HOHNER Affiliated Customizers


The seal for high-end quality

What is Harmonica Customizing?

Customizing is a generic expression used to describe systematic modifications to a series product in order to meet the specific requirements of an individual customer.

Although a HOHNER harmonica such as the MARINE BAND CROSSOVER offers exceptional quality "out of the box", even the best harmonica from a production line cannot meet all the specific needs of every individual musician. People are looking for different things. A raunchy blues player, a gentle folk stylist and an overblow specialist, for example, all have widely varying approaches and employ completely different embouchures, vocal tract forms and breath pressures to create their music. No serial product can simultaneously meet all these demands, so it's common practice to adjust the instrument to suit the needs of the individual player.

What does the customizer do?

a) Semi Customizing

Semi Customizing is a sales offer to an unspecific circle of potential purchasers, usually involving physical modifications to the finished instrument. A typical example of semi customizing is the offer to exchange combs or covers on an undefined number of harmonicas at a defined serial level. Another example would be the offer of standardized alternate tunings in either an online base or a catalogue. Much semi customizing does not encompass the reed work delineated below and in such cases can also be performed by non-players.

b) Full Customizing

Full customizing involves accepting orders to modify harmonicas in order to improve performance in regard to the specific playing style of the customer, as well as fulfilling individual wishes by exchanging or modifying parts of the instrument.

Here the goal is to make the harmonica play better, sound louder, respond better and/or facilitate certain playing styles such as overbends. In addition to the operations performed by semi customizers, full customizing always involves extensive modifications to reeds and reed slots (embossing, offsetting, gapping, polishing, bevelling of reed edges, fine tuning et al). This highly skilled work can only be conducted by experienced technicians who are also expert players.

The HOHNER AFFILIATED CUSTOMIZER PROGRAM is aimed at bringing together the finest harmonica customizers in the world under the seal of the HOHNER AFFILIATED CUSTOMIZERS. This is an independently certified seal of quality which guarantees the highest possible standards of craftsmanship, based on the finest harmonicas in the world, made by HOHNER. It represents a historic step both for HOHNER and for the harmonica community as a whole.




  • developed an internationally accepted harmonica customizing standard known as “Filisko method harmonicas”
  • founded the Filisko Guild of harmonica customizers
  • helped spread the overblowing technique by building instruments for Howard Levy and other top players
  • enjoys a worldwide reputation among harmonica players as an independent spirit
  • is deeply committed to HOHNER and the Marine Band harmonica
  • is “spiritus rector” for the Marine Band Thunderbird

In order to provide a guarantee for the consumer that anyone certified as a HOHNER AFFILIATED CUSTOMIZER is capable of a level of craftsmanship which fulfils the highest possible expectations, it was necessary to agree upon an unimpeachable and widely accepted authority to bestow this revolutionary new seal of quality. To this end, HOHNER has entered into a close cooperation with harmonica customizing pioneer and master player Joe Filisko.

A trained machinist who also studied guitar at college, Filisko began customizing HOHNER harmonicas by the end of 1990 and was the first to commercially market modern customizing services, catering to an international circle of top players including Howard Levy, Kim Wilson, Steve Baker and many more. His instruments rapidly gained iconic status among harmonica afficionados thanks to their vastly improved

playablility and have long been the benchmark for quality in this field. Joe shared his knowledge with Richard Sleigh, and the two of them went on to test hundreds of ways to upgrade harmonicas, developing and refining the techniques known as the "Filisko Method". Jimmy Gordon joined forces with Joe and Richard and also contributed to the Filisko method.

As one of the world's leading experts for traditional blues harmonica styles, Joe Filisko has long been a dedicated proponent of the HOHNER Marine Band harmonica and it is certainly no coincidence that a substantial majority of harmonica customizers worldwide choose this model as the basis for their work, whether when building instruments for traditional players, or for state of the art contemporary stylists.

If their application to take part in the certification process is accepted, candidates have to submit samples of their work to Joe Filisko for in depth assessment. HOHNER may not influence his decision in any way and his answer will be either "yes" or "no". Only those applicants whose work satisifes his extremely exacting standards will be granted certification as a HOHNER AFFILIATED CUSTOMIZER and may use logo and certification in their advertising. With this bold move, HOHNER brings clarity for the consumer as well as recognition for the craftsmen and sets new standards in this area.


Thomas Hanke



  • born in Leipzig in 1968
  • started playing harmonica
    at the age of 14
  • studied harmonica building with former
    HOHNER master craftsman Gunter Bayer, Trossingen
  • strongly committed to HOHNER and the Marine Band harmonica
  • builds both diatonic and chromatic models according to the individual wishes of the customer, on the basis of original HOHNER harmonicas
  • high-end players such as Steve Baker and overblow avantgardist Marc Breitfelder use his instruments

    Thomas Hanke was born in Leipzig in 1968 and grew up in that city. He began playing the harmonica at the age of 14 and became a professional musician in 1988. Appearing live on stage in various different line-ups, he gained experience and soon earned himself a name as a harmonica player.

    Parallel to his life as a musician, Thomas found himself developing an ever growing and profound interest in the instrument itself. He began studying the inner workings of the harmonica and soon acquired the ability to adjust the instrument to better suit his own requirements, as well as conducting minor repairs.

    His concentration and dedication paid off when he became the first applicant for certification under the newly created HOHNER AFFILIATED CUSTOMIZER program. A selection of his instruments were subjected to intense scrutiny by Joe Filisko, who has kindly agreed to evaluate the work of customizers wishing to affiliate with the company. Joe's verdict was positive and Thomas Hanke became the very first person to be awarded the exclusive title of HOHNER AFFILIATED CUSTOMIZER.

    This positive assessment has already born fruit, not only in his native Germany, but also in regard to enquiries from players all over Europe. The certification offers clients a reliable guarantee of highest quality and outstanding workmanship. Thomas Hanke builds both diatonic and chromatic models according to the individual wishes of the customer, on the basis of original HOHNER harmonicas.


    When Thomas Hanke works on an order, he does so with passionate attention to every detail, with the object of realizing the wishes of the customer in the best possible way. His own preferences take a back seat in this process, which is aimed at giving each instrument its own unmistakeable character. Thomas Hanke's systematic and contemplative approach helps him to open inner doors and find new ways to pursue his quest to create the (almost) perfect harmonica.


    Joe Spiers' mission is to maximize your sensual interaction with the harmonica, so you can better express emotion in your music. This is the way it feels, sounds, the way the reeds respond to your subtle commands.

    As a traditional-style tongue-block player, he enjoys the heritage of the Marine Band and the music that's been made with it over time.

    He understands the joy of rich chords, airtight bends, and the ability to breath freely- while at the same time, not wasting your air.

    Efficiency and dynamics!

    He also has a strong reputation for meeting the needs of respected players employing the overblow style to achieve chromaticity on the diatonic harp.

    Joe's musical background started while fairly young, first learning to play the tuba in school. This was his formal introduction to the diaphragm, as well as strobe tuners!

    He then switched to percussion, soon earning and keeping "first chair". But his main focus was vocals, both in school and church.

    Eventually, the harmonica came onto his radar. The intimate privacy of the instrument was very appealing, yet it could take the lead when needed! It was love at first sight.

    Joe has been involved with a few bands, so he understands the demands of the instrument on stage. But with his growing business as a harmonica technician, he now chooses to focus on the work at hand which he enjoys so much.

    His technical background began in the automotive field, and continued for over 25 years. He holds a "master technician" certification in the heavy truck industry. He left that profession in 2011. After several years of customizing harmonicas as a side job, it became necessary to either do it full time or stop doing it, in order to best serve his clients.


    Neil William Graham

    Neil William Graham - Australia
    Born in Melbourne, Australia in February 1946; Neil Graham has gained a reputation for producing high quality custom diatonic harmonicas to players all over the world. He is widely regarded as a technician; being one of the few who strives to bring out the best in the Hohner diatonic Harmonica. With an extensive background in engineering and many years’ experience as a professional player, he had a head start to understanding what it takes to make a harmonica perform at its very best.

    The ground-breaking work of Joe Filisko is the continued inspiration behind Neil Graham Custom Harmonicas. Since 1999, Neil has supplied a reliable custom harmonica service to a loyal customer base; ranging from the famous, to up and coming musicians. All customers benefit from the personal customization service to suit their individual playing styles, with the added benefit of playing personally honed and adjusted instruments, with improved endurance for the serious harp enthusiast.

    Neil began his music career in the coffee lounges of Melbourne in the 1960's as a sidesman harmonica player. He worked with Ray Rivamonte, John Graham and others performing traditional Australian and American folk music and blues. During the 1970's Neil fronted several blues bands based in the renowned Diamond Valley/Eltham area and performed regularly at a number of iconic Melbourne venues. Throughout the 80's and 90's he was a regular and popular performer with several bands on the far South Coast of New South Wales.

    For the past decade he has concentrated on writing and performing songs of his own, working solo with a harmonica and Dobro guitar. The songs are quirky and topical, reflecting his unique view of the world and life in general. Neil is a truly original stylist who has never forgotten the roots from which his music springs.

    In 2001 Neil attended the World Harmonica Festival in Trossingen, Germany where he ranked 7th runner up in the World Harmonica Championship. In 2002 Neil was awarded a Churchill Fellowship for his customization work. This fellowship enabled him to travel the United States of America, where he studied first-hand the latest trends in harmonica customisation. In February 2009 and again in 2011, Neil was chosen to perform both concerts and workshops at the Playmakers festival in Albany, Western Australia alongside Joe Filisko, Eric Noden, Brendan Power, Justin Brady and others. Other regular appearances include the recent Eltham Town Jazz and Blues Heritage Festival, Victoria; the Cobargo Folk Festival and at the Great Southern Blues and Rockabilly Festival, on the Far South Coast of New South Wales, Australia. Performances are rare in present days, as the harmonica workshop has taken priority as a full time career. Neil is thrilled to be part of the Hohner Accredited Customiser Program.

    Hangin’ with the Dog, Blue Roots / 1996   
    As a Spark (Solo album) / 2003    
    No Place left to hide (Solo album) / 2010


    Andrew Zajac loves the diatonic harmonica’s deep connection to the vocal tract.  That connection allows a kind of expression no other instrument can achieve.

    He realized that a well-playing harp can create an even closer connection and quickly found ways to improve his instruments.  It didn’t take long until Andrew was customizing and repairing harmonicas for his teacher, his teacher’s students and other players in his area. 

    Andrew’s repair services expanded as he gained customers from other parts of Canada, the USA and Europe.  In an effort to increase his productivity and shrink a growing waiting list he designed his own innovative tools and began manufacturing his own combs made from earth-friendly materials that do not swell when exposed to moisture.

    He began to offer his tools and provide instructions, so that players could repair and improve their harmonicas themselves instead of adding their names to his waiting list.

    His waiting list for repairs eventually grew to a point where he could no longer keep up and he chose to focus on only offering custom harmonicas, tools and combs.

    Andrew continuously refines his customization methods in search of ways to deepen the connection between the player and the instrument.

    Andrew’s focus is to provide each player with remarkably responsive harmonicas which are carefully tailored to the player’s needs.  He aims for exceptional customer satisfaction.

    Andrew lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.  He has a career background as a registered respiratory therapist and clinical perfusionist (heart-lung machine).  Those disciplines have provided Andrew with useful knowledge of the science behind air flow, lung and vocal tract anatomy and physiology, evidence-based practice and continuous quality improvement (CQI) as well as the ability to reliably provide precise results while keeping a cool head and steady hands under pressure.

    Andrew Zajac Webpage