Re: Hohner - new standards?

TO: internet:harp-l@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Tim's answer on Hohner Modular Series harps is partly right. The
real story is a little more complex.

ALL Hohner diatonics in Europe (again with the exception of the
Golden Melody) are ALREADY MODULAR (I saw them last summer in
Germany). European HIPsters are writing me letters complaining
and asking where they can get handmade Marine Bands and Special
20's. I refer them to Kevin and to Farrell.

In North America, everthing EXCEPT the Marine Band and Special 20
(and Golden Melody) are modular. Hohner USA, which is a marketing
company separate from Hohner in Germany, very smartly refused to
buy them and insisted that Hohner continue to supply the
traditional models.

Some economic reality - North America accounts for about 70-80%
of Hohner's sales worldwide, and diatonics account for about 70%
of harmonica production, so at least 50% of Hohner's harmonica
revenues (probably more) come from North America. And Marine Band
and Special 20 are probably the most popular models. Who do you
think holds the hammer in this relationship?

That being said, the eggheads in Trossingen are very bullheaded
and have committed to automation. The old machinery for hand
production is wearing out. The economics of automated production
are very compelling. And the *idea* of interchangeable
reedplates, combs (wood/metal/plastic) and covers, and of
all-screw assembly  is very appealing.

The only problem is that Hohner approached automation entirely
from the angle of production, and redesigned the instruments to
be easily manufactured without regard to their playing qualities.
Some of this is a matter of design, and some of materials - the
phosphor bronze now used is harder than brass, and can be made
into thinner reeds, but response is relatively poor and tone not
very good.

Actually, good quality brass - good for harmonica reeds - is hard
to come by. In recent years, Hohner has been using whatever is
available on the market, but as industrial demand for brass
shrinks, so does the variety of choices. It is possible to have
brass made to custom specifications, but only in lots of
something like 50 metric tonnes - far more than Hohner could
possibly use in any reasonable space of time.

Hohner is not insensible to the problems of the modular line.
When Steve Baker first showed me prototypes in 1992, I planned to
write a feature story and called Jack Kavoukian (director of
Marketing for Hohner USA) for more information. Jack asked me to
wait awhile before writing anything, as he felt the modular
series was not yet ready for prime time. I got the impression he
wasn't very comfortable with the modular instruments. He still
hasn't given me an indication that he's ready to talk about the

A year later, I was in Germany and asked Hohner production
manager Gerhard Mueller to send me review samples. Eight months
later, he still hasn't sent them.

Meanwhile, my girlfriend, Patricia Duque, who has a background in
manufacturing and quality control, toured the modular factory.
The guides were trying to hurry the group through the tour
(when they group showed up for the pre-arranged tour, the
receptionist denied that a tour was scheduled and tried to make
them leave - classic Hohner behavior. If you cherish and miss the
old tales of Soviet bureaucracy and Kafkaesque statements, you
might palliate your withdrawal symptoms with such enjoyable
stories of Hohner pigheadedness), but Pat and other attendees
were peering at the display readouts and watching the production
line. From what they could make out, the rejection rate - bad
harps - was fairly high, and we since learned that a lot of the
harps that come off the assembly line are subsequently hand

So it is clear that the dust is far from settled, and the modular
line will (I hope) see some corrective improvements. Certainly
the response of the biggest group of customers has made them
dimly aware of some relationship between what you sell and
whether anybody buys it.


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