RE: Out of the box

First, please post in plain text, as html is both bad netiquette
(amazing--spell checker knows this, but so few other significantly older
words) and harp-l does not work well with html email.

Second, IMO there are no high-end out-of-the-box harmonicas (with
perhaps one exception).  There are cheapos, low-end, and then a whole
lot of middle-end stock harps, which range in price, but not much in
features.  There really isn't anything special about a metal comb over a
wood or plastic comb.  It won't suddenly make the instrument easier to
play or anything (avoiding sound questions).  As for cover-plate shape,
well, there are a lot of choices, and it's personal.  Some feel the best
cover-shape is the classic MB, others prefer all-enclosing plates like
the GM or Meisterklasse.  Still others the S20/LO style plates.  None is
inherently better, as it's just a question of taste.  Some harps have
thicker or plated reed-plates, but again that's really not much of an
issue, IMO.  It can be nice, but rarely will it make the harp better

Simply put, if you want a better harp learn how to set your harps up
properly: gapping, tuning and the like (well, basically those two).
Stock harps are set up for one style of play--usually newbie-style at
that.  Learn how to set them up ideally for your style and you'll have a
much more responsive and rewarding instrument.  Learn how to adjust the
tuning (often not ideal on stock harps--usually the equally tuned harps
are fine, but, well, yuck), and you can get the chords to sound as
smooth as you want or the melody as consistent as desired.  This can be
done on any harp, regardless of price.

So, the question then becomes what features do you like best, and buy
the harp that conforms to that.  If it's not ideal out-of-the-box, spend
five to ten minutes on it and it can be.  

Now, the exception may be the Suzuki Overdrive.  While designed for
extended bending/overbending, it is also the most responsive
mass-produced harp I've ever played, by far.  Still, it's equally tuned,
gapped to a generic (but not as high  as most Hohners) and could use
some modification to the covers for more general usage.  But, that's the
only mass-made harp I've played that comes close to the high-end custom
harps (which have to be custom instruments, because a high-end product
can't be one-size-fits-none).  

Most of the differences in models are cosmetic, and some of the design
differences are relatively unimportant in terms of playability or
similar.  Take the reed-plate enclosed LO or S20 compared to the classic
tin-sandwich.  The LO-style is usually more airtight because the
reed-plates are automatically sealed by being settled into a specific
slot in the comb.  But, a tin-sandwich can be just as airtight if made
properly (not hard at all--just a matter of flat surfaces really).  So,
the difference then is really cosmetic: do you prefer tasting the
exposed reed-plate metal of a tin-sandwich, or the plastic of an
LO-style harp?  

Personally, I like most all of them: each has it's own pluses and
minuses.  If I wanted a metal combed, all-encompassing cover design I'd
go with the Promaster.  It's well made, usually in tune and I like both
the tone and responsiveness of the reeds.  It could use some work (of
course), but a simple gapping and tuning is all that's really needed.
If I wanted a Hohner, I'd go with the Special 20.  It's the best harp
Hohner makes, and is quite excellent, especially with, you guessed it, a
simple gapping and tuning.  Want a Marine-Band without the wood comb?
Just get some MB covers and stick them on an S20.  Want a very well-made
and responsive harp that will last a long time?  Get a Lee Oskar--lasts
longer than anything else I've used.

The good thing is there are so many options.  The bad thing is there is
not really a mass-made high-end for diatonics.  Probably there can't be,
as that is the nature of the beast.  So, if you really want the best,
you go to the best customisers (a very select group).  If you just want
very good, learn simple maintenance and set-up and any harp can become
that (well, any decent harp--cheap is cheap).

Not what you wanted to hear, but those are the conclusions I've reached
after trying nearly everything out there.  All decent mass-made harps
are mid-range in nature, so choose features you like and go from there.

 ()()   JR "Bulldogge" Ross
()  ()  & Snuffy, too:)

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