How to Buy A Harmonica

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

Best Beginners Harmonica:

Hohner Special 20 Harmonica, Major C

Best Chromatic Harmonica:

Hohner 7582/64 Super 64 Chromonica Chromatic Harmonica

Best Book for Learning Harmonica:

Rock n’ Blues Harmonica: A World of Harp Knowledge, Songs, Stories, Lessons, Riffs, Techniques and Audio Index for a New Generation of Harp Players


Published in Harmonicas

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  1. Pingback: Harmonica Gift – Give the Gift of Harmonica | Chromatic Harmonica

  2. mica

    Hi there

    I would like to purchase a harmonica as a gift to my husband who plays it pretty well.

    I am interested in the Chromatic Harmonica series and wonder where I can view them.

    Kindly advise me of your location.

    Many thanks

  3. Barry Perhamsky

    As a harmonica player, I personally feel a good plastic comb harmonica is a very good start for beginners. Hohner makes the “Blues Harp”. The “comb” is made of wood. Now as you play it alot when you’re first starting out, (practicing) the syliva that goes into the holes causes the seperators (the wooden pieces between the holes) to swell up and stick out. Well my friends, this is very irritating on your lips.

    I’ve played all types of harmonicas over the years, and the Hohner ditonic harmonica I like best is the “Golden Melody”. Yes it has a plastic comb.

    Now there’s a debate: wood, plastic, or metal? Some harmonicas do sound better then others. But what do you mean when you say better? Did you know that Hohner makes a harmonica from bamboo? The comb of course. I haven’t seen it, but I read it somewhere.

    For a beginner, you need a nice sounding, long lasting harmonica. And believe it or not, a good sounding inexpensive harmonica is the “Suzuki Easy Rider”. I payed $6.95. Yes it has a plastic comb.

    For a beginner, you want to have an enjoyable practice session. If the harmonica is hard to play, that is you have to blow very hard to get any real sound, that of course is not a harmonica you want. But what do we mean when we say a good sound? The guitar I have is made of plywood and it sounds awful…like bed springs. But I knew this before I knew it was made of plywood. Someone who can play the guitar better then me can make it sound much better. I met someone who played my guitar upsidedown…not left handed, upsidedown. But it’s a good guitar for a beginner. (it’s by the way a Yamaha) I have played it on the street together with my ‘Hohner Blues Band Harmonica”. And because it’s the only harmonica I had with me, and because I played it with every song, I need it to sound good and not have those pesky seperatos swell up.

    As you play and learn, you’ll accumulate a collection of harmonicas. I suggest trying different brands. Hohner, Suzuki, Lee Oscar, and a fourth one I can’t remember are four of the best sounding harmonicas.

    Now what type of music do you like? Do you prefer blues, country, jazz, rock, folk, classical? Perhaps you like a mixture, I do. Different harmonicas are better suited for different types of music. To play blues, you may want that raw bluesy sound.

    So is it wood, plastic, or metal? Listen to what others say, and if you can go to a concert, or listen to a record/cd where the musicians play harmonicas. What type of harmonica are they playing. Then all in all, decide what you like best.

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