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Hohner Special 20 vs Lee Oskar Major Diatonic

Hohner's Special 20 may have been the first commercially available diatonic with a plastic comb and recessed reed plates, but it was Lee Oskar's line of modular harmonicas, which includes the Major Diatonic, that really popularised this type of harp. The ability to swap reed different reed plate tunings between harmonicas, which Lee Oskar effectively made standard, also led to Hohner creating the MS range, which includes the Blues Harp, Pro Harp and Meisterklasse. But which brand and harmonica is best for you? Read on and we'll help you to choose.

Both harmonicas share fairly similar aesthetics, and are light in the hand. The plastic combs of both are durable and swell free, and each is comfortable to hold and play. They're both relatively small harmonicas, but they're robust and well made, and the cover plates won't be squashed easily by players who cup their harps tight.

In terms of temperament, the Hohner has a compromised tuning, not a million miles away from the other diatonics in the German company's range (bar the Golden Melody, which is tuned to equal temperament. The Lee Oskar, like most Japanese harps (Lee Oskars are made by Tombi in Japan) is tuned to equal temperament, which makes it slightly more suited to single note runs, rather than chords. However, the differences in temperament are slight, and many players won't notice a significant difference between the intonation of either harp, unless they have a very finely tuned ear.

Both harmonicas occupy a price point around the £33 mark, and both also have replacement reedplates available, for when a reed breaks or goes flat. The Lee Oskar's reed plates are slightly cheaper than the Special 20's, but this is partially offset by the fact that, in our experience, Special 20 reeds last a little longer.

The main advantage of the Lee Oskar is the range of alternative tunings available for the same basic harmonica. If you want harmonic minor or natural minor tunings on a Hohner you have to resort to a Marine Band 1896, with its basic construction and wood comb. With Lee Oskars, in comparison, you can simply switch the reed plates, or buy the same harmonica in a minor or even Melody Maker tuning.

The Special 20 fights back with a little more volume and longevity, so if you're a hard playing blues enthusiast, this may be your best choice. For players who like minor key songs and like to experiment with unusual tunings, the Lee Oskar will be more suitable.

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Hohner Special 20 Harmonica
Lee Oskar Major Diatonic Harmonica
Harmonica NameHohner Special 20 HarmonicaLee Oskar Major Diatonic Harmonica
Harmonica TypeDiatonic HarmonicaDiatonic Harmonica
Number of Holes1010
Comb MaterialPlasticPlastic
Number of Reeds2020
Spare Reeds Available?YesYes
TuningRichterRichter
Valved?NoNo
Musical StylesBlues, Rock, Pop, FolkBlues, Rock, Pop, Folk
Available KeysA, B Flat, D, G, C, F, E, B, E Flat, G High, F Sharp, D Flat, A FlatA, B Flat, D, Low F, G, C, F, E, B, E Flat, G High, F Sharp, D Flat, A Flat, Low E, Low D
Price from£33.99£31.49
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