Lee Oskar harps have a beautiful, clean tone that sounds fantastic, yet bends very well, and is very comparable to the Special 20. I’d argue that, in 1st position, Lee Oskar wins in the tone-department, but for blues, while Special 20 is more consistent on the short reeds, Lee Oskars’ performance is pretty dang close. Like most quality blues harps, the reed plate is recessed into the comb, making it very air tight, so you’ll consistently have great tone-control, regardless.
In addition to your standard 12 diatonic major keys, Lee Oskar also offers a variety of alternate tunings. If blues harp is your animal, you will LOVE Natural Minor harps. Once you’ve tried one to honk along with “House of the Rising Sun” or other minor songs, you’ll wonder how you ever used anything else. For non-blues music, they also offer Harmonic Minor harps (which have a very Eastern-European “ethnic” sound, perfect for bar mitzvahs or your next Ukrainian house party), as well as the Melody Maker series, which are straight scales designed for single-hole solo play.
While some alternate tunings are available from some other manufacturers, you’ll drive yourself crazy hunting for them. Lee Oskar alternate tunings are always readily available and easy to find wherever their harps are sold. The only popular tuning they don’t offer is Paddy, so if you’re Irish or a Newfoundlander, and you want to reel, then I would recommend the Easttop Paddy harps- well-made at a very low price.
A Lee Oskar harp is going to run you around $45-$60 so, while they’re not cheap, they do offer a complete line of reed plates for every single harp they make for around $25, so if you blow out a harp, don’t buy a new one – just replace the reed plates. Your Lee Oscar harp is held together with 5 screws (2 for the outer plates/3 for the reeds) so it’s super-easy to repair them at a fraction of the cost of a new harp. You can also purchase cover plates & combs, again – all very easy to order wherever Lee Oskars are sold. You never have to go crazy, hunting for the right Lee Oskar reed plate, and it’s probably a good idea to keep a few spare reed plates around for your most frequently used keys.
This is a very minor thing, but one that I still very much appreciate. Every Lee Oskar harp is labelled with the key on the comb face, as well as the 1st & 2nd position keys on each side. It may seem like a cosmetic detail, but lemme tell ya, it makes grabbing the right harp a lot quicker & easier. More importantly, the labels STAY THERE! I can’t tell you how many harp labels from other manufacturers I’ve rubbed off just from normal use. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Hohner Big River… you know what you did.
Anyway, those are just a few of the things that make me a fan of Lee Oskar harmonicas, so even if you’re a Special 20 addict, I encourage you to give Lee Oskar a try, especially their natural minor tunings.