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
Don’t buy if… You never use a mic
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.