How to Buy A Harmonica

November 19, 2009 by  
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What type of Harmonica should I buy?

Diatonic - For beginners, commonly used to play blues/country but is appropriate for all kinds of music.  Diatonic Harmonicas have 10 holes and come in all 12 keys that allow the musician to perform a complete 7 note major scale in the key of the harmonica (equivalent to white notes on a piano).  Note bending and overblow techniques can be used to reach notes outside the major scale.  Diatonic Harmonicas are the easiest to learn on and therefore  recommended for beginners but don't let this generalization fool you.  Most professional harmonica players tend to predominately use the Diatonic Harmonica.

Chromatic - The focus of our website and harmonica reviews, chromatic harmonicas are the ones with the button.  When the button is not used the harmonica plays the major scale in the chosen key for that particular harmonica.  When the button is pushed the musician is able to reach the half-step notes in-between the major scale notes (equivalent to the black keys on a piano).  This allows one to play in any key and any type of scale.  This type of harmonica is most commonly used to play jazz, popular melodies, and classical music.

Tremolo - Tremolo harmonicas are basically Diatonic Harmonicas but they have double holes each containing two reeds that are tuned to the same note.  One reed is tuned slightly higher then the other and when the harmonica is played both will sound together, the slight difference in tuning creating a vibrating tremolo effect.  This type of harmonica is ideal for traditional music, Gospel, Old World, Folk, Country, Scottish, and Irish Music.

What key should I choose?

Harmonicas generally come in 12 basic keys.  If you are new the the key of C is the way to go and you will get a nice mid-range harmonica.  C is the most common and you will find most tutorials available are made for this key.  So what about the other keys?  If you are playing solo it really don't matter to much and they will all sound good.  If you are playing with other musicians then the choice becomes more critical.  The following is a guide of music style in relation to keys followed by what harmonica you should use in regards to the key of a song.

  • F, D, A, C, G, E and Bb keys: Blues, Rock, Country Music
  • Ab, Bb, Db, Eb and F#: Jazz
  • D: great for practicing bending (easiest to bend notes)
  • A: Nice low pitch sound but requires more effort blowing
Key of Song
Use this harmonica
A sharp/B flat D sharp/E flat
C sharp/D flat F sharp/G flat
D sharp/E flat G sharp/A flat
F A sharp/B flat
F sharp/ G flat B
G sharp/A flat C sharp/D flat

Plastic, Metal or Wood Harmonica?

The answer is metal.  Plastic Harmonicas are generally less expensive but most musicians agree that wood/plastic harps just do not sound as good and tend to leak air.  Even if you are just starting out I recommend making the investment into a professional sounding metal harmonica.  The importance of an enjoyable fulfilling practice session is depending on your harmonica and so is your level of motivation.

Our Picks

Beginners Harmonica

Hohner Special 20 Harmonica Key of C Hohner Special 20 Harmonica Key of C -$29.95

Note:  For Beginners we recommend this great Diatonic Harp before purchasing a Chromatic Harmonica.Awesome response, superior bendability, and the sweetest tone ever. The Special 20 harp is the first choice for those learning to play. Its special airtight design makes it the most recommended go-to harp for harmonica players of any style, including blues, country, folk, or rock. The plastic comb doesn’t absorb moisture, making it longer lasting. Harp of choice of harmonica virtuoso John Popper (of Blues Traveler) and played by Bob Dylan on his 2007/08 tour. Chances are your favorite player has several of these harps in his case. 12 major keys plus lower and higher octave tunings.

Music Sales Rock N' Blues Harmonica (Book/CD) Music Sales Rock N' Blues Harmonica (Book/CD)-$22.46

Note: This is the book I used when learning and I went through a few mediocre guides before discovering this one.  This is the best guide for beginners hands down.

One of the most complete harmonica books ever. Learn to play the harmonica with the Rock n' Blues harmonica book that uses notation and tab to teach music theory 101, chord progressions, puckering, tongue blocking, octaves, tongue-slaps, head shakes, vibrato, bends, over blows, secrets of great tone, and much more.

Best Choice Chromatic Harmonica

Hohner 7582/64 Super 64 Chromonica Chromatic Harmonica Hohner 7582/64 Super 64 Chromonica Chromatic Harmonica - $240.95

Note: We looked at price, quality, sound, and versatility in making our choice.

The Hohner 7582/64 Super 64 Chromonica is similar in construction and specifications to the 280 model. The Super 64 Harmonica features a silver-plated mouthpiece for smooth action and an enclosed stainless steel cover design that provides a warm, resonant tone.