Over the years, the Hohner company has issued more than 40 different harmonicas with the name "Marine Band", the most famous one being their model #1896, the 10-hole diatonic that for many years was the only harmonica that most serious blues harp players would play. Despite its popularity, the 1896 has not been without criticism from its players and over recent years harmonica customisers have offered various upgrades to it. The Marine Band Crossover incorporates many of these improvements into an off-the-shelf product. The Crossover doesn't look radically different from the 1896 - it still has a sandwich-style construction on a wood comb and the famous slotted covers that Hohner patented more than a century ago. However, those covers are now made of stainless steel and held in place by four sets of fasteners, with the reedplates secured with three screws - no more nails to have to pry off, then hoping you can put it all back together without it leaking like a sieve! The comb is made from laminated bamboo with a sealant applied to all surfaces to make it moisture resistant. Apparently some new reed profiles are being used for this model and the tolerances between reed and reedplate look extremely good. Reed adjustment is very consistent across the full range and all the bends and overblows are easy to play, although I would need to tweak the upper reeds a little to get more reliable overdraws. Tuning is still done by scratching at the reed, but on the sample I have this seems to have been done with a much lighter hand than often used to be the case. The Crossover uses a compromise temperament somewhat closer to equal temperament than on previous MB models and the tuning on this particular one is extremely well done.
The sample I have for review is in the key of G and I compared it side by side with a Marine Band in the same key dating from the late 1930s. Both harps are very responsive, although the Crossover sounds significantly brighter and possibly a little louder. The Just Intonation of the pre-war harp makes its chords sound much smoother, although I'm sure that there are many players who would prefer the compromise tuning of the Crossover, lacking the "flat" 5 draw that some find objectional especially during single note play. Also, although the cardboard box of the old MB has survived surprisingly well, the nice semi-hardshell zippered case of the Crossover is definitely going to offer better protection. All in all, rather than hunting on eBay for vintage Marine Bands and hoping that the reeds are in good shape, I think you would be better off investing in the Crossover. I would even go so far as to say that this is possibly the best out-of-the-box Hohner diatonic I've ever played. It's available in all keys and the RRP in the US is $88.00, although online dealers are selling it for around $60.
For more information, plus video of Joe Filisko and Howard Levy talking about the Crossover, please visit www.marinebandcrossover.com
It's less than two years since I first reviewed the Marine Band Crossover, describing it as "possibly the best out-of-the-box Hohner diatonic I've ever played". However, Hohner have managed to find a few ways to improve it. The first thing that I noticed was a slight reshaping of the covers, making the front of the covers much more comfortable on the lips and less likely to snag a moustache hair. Less visible is the extra coating of sealant given to the laminated bamboo comb, making it even more resistant to moisture and smoother feeling on the tongue. If I'm not mistaken, the edges of the comb tines are also angled a little more, further enhancing tongue blocking comfort. The sample I have for review is in the key of F and it plays extremely well. All the bends and overblows are very easy to hit cleanly, right out of the box. The overdraws were a little squeaky, probably not too surprising on an F harp, but a little bit of tweaking of the reeds took care of that - although I'm not sure how many harp players are going to be leaning on the hole 10 overdraw on an F harp anyway. The reed adjustment and tuning should suit a wide range of different playing styles and although they cost a little more than a regular Marine Band, they are still cheaper than buying a good custom harp and save you the time and hassle of sealing combs and assembling with screws. As regular readers will know, I'm not the world's biggest fan of sandwich-style harps with wood combs, but these are truly superb instruments.
Note - the low keys of the Crossover (it was originally planned to be available in all keys down to low C) have now been incoroporated into the Thunderbird series.
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