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Not aJan 06, 2010 6:52 PM GMT
My review of the Hohner “Educator 10 by Hohnica” 10 hole chromatic harmonica.
I’m writing this review from the point of view of an intermediate-level blues-oriented player of 10 hole diatonics. I feel that I know enough about the innards and modification of harps to speak to these issues, as well as the playability and tone of the instrument. My criteria for a first chromatic were the following: 1) No steep learning curve. 2) Solo tuned. 3) Best price/quality ratio, but still cheap. 4) Easy to work on myself. To me, the Educator 10 seemed to fit the bill, at least on paper. So what are my impressions now that I’ve had it in my hands for a couple of weeks? I’ll say at the outset that I am very impressed with this instrument, but I’ll start from pros and move down through the cons.
1)Price. The thing was all of $35. That’s only $5 more than your standard Marine Band,
2)Quality. For that price, you might expect it to be poorly made. It isn’t.
3)Airtight but valveless. It’s breathier than a standard diatonic, but not much so, especially after very minor tweaking (see below). And you can BEND on it, just like you do on a diatonic. EACH reed has it’s OWN reedchamber in the comb (rather than each PAIR sharing one chamber) which helps keep this harp airtight without valves.
4)Comfortable mouthpiece. The mouthpiece is very nicely sized and shaped and is very smooth.
5)Tone. Very nice tone out of this thing. Smooth, round, but with that definite chromatic flavor that sets it apart from a diatonic.
6)Easily adjustable slide assembly. Two nicely recessed screws in the mouth piece let you disassemble the assembly easily for cleaning, and help you adjust the airtightness/friction ratio of the slide movement. It is a two piece slide assembly, where the mouthpiece holds the slide directly against the front of the comb, which is molded to accept it.
7)Easy disassembly in general. All screw construction. Coverplates are separate from mouth piece and can be removed on their own by two screws for gapping, maintenance. 8 reedplate screws affix the plates to the comb. Altogether that’s 10 points of pressure to keep the reedplates air-tightly affixed to the comb.
8)Great coverplates. Very nicely shaped and good weight.
Features I am ambivalent about:
1)Cross layout. I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing, but this is a layout in the cross style.
2)Stiff/strong spring. This harp has a fairly stiff spring in the slide assembly. Some folks might not like this, but it does not bother me. I thing it helps the slide be more responsive, and makes you commit to it more.
3)Plastic comb. Not too much of an issue for me with this harp, although I prefer wood or composite combs on my diatonics.
Nitpicky Cons (which I am very willing to accept for a $35 harp)
1)The back of the reedplates could be less sharp. You definitely feel the corners whenyou cup it. A rounded back (a la melody makers or Huang star performers) would really make this harp FLY off the shelves.
2)Slightly inconsistent gapping. The 3 blow natural (very important for blues playing) was gapped too low out of the box, and would choke. The 2 blow natural was also a little low. The 10 draw natural was a little high. 2 minutes of gapping solved this.
3)Flexible reeds. The reeds are not the same stiffness as the reeds on Hohner’s German harps (MB, Spec 20, MS). They actually remind me a lot of Huang reeds (unsurprisingly since this is a Chinese harp). It would also not surprise me if Hohner’s new $20 diatonic (the Blues Bender) had the same type of reeds. The two instruments are probably of equivalent quality in the companies eyes.
4)I’d prefer hex head screws to the Philips that come with this, but come on, which cheap harps are going to come with those? At least these are Philips and not slotted!
5)I think that it could have been made a little less thick. I’m not complaining, but I think that it’s a tad thicker than it absolutely needed to be…
Real Actual Cons:
1)The Name. Calling something an “Educator” makes it seem like a crappy beginners harp. This is not that. It is a good quality instrument. Hohner should have just called it the “Hohnica”. That’s catchy, and kind of cool if a bit kitschy.
2)Made in China. I’m not too happy with buying Chinese stuff unless I can trace the human rights and environmental costs associated with it. I’m not sure about these things for this harp. It might be okay, or it might not.
Okay, so that’s my first impressions. What else do I have to say about it in general? Well, coming from diatonic playing, the holes are further apart. It makes it really hard to do tongue split octaves. You can get the two split C’s (1-4 and 5-8) since they are the only real 4 hole splits there is on a solo layout. I find it to be functionally impossible to get a 5 hole octave split on this harp. Not too big a deal though. I like that you can get some enharmonic notes by bending on a draw note OR by using the slide on a blow note. That’s really cool and adds a lot of great versatility. I miss my nice draw chords, but that’s not a fault of the harp, just of solo layout in general. I like being able to just apply my 3rd position licks down in the low octave, and then just move up to the next octave and play them just the same way higher up. I’m still negotiating how to play through the chord changes though since I really am only playing in 3rd position so far.
What modifications will I do to this harp? Well, I might go back over the gapping again, but the three holes I mentioned were the only critical adjustments I had to do. I might polish/buff the slider so I can get it a little tighter without too much more friction. I might emboss some of the reedslots you hang out on a lot in blues chro playing (ie. in holes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7). Like I said, this harp is breathier than a diatonic, but I think it’s quite airtight already for a chro, especially a valveless one! But if I can get it more airtight, particularly on those draw notes I hit a lot iin blues, then it just might be a bit easier to play coming from a diatonic harp players view. I’ll bend in the back tabs on the coverplates and open them up a bit for better projection/volume, but I do this on all my harps.
What’s my final judgment? This harp rocks! You cannot beat the quality for money ratio represented in this instrument. If you are a diatonic blues player like me and you want to start dabbling in chro, this is THE instrument for you. Why pay so much more? Especially since you are going to want to pull a bunch of the draw valves off anyway. Yes, I’m sure that some of the expensive chros play better than this one, but this one plays VERY well. I really don’t feel that I made a “compromise” with this harp. It’s a real instrument. End of story.
Links to YouTube videos where I review and play this harmonica:
Video 1 (Initial impressions, features, pros, cons)
Video 2 (Under the hood, regapping, slide adjustment, playability)
Video 3 (Slow blues)
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nice review isaac, thanks
I'm not interested in chromatics, and yet I really enjoyed your review. I wish you had a similar one for every major harp on the market! Great job.
Thanks guy's! It's so rare to feel like you got more than you paid for in a Harmonica these days that I felt I had to spread the word! I've always valued detailed reviews when making my own harmonica purchaases (It is, after all, one of the only intruments you can't try before you buy), and I just hoped that it might help someone make a decision... I'm glad you liked it!