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Does the Hohner Blues Harp have thinner reeds than other harps?

One of the myths that refuses to die is the one that says the Hohner Blues harps has thinner reeds, or "pre-stressed reeds" and is inferior in tone and longevity to other Hohner harps.

First of all, let's establish what we mean by the name "Blues Harp". Hohner have produced two different models with the name "Blues Harp" and the model number 532. The current one is part of the Modular System and has the initials MS after the name. It has exactly the same reedplates as the other standard MS harps, such as the Big River Harp, ProHarp MS, etc. (The Cross Harp MS has slightly thicker reedplates and the Meisterklasse MS has thicker reedplates which are also nickel plated on older models and chrome plated on more recent ones.)

The older Blues Harp is the source of all the rumours about thinner reeds. It was first made in the 1960s and discontinued in the 1990s. It featured a pear wood comb identical to that used on the Marine Band (except the paint on the front of the comb was a shade lighter than the paint used on the MB) and identical reedplates. Identical. The same thickness reedplates, the same slot lengths, the same rivets and the same reeds as the Marine Band. The only real difference between the Marine Band and the older Blues Harp is in the covers, yet for some reason, the rumour has persisted that the Blues Harp has inferior reeds.

In Hohner's early advertising for the Blues harp, they used the blurb: "World's first blues harmonica. Great new sound. Reeds set higher for greater action and longer life."

(From Hohner USA's 1968/69 catalog - used with permission)

Variations of this description are still being used today by retailers selling the Blues Harp MS. Somehow, this has become transformed into the general belief that the Blues Harp reeds are thinner than other Hohner reeds. The reedplates on the older Blues Harp were the same as those used on the Marine Band and to be honest, after servicing a great many of them, I never noticed that they were consistently set any differently than those on the Marine Band. Another story about them is that they were "pre-stressed" to make them easier to bend. I have never seen any official Hohner publication that makes this claim nor does it make any sense. "Pre-stressing" the reeds would do nothing to make them easier to bend, besides, any sort of special treatment of the reeds would put up the production costs for the instrument. The Blues Harp was only a few cents more expensive than the Marine Band when it was first issued and in later years the Blues Harp was generally a little cheaper than the MB.

In my opinion, the only real drawback to the older Blues Harp was that the lower cover was a little too shallow, allowing the lower draw reeds of lower keyed harps to rattle against the cover if they were played too hard. Apparently, Paul Butterfield was involved in some early testing of the Blues Harp and he had the same complaint.

Despite all of the above, it is still all too common to read about experienced players who have found that the Blues Harp had an inferior tone, or wore out very quickly. This probably just goes to show how much a player's expectations affect their perception of a harmonica.

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