I have a story about Tombo harmonicas that will explain why you don’t seem much mention of them in the US — except for Lee Oscars.
I live in Tokyo, and as the pandemic got under way, I took the spare time I know had to get into harmonicas via the “Beginner to Boss” course. Reviewing Luke’s advice, and considering that I am in Japan, I figured a Japanese made Lee Oscar would be a good choice for me. I was surprised to find they are not sold by most music stores here, but with the internet of course you can find anything, and I got my Lee Oscar in C and it is still my main go-to harp.
During that period I also got in the habit of talking a lot of walks in the neighborhood, since a lot of other things that kept me active were closed off. I then noticed a small office on a side street about five minutes walk from my house with a sign that said “Tombo Instruments Home Office and Showroom.” It also said that due to the pandemic, entrance was by appointment only. Well, Okay. When I felt ready to treat myself to a different harp, I called to make an appointment and went by to find out what’s up.
This is what I was told: Tombo is very proud of their Lee Oscars, but their licensing agreement stipulates that they don’t distribute their other harmonicas in the Western Hemisphere (North and South America). Conversely, they don’t directly sell Lee Oscars in Japan, although there are other shops that re-import them. However, they DO sell what they assured me was the exact same harp with their own brand on it — “Major Boy” (except the minor keyed harps which are — you guessed it — called “Minor Boy”s) The guy in the showroom mused that these names probably would not work well in the US, I had to agree.
On that day I got their top of the line diatonic: the Ultimo, in the key if A. I also now have two Major Boys (Low D and B♭) An Aero Reed in Low F, and the Folk Blues in G. You can see these on their English language web site:Tombo Musical Inst.Co.,Ltd. Harmonica although there are a few more products on the Japanese only site: ハーモニカ製品 | 株式会社トンボ楽器製作所-
How do they compare to other harmonicas? I am not the person to ask. I like mine a lot (perhaps the cheapest one in the line up, the Folk Blues, is a bit too small and a bit hard on the mouth, but it bends well and I like the tone). Just today I got my first non Tombo harp, a Hohner Special 20 in D, since it seems to be often compared to the Lee Oscar. I am not about to put them to a head to head comparison, though. There are plenty of those on YouTube anyway.
Here is a picture of the product lineup in their showroom. You’ll see the Lee Oscars are very much featured.