I’ve always said, if you wanna SOUND like the original blues masters(Sonny Terry, Big Walter, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, et al) then you should PLAY the harmonica of the original blue masters:
The Hohner Marine Band 1896
When I did my review of the Marine Band 1896, I gave it a 5/5 stars for tone. If you’re looking for that old, woody, bluesy tone, why play anything else?
Truth be told I’ve only played my Marine Band 1896 a few times since I did that review. Why? Because the single lacquered pear wood comb is rough on the lips. What can I say? I love comfort. (I’m American. )
Not too long after that I played a Hohner Crossover for the first time. The Crossover is currently their “new and improved” version of the original Marine Band.
Here are some of the differences between the two models:
Tuning compromised for chords & single notes
Triple-lacquered bamboo comb = comfy
Cover-plates attached with 4 screws
Marine Band 1896
Just intonation tuning ideal for chords
Single lacquered pearwood comb = UNcomfy
Cover-plates attached with 2 nails
One day I pulled a Crossover out of the box, and I was able to play overblows (which started me for a brief period pursuing overblow technique) and for many months my Crossover key of A was my daily go-to harp. In fact I played it SOOOOO much, that my -4 reed went flat on me.
But, I was also working at the time on a lot of roots blues stuff in the style of DeFord Bailey and Sonny Terry, and I found that the timbre of the Crossover was much brighter than the 1896, and the compromise tuning didn’t sound quite as sweet on the predominantly chordal style playing I was enjoying.
Meanwhile, online a few people asked me what I thought of the Marine Band Deluxe and I was like, what even IS a Marine Band Deluxe?? I’d never heard of it.
If you’ve been reading my newsletters for a while, you’ve probably noticed that I often mention Rockin’ Rons. I don’t have any affiliation with them except for being a customer, and gratitude for keeping the Marine Band Deluxe alive. Here’s the dealio:
The Marine Band Deluxe was launched by Hohner in 2005 with improvements that many pros were making to the 1896, or having customizers do to “hot rod” them:
Screws instead of nails on the coverplates
Triple-lacquered pearwood comb
Larger opening at the back for improved sound projection
In 2009 Hohner launched the Crossover with the intention of it replacing the Marine Band Deluxe, but Rockin’ Ron convinced them to keep both in production (and he became the KHS/Hohner USA exclusive dealer of the Marine Band Deluxe).
Here’s why I like the Marine Band Deluxe better than the Crossover:
Sweeter sound on chords
And here’s why I like the Marine Band Deluxe better than the Marine Band 1896:
Same tone (to my ears)
Only a few bucks more
It’s worth a few bucks for me to be able to play my Marine Band for hours without having my lips bleed!
And THAT’S why I’ll never play another Marine Band 1896 again!
Of course, if you’re in the US and you wanna try a Marine Band Deluxe for yourself, you can pick one up at Rockin Ron’s. And, all joking aside, thank you Ron for keeping the Deluxe alive.