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Hohner, like its compatriot, Seydel, can trace its history back to mid-19th Century Germany, where its founder - Matthias Hohner - moved his attention from his original profession of watchmaking to the production of the newly created instrument that was the harmonica. Although Matthias was by no means the first to market with the instrument, he was able to apply manufacturing techniques to the production of harmonicas that enabled them to be built quicker, in larger numbers and more consistently than those of his early competitors.
Hohner Marine Band to the Meisterklasse
Testament to the success of Hohner's early designs is that one of its best-selling harmonicas - the Marine Band Classic - is virtually unchanged (bar the odd cosmetic difference) from the model available at the end of the 19th Century. Today, Hohner offers a wide range of harmonicas to suit a variety of playing styles and budgets. This includes low-priced and children's models, such as the Blues Bender and Happy Harps, all the way up to highly rated diatonics, like the Meisterklasse 580/20, and top end chromatics, such as the Silver Concerto.
From Blues Harmonicas to Jazz and Classical Instruments
The primary division in the professional level diatonic range is between Marine Band, Progressive Series and MS Series harps. The Marine Band range of harmonicas all feature wooden combs, whilst the Progressive models all have plastic combs and the MS Series have interchangeable wooden, aluminium or plastic combs. MS Series harps were effectively Hohner's response to the Lee Oskar range, which has a similar modular construction, enabling parts to be combined from different harmonicas. Hohner's chromatic harmonicas are, similarly, grouped into four main ranges: Chrometta, CX12, Chromonica and Performance. Of these, all but the first are produced solely in Germany. The Chrometta range is Hohner's introduction to chromatic harmonicas. Keenly priced, they represent a good entry point for anyone who wishes to try out a chromatic, but doesn't want to commit to a three figure spend. The CX12 is a modern chromatic, with a striking design and great ergonomics. Chromonicas are traditionally styled chromatics largely based on the chromatic harp that Hohner first began producing in the 1920s. The Performance range encompasses a wide variety of high end models, from the popular Super 64 all the way up to the stunning (and stunningly expensive!) Silver Concerto.
The Best Hohner Harmonicas for Beginners
For most players who are starting out with diatonics, one of the less expensive MS Series harps won't break the bank, but will offer sufficient durability and tone that the player will not necessarily feel the need to upgrade when their skills improve. Both the Juke Harp and the Big River offer very similar construction and playability and are priced below £30 - something of a bargain for a German made harmonica.
The Best Hohner Harmonicas for Experienced Players
For those who are comfortable spending a little more, the Rocket offers easier bending, greater volume and a very smooth feeling comb - perfect for playing fast blues licks.
Musicians seeking a more traditional sound and construction are often drawn to the Marine Band range. The least expensive harmonica in this range - the 1896 Classic - is still one of the best sounding and playing harps on the market, but it does have the drawbacks of an unsealed comb and nailed construction. These aren't deal breakers for many players, who prefer the sound of an untreated comb, but it is worth noting that they require more looking after than a harmonica with a metal or plastic comb, and changing reed plates is considerably more difficult than on a harmonica that uses screws.
The more expensive Deluxe and Crossover/Thunderbird models from the Marine Band range offer the best of both worlds - swell resistant wooden combs combined with modern construction, but they do come in at significantly higher price points. It's worth noting here that the Thunderbird is one of the only Hohner diatonics that is available in low tunings.
The Best Hohner Chromatic Harmonicas
Hohner's chromatic range very much follows the same split between modern and traditional. The Chromonica 48 is not dissimilar in construction to the 1896 Classic, whilst the CX12 goes fully down the modern, functional body route. Both offer great value and are perfect starting points for aspiring chromatic players.
Further up the chromatic range, you will find the Super 64 - beloved of Stevie Wonder and used extensively on some of his most famous recordings. Beyond this, you're into the realms of very special chromatics - from the Meisterklasse and Amadeus, all the way up to the Silver Concerto, which is only available as a made to order item with a 3 month lead time, and whose price varies with the current silver spot price.