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Used Harmonicas in General: Diatonics and Chromatics
It does not make much sense to buy used diatonic (10 hole) harmonicas, as a decent diatonic only costs about $30. Do you want to spend an hour sterilizing a harmonica that sells for $30 new? You may find the rare high end diatonic on auction that has been barely used, and, if it has a metal or plastic comb it can be sterilized with Efferdent, just like dentures.
However, chromatic harmonicas are much more expensive, and some classic models, such as the Hohner CBH 2016, are no longer made. Some folks also collect antique harmonicas. Chromatic harmonicas have mouthpieces that are removable. I've bought used chromatic harps and soaked the mouthpieces in Efferdent, then scrubbed them with a cleanser like Cameo, and then used alcohol (rubbing alcohol or a very cheap vodka) for final sterilization. If a harmonica has a plastic or metal body, then it is like any other plastic or metal item, washable and sterilizable. Plastic and metal bodied harps can be easily taken apart for cleaning. Be aware that you may need to adjust the reeds and tighten up the seal of the comb to the body.
One thing to make very sure of is that all the reeds are in place and are not broken off. Also, if the harmonica has a wooden body, it may have cracks, so ask the seller about cracks if the back of the harp is not pictured. Cracks can be fixed, with considerable effort, but you need to know what the situation is.
If you need to replace reedplates or reeds, that gets complicated and expensive --providing you can even get them. A harmonica with a couple of bad reeds is useless and may end up costing more to fix than a new one would have cost you. However, there are ebay sellers who sell new reedplates and reedplate-comb combos for diatonic and chromatic harmonicas. (I'm one of them. I have a lot!) You just pop your old chromatic harmonica hardware onto the new combo-comb and you are ready to play! I've fixed a lot of old Hohner 270s this way and that makes them essentially like new. Hering combo combs will work just fine on the Hohner 270, by the way. Some chromatics may have plastic wind savers missing or needing adjustment. These can be fixed, and it is not complicated or difficult, but some effort is involved. Ask very specific questions about the condition of the harp and if it plays as it should. Someone sold me a harp that they said >plays good< (the grammar should have tipped me off), but when it came it was actually clogged up with some sort of smelly mud! So, yes, be careful with used harps, ask questions and check the seller's ratings on selling harmonicas, but like any other musical instrument, harmonicas can indeed be refurbished and sterilized!
False Claims and Phony Antiques! Look for the Six-Pointed Star on Hohners...
If you are buying a so-called antique harmonica there are a number of things to watch out for. For one thing, some sellers seem to feel justified in making false claims about harmonicas being antiques when they clearly are not. Most people would agree that something only 50 years old is not an antique. According to Wikipedia: An antique (Latin antiquus; old) is a collectible item which is old (usually at least 100 years old) and is collected or desirable because of its age, rarity, condition, utility, or other unique features. It is an object which has reached an age which makes it a witness of a previous era in human society. I've seen many harmonicas that have been advertised as antiques that simply aren't. Many Hohners have dates on them that commemorate competitions and awards won by Hohner. This has nothing to do with their age! Hohners are being made today that have dates like 1871 and 1881 on the underside! Just because Hohner won awards in those years doesn't mean the harp is that old --any more than a bottle of wine that mentions awards won in certain years means that the wine is of that vintage! Sadly, many people who know nothing about harmonicas, or don't care about truth, seem to feel justified in making such false claims. Also, on the underside of many Hohners is a trademark with two hands holding a circle. On Pre-WWII Hohners this circle had a six-pointed star on it, possibly because Hohner had six children. During the Nazi years the star was removed, so any Hohner that simply has the hands and the circle with no star in it cannot have been made pre-WWII. Yet again, some feel free to make false claims --sometimes even after guys like me tell them they are making false claims!
Fake Beatles Harmonicas
Fake "Beatles" harmonicas are perhaps also something you should be aware of. Some unscrupulous folks have sold fake versions of the "Beatles" model Hohner put out in the Sixties. CAVEAT EMPTOR! (Let the buyer beware!) A large percentage of so called "Beatles" model are not legit.
The Bottom Line:
It may be worthwhile in certain cases to buy a used harmonica --if it is a true antique and you are a collector, if you are confident it is in excellent shape and only needs some simple sterilization, if it an expensive model that is worth repairing, or if it a rare discontinued model like the Hohner CBH 2016. Otherwise you may find a new harmonica is a much better choice since it does not need any sterilization and all notes would be working properly.
If this guide was helpful, please click yes at the bottom where it asks if this guide was helpful. Thanks! If I can be of further help, feel free to contact me