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Deluxe Marine Band; Worth the extra $20???

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Andrew T
Jan 08, 2010 12:54 PM GMT

Out of the assortment of harps in my collection (most of which are the various Hohner models), I typically still prefer thestandard Marine Band 1896 model. However, maintenance and the fact that if one piece of the instrument (a single reed, for instance) is shot that means the whole instrument has to go has led me to consider trying one of those Deluxe model Marine Bands (2005 model). The deluxe version has a sealed comb, (supposedly) airtight construction and a few other perks and Hohner claims it retains the classic Marine Band sound. Has anyone tried a MB Deluxe? Are they worth fifty bucks over a standard MB1896 which still run around $30. Some reviews of this instrument would be appreciated as I am considering investing in a Deluxe Marine Band. Thank you :)

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Comments (13)

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Jan 08, 2010 8:18 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

The Marine Band Deluxe eliminates the nails, has the cover plates much more wide open in back, as they're trying to set those up more like the way they were prior to WWII, and the comb is sealed, however, like the Hering 1923 Vintage Harp, Hering Delta Blues, and Hering Master Blues, it is only sealed around the outer edges AKA partially sealed (the edges you see when the harp is together), which for most people is fine, but if you tend to play with a ridiculously wet mouth and slobber all over your harps, or live in a high altitude or dry climate area, it can still swell, but not as much. They also, like the MB since 1992, are tuned to a comprimise tuning, tho it is a bit more consistent than the MB, but it still could be better.

The Seydel 1847 Classic has a FULLY sealed wood comb and their tuning is a comprimise tuning that is essentially just tuning but with 5 & 9 draw tuned 2 cents flat (7LJI, which is what MB's used to be tuned to until 1985, has those two notes tuned 29 cents flat, and 19 limit just has those two two 3 cents sharp, and that was the MB tuning from 1985-1992), and their tuning is far more consistent than Hohner has been for the last 20 years and it also has a far tighter slot tolerance and needs much less breath force to play them, but it is more money at $89.95 each in the USA.

I'd actually rather order one of harp customizer Richard Sleigh's Marine Band Kits, where he takes the MB, opens the back covers up, sands and FULLY seals the comb, has the instrument screw tapped, all of which are done by all customizers, but the single most important aspect he does NOT do on them and with custom harps, it's the most important aspect of the custom harp, is the reed work, but if you want to sacrifice the reed work for less money but still get a better harp for the money than the Marine Band Deluxe, then his price of $50 each will give you a far better harp than the Marine Band Deluxe and you can check that out at He's part of the guid of customizers of Joe Filisko/Richard Sleigh/Jimmy Gordon and a custom MB starts at $180 each.

Jan 09, 2010 5:41 PM GMT
John P Replied:

I know i'm in the minority, but i just do not understand the appeal of Marine Bands. They are leaky, cheaply made with nails and have crappy combs that swell. I also happen to prefer ET tuning, but even if i didn't, there are so many other harmonicas that are of such higher quality manufacture that I just do not understand the popularity of the MB unless it has been customized. It is because of the low quality of stock MBs that the customization business started.

Yeah, I know the classic blues recordings were made by players who used MBs, but so many harps made today are made so much better. Why play such a poorly made instrument when so many better made instruments are available? I just don't get it.But that's just me.

Jan 09, 2010 5:53 PM GMT
Kingley Replied:

The Marine Band Deluxe as BBQ Bob says is only partially sealed. To my ear it doesn't have the same tone as a Marine Band 1896 at all. The Marine Band 1896 has the best tone of any harmonica in my opinion.

You can get replacement reedplates for the Marine Band 1896 from, although you would be best learning to set them up for screw assembly if you go down that route and also learn to seal the combs. There are numerous YouTube videos that show how to do it. It's very easy to do (it ain't rocket science) and only takes a very short time to do .

Learning to do this makes the Marine Band into a great playing harmonica, with a tone that is far better than any out of the box harmonica (in my opinion). The only thing better than it is a fully customised harmonica which typically cost $180 USD.

Jan 10, 2010 8:50 AM GMT
Andrew T Replied:

Thank you for the valuable feedback guys. I agree with John P and Kengley. MBs ARE leaky, cheaply assembled and at times painful to play due to comb swelling. However they REALLY DO boast undeniably brilliant tone. That’s the trade off. That’s why I was wondering if it’s true what they (at Hohner) claim about it soundingjust like the 1896MB but less leakage and no swelling. If that’s true it MIGHT be worth the extra $20 to take one for a spin. If you say they don’t have the same tone “at all” then it might not be worth it.

Thanks BBQ B. for the thorough analysis. I’ve gleaned a great bit of valuable info from it. I didn’t realize they weren’t fully sealed. Here in Colorado I could run into problems with that. Seydel harps have held appeal for me for some time. But we really are talking about substantially more bread; and even more so for full blown customized harps. But I am interested in eventually trying custom harps. Does anyone know if those Joe Spiers ones live up to the hype (I might make a separate post for this question)? Any other thoughts on MB2005 or other Marine Band upgrades?

Jan 10, 2010 10:32 AM GMT
John P Replied:

Never tried one by Joe Spiers, but i am putting together a set of Buddha harps by Chris Michalek. I'm pretty impressed with those. Mine are made with Golden Melody covers and reed plates and Buddha's composite combs. His custom combs have slightly larger air channels which take a little getting used to and require a deep embouchure, but these are very nice instruments. I think he actually makes more custom MBs, but there's nothing about a MB that appeals to me and I prefer ET anyway. And i like the ergomomics of the larger GM covers.

The vented covers on MBs DO have a distinctive tone. Big Rivers have vented covers, too. i happen to prefer the sound of unvented ccovers, but I do appreciate the effect vented covers have on tone and I certainly understand why some players like that sound.

Jan 10, 2010 3:58 PM GMT
Kingley Replied:

From what I hear Joe is one of the top 3 customisers in the world. The other two being Richard Sleigh and Joe Filisko. Joe makes Jason Ricci's harmonicas among many other pro players. If I was going to but a custom harmonica he is the man my money would go to.

But if you like Marine Band 1896 harmonicas then why not just seal the combs on them yourself?

It's very easy to do and would save you loads of cash. Seems like a no brainer to me (it's what I do).

Jan 10, 2010 10:54 PM GMT
Andrew T Replied:

Thanks guys. Ya know, I'm actually leaning toward finally learning how to work on harps myself. I could take the 1896MBs and fully seal the comb, replace the nails with screws and slightly adjust the gaps but I'm not yet confident enough to pursue ANY other reed work. I sense too much trial and error and therefore too much $$$ down the drain would be involved. Any tips on setting up and sealing MBs myself? How do you do it, Kingley?

Jan 10, 2010 11:08 PM GMT
Andrew T Replied:

Cool... now that I am feeling inspired to finally learn to set-up and seal standard 1896 Marine Bands on my own. I have taken it to a post in the maintenance room. Please share there or here your tips and instruction and guidance on how to work on these harps myself (in terms of fully sealing the comb, replacing the nails, opening the back, and setting up reeds without having to try things that will likely cause me to destroy a few harps before I get it). I sure appreciate it :)

Jan 11, 2010 3:41 AM GMT
John P Replied:

i am reliably informed that MBs and GMs use the same reeds and reedplates, but they are tuned differently. i am under the impression that the customisers who customise MBs sometimes use composite custom combs instead of sealing the MB comb.

So, my conclusion is that the "classic" MB sound or tone is most likely due to its vented covers, and, of course, the way the reeds are tuned. But this is just my conjecture and I am admitedly NOT a MB devotee.

Jan 11, 2010 8:32 AM GMT
Kingley Replied:

I use beeswax. I melt it in a double boiler and then dip my combs in it. But lots of people use salad bowl (mineral oil)or varnish to seal their combs. The advantage of wax over oil is that you can play the harmonicas right away. With oil/varnish there is a drying time.

Jan 14, 2010 1:47 AM GMT
Andrew T Replied:

I watched some videos of Spiers after reading all of your (awesome and helpful!) responses to this post. He really seems to know his stuff! It would be nice to get some of the same tools (do they make a harmonica setup/tuning/gapping kit?) and know-how he has; maybe start by practicing on some cheaper harps, which wont be easy because I REALLY want experience sealing and I don't know anything with an unsealed wooden comb for much under $30. We'll see how it goes... maybe this time next year I'll be peddling "Andrew T's custom harps" on here?! haha

Jan 21, 2010 2:10 PM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:

I always think that tone goes from player mostly. All tonal differences between Special 20 and Marine Band goes away if you listen to recorded harmonica, especially amplified. I can promise you'll not find any differences if one player play different good harps on recording (eg. Sp20, MB and GM). Differences between Stratocaster and Gibson les Paul is more prominent. Anyway harmonica tone is the part of overall playing comfort. I feel a little uncomfortable while playing marine band as my bends and overbends sounds less smooth than with GM's and Sp20.

Anyway as I mention in other topic stock Marine Band deluxe twice better than classic.Custom MBD are as good as custom MB classic.

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