Marine Band 1896 or Special 20

I’m confused now. I have a set of 7 Marine Band 1896 because I know there many professional harp players that prefer it. But I know many professional harp players prefer the Special 20. AND, I know the basic plusses & minuses of each.

SO, my unofficial poll - which would you prefer? A Marine Band 1896 or Special 20?

I have a Special 20 in the key of C and have been practicing several licks. I’ve finally warmed up to the Special 20. So now I’m not sure which I would prefer. I’m curious what others have to say.

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Don, Some purists prefer the “tin sandwich” of the Marine Band, because it has the “Hohner Sound” that is unmistakable. However some folks have a skin reaction when their lips touch the brass reed plates and the old nickel plated cover plates. These players prefer the Special 20 comb where the reed plates are recessed in the comb.

My preference is the the Hohner Rocket. It and the Special 20 are both in Hohner’s “Progressive” lineup and I have never been more happy with a harmonica than I am with my Rockets.

Be careful Don… you said that you are warming up to the Special 20. I can assure you that when you try a Rocket, you’ll never look back at any others.


I have Marine Bands everywhere, and yes I like them and enjoy their classic sound. I don’t play diatonic as much as I used to but when I do it’s the Special 20 for me. I enjoy the playing comfort and its warm tone. I consider the Special 20 an advancement on the diatonic harmonica. I’m no purist, and definitely no Pro, but I’ve played long enough to develop my preferences. Play all your harmonicas and eventually you’ll gravitate to the one for you. Don’t give up one or the other, try to find something to like in both.
My two cents,


Hi Don,
the Marine Band 1896 and Special 20 are both great harmonicas and both are fitted with the same Hohner Classic reeds, the most important factor in defining the sound. As Harmonicat has pointed out, the difference lies in the construction - the MB employs the traditional sandwich design, where your lips touch the edges of the brass reed plates, whereas the Sp. 20 features recessed reed plates and a plastic mouthpiece. Some people find this more comfortable. Both models have stainless steel covers, nickel plating was phased out a long time ago. The Special 20 is a true workhorse instrument and one of the most copied harmonica designs ever.

Personally I have a clear preference for the Marine Band, though I’m anything but a purist. It has an inimitable sound which is the reason for its lasting popularity and has made it the benchmark for diatonic harmonicas. In order to make it more comfortable to play and to improve ease of servicing, we developed the Marine Band Deluxe and Crossover models, both of which are fully assembled with screws and feature improved cover and comb design. I play both of these interchangeably. If you like the MB sound, you may want to try one of them.

However, if the Special 20 strikes a chord with you, then as Harmonicat suggests, you may want to try a Rocket. Here we introduced a number of new features including an ergonomic design where all outer edges are rounded for greater playing comfort, as well as wider channels and improved cover design for greater volume.

In the end, with any musical instrument it’s all down to personal preference. The harmonicas of both Marine Band and Progressive Series are all top quality instruments and share many of the same tonal characteristics due to the excellent reeds, so really it’s a matter of what you feel most comfortable with.

However you decide to choose, I hope you enjoy playing them,

best regards,

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Don ~ you have gotten some great information and advice. I’ll add that my preference has changed with experience over the five or six years I’ve been playing. I prefer playing the MB, but prefer repairing the Special 20 for the reasons mentioned.

Hohner offers choices. It’s the old “candy store problem.”

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One of the reasons why I prefer Marine Band Deluxe and Crossover is that the sandwich construction and small number of reed plate screws makes them the easiest harps in the world to work on. When tuning or offsetting reeds (something most players rarely need to consider), these models lie flat on the working surface once you’ve removed the covers and the reeds can be accessed and filed without difficulty. The recessed reed plates and projecting mouthpiece of the Special 20 mean there’s a considerable risk of the file scratching the outer edges of the mouthpiece when working on the reeds if you do this without completely disassembling the harp first. As I’m lazy and have to perform this task fairly often, I prefer a model which I’m less likely to damage :wink:

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Thanks for the insight.

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