If you’re looking for a legal brief , you’re definitely reading the wrong eBay guide. Today's discussion, like it is, every day, covers harmonicas.
You see, harmonicas are my passion! I like big harmonicas, small harmonicas, long harmonicas, short harmonicas, round harmonicas, square harmonicas, fat harmonicas, skinny harmonicas, single-sided harmonicas, double-sided harmonicas, old harmonicas, and new harmonicas, even red, white, and blue harmonicas. Wow, that was one hell of a long sentence, and, unbelievably, I think it was grammatically correct! After a thirty year, or longer, hiatus, I’ve only recently re-kindled my interest in harmonicas. I do play the harmonica, albeit poorly, and now that I’ve discovered eBay, I’ve started a nice little harmonica collection. Since becoming a member in April, I’ve purchased (won) upwards of 200 harmonicas. Early in my quest for additional pieces to add to my collection, I found that many of the harmonicas that I bought did not quite meet my expectations for being an acceptable addition to my already sizable group of instruments. My criteria for keeping a harmonica is that it needs to look good, sound good, and when possible, be unique in some way or another. I also tend to lean towards those that I consider “Vintage” or “Antique”. If you read my first eBay guide, “Name That Tune”, you probably already know that one of my major “beefs” with eBay listings is the overly used term “Vintage”, a term that that I believe should only be used when referring to items greater then some universally agreed upon age. For example, automobiles are considered “clasic” when they reach twenty-five years old, and as “Antiques” at an even older age. When did terms like “Used”, “Previously Owned” or even “Like New” lose favor with-in the eBay community? People don’t mind shopping for “used” cars, although the term “used car dealer” can invoke some negative vibes! Personally, I wouldn’t mind being called a “used harmonica dealer”. Admittedly, I’ve been guilty of this practice myself. Knowing that every other seller on eBay, and yes, I know, that I shouldn’t be using the word “every”, “always”, nor “never”, including the “every” and “never” used in this sentence, are always using the term “vintage”, inappropriately in their listings! Unfortunately, sellers have to be competitive in order to be successful!
Now, it’s time to get back on message. I learned how to play the harmonica using a Hohner Marine Band, Diatonic, 10 hole model. This is probably the most popular first harmonica ever created. The “Marine Band” is, and to the best of my knowledge, always has been (oops there’s that word “always” again) well made, economical, readily available, and a product that has consistently been subject to an excellent quality control standard. I can honestly say, with very little hesitation or reservation, that I can pick-up any Marine Band Harmonica ever manufactured, that has not been abused, or broken in some way, and play a recognizable version of the Marine Corps Hymn! I think many of you will remember that the little instruction sheet that come with these harmonicas included that music as a sample for learning how to play. As a matter of fact, I think I can make the same statement for all Hohner Harmonicas! For all practical purposes, Hohner is the standard for the entire harmonica Industry. I think you’ll find, if any other brand, came-up with a design or method of manufacturing, that improved the sound or quality of harmonicas through the years, Hohner probably bought that company and incorporated their designs and ideas, and its’ personnel into Hohner’s operations. Of course, I’m referring to companies such as Koch, F.A. Bohmn, Music Master and others. Until recently, I’ve been a real snob when it comes to harmonicas. As far as I was concerned, if it wasn’t a Hohner, then it wasn’t an harmonica! Lately, though my opinion has been taking a real beating. I’ve learned a few things that hve changed my train of thought. For instance, I learned that, Huong, the brains behind the Chinese harmonica company baring the same name, worked for and designed harmonicas for Hohner before spreading his wings and venturing out into the manufacturing world. It seems that many of the Houng brand harmonicas are very similar in construction and quality compared to Hohner harmonicas, and at considerably less cost! I didn’t believe this until I won an auction on “3 Vintage Houng harmonicas with boxes” (“Vintage”, my eye, they were about 3 years old). They were actually pretty good! Better, I’d have say, then the Chinese made Hohner harmonicas. None of which I believe can be compared to the German made models. The Houngs on the other hand, in my humble opinion, did compare favorably to German made Hohner harmonicas. I’ve always found that even though Chinese harmonicas are tuned correctly, it feels like most of your air is by-passing the reeds and being wasted. I’ve found this to be the case for most Chinese made harmonicas, although, there has been an occasional exception like a “Blue Danube” harmonica I recently won (another 2 or 3 year old “Vintage” harmonica). Although not as “air-tight” as the German made Hohners, it wasn’t as bad as many other Chinese harmonicas that I’ve tried. Unfortunately, I’ve only had the opportunity to sample a few of the lower priced Huongs, and can’t speak for the higher priced models, but I don’t think I would be afraid of taking a chance on some of their more expensive models.
From the Marine Band, and a few more expensive regular diatonic harmonica models, I eventually moved up to, or over to, Echo harmonicas. This type of harmonica in my opinion has a fuller richer sound then the single hole harmonicas. They also tend to be more forgiving in terms of blowing into the correct hole. Echos come in single-sided and double-sided models. The most popular keys being “C” and “G”, and for the double sided versions “C/G”, or in other words, “C” on one side and “G” on the other. I ‘ve found that the double sided harmonics, although great sounding, are not as air tight as single sided models. I’d have to say that my favorite echo harmonicas are the “Unsere Liebrienge” Hohner models. These are very similar to some of the regular Hohner Echos, but tend to be richer and fuller sounding. This of course is a strictly subjective observation, based upon my personal opinion. Another nice Echo type harmonica is “The Goliath” model. It’s a big (71/2” in length), meaty harmonica. When you’re holding a “Goliath” you know you’re holding a real harmonica, and not a toy! I’ve been using the Hohner “Echo” line for years. They can be recognized by their distinctive greenish mountain scenery case, and “bell metal reeds” engraving on the harmonicas. Their model numbers outline the number of holes, and reeds each model has.. For example, the model 56/96 has 56 holes and 96 reeds. It is available in several configurations including C/G B/F A/E etc. These are all real nice harmonicas that tend to last for years with very little maintenance.
Harmonicas also come in chromatic versions, a type that I’ve never really warmed-up to. Most professional and serious musicians, do however play this type of instrument. They are more expensive then regular harmonicas, because they tend to be more elaborate in structure, size, and weight. Regular harmonicas can only play the equivalent of the white keys on a piano. A player can get around this by using several harmonicas, or by a method known as “bending”. Which allows you to approximate additional keys on your harmonica, IE what would be the black keys on a piano. A slider on the side of the chromatic allows the player to push in, and change the air flow so that additional notes become available to the player. These notes are the notes that would be the black keys on a piano key board.. I’ve bought and sold quite a few of these harmonicas in the last several weeks. About the only thing I’ve learned about them, is I don’t particularly like playing them, and that the Koch chromatics are very similar to the Hohners in both construction and operation. Perhaps this is why Hohner eventually bought the Koch company!
So, in summation, I found that Diatonic harmonicas, especially the echo type, are easier to learn how to play and produce a more pleasant over-all sound, then do the chromatic type of harmonica. The echo type of harmonica tends to cover-up many of the imperfections of an inferior player. The cost of purchasing an echo type harmonica, either new or used, usually is much lower then the cost of purchasing a chromatic harmonica. And, finally, probably the one most important truth that I’ve discovered, so far, is that there is no such thing as a USED harmonica!!!!