There has been quite a lot of buzz on the various harmonica forums about Hohner's newest ten hole diatonic since its debut at NAMM in 2014, with it being frequently described as a sort of souped up Special 20. However, although the Rocket certainly has some features in common with the S20, there are also quite a few significant differences.
The first thing you will notice upon taking it out of its semi-hardshell zippered case is how extremely comfortable it is to handle. Both the comb and the covers are very ergonomically designed, with absolutely no sharp edges or corners anywhere. The covers are stainless steel and, in contrast to the closed in covers of the Special 20, they are wide open at the rear of the instrument and have large vents at the ends of each covers, like the Marine Band. The comb is grey ABS and the reed chambers are slightly wider than those on the S20, tapering to even wider holes in the mouthpiece, with narrower dividers between them. The reedplates appear to be identical with those used in the Special 20 and are attached with eight Phillips head screws.
The sample I have for review is in the key of Bb and is tuned in a light compromise temperament at about A=443Hz, similar to that used on the current crop of Marine Bands. All the octaves sound nice and clean and the chords sound pleasantly smooth. The reed adjustment is quite consistent over the full range of the harp, with the reeds being gapped a little wider than the other recently produced Hohner harps that I've played - I'm not sure if it is just the specimen I have for review, or if this is a general spec for the Rocket. This makes it better suited for the more aggressive player, but of course, if you have some basic reed adjustment skills, it would be no problem to set it up for a lighter touch. The construction of the Rocket gives it a very bright, lively sound, in noticeable contrast with the darker tone of the Special 20. I'm not sure that it is actually louder than the S20, but it does seem to be a bit more powerful and would be ideal for raucous acoustic sessions where you need a harmonica with some cutting power.
The Rocket is available in all twelve major keys and has a MSRP in the US of about $100, although it is generally retailing at about 2/3 of that and selling for comparable prices in Europe and the UK. Certainly not a cheap harp, by any means, but not outrageous for what you get. If you like the tone of the Marine Band Crossover, but would prefer a plastic comb with recessed reedplates, or if you love the Special 20, but wish it had a more aggressive tone, then I would definitely recommend checking out the Hohner Rocket. I've said it more than once recently, but I think it bears repeating - I believe Hohner are currently making some of the best harmonicas they've ever made and I think the Rocket might just be my favorite of all their recently introduced diatonics.
I've not had the opportunity to play any, but there are now two additional Rocket models. The Rocket Amp is is similar to the standard Rocket, but features a green comb and covers without side vents. The Rocket Low has a blue comb, also lacks the vented covers and is available in Low C, Low D, Low Eb, Low E and Low F.
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