raines so I got Hohner Rocket (in C). Both plastic comb and recessed design.

I got basic bending quickly but could not bend hole 3 on Rocket beyond semitone so I thought that perhaps I should try traditional type of harp so I splurged on Manji in C (after reading all the stellar reviews online).

Well... I am really confused by it. People say it is loud and expressive... Rocket feels effortless and much louder by comparison. I struggle to get emboucher right on the "railed" mouthpiece of Manji - I can get it right if I touch bottom rail with my tongue and channel air. Then I get nice clean notes - still not even close to Rocket in loudness. But I can't bend - I need to move my tongue for that so I switch to "pucker" (bury harp in my lower lip) and it is super airy and leaky - even though I get good notes on Hohners that way (and even on my Kongsheg's Mars with rounded holes).

So I am confused - I saw some videos saying that "Manji requires more precise technique and will make you better player". I have to admit - the harp feels precise in tuning. It responds well to bending attempts and changes in embouchure when blowing. But it sounds weaker and feels "stiff" when compared to Hohners.

Any advice? Am I jumping ahead of myself and trying harp that is better suited to non-beginner?
6880 posts
Jan 18, 2021
8:35 PM
I have to say, I only ever bought 1 Manji. I really wasn't impressed. I persisted with it until it went flat or I thought it had and then I retired it. Eventually I "sold" it for the price of postage.

Since then I've encountered a few which were sent to me for service; IE, cleaning, tuning, Reed work. I've managed to make all those play okay, and I refused my original negative impression. Also, there really is no denying that some of the people who endorse them know what they are doing, so obviously the Manji is not inherently a dud product.

I am not tempted to go there though, for several reasons.

Firstly, I don't need to. I'm very happy with my harps. I can't see any reason to put myself through a process of adapting to something else.

Secondly, they are harder to repair than my current harps. Apparently Marine Band reeds are a perfect fit, which makes sense to me since I believe the Manji is basically a copy of the Marine Band with a reason comb. That's fine, it means I can repair with new reeds, but also why would I do that rather than just use a Marine Band in the first place?
Third, following on from second, is the comb. I really don't like it and I believe it's often been the root cause of the trouble. I may have out of date information though. It's possible that Suzuki have improved the comb, because they are that kind of business. I think though, if I have to replace the comb, again I may as well just stay with Marine Band and replace the comb if appropriate.
Fourth is the tuning. It's basically ET and that is fine if it suits. I know it's not really ET but it's like the 3rds are lowered by 5 cents which doesn't really work for me.

So, I have never found a compelling reason to get into them, but I'm really not knocking them. Suzuki is a quality operation. I'm just coming from a background of disappointment with everything I've tried from them and so I wore them off years ago. Probably before I was really in a position to fairly judge.

I could say, there was at some point fairly widespread acknowledgement that the Manji comb was sub par at least in some cases. That could be affecting your experience. I do think the reeds may be a bit more demanding than the hohner reeds. I certainly find them a bit more demanding to set up.
7 posts
Jan 18, 2021
10:33 PM
Thanks for detailed reply. I know that Manji reeds are phosphor-bronze as compared to bronze ones for Hohner. Tomlin Leckie commented on YT that Manji "puts more resistance" and requires better technique. To be quite honest it was impulse buy after listening to some of the Christelle Berthon's playing. And she mentioned that Manji was her main harp for several years. In other words it is buying gears hoping to sound like someone else.
I should have know better - I know that intimately from guitar playing. But with guitars I can go to store, sit in front of the amp for 2 hours and truly make educated decision - not based on reviews but based what instrument inspires in me.
Oh well - chalk it for experience I guess - maybe I should stick with bronze reeds and Hohner for a while. I posted it also in another forum and few people had similar less than stellar Manji experience. Also got recommendation for DaBell Nobel diatonics. To my ears the demos I heard sound quite bright - could be maple comb.
6881 posts
Jan 19, 2021
11:53 AM
I have some "auto-correct" errors in post above. Apologies for those.

IMHO a good harp shouldn't be hard to play. I think there's a possible advantage to some of these reed materials in longevity of tuning stability and the trade off is in "playability".
I don't really know but I think Suzuki sponsored Christelle for a while at least. I can see those harps could suit her approach.
I haven't checked it out but from what I've seen of the manji when working on them I expect they are really well suited to overblow technique.

I bought a Seydel 1847 once because I was taking lessons with a guy who played those and he had incredible tone. I wondered how much was attributable to the harp. Turns out "some" but none of the important part.
8 posts
Jan 19, 2021
2:38 PM
I saw some YT vids by Christelle that were looked like Suzuki promos. I think that she is playing Dannecker harps now - a loss to Suzuki - no doubt since she is such a great player. She also reviewed DaBell Nobel last year and quite liked it.

I talked about Annie Raines about Manji - specifically about embouchure for "rail" geometry of traditional harp. She has no experience with Manji harps but suggested concentrating on relaxing lips to get good airtight fit. Thing is - no matter what I do there are cases when harp does not engage - I hear the air first and reed starts later. It could be because holes on Manji are probably 3/4 in size when compared with say Hohner Rocket or Special 20. So you need finer degree of precision with Manji. I do not think it necessarily reflects on Suzuki - I have their chromatic harp and it is fine instrument. Again my frame of reference are guitars - there was a time when I sold some fine instruments because they did not sound right in my hands. These days I know better how to find "sweet spot" and make guitar play right. Assuming correct setup etc.
64 posts
Jan 21, 2021
7:44 PM
My 2 cents. I have several Manji’s, and was avoiding Marine Band after reading about their quality struggles when I first started out about 5 years ago. My first harp was a Delta Frost. I bought a Marine Band online through Goodwill 2 years ago. I like it better, easier to bend, sounds very good. I have a MB Deluxe which is great, a little tougher when trying to tongue block for me. I learned as a pucker player, and am trying to tongue block more.

PS I am not an advanced level player.
9 posts
Jan 21, 2021
9:32 PM
Hey eeTechTom - I think my first harp was Hohner BluesBand - splinters in my lips... well not literally ;-) but I did not like wooden comb. So next I jump to Special 20 and I still have it - 10 years later. I am primarily guitar player so harp was always on back burner for me. But I started getting too much pain in my fretting hand several times a year now so I decided to get more serious with harmonica.
I learned to play with tongue on harp - although not really tone blocking but more channeling. You get very clean single notes - and I still do it a lot on chromatic but on diatonic it makes bending `problematic. I asked that question about it before on the forum and it seems that there is a way to bens with tongue blocking. Right now I am trying to get comfy with puckering on different harps - I have SP20 and Rocket from Hohner, couple Kongsheng Mars harps and a Manji. Manji and Kongsheng have phosphor bronze reeds. Hohners with their bronze reeds feel effortless in comparison to them. Mars is very nice but for my ears it lacks the "edge" for blues but as far as reed precision I think it is on par with Manji. And much easier to play than Manji. I keep reaching for Manji and got a bit better on it but I still produce notes that arrive on crutches - so to speak. Maybe it is just a learning curve.
I am a beginner so it is an interesting journey - I know about guitars, different wood, pickups, strings, picks, amps etc. Why certain configuration works for certain music. I just start seeing similar ideas in harmonicas - Hohners would be like low gauge strings for Strat. Easy for blues but not the greatest idea for jazz. I have d'Angelico jazz box with flat wound 13s you cannot bend those and it is not an easy instrument - requires dedication and clean, precise playing. But it is great jazz instrument.
65 posts
Jan 25, 2021
4:13 PM
Interesting comparisons to guitar. Harmonica is all I know how to play, but what you say makes sense to me. It ends up being all about personal preference, kinda like speakers in an audio system. Buy what works for you. No one else matters.
10 posts
Jan 29, 2021
10:57 PM
Well - as an update - I really started struggling against the harp. Some helpful folks on another forum directed me to Jason Ricci Manji seminar on YT. OK - I know I am not Jason but I could not locate the dividing factor when it came to basic tone production on Manji. Finally I emailed Suzuki US distributor and they directed me to their repair tech. I sent the harp - it did not come back yet - I will report if that was successful move (certainly adds to the price of the instrument).
15 posts
Mar 15, 2021
6:37 AM
I got Manji back from service. The tech guy took it apart and sanded the comb. The harp plays about the same. No giant improvement. Honestly I do not think that air leakage through comb was even an issue. I took the harp apart myself and look at the reed plate at an angle against bright background. The gap at each reed is uniform - from tip to the base of the reed. So I think that this is the main problem why the harp is so unresponsive. It literally does nothing when you blow into it until air pressure reaches sufficient level.
I have to say I am rather disappointed. Sending the harp to be serviced was a waste of money. And Suzuki US distributor pretty much ignores me when I email them. I do not think I will ever buy another Suzuki.
5 posts
Aug 22, 2021
8:14 PM
Well, I started off with Suzuki's. I didn't want to "weigh in" on this discussion, though, until I had tried some other harps. The Suzuki's I use are Bluesmasters, an Olive (a Manji with green cover plates), and a Firebreath. I have an ancient Hohner Silver Shadow (now called a Chromatic Slider, I believe), and I have since added a Hohner Blues Harp and a few Hering Master Blues.

I still find the Suzuki's easiest to play. I guess you get used to what you start off with, and what you play the most. I don't deny the issues other people here have had with Suzuki's quality, but fortunately I haven't really encountered them. I did have to break them in, though, more than the Hohner or the Herings (the two latter didn't need to be broken in at all).

The Hohner Blues Harp is a little tank: It's feels very solid and heavy. The Herings are gems and very easy to bend. My new challenge is to get up to speed on all three flavors of harp.

I do get the impression, though, that the Suzuki's are more fragile. I wah-wah'ed the 7 blow on a Bluesmaster until it bombed out a half-step lower (a quarter step lower? a 3/8 step lower? a 1 5/16 step lower? anyway, I messed it up). The next day the 6 blow on my old Hohner Silver Shadow stopped.

If the 5 blow on any harp had gone out the day after that I was prepared to take holy orders, join a cult, or strap a "The End is Near" sign to my fanny and walk around downtown.

I was able to clean the Hohner and get it working in spite of the fact that the comb was cracked in two, but the reed on the Suzuki didn't come back.

In terms of sound, I love them all, but I'm not picky, and I've been told I don't have a good ear. I can tune-a-fish,...
277 posts
Nov 17, 2021
11:49 PM
I thought this was an interesting post because of the range of experiences. When I met Christelle (2009?) I believe she was repping for Seydel. Allegiances change when the product is free.

I played Hohner for a long time and the MB quality went down. Now, Hohner seems to be able to provide some higher priced quality products. Seydel 1847? They play fine and can be a workhorse but the tone is different (always noticed by and bothered my guitar player, not me).

Now I only play Suzuki Manjis. I've never found them hard to play. Admittedly, I do send mine off to Gary Lehmann (Gnarly), Suzuki technician, to retune to "compromise just" tuning - my personal preference because it's so even.

One difficulty with harmonicas is that in this age of technology and precision machinery you (reasonably) expect a harmonica will play right out-of-the-box. And often, they don't. And, maybe different harps fit each of us at different points in our journey.
7 posts
Nov 26, 2021
11:55 AM
Yeah,...well, I finally got burned with a Suzuki. I had an E Firebreath which plays great, so I got a B. The B has the exact same issue with air resistance mentioned earlier by others on this post on the 3 blow, which is highly annoying given that this was not a cheap harp.

To be fair, my A Hohner Blues Harp has a similar issue on the 3 blow and 5 blow when it gets hot, but less often.

These manufacturers tout "air tightness" with these harps. I'm wondering if I should ditch worrying about the importance of such at my level of ability, and just go with $20-$40 harps. The cheaper, Herings, Suzukis, and Kong Shengs have their own issues, but not with air resistance. Even if reeds warble a bit or aren't tuned really well, I can play the crap out them, then just replace them when a reed finally gives up the ghost. And, if a cheap harp is truly unplayable on purchase, I'm not out that much.
279 posts
Dec 14, 2021
12:10 AM
Jansman - If you have a problem with a harp I believe you can contact Gary Lehmann (Gnarly on Modern Blues Harmonica) presuming he’s still the Suzuki USA repair technician. He can resolve problems and improve playability.
10381 posts
Dec 16, 2021
11:58 AM
I've only got one Manji, key of E. It plays great- caveat, I got it second hand from Brandon Bailey and he'd set it up for OBs. So, I can't say how good they are out of the box, but I can say that with some gapping they can be great harps.

Just from an aesthetic perspective I understand that the stabilized wood isn't going to have swelling problems, but dying it black (like some other models) or other colors it might look sharper.

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8 posts
Dec 18, 2021
11:09 AM
BnT - thanks for the reference to Gary Lehmann. I will look him up about fixing that harp.
7028 posts
Dec 20, 2021
6:58 PM
I have already said about everything I have to say about Suzuki harps, in my first couple of posts. I haven’t had great experiences but I think it’s true that you are much more likely to hear about the negative experiences online. Obviously the majority of harmonicas produced by Suzuki are very good.

I wanted to comment on BnT’s remark about different harps for different stages, because I really believe that’s true. I suppose it’s 40 years I’ve been messing with harps, but probably only 20 of those have been relevant.
There was a time when I got into working on harps, doing repairs and setups for people, tuning, really working on my skills in that way. I’ve seen some people say they don’t have time to work on harps because they see it as time away from practice.
By all means, don’t work on harps of you don’t want to, but the ‘time better spent practicing’ reason was not my experience.

There were certain things that working on harps led me to practice in a far more effective way than I was likely to do otherwise.
Some of that is just me and how I get motivated. I could have practiced these things without the context of harp repair but the repair angle is what motivated me to do it.
For example, when you’ve repaired a harp, maybe you replaced a broken reed, the second last job is to tune the harp. In my Philosophy, you can’t simply tune the new reed, you have to place it in context and that means tuning the entire harp.
This focuses the mind on the notes of the harp, for one thing. You learn the layout because you are constantly aware of the note names of the reeds you are tuning and the key of the harp. But also, you have to tune the octaves and maybe some other splits, and the only real way to do that is to be able to play them. And you have to play them clean. Of course you can practice this anyway, but when you have a client waiting to get their harps back and there’sa half dozen to tune, believe me that’s quite a lot of octave solid playing practice. It is really good for focus too.

I’ve digressed but what I’ve wanted to say was how when I was doing this work I had money and inclination to buy a few custom harps from various top line builders, and I also got to repair some great custom harps and learn about their playing qualities.

For a while I became very fussy about the harps I would play.

These days however I find I am usually quite happy to play stock harps. I’m not sure what happened but I suspect that through all that playing of customs and playing harps that could use a bit of a touch up (which I always try to do when someone sends me a harp; I’ve like to send them back a much better harp in more ways than simply repairing the broken reed) I have just become less worried about it. I think you learn to adapt quickly.
Oh, also, maybe the main thing, is that I think playing really responsive harps helped me learn to lower my breath force. Even though I thought I was not a hard blower I have learned that I can get lower. I started fixing harps because I was breaking them and oddly enough the process of repairing has led me to play better and stop breaking them. It’s4 years now since I last broke a hohner reed.
156 posts
Jun 07, 2022
7:43 AM
Long time beginner here.
I play Manjis exclusively as I believe you get used to what you get used to and that becomes normal. So I researched a good quality harp and bought a set of Manjis and have been picking bargains up here and there for a long time now.
So Manjis are 'normal' for me. I like 'em.

On the 'Rail' problem: If you leave out the front (near your mouth) centre screw holding the reedplate to the comb you can slide the comb to a more comfortable position and then tighten everything down. All the other holes are slotted. Much more comfortable.

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