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Special 20 vs Bluesmaster vs 1910 Reviews

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Broke Leg J
Jan 29, 2011 8:23 PM GMT

I’ve been playing harmonica for about a year and a quarter as of the writing of this review. In this time, I’ve played Hohner Special 20s, Suzuki Bluesmasters and Lee Oskar 1910s. I went through a few Special 20s in the first year and one Bluesmaster (blown reeds… sticking or broken), but probably largely due to using too much air while playing. With the cost of a new harmonica versus the time or cost to fix one, I buy new harps when one gets wrecked. I probably play 5 to 7 hours a week and am certainly making progress as a harmonica player. Finding the right hole via muscle memory, without having to look, has gotten pretty solid, though I’d still like to be better. Here are my relatively newbie observations.

Responsiveness

Hohner Special 20 – the Special 20s are the most responsive of the three. The reeds seem to activate very quickly and speed playing with very little air is very easy.

Suzuki Bluesmaster – the responsiveness of the Bluesmaster is less than the Special 20 and pretty comparable to the 1910. This harp is still reasonably responsive to a small amount of air.

Lee Oskar 1910 - the responsiveness of the 1910 is less than the Special 20 and probably very slightly less than the Bluesmaster. This harp is still reasonably responsive to a small amount of air, though of the three harps, it does take the most air to sustain a note (I would guess due to a larger hole size).

Bending

Hohner Special 20 – The Special 20s are the easiest of the three harps to bend. I think because of how responsive this harp is, unless you can keep your air pressure and mouth cavity constant, holding a pure, sustained bent note can be challenging (it’s easy to go high, low, high, low as you are trying to find and hold a bent note).

Suzuki Bluesmaster – I find bending the Bluesmaster in tune and holding the note is easiest among the three harps.

Lee Oskar 1910 – the 1910 is slightly harder to bend initially than the Bluesmaster. Due to the amount of air I need to sustain a note, holding the bent note is also less easy than the Bluesmaster. That said, I think bent notes are more stable in pitch than the Special 20.

Durability

Hohner Special 20 – I think responsiveness and ease of bending come at the cost of reeds that more easily stick or break. I have not played Lee Oskars for long, but I think this harp is the least durable of the three. I’ve gone through 4 or 5 in a year (all 5 draw reeds) and in the last 6 months only rarely play them in lieu of the Bluesmaster (due to durability concerns).

Suzuki Bluesmaster – The reeds appear more durable than the Special 20s (though I have blown out a 3 draw reed after extensive practicing). I think durability is probably comparable with the 1910.

Lee Oskar 1910 – The reeds appear comparably durable with the Bluesmaster and more durable than the Special 20s (though I have not been playing the Lee Oskars as long).

Comfortability

Hohner Special 20 – The Special 20s are a slightly shorter harp than either the Bluesmaster or 1910. My hands are small and this helps a bit. I also never have problems with my moustache getting caught. That said, the case style (square ends) is less comfortable than the Bluesmaster.

Suzuki Bluesmaster – The Bluesmaster and 1910 are about the same length and slightly longer than the Special 20. I occasionally get a moustache hair caught, but rarely. The rounded corners on the case are really comfortable to hold and give me the best cup.

Lee Oskar 1910 - The 1910 and Bluesmaster are about the same length and slightly longer than the Special 20. I occasionally get a moustache hair caught, slightly more frequently than the Bluesmaster, but not commonly. The case style (square ends) is less comfortable than the Bluesmaster.

Note Finding / Playability

Hohner Special 20 – While I have not measured the hole dimensions of the Bluesmaster or Special 20, the holes are smaller than the 1910. The holes on the Bluesmaster seem to be ever so slightly smaller than the Special 20. The slightly larger holes (whether real or virtual) and the better responsiveness make single note playing slightly easier than the Bluesmaster. Shakes and glissandos for the Special 20 and Bluesmaster are pretty comparable.

Suzuki Bluesmaster – While I have not measured the hole dimensions of the Bluesmaster or Special 20, the holes are smaller than the 1910. The holes on the Bluesmaster seem to be ever so slightly smaller than the Special 20. The smaller holes make it a bit harder for me to confirm I’m centered on a single note by feel. I think this is probably only personal preference, but I thought I’d share. As I generate even better muscle memory, I’m sure my single note playing on any harp will be better, regardless of hole size. Shakes and glissandos for the Special 20 and Bluesmaster are pretty comparable.

Lee Oskar 1910 – This is where this harp shines for me. The holes are slightly larger and the gaps between holes slightly smaller than the other two models, which makes it easier to confirm I’m centered on a hole and get more consistent single notes. I can more easily feel the hole through my lips.) Shakes are also a bit easier for me for this reason. It’s easiest to get two very clear notes on a two hole shake. I think glissandos are also a bit easier for this reason, when I want note to note separation, rather than a less distinct slide along a progression of notes.

Volume / Tone

Hohner Special 20 – The volume is comparable to the Bluesmaster, with I think a very slightly less warm tone.

Suzuki Bluesmaster – The volume is comparable to the Special 20, with I think a very slightly warmer tone.

Lee Oskar 1910 – This harp produces more volume than the other two. So, depending on preference and application (acoustic versus amplified) volume might be a deciding characteristic. Tone seems a bit tinnier or brassier than the other two harps, though I confess tone is something non harp players ever seem to notice and I’m also not very good at differentiating.

Summary

For $25 to $30 a piece, you can’t go wrong picking any of these models.

I now choose my harp model for the song I’m playing. If I have a very fast piece which includes lots of half step bends, and quick runs where speed rather than clear single notes is of primary concern, I like the Special 20. For warm, stable, moderate tempo melodic playing, especially on the high end of the harp, with some sustained bent notes on the lower end, I like the Bluesmaster. When single notes are the key in a moderately fast piece, or when I want a big brassy sound (think horn line), I like the 1910 (currently my favorite to play for ease of getting around the harp).

I’m sure others have different preferences and thoughts about the type of piece or playing style best suited for a given model, but these are my thoughts… as of this date.



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Comments (6)

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Jan 30, 2011 2:11 PM GMT
Mondo Replied:

Since I'm much more of a noob, I'll keep this short.

The fix I came up with for catchingmustachehairs is to put a drop of wax in the inside corners to plug the openings. Not enough that it globs up or spreads out; just a single drop seems to do the trick. Then smooth it out the "spur" on the outside and you're good to go!



Feb 02, 2011 4:40 PM GMT
walterharp Replied:

nice review



Feb 03, 2011 8:47 PM GMT
walterharp Replied:

blue tack also works and won't melt into the reeds if you happen to leave the harp in the sun



Feb 05, 2011 9:12 AM GMT
Mondo Replied:

What's blue tack? Some kind of putty/tar stuff that don't melt?



Feb 08, 2011 3:18 PM GMT
walterharp Replied:

blue tack is the stuff they sell to stick things to walls without using nails or screws.. it is a blue sticky putty



Feb 10, 2011 5:48 AM GMT
Mondo Replied:

Ah! Now to buy some of that and get the wax out. Hmmm... didn't think I'd ever need to remove it!




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