Hohner 280C 16 hole chromatic harmonica Review
Let’s start with the basics: the 280 C from Hohner is a 4 octave chromatic harmonica (which means you get all the sharps and flats and can thus play virtually anything in western music) over 4 octaves from C3 to D7, which range is larger than a violin or trumpet.
On the far left hole #1…when you blow, you get C3 on a piano,(which is one full octave under middle C,) and by progressing up the harmonica with appropriate blows and draws you progress through 4 octaves and end up at the far right hole (actual hole #16) where you’ll have B/C/C#/D.You can easily find the notes available, with and without use of the slide, on the web or at MASTERSOFHARMONICA.COM.
I don’t think there is a professional harmonica player in the world who has not owned, or does not currently own, a Hohner 280 C, or several of them.
The Hohner 280 C does have a “signature sound” described as bright, clear with higher frequency tonal mix, which is a great choice for many pieces. Alfie played by Stevie Wonder was recorded with a Hohner 280C, punched up by sound engineers!
Listen to some of the marvelous improvisational harmonica work by Hugo Diaz, who played only the Hohner 280 C as I understand it, for a feel for what this instrument can do.
This may seem obvious…but the harmonica is a BREATH instrument, and a bit unique in that you create notes both by blowing and by drawing, and doing that well is not as easy as it sounds. It’s definitely worth your time to develop strong skills at both drawing and blowing in a relaxed and controlled manner, just practice the blows and draws slowly until your abdominal muscles adapt.
With strong breath control, you’ll improve on the instrument.
The Hohner 280C instrument has been in production a long time.
Link to the harp on Hohner’s website…
Original versions were made with a pear wood comb and were straight-tuned, with a short-throw slide, which had a nice tone but less volume and big problem…the combs cannot be cleaned with water, which you most certainly would want to do. The pear wood combed 280 C’s have been out of production for many years, but they’re still on ebay.
I think sometime around the 1970’s Hohner dropped the pear wood comb for the 280 C, and changed to a light brown ABS plastic comb…this was the first model I played, which I feel was a bit too brittle sounding.
The next generation…and the prefered instrument by far with its screwed on (not nailed on ) reed plates and black polymer comb…offers a balanced tonal mix to the ear.
Note that the black polymer comb 280 C’s also come in different configurations…early models up till about 7 years ago had the reed plates nailed in place, which makes reed repair difficult and expensive, and if you’re not an experienced repairman you won’t be able to do much in the way of maintenance. Later models have bolted on reed plates. Repair pros do replace the nails with bolts usually as part of a servicing, but you may pay as much for the repair as you did for the instrument used when you bought it. Do not try to pull the nails yourself because you’ll likely bend the reed plate which means no more air seal and a scrapped harmonica usable only for parts.
The Hohner has brass reeds, which have a singular tone, but they do wear over a year’s use, and then lose their pitch or crack. This is the downside of brass reed instruments…constant repairs. However, you can learn to replace the reeds yourself and it’s uncommon for more than one or two to go bad per year.
Why do people still play brass reed harmonicas when the stainless steel Seydel Saxony is more reliable and brighter in tone? Because brass reeds have a signature sound.
If you have the money buy new, used instruments are often worn out and that’s why they’re for sale.
Worn out instruments choke on aggressive attack on the note, which a new Hohner instrument would likely not do for some time.
(Many other leading harmonica manufacturers have departed from brass reeds, to use phosphor bronze…Suzuki uses them, but they have a darker tone vs. brass. Musicians agree pretty much that phosphor bronze reeds and stainless steel reeds are far more reliable, and I’d agree.
But there are players who prefer the sound of brass.
Funny thing about chromatic harmonicas…the longer you play, over the years, the more you can get what you want from any harmonica…regardless of brand if it’s a professional instrument. Choice means alot in the early time, but after, less so.
While the Hohner 280 C is admittedly an older design (cover shape, mouthpiece design, and even reed material), it is a fine harmonica, expressive, and certainly worthy of the descriptor of a professional instrument. Downsides are its a bit leaky, and needs customizations you can find at
I don’t think anyone would be making a mistake in buying a new Hohner 280 C.
CUSTOMIZATIONS: The Hohner 280 has some flaws you can fix pretty easily when you become a bit more comfortable with the instrument. 1) The mouthpiece leaks alot of air, because there are alot of parts and the tolerances aren’t what they should be. One issue is the slide…they tend to need a little polishing with something like SWIRL, which is an automotive finishing polish, put some on a rag and rub back and forth on the slide, on a counter with the button hanging off the counter. If you bend the slide, it’s ruined. After 15 minutes, clean and lubricate with slide oil and it will work much better. 2) Another key customization to a 280C to bring it up to snuff is to smooth the upper surface of the plastic comb, as it is not flat from factory. This is important because the checkered “blank” sits on top of the comb, then the slide, then the mouthpice. You want that comb perfectly flat. I take the harmonica completely apart removing the reeds plates and spring, and place 500 grit sandpaper on glass, then sand gently until the entire surface shows signs of being sanded. Look very carefully at the center reed channels as they polish out last, ends polish first. Then clean, and reassemble, you’ll notice a big difference.
The third customization I recommend is to remove the cover stanchions, they are little pegs at the back of the harmonica which hold the cover off the comb/reedplate. They pull out easily, then put the covers back on and pull the center of the backs of the harmonica covers open a little, it will significantly enhance the volume of the instrument.
Breath savers…they are a problem because they stick to the reed plate and make a popping sound when you play a cold chromatic, they all do it to some extent. One solution is to warm the harmonica with your body heat for 10 minutes prior toplaying, but I’ve found breath savers do need to be replaced after 5+ years.
LINK to find the customizations on the Facebook Group…CHROMATIC HARMONICA CUSTOMIZATION
The fact is that even a customized Hohner 280C will not have the feel of more modern instruments, but will certainly work well enough for a starter to intermediate instrument.
I do not recommend lower grade chromatic harmonicas for beginners…they have many problems you don’t want to struggle with.