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Manji M-20 review

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Joanie V
Nov 11, 2010 6:11 PM GMT

Thought I would offer some feedback on some harps, namely the Manji vs the Oskar

I’ve been using the standard 1910 Lee Oskar for some twenty years, now, with no complaints. I originally started to switch from Hohners to Oskars because I was not getting good durability out of the Hohner Pros – was blowing them out in as little as three months of gigging blues and rock - and I was sick and tired of tweaking darn near every Pro right out of the box to be even playable. The Marine Bands were even worse and I got tired of torn lips due to comb swelling. This was back in the early nineties. Maybe things have changed with Hohner, but I’m in no hurry to find out. I'd rather spend my time playing, not taking harps, apart and heading to the store to replace harps.

The one Hohner I still use, though, is the Special 20 and I still recommend for my students who want to go with a Hohner, though I gig only with the Oskar. No, the Oskars don’t have the growl and bite of the Pros or even a Marine Band, but, these days I play as much jazz as anything and the clean sound of the Oskar is a plus and, besides, I can get all the crunch I need from the 1910 when I want it. Overall, I still don’t think you can beat an Oskar 1910 for consistency, right out of the box or for lifespan, given the price. I have to tweak one out of twenty or so, at most, and I’ve played some of them for two years or more, hard, and no change in pitch. You get a lot of harp with an Oskar, even at the asking price of neat thirty bucks, these days. Not the perfect harp, to be sure, but as good as it gets for the price.

Okay, so why did I recently decide to try a Suzuki M-20 Manji? Maybe it was the slick ads or maybe I just wanted to try something different. Mostly, I think I was tempted to go back to it was to a wooden comb or its equivalent without having the problem of a wooden comb swelling on me or not getting good seals. Anyway, most of what I read about the M-20 was good, so why not? I ordered a full set of Manjis from Rocking Ron’s (great service, availability and price, by the way) and have been playing them hard all week, several hours at a time. Can’t put them down. So what’s the scoop on the Manji compared to the Oskar by someone who has been gigging for better than thirty years?

For sure, the M-20 is different than a 1910 Oskar in more ways than one. First, it is a bit shorter, left to right and also a bit smaller, front to back. Top to bottom is about the same. It is also a distinctly lighter weight harp, I suspect due to the resin comb. All this makes for a quite different feel in the hand. I, for one, like it. I play a lot of fast swing and jazz and the Manji flies in my hands. The smaller size also makes it a bit easier to get a tight cup for blues and rock and it seats deeper in the mouth for better resonance and tone. Well-designed harp, in my book.

Next thing you will notice on the M-20, compared to the Oskar, is the narrower holes, due to the thicker comb sections between holes and, I suspect, this is due to the narrower reed design on the M-20. Not a problem, though, since the centers of the holes line up exactly with the center of the holes on a 1910. Anyway, I picked up a Manji and played it as accurately and quickly as an Oskar, first try. If you can play an Oskar or Special 20, well, the narrower holes of the Manji won’t be an issue at all.

Consistency was also excellent, both in terms of notes, bottom to top on each harp and in terms of keys, from A flat to high G. The Manji is not as shrill as the Oskar holes 7 and up and it is a touch easier to play on the very top as well as the very bottom holes, compared to an Oskar. Again, not night and day, but there is a difference. I especially liked the way the lower keyed harps played on the Manji. The A and A flat Manjis are an easier harp to play than the same keys on the Oskar. Overall, I was very pleased with the consistency and quality control of the Manji.

How about the sound? That’s what makes or breaks a harp, right? I read that the Manji is loud and, in fact, it is louder than an Oskar, but it is not terribly, so. Enough to detect, yes, but it won’t blow you, away, or cause any change in your playing style. There is some reed buzz, though, that I can detect when playing without a mic if I hold the Manji fairly open in the hand, but it disappears when I cup, tightly and I cannot detect it, at all, when I mic and amp. Not an issue. On the plus side, the Manji is a noticeably more responsive and lively harp and bends and overdraws are very easy. You could probably play a symphony on two holes of a Manji. Okay, just kidding, but the Manji gives you great potential for subtle effects. It is also a warmer harp than the Oskar, compliments, I suspect, of the resin comb. That’s the idea of a wood or resin comb, after all. For sure, it’s a real sweetie to play on the soft numbers, but you can crunch, away, on the hard stuff. A truly fun harp to play.

The big question for me as someone who plays almost daily is durability and lifespan. Are the thinner reeds of the Manji more fragile? Will the resin comb take some rough handling. How often will I need to replace a Manji before it loses its pitch or a reed fails? Suzuki is saying replacement reed plates will be available in the future and the Manji does have a one year warranty, okay, but that doesn’t answer the question. No harp lasts forever, after all. (We’ll soon see how they hold up to a night of hard gigging.) If they last as long as an Oskar, for me, or even close, I will be very pleased.

At this point, I can say that playing the Manji is a treat. Really hard to put down. No, I’m not about to stop playing the Oskars – that will never happen – but the Manjis may find a home on stage with me if they can survive hard and constant use. We’ll see.

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Comments (5)

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Nov 12, 2010 3:40 PM GMT
Jawbone K Replied:

that's what i'd call a very fair review. i have played manjis for about a year now. since i can't afford to get a whole set it's been piecemeal, one at a time. i have 5 or 6 now. imay not play as often as you but we work on stuff for the duo here at the house often and play out maybe 3 or 4 times a month. manji is not all i play but it's the core of my gigging harp set fo sure.

i have noticed that, possibly due to the compromise tuning, the manji does not satisfy me re its tone in 3rd position, which i play a lot of blues, jazz, and country in. but on the other hand my first manji was a D, and i've put it through some hell in a year. other than a very slight flatting on draw 4 it has stood up admirably. i sit in with electric bands at every opportunity and even in the duo we can get a bit loud and crazy at times. we also play total acoustic outdoors at a local market, and one reason i like the manji is, it projects better than most other harps i've tried, hoihner, huang, oskar included. the tone of a manji in 2nd position is indeed satisfying and due to the more responsive reeds i don't work near as hard to get something nice happening.

my opinion of the manji is, it's the best anyone has offered in a production harp, EVER!

Nov 12, 2010 8:36 PM GMT
walterharp Replied:

I would agree with this review, and think generally they are nicer harps the LO, not quit so shrill, and the overblows are not as squeaky. I really like the blow bends on the high notes, and they are gapped tighter than the LO's in general.

I have found over theyears that my harps blow out much less frequently than they used to, I think it is something about working with the reeds as opposed to against them. I think I can play louder with less breath force.. so that might be something you have moved toward too, and you might no lose so many reeds now as you used to, even on the same harp.

Nov 13, 2010 2:08 AM GMT
Jawbone K Replied:

ezperience is definitely part of the equation walter. but technology marches on and we benefit from better materials and tighter tolerances too.

i've seen plenty of pro and con comments about the manji, in fact i've set up a home for unwanted m20's here. no guests so far!

to me the few extra bucks for a harp i can count on to be good sounding, dirable, comfortable, and available is worth every dime. the days of hitting the music store and having to buy whatever they had in a given key- if they had it at all- are over. along with tech and material advances, we have guys like rockin' ron, who have made the internet into a really satisfying market.

Nov 17, 2010 3:38 AM GMT
Bulldog B Replied:

I think the whole subject of wooden combs vs. plastic or metal combs needs to be the subject of a Mythbusters episode. Everyone that's ever conducted a scientific test of combs has come to the same conclusion - the vibration produced by the reeds has such a low energy level that it can't possibly vibrate the comb, and the comb can't absorb any sound vibrations because the sound is going away from the comb, not thru it. In blind tests, listeners haven't been able to detect any difference in the sound made by different combs, provided that the reeds, reedplates and covers are the same. Other than the reeds, the main factor in the sound is the thickness of the reedplates - why I don't know, I just know that it's been proven in tests. I haven't tried the Manji but it sounds like a good alternative to the similar but higher-priced Hohner Crossover.

Nov 19, 2010 12:23 PM GMT
Jawbone K Replied:

well a more solid comb- of whatevewr material- seems to have a fuller tone. tests conducted that rely on listeners are good but i'd like to see a test on us players and our opinions collated.

manji is not the only harp i use. different harps for different feels or sounds is what i've been discovering.

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