Thursday, January 5, 2012

Hohner: Mixed Emotions

It has been one year since my Open Letter To Hohner post.  Due to the horrible treatment of the classic Old Standby model - making it a cheap Chinese made toy after generations of being a fine German made instrument - and the changing of the Blues Harp model into an interchangeable part of the MS series, as well as outrageous price increases, I thought I was done with Hohner.  For a few years, I have tried other brands of harmonicas, in hopes to replace Hohner as my brand of choice.

I tried Japanese made Lee Oskar harmonicas, probably the brand second only to Hohner in popularity.  Its a good harp, and many pros swear it is the most durable harp on the market. But I found the sound to be a little of the tinny side.  I think Oskars can be compared to an electric guitar without an amplifier.  Since I am just a hobbyist, and don't play harp amplified, the Oskar doesn't have the full rich sound of the Hohner.

I tried Huang Harmonicas.  Of all the Chinese made harps, they are probably the best in quality.  They are low priced, and the Huang Star Performer is a great harp to mess around with.  But even so, its still a weak quality Chinese made harp, and not top drawer material.  Furthermore, I had a Star Performer from the 1990s, and a newer one from a couple years ago, and you can tell the quality has gone down slightly.

I tried Johnson Blues King, another cheap Chinese made harp, that was pretty decent, and only cost $2.  But it only lasted less than a year.

I tried Hering, made in Brazil.  The Hering Vintage is a harp I thought would beat the Hohner Marine Band by a mile.  It has a traditional look, with antique color cover plates, has a bee's wax sealed wood comb, and is well built and heavy.  I thought,  "this is it. This is the one!"  But then I played it, and it has an even thinner sound than the Oskar, and is also low in volume.

I tried the Bushman Delta Frost (which is a re branded Japanese made Suzuki Bluesmaster, sold at a lower price). Having phosphor bronze reeds instead of brass, it has a slightly grittier sound that I liked.  Good volume and tone. But Bushman is an unreliable company that has trouble filling orders. A second one I tried to buy never arrived.  I doubt Bushman will be around for the long haul. Paying the extra $7 to get an actual Suzuki Bluesmaster would be the better way to go, but the experience kind of soured me on the whole thing for now.

Finally I tried a Seydel Blues Session. Seydel is a German harp company that is actually older than Hohner.  The Blues Session is a good harp, comes in a leather sleeve, which I like, instead of the bulky hard plastic cases most other harps come in (I really miss the soft leatherette snap cases Hohner used to have in the 1980s).  The Blues Session sounds good.  But not quite the richness of a Hohner.

So, for better or worse, its back to Hohner.  It has a sound no other harmonica brand can duplicate.  Even their cheap Chinese made harps, as bad as the quality is, even though they last only a few months, still have that great Hohner sound. I'm guessing I'll probably rotate between Special 20s and Marine Bands or MS Blues Harps.  But I still really wish Hohner would upgrade the Old Standby.  If you look at the Marine Band series, it has every model, except a low priced model comparable to the MS series' Big River Harp. The Old Standby should be returned to its original design, made in Germany, and sold at a low price to be the Marine Band series' low price entry.

Come on, Hohner! Fix the Old Standby!

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