I got to looking at recent prices, (and giving consideration to), Beginner/starter harps in comparison to the Hohner Special 20/Lee Oskar/ Seydel Session (Std.)/ and the Suzuki Bluesmaster. These are comparable harps that have all been easy to access for about the last 5-10 years.
Prices, however, have climbed out of a twenty year low up into the stratosphere! Have a look:
Hohner Marine Band - $44.99 USD (Amazon)
M.B. Deluxe - 45.95 "
Special 20 - 44.99 "
Hohner's WEREabout $25.95 in 2002. Deluxe's WERE over $$75 and Sp 20's WERE $11.95. Huang's were under $10. Lee Oskar's about $29.95 along with the Suzuki's! What happened? Popularity, competition, personal repair and modification and YouTube have all contributed to a strengthening world market.
It's no wonder that a newbie harp player wants to know "What harp do I get?". On the plus side there are Huang's, Suzuki Folkmaster's and resources like Harp House, Route 66 Harmonica Club/Mike Peace and many other professional repair and modification people who turn out a good harp. Oh there are resources like eBay, yard sales and used vendors. (The recommendation here is that either you or a harp-smith give each harp a good once over aimed at cleaning-tuning and reassembly.)
Don't feel daunted by the challenge of harmonica acquisition: feel empowered by it!
Prices have climbed no doubt. When you get to the age of myself and Suave, then you can spout out recalling the time when and good German made Old Standby was $1.50-$2.00 and Marine Bands were a buck or two higher and if you couldn't pick up enough pop bottles for an Old Standby you could get an American Ace for a buck and it played just fine. I remember the first chromatic I bought as a new teenager; I had trapped fur all winter catching mostly skunks and possums. I sent my furs to Taylor Fur Company and couple weeks later got a check for $21.25. With that I bought a Hohner 260 chromatic and I was thrilled with it. It was different and I couldn't play much on it at first, but I was still thrilled with it. I had enough money left over to get a Zebco 33 fishing reel and I was also thrilled with that.
Another interesting price based phenomenon is the fluctuation due to exchange rates. Recently the Aus Dollar was down against the Euro and US Dollar, so harmonicas started to cost a lot more. The Aus dollar has climbed back up again and thus the price of harmonicas have gone down again. Price raises, like death and taxes, seem inevitable now.
I've largely stopped buying German harps because they are just too expensive. That's certainly not to say that I won't buy one again because I do like them...but it would require special circumstances. Maybe someday I'll treat myself to another Seydel 1847. And I have a half dozen Session Steels....great harps but I've about hit my limit.
The price of Hohners in Canada is so outrageous it's almost funny. I wouldn't even consider buying a Marine Band again. The analogy I've used before is this: Marine Bands are like Chevrolets. Chevrolets are good solid cars and I like them...I'm a Chevy man. But if I'm buying a Chevrolet, don't charge me for a Cadillac. If I'm going to buy a nailed together, wooden Marine Band, then don't charge me the same price as a bolted together premium harp with an anodized aluminum comb. I paid $34.00CDN for a Marine Band in Canada in 2013. I'm not going to pay $62.00CDN (an average price) in 2016.
At the moment, I'm concentrating on the Japanese harps available on amazon and ebay.
First off, I'd say the "beginner/starter harp" is now a rather arbitrary description. At one time, it would describe a decent quality affordable harp. These days, the price has largely been divorced from the equation.
Would everybody agree that a Hohner Special 20 is a great beginner harp? Absolutely. Would every agree that the Suzuki Hammond is a high quality premium harp? I think they would. Yet I have bought Suzuki Hammonds for much less than Hohner Special 20s. Is the Lee Oskar a good beginner harp? Sure it is. But you can buy a top-of-line Tombo Aero Reed with a chromed aluminum comb directly from Japan for less than the cost of a Tombo manufactured Lee Oskar.
With apologies to North American harp dealers, I now buy mostly on amazon (amazon.ca here in Canada) and eBay.
Amazon (at least in Canada) has some crazy good deals but you have to keep on top of the market and grab deals when you find them. As I mentioned in another thread, I picked up a Suzuki Hammond for $26.16CDN which is less than $20.00US at the current exchange rate. Right now, I can buy a Tombo Aero Reed in the key of C for $49.03CDN ($38.00US) direct from Japan with free-shipping from a third party seller on amazon. Maybe you want a different key than C...if you are looking to round out you collection, amazon.ca has several Suzuki Olives (excellent high end harps) for little more than $26.00CDN (again, less than $20.00US).
So am I going to walk into an "authorized dealer" and pay $45.00US for a Hohner Marine Band or Special 20? Nope...that won't happen.
Amazon has a great price right now on the Easttop T008K for $9.80 and the T008S for $20.80. I have 7 of the T008S and I really like them. I also have one of the T008K, also a good harp and $9.80 for it is a steal.
Yup, I paid $3.50 for my first Marine Band from Carlton's Music, Winter Haven Florida.
I would buy complete gig sets ( G,A, Bb, C, D, F ) for less than $25.00. I switched to
Special 20's when they came out and have watched the price rise incrementally year
by year.. After years of throwing harmonicas that no longer functioned into a drawer
I wised up and bought repair tools from F&R Farrell (Vendor no longer in business)
some of you old timers may remember them. The old man Richard was very helpful
to a young man wanting to glean as much info as possible on the repair and fine tuning
of harmonicas. He told me, "If you can't fix your own instruments, you can't afford to
play them". Granted, the Farrell company specialized in chromatics and one can appreciate
where he was coming from, but by the time I heard it I was paying him $16.40 apiece
for Special 20's. (40% discount, man I miss F&R) and gig sets were now running near a
After learning from, Richard Farrell, Richard Sleigh, and Michael Timler as well as picking the brains
of as many other harp techs as will take the time to talk, I am happy with the proficiency I have now.
Now when I lose a reed I simply replace it. When my harps go out of tune I tune them. If I am not
happy with how a harp responds OTB, I can make the necessary adjustments. I now love the new
Hohner Rockets, but the reeds need to be profiled and gapped to my liking. But being from Hohners
Progressive line they take the work beautifully. I not stuck on any one manufacturer, I like Suzuki,
and Seidel too. Although it was that raspy, jangly, Marine Band tone that grabbed my ear so long ago
and hasn't turned loose yet.
Hmmmm Fishin' and playin' harp are probably my two most favorite activities one can do with their
clothes on. Too hot to fish, glad I have these harps to cool on.