Hohner Special 20 Versus Rocket
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.