Hohner Special 20 Marine Band and Progressive Series Reed Plate Compatibility
As I mentioned in a previous post, there exist two versions of the Hohner Special 20 – the older Marine Band series harp and the Progressive series model. This can make things slightly confusing when purchasing replacement reed plates, as there are differences that hinder compatibility.
How do I Know Which Special 20 I Own?
This question is pretty easy to answer – if it has ‘Marine Band’ embossed on the top cover plate, as in the picture below, it’s the older style Marine Band Special 20.
If it has “Progressive’ embossed on the top cover plates then it’s the newer – you guessed it! – Progressive Series model.
What’s the Big Difference?
The Special 20 was moved to the Progressive Series in 2015, and this did make sense; other Marine Band models featured wooden combs, whilst the Special 20 was always an outlier with its recessed reed plates and ABS comb. The only major revision to the harp that wasn’t purely cosmetic was the addition of extra holes to accommodate the Rocket with which it shares a reed plate design. Tone wise, you’d be hard pressed to tell the older and newer harmonicas apart.
Replacing Reed Plates
If you have the older model you can still use the new reed plates (in fact Hohner no longer manufactures Marine Band Special 20 reed plates) you just need the TM99200 screws, which you can order by dropping us an email.
Installation should be no harder than with any other reed plates and you’ll soon have your Marine Band Special 20 back to playing at its best!
Hohner Progressive Series Harmonicas – Which One Should I Buy?
Like many large companies, Hohner sometimes lets its marketing department get a little carried away. Witness the creation of the MS Series, which was a direct reaction to the modular nature of the Lee Oskar range, yet which now includes so much product overlap that it has become bewildering to most customers. I have yet to ascertain, for example, why Hohner created the Juke Harp within this range, when it already has two existing MS models that are virtually identical in construction, and which utilise the same comb and reed plates (namely the Big River and Pro Harp).
Thankfully, the Progressive Series is a little more logical in its range of models. Let’s take a look at them and explain the main differences between the five constituent harmonicas.
Originally part of the Marine Band Series, the Special 20 became a Progressive Series harmonica in 2015. Contrary to popular opinion, there were no major changes to the harmonica itself as part of this move; the updates were related only to aesthetics and the position of the screw holes for the reed plates. However, as mentioned in a previous blog post on here, there did seem to be something of a dip in quality across Hohner harmonicas around this time, which may account for people thinking that the Progressive Series changes were responsible for the Special 20 playing and sounding slightly worse.
The good news is that this harp is now back to its best quality wise, and it is now my number one recommendation for players looking for a durable, great sounding harp that is good enough for professional use, but is still remarkably affordable.
One thing to note is that the Special 20 is also available in country tuning – indicated by the letters ‘ct’ engraved on the top cover plate, and a ‘country’ sticker on the box. Country tuning is a modification of Richter, with the 5th draw reed raised a semitone. This is useful for country music, but most players should choose the standard Richter tuned version, which is more suitable for blues and folk styles.
Buy if… You want an inexpensive, durable, German-made harmonica that sounds great for most musical styles.
Don’t buy if… You like the feel and tone of a wood comb; you need minor tunings.
If you happened to read Hohner’s original marketing material at the launch of the Rocket (no pun intended!) you’d be forgiven for thinking that Hohner had cured cancer and simultaneously brought about wold peace, such was the level of hyperbole. The reality was (and still is) that the Rocket is merely a much nicer, louder version of the Special 20.
The main improvements over the Special 20 are a comb with rounded edges, which is much more pleasant to hold, bigger slots for increased volume, and greater airtightness from the use of additional screws attaching the reed plates to the comb. The latter is, perhaps, the most important feature, making the Rocket more responsive than the Special 20, facilitating bends and overblows.
Buy if… You like the sound and feel of the Special 20, but want a bit more volume and responsiveness.
Don’t buy if… You’re particularly parsimonious, as it costs a little bit more than its stablemate.
Designed specifically for amplified use, the Rocket Amp shares reed plates, comb design and its basic shape with the standard Rocket; the only differences are the colour of the comb (green) and the lack of side vents, meaning that all of the sound is projected out of the front of the harp. For some reason known only to Hohner, it costs significantly more than the standard Rocket, despite being virtually identical. I guess the guy who makes the non vented cover plates must just be on a higher salary than the one who makes the vented plates!
Buy if… You like the Rocket but play mainly amped up
The Rocket Low continues Hohner’s policy of charging a premium for low tuned harmonicas (witness the price difference between the Crossover and Thunderbird, for example). Looks and feel are pretty much identical to the standard Rocket, but everything is an octave or so lower. Unlike Hohner’s Thunderbird, you don’t get fancy asymmetric cover plates to allow more space for the lowest reed plates to vibrate without touching metal, but then again, the Rocket Low isn’t offered in the lowest of keys – just Low C to Low F.
Like all low tuned harmonicas, this is not a harp that will bend easily in the lower range, but that’s not it’s raison d’etre. What you do get is a nice, clear, loud tone that’s far less squeaky at the top end than standard tuned harmonicas.
Buy if… You like deep, bassy harp sounds and don’t need a wide range of keys.
Don’t buy if… You like bending notes all over the place
Finally we arrive at the odd one out in the Progressive Series – a strange, 50s Americana- inspired harmonica, which is also the only Hohner diatonic that’s tuned to equal temperament (read more about this here). Many players love this harp, especially for single note playing, but it’s safe to say that its looks have always been a little divisive.
This perhaps explains why Hohner has recently discontinued the Golden Melody, and is due to launch a replacement model with the same name (and temperament), in 2023. Initial expectations are that it will more closely resemble the aesthetics of the other harps in the Progressive range, which should help to improve its popularity.
Buy if… You like playing single note melodies
Don’t buy if… You focus on chords; you dislike the ‘Streamliner’ aesthetic.
Harmonicas come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s possible to play some semblance of the blues on virtually any type of harp. However, when most people think of a ‘blues harmonica’ they are generally picturing a ten hole diatonic, usually with a wooden comb, that will closely resemble something like Hohner’s Marine Band. It doesn’t have to be exactly like this, though, and in this article we’ll look at different approaches to the design of a diatonic harp, and how this determines which individual models are more or less suitable for the blues genre.
The first thing to get out of the way is tradition. Just because most of the famous blues harmonica players from the 1950s onwards used versions of the Hohner Marine Band with 7 limit just intonation and unsealed wood combs, it doesn’t mean that this is the ultimate harmonica for playing the blues. Aside from the fact that there are very few extant and still playable harmonicas of this kind, the exact choice of this harmonica by these players was more a case of expediency rather than the instruments themselves having some sort of mystical qualities. There really wasn’t much choice in the harmonica world in the 1950s and 1960s, so players generally played what was readily available.
This said, the Marine Band range is still an excellent starting point for those looking for a blues harmonica. Although it’s tempting to pick the traditional 1896 model from this range, I feel that this particular harmonica does tend to suffer from warping in the long run, making it uncomfortable to play (unless, of course, you’re a very ‘dry’ player, or are meticulous with your cleaning and drying routine). Instead, I would opt for the more expensive, but extremely expressive and similarly styled Crossover. This features a silky smooth and swell-free bamboo comb, but has the same traditional proportions and styling as the original Marine Band.
As mentioned earlier, though, it’s not obligatory to use a wood comb traditional style harmonica for the blues; many more modern designs have ABS or metal combs and still sound great. Examples of these are Hohner’s Special 20, with its plastic comb, and alloy comb varieties like Seydels’ 1847 Noble and Suzuki’s Promaster. Contrary to popular opinion, comb material makes relatively little difference to tone, and many of the metal comb harps’ tones have been described as ‘warm’ when we’ve completed blind tests. Similarly, whilst many traditionalists favour the sound of brass reeds for blues playing, this hasn’t been borne out when we’ve conducted back to back tests, such as in this video comparing Suzuki models with brass and bronze reeds.
For a raspy and loud harp that lends itself well to blues playing, especially when amplified, I would recommend the Hohner Rocket Amp. This features the same reed plates as the Special 20, but a nicer shaped comb with holes that are designed to produce more volume. The Amp version dispenses with the side vents of the standard Rocket, which means all the sound goes into the mic, helping to overdrive a nice tube amp and giving that classic distorted blues sound.
If you’re willing to shun tradition, and the Richter tuning system entirely, there are several harmonicas that feature alternate tunings that make playing blues licks more intuitive. Hohner’s recent Pentaharp model provides easy access to the pentatonic scale in a way that will make it feel particularly familiar to guitarists. Brendan Power’s PowerBender and PowerDraw tunings (available on his own models and on some Seydel harmonicas) gives easier access to notes that you typically bend in the blues. In a similar vein, Seydel’s Wilde Rock tuning makes guitar-style blues licks much easier to achieve on the harmonica. Whilst some traditionalists will turn their noses up at such tunings, it’s worth remembering that the Richter tuning itself was never designed for blues – it was created originally to facilitate the playing of German ‘oom-pah’ music – and it has some shortcomings, not least of which is that access to full chromaticism via bending isn’t possible without mastering the difficult technique of overblowing.
There are some harmonicas, though, that just won’t be suitable for the blues. Generally, anything with ‘octave’ or ‘tremolo’ in the title will mean that the harp features an extra set of reed plates, tuned an octave lower or slightly higher than the standard reed plates, respectively. This makes bending problematic, even before the different tuning schemes are taken into account, and consequently renders them unsuitable for most blues playing.
As ever, though, the best blues harp is really the one with which you, personally, feel most comfortable when playing the blues.
In almost all sports, areas of interest or hobbies, the question of who or what is the best or greatest is both perennial and ubiquitous. Who’s the greatest Formula 1 driver/footballer/athlete/guitarist? What is the best car? Who’s the best songwriter? These questions can be found on many forums and social media sites, cropping up with surprising regularity and sometimes causing feuds between those of differing opinions that deteriorate into laughably vitriolic arguments over what are ultimately subjective opinions.
The world of harmonicas is no different in this respect, so the question, ‘what is the best brand of harmonica?’ is largely meaningless given the inherent subjectiveness of desirable qualities such as tone and feel. However, it is possible to apply some objective criteria, such as tuning, tuning stability and durability, to this question, and pick out the proverbial wheat from the chaff.
In terms of country of manufacture, Germany and Japan are still, in my opinion, the best. China has some manufacturers, such as Easttop and Kongsheng, that are capable of producing extremely well made harmonicas, but the quality control is not always 100%. There are other Chinese manufacturers, such as Swan, that make harmonicas that every now and again a customer will rave about being exceptionally good for the money, but this opinion will always be balanced by other customers who’ve bought the same harmonica and have been seriously unimpressed.
To summarise: Chinese manufacturers have improved dramatically in the last 10 years, but, unlike other areas of Chinese manufacturing, they are still lagging behind the Germans and Japanese.
Looking at the main manufacturers, then, we are left with Hohner, Seydel, Suzuki and Tombo (manufacturer of Lee Oskar) – all of which are based in either Japan or Germany. Some may wish to add Brazilian manufacturer Hering to this list, but both quality and supply have been patchy of late, making it difficult to recommend them.
Choosing a ‘best brand’ from these manufacturers is somewhat akin to deciding whether Gibson or Fender make the better guitars; it is largely a result of personal preference. However, some characteristics do stand out: Suzuki chromatics are outstandingly well made, and represent exceptional value for money; Hohner excels with popular 10 hole diatonics such as the Crossover and Special 20, as does Tombo with its Lee Oskar range; and, lastly, Seydel make exceptionally durable diatonics and chromatics that will sound great for years.
One other thing to note is that Japanese made harps tend to be tuned to equal temperament, whereas German harmonicas are more likely to be in a compromised tuning. This means that those who play mainly single note melodies rather than chords are more likely to favour the purer sound of Japanese harmonica. Conversely, if you prefer to mix chords and single notes, a German made compromise tuning harmonica will provide better results.
All this being said, however, I do have a personal favourite brand. It is a completely subjective opinion, but if I had to choose one brand of harmonica to use for the rest of my life, Suzuki would narrowly edge it, ahead of Seydel and Hohner.
As ever, any questions or comments, please drop us a line in the comments section below.
Harmonica Construction and its Effects on Sound and Feel
The harmonica isn’t a particularly complicated instrument, especially in diatonic form: essentially it’s not much more than two sets of vibrating reeds, a comb and a pair of metal cover plates. This apparent simplicity does, however, belie a wealth of differences between specific models and manufacturers. Let’s take a look at some of these differences and their effects on the sound and feel of the instrument.
Recessed or Sandwiched Comb
Take a look at Hohner’s current Marine Band 1896 Classic and compare it to a Marine Band from 50 or 75 years ago. They don’t look very different, do they? Sure, there are small variations in the the type of wood used for the comb (peachwood was eventually replaced with pearwood) and the cover plate material (nickel plated mild steel versus stainless steel), but the overall design, with two reed plates sandwiching a wood comb, with the edges of the plates exposed, is essentially identical. And this is the way all diatonic harmonicas were constructed for many years. Then, along came the Hohner Special 20, and everything changed.
The main innovation featured on the Special 20 is the injection moulded comb. This makes it completely swell resistant, but, perhaps more importantly, allows for greater manipulation of the shape of the comb than can be achieved with wood. This opened up the possibility of recessing the reed plates into the comb itself, resulting in a much smoother mouthpiece than traditional sandwich style harmonicas. In practical terms, this makes it easier to move quickly around the harmonica, with less irritation of the lips and, as a beneficial side effect, allows the harmonica to be more beard-friendly.
Of course, some players dispute the validity of these benefits; a quick search on any of the main harmonica forums will yield plenty of comments from players extolling the virtues of sandwich harps, and decrying those who claim that they’re harder or less comfortable to play. From a personal point of view, I do find the smooth surface of a Special 20 or Session Steel to be much quicker than, say, a Marine Band, but this can be partially obviated by disassembly of the harp, followed by careful positioning of the reed plates so that they are more flush with the comb. As ever, you pay your money and…you know the rest.
Vents or no Vents
Side vents on the cover plates are a feature of many harmonicas, including the Hohner Marine Band and Big River and the Suzuki Manji. In theory, they should allow more acoustic volume, but this is somewhat debatable; a quick, and wholly unscientific test with a Fender Blues Deville, a noise meter and some tape to block the side vents, revealed that there was very little difference in volume with them blocked or open. However, it does appear to have a small influence on tone: with the vents open the harmonica was brighter; with closed the vents it had a more muted, darker tone.
Of course, it’s possible to block and unblock the vents with your hands whilst playing, which you could argue makes a vented harmonica more appealing, as it provides the player with more potential to add colour to their performance. However, some players – especially those with smaller hands – may find this technique difficult or impossible. My advice is to try both types and see whether you have a preference.
I’ve already covered comb material in a previous post, which you can find here, but it’s worth summarising some of the findings from that article. In short, alloy combs are brighter, unsealed pearwood combs have what many players would describe as the ‘best’ sound, albeit with the attendant disadvantages of the wood swelling, and plastic sits somewhere in the middle.
Ultimately, comb material has a fairly small influence on overall tone; the reeds, and, most significantly, the player, will have a far greater effect on the final sound than whether it is fitted with a wood, alloy or plastic comb.
Unlike combs and cover plates, there’s a fairly small range of materials that are suitable for producing reeds with. Most manufacturers use brass, although Suzuki, and some of the more expensive harps from Chinese manufacturers such as Easttop, use phosphor bronze, and Seydel uses stainless steel for all but a small number of its harmonicas.
There is plenty of (often conflicting) anecdotal evidence about the relative advantages and disadvantages of specific reed materials, but few hard facts. In my experience, having sold thousands of harmonicas from all of the major players, phosphor bronze and stainless steel reeds usually last longer than brass reeds. I say ‘usually’, because there will always be a story on the harp forums of one player who blew out a stainless steel or phosphor bronze reed in the first two minutes of using their new harp. The moral here, is that some players just ask too much of their instrument too quickly, and no currently available material will be a panacea for that sort of abuse.
Tone differences are less debatable; stainless steel reeds are usually brighter sounding than brass, with phosphor bronze sitting somewhere in the middle.
As ever, try a few harps out and see which ones best fit your own personal preferences.
Chromatic harmonicas may not be as popular as their diatonic siblings, but there’s still a large variety of makes and models available. In this article we choose our top 5 chromatic harmoncias, across a range of price points.
The CX12’s looks may not be to everyone’s tastes – harmonica players are often traditionalists when it comes to aesthetics, after all – but there are no doubts about its ergonomics or tone. The plastic casing is lip-friendly and is designed to enable tool-free removal of the reed plate/comb module for cleaning and general maintenance.
Skeptics may point to the extensive use of ABS in the CX12’s construction as a sign that the tone would be inferior to a wood/metal harmonica, but a quick play soon dispels any of these reservations. The CX12 has a smooth, clear and deep sound that belies its appearance.
The Symphony 64 is Seydel’s top line chromatic harmonica and has a number of features that really make it stand out from the crowd. Two versions are available – ACRYL and ALU – which differ in their comb material (acrylic and alloy, respectively) and mouthpiece profile. Both are supplied with a heatable hard case, which is designed to ensure that the Symphony is at the ideal temperature for playing immediately prior to use.
In common with the majority of Seydel’s harmonicas, the Symphony 64 features German silver reed plates with stainless steel reeds. These provide a clear and bright tone and are exceptionally durable.
It may be fairly expensive, but the Symphony 64 outperforms some very high end harmonicas that are almost double its price.
Suzuki’s SCX-48 is one of the first harmonicas to which we direct customers who are seeking a professional level chromatic without wishing to break the bank. Build quality is second to none and the phopshor bronze reeds combine exceptional responsiveness with a sweet tone and superb durability. An absolute bargain in all of its iterations (12, 14 and 16 holes, denoted by the 48, 56 and 64 suffixes, respectively).
Although the £100 price point will get you a very high end diatonic, chromatics are more complex, and thus, more expensive, beasts, meaning that this is really the entry point for a quality German or Japanese made instrument. Thankfully, Hohner’s Discovery 48 is a real bargain, coming in at just under three figures. Reed plates are shared with the long-running Chromonica 48, but the Discovery differs in that it utilises a plastic comb and bolted, rather than nailed construction. These differences, in our eyes at least, make the Discovery the better harmonica, despite its being considerably cheaper than the Chromonica. Changing reed plates and general cleaning is much easier without having to deal with nails, and the plastic comb is completely swell resistant.
Several customers have bought Discoveries as spares to be used when they have problems with their main, far more expensive chromatics, but have found that they actually love the sound and feel of this moderately priced harp.
The Amadeus is the most expensive harmonica on this list, at close to four figures, but it is widely regarded as one of the world’s best chromatic harmonicas, and the equal of instruments like the uber-pricy Silver concerto, which are many times its price.
Browse the internet and harmonica forums for reviews of harps and you’ll often find a range of opinions. Some harmonicas will be described as amazing and awful by two different players. The Amadeus is, perhaps, unique in that there are no dissenters; all reviews are unanimous in their praise for this instrument.
Hohner has a rather bewildering array of harmonicas in its range, many of which seem remarkably similar to each other. In this post we’re going to look at the Hohner Rocket, and the Special 20; both harmonicas that are ostensibly very similar and seem to occupy the same space in the market. So, what are the differences, and which one is better for you?
The Special 20 has been around for many years now, and was the first production diatonic harmonica with an ABS comb, obviating the problems associated with harmonicas like the Marine Band whose combs had an aversion to water similar to that of the Wicked Witch of the West.
The Special 20 occupied a rather awkward position in the Marine Band range for much of its life, given that its modern design had little in common with siblings like the 1896 Classic. Hohner eventually moved it to the Progressive range in 2014, alongside the new Rocket, Rocket Amp and Golden Melody lines, to much wailing from harmonica traditionalists who asserted that the new Progressive Special 20 was inferior to the old Marine Band model. In reality, the only change was the addition of a couple of screw holes to the reed plates in order to make them interchangeable with those of the Rocket (more on this later), but this simple truth hasn’t prevented many players perpetuating the myth that Progressive Series Special 20s are inferior to their predecessors in some obvious, but apparently unquantifiable ways. I suspect that the origin of this myth lies in a dip in build quality during early production runs of the Progressive Series Special 20s.
Differences and Similarities
Remove the Rocket from the confusingly-similar-to-a-Special 20 packaging and you’ll find a harmonica that shares the Special 20s external dimensions. The main differences are slightly larger holes in the comb, which are designed to create greater volume, a matte grey comb with rounded edges, which feels more expensive than the rather cheap looking shiny item on the Special 20, and a vent on the each side of the cover plates.
Open up the harp and there are fewer differences. The reed plates are fundamentally identical to those in the Special 20 (to the extent that Rocket reed plates will fit Special 20 harps); the only significant difference is the addition of extra holes on the Rocket reed plates, which are all utilised by the harp itself. The result is greater air tightness, as the Rocket is held together in a greater number of places.
Despite these small differences, the wholesale price of the Rocket reed plates is around 10% more than the Special 20 ones, which is reflected in the retail pricing. I’ve yet to ascertain the reasoning behind this, other than the fact that drilling the additional screw holes incurs some additional costs.
The comb itself has the same dimensions as the Special 20, but the rear cover plate support posts are beefier, to help mitigate against potential crushing.
The main effect of all of these changes is to produce a brighter sounding, and much louder, harmonica than the Special 20. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that if acoustic volume is important to you, the Rocket should be at the top of your list of potential harmonicas.
In other respects it remains identical to the Special 20 – bends are easy (perhaps even easier for beginners, as the holes are slightly bigger and make hitting single notes a simpler affair when starting out) and the general tone is bright and clear.
Which One Should I Buy?
For most players the Rocket is the better choice. It’s only slightly more expensive than the Special 20, but has a nicer feel in the hands, is louder and a little more airtight and durable.
Of course, the Special 20 is still a great harmonica, and if you’re on a tight budget and want a complete set of harmonicas the savings over the Special 20 become more significant. It’s also worth noting that, unlike the Rocket, the Special 20 is available in country tunings, although the Rocket fights back by having low tuning options that are not available for the Special 20.
As ever, feel free to ask questions in the comments section below.
Unlike instruments like guitars, where a lack of cleaning will have few effects on playability or functionality, at least in the short term, harmonicas by their very nature require regular cleaning. Follow our guide to ensure that you know how to clean a harmonica in the correct way.
This process should be part of your regular routine of instrument cleaning, as it’s simple and quick, and will help to limit saliva buildup in the harp.
Rinse the harmonica with lukewarm water, then tap it against your hand, with the mouthpiece facing down, to remove any residual water. Leave it out to dry thoroughly afterwards.
NOTE: this step only applies to harmonicas with plastic, alloy or heavily sealed combs. Harmonicas with limited or no sealing on the comb (such as the HohnerMarine Band Classic) should not be subjected to this step, but should be cleaned with a soft, dry brush
This process is more involved than washing, and involves disassembling your harmonica, so should be performed after a significantly greater number of playing hours than the washing process.
First remove the screws holding down the cover plate with the appropriate screwdriver. Keep these in a safe place. Clean the cover plates with an alcohol spray and a clean cloth.
Soak the reed plates from about 30 minutes in a solution of lukewarm water and a few drops of vinegar or citric acid.
Whilst the reed plates are soaking, wash your metal or plastic comb with soap and lukewarm water and brush any deposits off with a soft brush. If your harp has a wooden comb avoid using water or soap – just use the dry brush to clean it.
Once the reed plates have soaked for a sufficient time, brush them with a soft toothbrush or similar implement, ensuring that your brush strokes are up and down the reeds, not across them. Rinse with water then dry.
Dry all of the components thoroughly and reassemble, making sure that you tighten the screws sufficiently to ensure airtightness, but not so tight that you risk damage.
This process works for diatonic, tremolo and octave harps. Chromatics are slightly more involved, so these will be covered in a separate post.
As ever, any questions or suggestions, just drop us a line via the comments section or by email.
Mention the name Hohner to the average non-musician and they’ll probably have some dim recollection of it being a musical instrument manufacturer. Those with more than a passing interest in Dylan or the blues will connect it with the harmonica in some way (although they’ll probably use the now slightly archaic phrase ‘mouth organ’ in their answer). Others will incorrectly conflate it with the near homonym ‘Hofner’ and talk about awful violin-shaped basses, that, despite their ugliness and poor tone, changed the face of modern music in the hands of Paul McCartney. The point is, most will have some awareness of the Hohner brand, despite it being, like a nightclub I once encountered in Phuket, which proudly proclaimed itself as the ‘second best nightclub on the island’, the second oldest harmonica manufacturer.
The title of the oldest harmonica manufacturer, or, at least, oldest extant one, actually lies with Seydel, or to give it its full, and suitably Germanic title, CA Seydel and Sönne, which has a good ten years’ seniority over its compatriot and chief rival. Despite this, it remains a brand familiar to few outside of the immediate harmonica community. In fact, even fairly keen harmonica players are sometimes unaware of Seydel’s history, which can lead to them favouring the default producer that is Hohner.
So, how did a company that had a significant head start on what is now the market leader lose out? The answer lies in an interesting history that takes in politics, World War 2 and a considerable amount of poor luck.
The Seydel family were originally miners in Saxony. When this activity ceased to be cost effective, the brothers Johaan and Christian Seydel began to make musical instruments, eventually leading to their being approved by the court of Untersachsenberg as harmonica manufacturers (these being the days when doing anything other than scraping a living in subsistence agriculture seemed to require official approval from some court or other).
Expansion continued with the incorporation of Christian’s sons into the business, who, unlike many heirs to industrial revolution era manufacturing companies, didn’t gamble or drink away the fortunes made by their parents. In fact, with their connections to North America, they significantly increased sales for the company, to the extent that by the start of the 20th Century Seydel harmonicas were being sold in most developed countries.
The Great Depression
Between the wars Seydel suffered quite badly, as did many similar companies, as world demand for consumer products dropped in the wake of the Great Depression. They did, however, find a burgeoning market in Australia, where gimmickry (a boomerang shaped harmonica), a partnerhip with a major music retailer, and some rather suspect, albeit, of-its-time, marketing (‘King Billy’ – a crude aboriginal, harmonica-playing character) led to unexpectedly high sales.
Post War Blues
After the Second World War, Seydel was in the unfortunate position of finding its manufacturing facilities on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. East Germany (or the German Democratic Republic, as it was then rather spuriously known given that it was a communist dictatorship) had something of an inferiority complex. West Germany was close enough that inhabitants of the GDR could pick up its radio and TV signal and see the array of consumer products that were available to their decadent western neighbours. The GDR needed to compete, and it did so by nationalising and merging companies, then decreeing exactly what they should produce for the citizens of the country.
And so Seydel was absorbed into the snappily titled ‘VEB Klingenthal Harmonica Works’ – a sort of communist harmonica version of British Leyland, which did for harmonicas what BL did for cars in the 1970s (for those of you unaware of the horrors of the BL era, do a quick search for ‘Austin Allegro’ or ‘Austin Princess’). For those of a curious nature, Seydel harmonicas from this era regularly appear on online auction sites, often at bewilderingly high prices, given that significantly better vintage Hohner equivalents usually fetch about half the price. One can only assume that GDR aficionados are responsible for these inflated values, as the tone and build quality of these harmonicas, which were usually produced under the Bandmaster brand, is fairly poor.
The Wall Comes Down
It wasn’t until well after the Berlin Wall had come down and David Hasselhoff had vacated the number one spot in the West German singles chart with the soft rock awfulness of ‘Looking for Freedom’ that the Seydel facilities were handed back to the original family. The only problems with this were that the family hadn’t been involved in the industry for 50 or so years and the tooling and designs of harmonicas being produced were somewhat antiquated. Despite this, with the help of the works manager, Karl Pucholt, who designed a new harmonica around a Special 20 style plastic comb, and identified niches, such as custom tunings, Seydel began to be taken seriously again. Not seriously enough, however, to avoid insolvency in 2004.
Fortunately, the company soon found new owners in the shape of Niama Media, who placed Klingenthal native, Lars Seifert in charge, leading to a significant turnaround in Seydel’s fortunes. Today, the company operates as a small, dynamic team, with a focus on the quality end of the harmonica market. One of their particular USPs is the use of stainless steel reeds in many of their products. These tend to last longer than the more commonly used brass reeds, and provide their harps with a distinctive sound and feel.
To view the complete range of Seydel harmonicas, including diatonics, chromatics, tremolos and octaves, please click here
Watch as Jonathan Prestige of The Harmonica Company talks about how to disassemble the Hohner CX12 Harmonica
The Hohner CX12 black is the standard version of the CX12 harmonica and comes in a sleek black case with reed plates of standard thickness. It features all the amazing characteristics of the CX system at a great value and is available in several keys, including C Tenor. The CX12 is the chromatic harp for all rock, pop and jazz players.