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Hohner Marine Band Deluxe

August 8, 2005

I received my new Hohner Marine Band Deluxe in the mail from Coast2Coast.com three days after I ordered it. They are already sold out. I played it, took it apart, took some pictures, and compared to some other Hohner Harmonicas that I had on hand.

First impressions:

I play Big Rivers, which is a big harp, and I had forgotten how small the Marine Bands are. I dug up an old Marine Band and compared them. The Marine Band deluxe is the same size as the classic Marine Band.

Size Comparison of Deluxe to classic Marine Band.
In the image below, the deluxe is on top.

In the image below, the Deluxe is on the left.

In the Image below, the Deluxe is on the bottom.

You can see in the picture the four cover screws on the Deluxe and, if you look closely, you can see that the posts of the comb are rounded. The old marine band is darker because I played it for a while, and the brass has darkened.

The next set of pictures compare the sizes of the Deluxe to a Special 20, a Big River, a Blues Harp and a Classic Marine Band.

From top to bottom: Deluxe, Blues Harp, MB, Special 20, Big river.

Deluxe between a special 20 and Big River.

Top to bottom: Special 20, Deluxe, Big River.

The covers appear brighter on the deluxe in the pictures above because the other harps are well played and the nickel is worn off the steel on the left side.

The obvious difference, out of the box are the screws and the rounded comb. I took the cover off to see if I could see any other differences.

The reeds are screwed down with a long machine screw from one side, but without a nut. The holes on the bottom (show here) are threaded so that the three machine screws bite the hard brass and hold the reed plates airtight against the sealed comb. The three holes are in the same position as on the Special 20 reed plates. In fact, the reed plates look like special 20 reed plates with the addition of the two holes for the cover plates. The deluxe looks very much like a Special 20 re-tooled for the pear wood comb. A Special 20 has six pins holding down the reed plate.

Old Special 20 showing the 6 pins holding it to the comb.
I apologize for the horrible state of the reeds, but I bought this harp in 1992 and played it for about 4 years. (It still sounds OK). I am not taking apart the Marine Band. Once you take out those nails, it is ruined, unless you want to spend time with it.

I would guess that you could take the Special 20 reed plate, drill the 4 holes for the cover screws and it would fit just fine on the deluxe comb.

How does it Sound?

Enough with the technicalities. Is it playable?

First, the Deluxe was LOUD. It felt very much like a nicely broken-in Big River or a Special 20 out of the box. It was louder than either one. I attribute this to the fact that it was very nicely gapped. It was a very easy play. Classic Marine Bands, as I am sure you are aware, are notoriously had to play. They come from the factory with a tight gapping that makes them hard to bend. I am sure that this is done on purpose so that the harmonica will stay true to its tuning and non-blues players appreciate this.

This is not your Father's Marine Band.

As a blues player, I need to have the ability to bend the harp and the Marine Bands always need a period of Breaking-In while the reeds loosen up and the gap falls into place. Usually by the time this happens, the pear wood is starting to swell from spit and the Marine band develops hissing air leaks and is even harder to use.

The Deluxe, with its sealed and smooth pear wood comb is a comfortable play right out of the box. Bending is natural and easy. In fact, after playing Big Rivers, it is a surprise to bend notes at a good volume without much effort. The sealed comb and the screwed down covers will make it last until the reeds finally give up, which for me is several months at least.

I worry that the ease of bending is not a good thing. I like tight reeds that snap back to a natural unbent state and if I am playing hard, I don't want all of the unbent notes to start flattening out. For the time being, though, I could not fault the deluxe in any way and only a couple of months of hard playing will show how the harp will last.

The Price:

The price at Coast2Coast is $52.95. Compare that to the Classic Marine band 1t $16.95 or the the Special 20 at $17.95 or the Big River at $10.98. Will I go out and buy 15 keys for $800? Not likely. I know that my Big Rivers sound good and are going to last many months. I am not a professional player and there is no urgent need to buy harps at $53 a pop.

A good alternative to the Marine Band Deluxe is the Filisko Style Marine Bands at around $100. Joe Filisko and many others have been modifying Marine Bands by sealing the pear wood and machining the reed plates and covers to use screws. They also set the gap on the Marine Bands to be more player friendly and the Filisko's that I have played are remarkably similar to the Deluxe in feel and they way that they play and bend. The Marine Band Deluxe will not cut into the Joe Filisko's market. Joe's incredible customer service will always win out over Hohner's total lack of a user friendly policy on selling harps.

Conclusion:

The Marine Band Deluxe is a very nice harp. It plays well and and plays loud. It is easy to bend and feels good in the mouth. If I had the money, I would get a set. I will, occasionally, buy one when I have the cash, but there is no rush.


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