Which Harmonica to Buy? The Best and Worst Harmonicas for Beginners

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honer-20

The intention of this article is to support you in determining if you have the best harmonica – or “harp” – for your needs at this time.

My recommendations are the culmination of my personal experience of teaching for over 20 years. I encourage you to check out the recommendations of other harmonica teachers as well, and ultimately make you own decision about the best harmonica for you. If you don’t already own a harmonica – or you’re ready to upgrade – this article will help you make an informed decision.

If I’m a beginner, which harmonica do you recommend I buy?

For those who don’t want to read this entire article I have two simple recommendations:

1. Higher dollar (professional): My #1 pick is the Hohner Special 20.

2. Economical choice: Hohner Blues Band: If you’re a beginner who would rather “test the waters” (i.e., make sure you’re serious about sticking with harmonica before you invest), the Hohner Blues Band will get you off to a great start.

Why should beginners start with a harmonica in the key of C?

I recommend you start with a harmonica in the key of C for several reasons. Most importantly, a C harmonica will enable you to be in tune with the majority of beginning level harmonica lessons.

Why don’t you recommend a harmonica with the button on the side?

If you are a beginner or a non-musician, I don’t recommend a harmonica with a button on the side (chromatic) because it’s a much more challenging instrument. I recommend you get off to a great start with the standard 10-hole harmonica first and then you can progress to a chromatic harmonica if you choose.

Economical harmonicas costing less than $10 (Fine for beginners)

Hohner Blues Band (my personal preference)

Then, in no order of preference:

  • Hohner Old Standby
  • Hohner Hot Metal
  • Hohner Official Scout
  • Hohner Great Little Harp
  • Hohner American Ace
  • Hohner Fuego Azul
  • Hohner Pocket Pal
  • Blues Bayou Harmonicas
  • Piedmont Blues Harmonicas
  • Johnson Blues King Harmonicas Set
  • Kay Chicago Blues Harmonica
  • Jambone Harmonica

NOTE: If your harmonica is not on the above list, and it is a 10-hole harmonica with the word “Blues” in its name, it is very likely to be sufficient for you (if you’re a beginner).

IMPORTANT: Once you are ready to learn how to bend, which I consider an intermediate to advanced level technique, a professional harmonica from the list below will be EXTREMELY helpful (bending is the technique that gives the harmonica that soulful “crying” sound).

Professional Harmonicas (ranging in cost from $20 to $100)

I consider every harmonica on the below list to be a solid professional instrument. I have rated the harmonicas on the basis of how hard it will be for an intermediate level harmonica player to learn to bend the first six draw notes. This will be important when you’re ready to play with a bluesy sound.

From easiest to hardest to learn how to bend:

Harmonicas I don’t recommend for most beginners.

  • All the mini harmonicas (keychain, Puck, Double Puck)
  • All of Hohner’s Echo, Octave, Auto Valve, and the Tremolo Tuned harps
  • Hohner Trumpet Call
  • Hohner Weekender

What makes a great harmonica?

For me, the thing that determines a great harmonica is a combination of two things:

  1. The “purity” and quality of the sound.
  2. The responsiveness of the reeds (how quickly the reeds react to the movements of my mouth and tongue to produce the desired effect).

What is a diatonic harmonica?

“Diatonic” refers to a harp that commonly has 10 holes and plays the scale to which it is tuned (diatonic harmonicas DO NOT have a button on the side). For example, a C diatonic harmonica is tuned to the key of C, which will enable you to easily play the C Major scale. All the economical and professional harmonicas in the above two lists are diatonic.

“Chromatic” harmonicas DO have the side button, enabling them to play all 12 keys. They are considerably more difficult to master. They’re not usually the first choice for professional harp players who want to play Blues, Folk, Country, Rock, Reggae, and Funk.

So, what’s the best harmonica if I want to jam along with your lessons, JP?

In summing up, if you are a beginner who would rather save money right now, any economical 10-hole harmonica in the key of C will be fine to start with. When you are ready to learn how to bend, I STRONGLY suggest you try a Hohner Special 20 or any of the professional harmonicas mentioned above.

I hope this article has offered you a ground-work for exploring all the wonderful options that are now available to us harmonica players. Remember, “The Best Harmonica” is ultimately a personal preference.




Comments (95)

  • Jordan

    |

    Hey Man,

    I’ve been watching your videos on youtube. It is helping so much, thanks a lot! Your lessons are great.

    I recently picked up a bunch of Hohner Blues Harps (A,C,G, and E) to attempt to start learning some tunes.

    Now I’m on your website and it says that I should be playing a Hohner special 20. Wish I read that before I bought all these.

    I’m advancing to where I’m able to incorporate a little bending into my playing, but I’m finding it really difficult to hit some of the notes (particularly draw 2 bend).

    Is this because of the harmonica I’m playing? Would taking it apart and modifying it help the bend become easier?

    I guess from now on I’ll buy the special 20s though. Are they significantly easier to bend with?

    Thanks for all the help!

    Jordan

    Reply

    • JP Allen

      |

      Hey Jordan,

      You asked, “Why am I finding it so difficult to hit the two-draw bend?”, and your question was whether this occurs because of the harmonica you’re playing.

      You say you play with the Hohner Blues Harp. My personal experience is that the Special 20 could be literally three times easier to bend than the Hohner Blues Harp. It has to do with the length of the reeds and other technical aspects of the harmonica.

      I definitely recommend you give the Hohner Special 20 a try, and that way you won’t need to learn proper reed gapping (which, if you love technical stuff and building stuff and making adjustments, you might find very fun). For a while I found it fun, but ultimately I found it too time consuming to work with when playing with up to 20 different harmonicas at a time.

      So I would say the answer is yes. Check out the Special 20 and see if that helps. Thanks for your question, Jordan. And good luck … I hope this helps.

      Your harmonica buddy,
      JP

      Reply

      • Jordan

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        Hey JP,

        So I went out and got a Special 20 and you’re right! It’s so much easier! I’m learning way faster, this is great!

        And also, thanks so much for answering me in such detail. I wasn’t expecting that. You’ve been such a huge help. Why on earth do you do this for free?

        Reply

        • JP Allen

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          Hey Jordon,

          I’m so glad the Special 20 is helping you.

          When you asked, “Why on earth do you do this for free?”

          One of my favorite things to do is help people with harmonica for free and I spend a good portion of my life doing just that…and…the truth be told…I also sell my complete harmonica method on line so this is definitely one the benefits of the time we live in…we can get tons of great stuff on the Internet for free and every now and then…when we love what someone is offering we choose to buy more…

          I always pray that people won’t think I’m doing it just for the money

          I really think music is one of the greatest gift to humanity and there’s nothing I love more than turning people on to playing music via the most massive little instrument…the harmonica…

          Warmly,

          jp

          Reply

      • Laurel Anne Smith

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        Thank you JP for the E Mail info, free lessons and the lyrics with music notes… They are a great help for me. This summer I purchased a key of G Hohner Special 20, and received as a gift from our son Lee Oscar C also a gift M Hohner PUCK key of C. So I have lots of fun learning new songs. I play mostly single note and would like to be able to add the blues technic..and how to bend.
        I like the good old gospel songs best.. Thanks again Laurel Anne …..

        Reply

  • JP Allen

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    Hey Jordan,

    Firstly: Yes, “out of the box” my experience has been that the Hohner Special 20s are the easiest to bend. Other amazing harp players have different recommendations so please do take me to be the final word on this matter…

    Most harmonica teachers seem to agree that the Blues Harp is a more challenging harp for a beginner to learn to bend on…a great harp but definitely a “bigger wave to ride”.

    However, if you customize you’re Blues Harps you can get them to perform at a much higher level…which will make learning to bend much, much easier (especial if you want to learn to play at moderate and low volumes which can create wonderful subtle and sweet tones…I also find that I actually enjoy my own playing more when I can relax into playing at a moderate volume and then choose to “blast it out” at particular moments…I find the Blues Harp requires a consistently “high level” of effort to play the way I want and I enjoy the experience of effortlessness that I get from the Special 20….or any harp that received a custom set up from a professional.

    For customization you have two choices:

    1. Send them off to a pro…i.e. Joe Spiers is a total “legend” and probably one of the world’s finest though I’ve never had the privilege of playing one of his harps. (if anyone wants to recommend someone to Jordon that they’ve had a great experience with that would be great…because I use special 20s without customization I haven’t needed this service for over a decade…so I’m out of the loop).

    Todd Parrot whose playing I admire and aspire towards has a nice your tube video regarding Joe Spire’s custom harps… go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNYLdtSeCK0

    2. Second option: Learn how to “Reed Gap”…Lee Oskar has a tool kit you can buy…I learned how to reed gap from Rick Epping as did many harp players… You may have some success do a google search using “Rick Epping” and “Reed gap” or “Reed Gapping”

    If you not technically inclined and you want to go the most economical rout I recommend you try any of the following harps as the are all fantastic instruments for learning how to bend on:

    # Hohner Special 20 (Rated 10!)
    # Bushman Delta Frost (9.5)
    # Suzuki Harp Master (9)
    # Lee Oskar (8.75)
    # Hohner Golden Melody (8.5)
    # Bushman (The Original Soul’s Voice) (8)
    # Suzuki Promaster (8)
    # Hering Harmonica (8)

    Bare in mind that my ratings are just my personal experience and other harmonica players and teachers (that I have great respect for) do have different opinions.

    If anyone would like to chime in and contend my ratings I invite you to…I also invite anyone who feels that I have failed to mention a harmonica they believe deserves to be mentioned. Remember that my above recommendations are specifically targeting “out of the box” professional instruments that make it easy for a beginner to learn how to bend.

    I hope that helps Brandon.

    Warmly,

    jp allen

    Reply

    • Andre

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      I was recently given a Hohner XB40 harp, and want to learn, so have already ordered your DVD set! Question..Is this model is too much for me as a beginner? … Or should I start with the Special 20, and move on to the XB40 later? Andre

      Reply

    • Jack the Bear

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      Where does the Suzuki Folk Master fall in your list?
      I recently picked up a couple because the Hohner’s in the store I was in seemed disproportionately highly priced (sometimes it is better to order via mail order in Canada – the retailer may have purchased their stock at a different dollar level and rates are all over the map these days.

      After a bit more legwork I’ll pick up some Hohner’s either here or there – we’ll see.

      Thanks for your time,
      Jack

      Reply

      • tommy burrell

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        I FIRST GOT PIEDMONT BLUES AND THEY WERE JUNK BUT HAD ANICE CASE. then IGOT SUZUKI FOLKMASTERS AND THEY WERE NOT GOOD ENOUGH.SO I ENDED UP WITH BUSHMAN DELTA FROST.

        Reply

  • Ben

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    Hey man. I’m looking into a jambone three-pack of harmonicas They come in all lat sharp and natural keys. Should I get them? If so, which keys?

    Reply

  • Mark Silliman

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    Hi.

    I have been playing for only 3 years. Bought some Jambones recently out of curiosity, and was somewhat disappointed.
    Trying to get 1,2,3 draws cleanly was not easy, bending was poor, and volume not great either. They are cheap, and if you want something to start modifying the way Jason Ricci teaches, I suppose they would be okay. My opinion: if you can afford something better, go for it!
    Good luck!
    Mark

    Reply

  • Mark Silliman

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    Hi there,

    I just bought three Bushmans and really like the sound, clarity and tone. But Special 20’s are still my favorite. I want to learn to gap the reeds for modifying. I will see if I can find your YouTube videos on that.

    I just bought a Marine Band C on eBay for really cheap. Sounded great out of the box but was pretty dirty. I finally decided to wash it using Jason Ricci’s technique with soap and alcohol, taking it apart and all and using a soft toothbrush….but it appears I may have ruined it due to the wood comb inside (my others are plastic). Lower blow notes don’t sound right now….got any advice?
    Mark

    Reply

    • JP Allen

      |

      Hey Mark,

      I understand you bought a Marine Band in C on eBay and cleaned it up with soap and alcohol, and after doing so the lower blow notes don’t sound right … and you requested my advice.

      This is not my specialty, but I had a good friend who loved doing this kind of work on harmonicas, and he used to use beeswax to create a tighter seal. You may want to try opening up the harmonica and covering the wood comb with beeswax to see if you can create a tight seal. This may not be the problem, but it’s my best shot at it …

      Does anyone else have any advice? Thanks for your help, everyone. And good luck, Mark!

      JP

      Reply

  • ed

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    Cool site; thanks. It sent me over the edge. My youngest plays the blues on a Hohner Special 20 and I’ve been thinking about giving it a try since hand problems have taken the trumpet away. Growing up, there were always an asortment of traveling musicians that showed up at my Grandfather’s. He plated a five strig banjo and aunts and Uncles plated Harps; Jews”s harps; sweat potatos; jugs; wash boards and things I can’t think of. The most impressive harp players that was often at my Grandfathers was an old man called “Harmonica Frank Floyd”. I’ve never met anyone that ever heard of him and it’s a shame because he was gooood. I was about eleven when he taught me how to “do a freight train”, and I’m wondering if I could still do it. Music is the one thing that makes us civilized and I have trouble giving it up. All that to ask a question: What key should I start with? My guess would be “C”.

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Hey Ed,

      Great story. In honor of “Harmonica Frank Floyd,” it sounds like you want to do some rippin’ train-time chugging patterns.

      My first harmonica idol was Sunny Terry, and he turned me on to the B-flat harmonica. Something about the tension in the reeds in a B-flat … loose enough and low enough to get those sweet, flappy low harmonic overtones and at the same time tight enough to play with speed and control.

      I also love the low-tuned harmonica for chugging. For example, the lowest one that I’ve played that has been able to maintain control is a C harmonica using the C Steve Baker Special. The lower register on a Steve Baker Special in the key of C is a full octave lower than your regular C, and I’ve found those low reeds to be an absolute joy to just create some magnificent chugging rhythm patterns.

      It’s much more challenging to incorporate lead and rhythm while chugging, but in terms of just ripping out some phenomenal rhythms, I really love the low-tuned harmonicas.

      You might want to also check out the basic low D in Special 20, and low E, and low F … these are all extremely fun harmonicas to chug on.

      Hats off to “Harmonica Frank Floyd.” I’m sure he’ll be smilin’ down at you when you lose yourself in some ecstatic rhythmic harmonica groove. Good luck, Ed. Have fun!

      JP

      PS: If you get a chance, check out my DVD entitled “High-Speed Harmonica Country & Blues Chugging: Blowing the Roof off the House.” You can get one at

      http://www.how-to-play-the-harmonica.com/completebundle/197/cbt/blowing-the-roof-off-the-house-dvd.html.

      Reply

  • april

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    hey JP, here is the problem i just bought a harmonica out of curiosity and i fell in love i got it in china town in Chicago and it is a parrot it doesn’t have ten holes it has 16 is that normal? it has a very good sound but it is not for me and i don’t know where to get anymore plus i want to stick to it but im only 10 i can play fairly good but want to play awesome i know it takes time but its just not comfy. please help JP

    APRLIL

    Reply

    • JP Allen

      |

      Hey April,

      I just read your message that you bought a harmonica in China Town in Chicago and fell in love with it. You say it has 16 holes, and you want to know if that’s normal.

      I suspect this is not the best instrument for you to be starting out with. I recommend you find a basic ten-hole harmonica. My number-one recommendation is the Hohner Special 20, and I recommend you buy one in the key of C to start.

      In your letter you say you want to become an awesome harmonica player, and I would love to help you. The best first step is to get my DVD, “Harmonica for Kids.” If you’d like, you can have your mom and dad call my wonderful customer service guy named Jason at 1-800-292-4963, and he can put something special together for you. Or you can find lots of wonderful free instruction on YouTube.

      As a side note, a lot of teachers make harmonica more difficult than it really is, so please be aware that if it’s not coming easily to you, it’s probably not your fault …make sure you find a harmoinca teacher who you like that makes it easy for you.

      I hope you won’t get discouraged if you have difficulty learning at first, and realize that it could be a teacher who is not making it easy and fun. Because you are ten, and you’ve got a twelve-year head-start one me (I started playing when I was 22), the most important thing in the beginning is for you to have fun and learn some really cool stuff that’s really easy for you to play.

      If you sign up for my newsletter, I’ll send you a bunch of great free lessons that will help you on your way. I have a sweet spot in me for helping young people, so please let me know if you have any requests of me, and I’ll do my very best to support you.

      Stay with it, April. This harmonica journey you’re on may be full of more fun surprises than you imagine!

      Have fun,
      JP

      Reply

  • Sander

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    Hey JP,

    I want to buy a harmonica, but i’m new to the scene. I found a site that offers special 20s but they have one C special 20 and one D special 20. I’m a bit confused and I don’t which one will suit me best. I’d like to play some Bob Dylan tunes with it. Can you help me out?

    Sander

    Reply

    • Dick Frakes

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      I have a Lee Oscar C diatonic and would like to know which Hohner special 20 would be best for a beginner.

      Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Hey Sander,

      I understood from your posting that you would like to learn some Bob Dylan tunes, and you’re not sure whether to buy a harmonica in the key of C or D. I’m really glad you asked this question. I’ll answer it first, and then I’d like to share some thoughts with you.

      I personally believe that you should start with a C harmonica, because most of the instruction you will find for beginners is in the key of C. The other reason I recommend the key of C is that it’s pretty close to the middle in the range of different harmonica keys.

      In other words, the key of G has very loose reeds. And the key of F-sharp has very tight reeds. And this is the range of the basic twelve keys of harmonica — from G to F-sharp. Learning to play a G harmonica with loose reeds is much, much different than learning an F-sharp harmonica with tight reeds. It’s like the difference between playing a classical guitar and a twelve-string guitar … same instrument, but much different feel.

      So C is a good key, because it’s fairly central. Later, when you wish to learn to play in the key of G, or in the key of F-sharp, the differential won’t be so great. So you will have an easier time expanding from C to other harmonica keys.

      And now my commentary …

      When you say you’re new to the scene, I’m assuming you’re a beginner. This is a very precious time in the life of anyone who is learning something new. I think of it like this: the initial habits you create in these early days, weeks, and months of learning to play the harmonica will establish neuromuscular patterns that could remain with you for the duration of your time playing harmonica.

      So I have two suggestions for anyone who wants to really accelerate their progress:

      (1) START WITH CORE TECHNIQUES, NOT SONGS: You will benefit greatly by waiting a while before learning songs and instead focusing on developing good habits, while playing the core essential beginning-level techniques. Then when you’re able to play those techniques confidently, you can launch into learning songs, and they will come to you easily and rapidly.

      Many students don’t have the patience for this, and I understand, because I also like to jump ahead when learning a new instrument. But I find for myself that slowing down in the early stages of learning, and taking the time to enjoy developing a relaxed technique, allows me to ultimately learn ten times as rapidly as I would if I jumped ahead and created bad habits along the way (which I would then have to un-learn later).

      (2) CHOOSE YOUR TEACHER WITH CARE: I have a very strong opinion that you will greatly accelerate your learning by choosing a teacher who has developed a method designed to teach you the basic techniques, step by step, in a way that’s fun and easy to learn. Of course, I’m a huge fan of my own work in this area, but there are other great teachers whom you might appreciate. Examples include Jon Gindick, David Harp, Peter Madcat Ruth, Jerry Portnoy, Mike Stevens, Paul Butterfield, and Howard Levy (the ultimate harmonica master of the 21st century). One of favorite harmonica teacher of all time is David Barratt. However, many of these teachers are better suited for students who are at an intermediate or advanced level on the haromnica. and advanced teaching materials.

      With due respect to all the great harmonica teachers out there, I think it’s important for you to find a teacher you resonate with, and this may help you more than their particular teaching style.

      My particular teaching style in the early phases is designed for students to have as much fun as they possibly can playing simple harmonica grooves that are very easy to learn, while ensuring that they establish good habits as they practice each and every core essential technique at each level.

      I hope that helps you, Sander. Forgive me for my long-winded response. As you can see, I have very strong feelings about the nature of learning. My fear is that people who develop bad habits will quit, and then they lose out on the joy of playing music for the rest of their lives.

      Good luck, friend.

      JP

      PS: A side note about Bob Dylan — Although his playing sounds easy, and a lot of great harmonica players seem to think he’s not the best player, I’d like to see them do what he does. Bob Dylan was one of my first harmonica heroes. I thought the same thing of him early on, and I instead admired people like Little Walter. But I’ve come to appreciate that very few people can actually play Bob Dylan harmonica the way Bob Dylan does it.

      I’m not saying that Bob Dylan can play blues at the level of any of the classic blues harmonica players worth mentioning. Though he does play in cross harp from time to time, I consider him a straight harp specialist. As Bob Dylan says, “Do what you must do, and do it well.” Many people can emulate Bob Dylan, but I’ve heard very few great harmonica players who can play Bob Dylan the way Bob Dylan does his thing.

      Reply

  • Alan

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    Hey JP,
    I tried out many different harps, I’m FAR from sounding good but I think I sound the best with the following harps:
    1) Hohner Golden Melody
    2) Suzuki BluesMaster
    3) Hohner Special 20
    4) Hohner Big River (Although the extra 1/8″ in length
    feels strange at first)
    Alan

    Reply

  • Gedeon

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    Hi J.P. A few years ago I purchased a complete set of your CD’S. for some reason I couldn’t get some CD’s to work, so I returned them to you. I found out later that the fault was in my computer. Before I ordered your CD’s I had bought a Honer Special 20″ I also have a “Honer GLH” which I like a lot, I was later sold a “Honer Marine Band” all these seem to work very well, I am still in the learning stages and listen to and try to play those you have for free on line. I’m 80 years old and I’m always questioning if my age is a detriment to my playing. I regret having sent the previous CD’s back to you and now I find that it is impossible for me to order a new set as the interest rate on the Canadian $ is now 20%. I will wait for a while and I may be able to buy them again. Thanks; Gedeon (Gerry)

    Reply

    • JP Allen

      |

      Hey Gerry,

      I actually do remember talking you you and I’m glad to hear you still going for it with the harmonica.

      In your posting, you mention you are 80 years old. Believe it or not, I’ve helped many people who’d consider you a youngster, and oftentimes they’ve been my best students.

      Once again, if we can help you in any way, please let us know. My customer service guy and lifelong buddy Jason will be happy to help you out. You can reach him at 1-800-292-4963.

      Reply

  • Donald Arnold

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    As a new kid on the block I feel that many new players do worry too much about their instruments. As in most things, just buy something that is playable & affordable then learn to play it. Even a fairly cheap harp can give a good sound. When you’ve mastered the basics and friends and family can identify and “singalong” to your playing that will be the time to make a good investment.

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Hey Donald,

      I just wanted to chime in that my opinion is in agreement with yours. Especially if someone is just feeling out the waters (i.e. not sure they’ll stick with it) For example the Hohner Blues Band is a solid beginner instrument…

      If however, someone is quite confident and determined to take the harmonica to a solid advanced intermediate level I tell them they may as well get a professional instrument now.

      Once a student decides to learn how to bend I consider it almost critical at that point to upgrade to a professional instrument…my #1 recommendation is the Hohner Special 20. Earlier in this thread I’ve offer my opinion of a long list of professional instrument and I would say any harmonica rated 8 or higher would be a good first choice when someone is ready to invest in a professional instrument.

      Thanks for you comment Donald. Sound advice!

      jp

      Reply

  • Jake

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    Hey there, just would like to say that in my opinion and the opinion of many others, the Hohner Marine Band is the best all around harp you can get. I don’t know why he would say the Special 20…isn’t it plastic? Anyways, the Hohner Blues harp is nice to, just harder to play than the Marine Band.

    Reply

  • Jake

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    Just one more thing, do not buy plastic reed harps! I don’t know why any professional would suggest buying them, even an amateur such as myself knows that they are almost always an inferior instrument.

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Hey Jake,

      In your article, you wrote that you don’t know why any professional such as myself would suggest buying a harmonica with a plastic comb, as you believe this would make it an inferior instrument.

      Gosh. I so appreciate your honesty and I’m sure other readers will consider you opinion equally valid to my own.

      Jake: have you ever played a Special 20? The Marine Band, with its wood comb, is a fantastic instrument, especially when set up by a professional who does reed gapping, like Joe Spiers. However, I have personally found harmonicas with wooden combs to be challenging, because the wooden combs are painted in the place where the harmonica touches the mouth, to prevent moisture absorption.

      I have found for myself that over time, the paint peels off to expose the raw wood. I don’t like this for two reasons: one, I don’t like eating paint. Two, when the paint does rub off and I play the harmonica for long periods, as I often do, I find the wooden combs expand from the moisture. When this happens, the combs protrude from the harmonica and create a sharp edge that has actually cut my lips. Have you ever heard the line in Bob Dylan’s song, “Play your harp until your lips bleed”? That’s what happens when a harmonica with a wood comb ages. It’s been a while since I used a harmonica with a wood comb, but I imagine someone else may know a simple fix that I don’t. If anyone would like to respond with a posting, I invite your contributions.

      With all due respect, Jake…and I mean that…I’m not just trying to be polite… it seems there are pros and cons to all the choices, and to lift ourselves above the possibility of having an argument that no one can win, I would like to recommend that people do their own experiment in order to discover which harmonica they like best.

      One thing to bear in mind (a mistake I made as a young harmonica player): if you’re going to do a true comparison, you need to compare apples to apples. In other words, you need to compare the Special 20 in the key of C to a Marine Band in the key of C. If you compare a Special 20 in the key of C to a Marine Band in the key of G, your experiment will be distorted by the fact that you are comparing instruments in different keys.

      Thanks for your honesty, Jake.

      JP

      Reply

      • Jake

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        Right now I play a Hohner Blues harp and I love it but it doesn’t compare to the marine band. I find with the blues harps they require more air than the marine. I would like to play a special 20, i’ll buy it in A and post to let you know how it is. In the end i just prefer the sound of a wooden reed over plastic. It’s a more raw blues sound.

        Reply

    • murray

      |

      Id like to say sometrhing about wood combs compared to plastic. I assume your talking about plastic combs and not plastic reeds. Ive been playing for over 30 years. I started ouy playing Honer marine bands and blues harps but progressed to plastic combs. The wood combs might sound a little better, but Ive found that, in order to get any volume you need to warm them up by playing them untill the wood absorbs some moisture and expands enough to become more airtight. A quick fix to this problem is to soak the harmonica in water first, but this causes the reeds to fail prematurly. I f you buy a quailty plastic combed harmonica ,like the ones listed on this web page the sound difference is minimual ,but you dont need to soak them or warm them up and they last a lot longer. I like the special 20 but it dosent last as long as a Lee Oscar. For durability my favorite harp so far is the Seydel 1847 silver its a bit more expensive but Ive been playing the crap ouy of one for over a year now and it hasnt failed yet and it sounds soo good.

      Reply

  • JP Allen

    |

    Wow. I was so stoked read all you’re feedback about the harps. Alan thank you for offering your opinion which has a different opinion than mine…yet it was reasuring that we had some congruence in our favorites…this will help others see that “picking the right harp for you” is a game of personal preference…but if you listen to the harmonica world there is a general guiding current of what harps to try first…

    Ben…if you can afford one special 20 I think you it will serve you better than three Jambones. Much better…

    Mark, Ed, April, Sander, Alan, Gedeon, Donald, Jake I will ask my tech guy to help me create a better system to respond to each of you individually.

    If any one has response to Mark, Ed, April, Sander, Alan, Gedeon, Donald, Jake please chime in…

    Thank for your patience,

    jp

    Reply

  • JP Allen

    |

    Gerry…

    I understand you want to check out my DVD and CD lessons and you’re finding the interest rate cost restrictive…please call my customer service guy Jason and he’ll will find a way to help you if he can…I don’t want money to get in the way of you getting the help you need in moving forward with the harmonica

    Call him at: 1800-292-4963

    jp

    Reply

  • Kenneth

    |

    I been at it maybe 3 weeks. Bought a Hohner Blues Harp MS in “C”, and absolutely love it. Easy to play,easy to bend,great sound,and it doesn’t wear you out. The Hohner Hot Metal series is good too,again,easy bending. DON’T buy the First Act at Wal-Mart…mine fell apart while I was driving. Also picked up an older looking Hohner Pro Harp in “G” and am very pleased with it. So far the Hohners are all good.

    Reply

    • Jake

      |

      Get yourself a Hohner Marine Band. Best all around harp in my opinion.

      Reply

      • kenneth coburn

        |

        Thanks for the advice. Have you seen this new one..the B Radical? $180 is too high for me right now.

        Reply

  • Dot

    |

    I played Hering 48 C, D, & G chromatic harmonicas.
    We played with a Hootnany group. Most of the songs were in those keys. Other music players, guitars, string bass,
    piano, autoharps, and many singers. Such fun!! Haven’t played in a while..Would like to try your lessons.
    Thanks for ehe email.

    Reply

  • JP Allen

    |

    You’re welcomed Dot. I’m optimistic that my lessons will be a big help to you. If I can help you in the future let me know.

    Warmly,

    jp

    Reply

  • Jake

    |

    Im looking to buy some more harps but I don’t know how to go about it. I already have a Hohner blues harp in “c” which has served me well. Im just wondering where to go with keys. Im thinking the next 2 will be an “a” and a “d”, both marine bands. After that I don’t know what to go to.

    Reply

  • LnddMiles

    |

    Pretty cool post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say
    that I have really liked reading your blog posts. Anyway
    I’ll be subscribing to your blog and I hope you post again soon!

    Reply

  • Rob Picou

    |

    Hey, really like the site. Been playing for thirty years, just blowing and drawing while I drive my truck or hanging out in the yard with the dog. Guess I’m getting okay, can bend and all that. Have two boys and started them at two. They teethed on harps. I am going to try the b flat this week. Any advice on how to make the next leap from truck driving and dog howling to actual playing with music. I have been checking out some you tube action. But I also heard that there are some harmonica jam camps available in different cities. Any ideas? Rob

    Reply

  • Sarmad

    |

    Sir, thanks for the wonderful article. But it confused me big time and I still coudnt make up my mind. Okay, I got it, I need to buy Hohner Special 20 right but what is actually “Hohner Special 20 Key Of C”, “Hohner Special 20 key of A” because this is what turns up when you search for Harmonica at Amazon. Kindly explain !

    Reply

  • Gerald

    |

    First, I must thank you for putting such attention and detail into your responses. Here’s a short story for you. I found a box in my garage that contained some items from early childhood years. In 7th grade, our school had a concert and they had a Blues Band. They gave raffle tickets at the door to win door prizes. Long story short, I won an autographed harmonica signed by “Buddy Greene”. I thought he was just an average guy until I looked him up on YouTube and found out he’s more like a Blues Icon! I’m 38 yrs old now, and I’ve never opened the harp until now, and I’m inspired to play! Oh, the harp is a Hohner Hot Metal and I guess it may have been top notch back then considering they still sell it in the music stores but they’re less than $10.

    I’ve been playing for 3 days so far just practicing single notes, mouth placement, breathing and finding out which method is good for me (pucking vs. tongue blocking). I played the pianokeyboard andclarinet by ear in the past so sounding out songs seem to come a little easy for me. In the 3 days, I have been able to play, but not mastered, the 12-bar blues, When The Saints, and part of the National Anthem, and a couple of other melodies combos using holes 1-5. But mainly, I’ve been concentrating on technique. I am about to purchase the Hohner Special 20 in C because I’ve been trying the bending technique and it is somewhat difficult.

    Just a couple of questions:
    When making a note vibrate, are you using a throattongue combo or by shaking the harp?
    What is meant when they say playing a key in second position and also playing cross harp?

    Reply

    • Chinkhai

      |

      Thank you. It is very helpful. I will go for the honer special 20.
      I am not a trained harmonica player. I am a self taught player and willing to learn to play systematicly.
      Also I am so persuaded to learn country style music. Would you suggest me where to go for it.
      ckk

      Reply

  • A.Khoa

    |

    Hi J.P.
    I got a Hohner SilverStar lately for my birthday from my mum. Since i’m still a beginner, can you please tell me if this harmonica is suitable for me.
    P.S: I love your lessons!

    Reply

  • Bill

    |

    JP
    Bought one of your CD’s (don’t remember which one) a couple of years ago. I struggled with it and kind of lost patience because I wanted to be an “instant expert” rather than taking my time and doing it right.

    To make a long story short, I went back to it a couple of months later and stayed with it. It is amazing how everything seemed to come together.

    Now I realize that there are good days when everything works and not so good days when playing is a struggle.

    My advice is if its not working, put the harp away and try again tomorrow. You may be amazed at the result!

    Reply

  • Jota

    |

    hey.
    After watch some of your videos i decide to learn harmonica.
    I’m thinking to buying a Hohner Special 20 but here in Portugal i can’t find the Hohner Special 20 D tuned only the E tuned
    if i buy the Hohner Special 20 E tuned it will be harder to learn?
    Thank you for the excellent videos.
    Excuse my bad english

    Reply

  • susanne

    |

    Hi I am looking to buy a harmonica for my grandson (14) You mentioned the Hohner Special 20. He is a beginner and I understand they come in all notes a b c d e f g. Also, when looking I found there are C with a slide bar that changes to flats or sharp tones? What key should he start off with the Hohner Special 20?

    Reply

  • Mark

    |

    Hi, I’m really intrested in learning to play the harp. With what you’ve said I think that I’d like to get a “Hohner Special 20″. Now my question is would you recommend that someone, like me, could learn to play and master a diatonic and then if I wanted try to play a chromatic harmonica, or do usually most play stick to one or the other?

    Reply

  • Toby Ryans

    |

    Hi there,

    I was wanting to learn the Harmonica while I am traveling over seas. I have extensive musical background in that I have played the Piano for over 22 years and always wanted to play the Harmonica. I thought now would be a good time to try, especially because my piano doesn’t fit in my pocket. I went out with the intention of buying a Hohner Special 20 after reading your recomendations. I was shopping in India so I didn’t know what I would be able to find. One store I went to had the Hohner Special 20 (Marine Band) in the Key of C but it came out of a cardboard box with a bunch of others and they didn’t look clean…..nor did the store. The next store I went to was clean and professional but they didn’t carry Hohner brands. Instead they had C.A. Seydel Sohne, a German brand. They looked great and had a wide variety of models. I ended up buying the top of the line model there which was called the “Blues Favorite”. Little more money than the Hohner Special 20 but I felt safer about buying it. I was wondering what your opinion was on this instrument. I hope it was a worthwhile purchase on my part.

    Toby

    Reply

  • Emil

    |

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I have played the harmonica as ‘n youngster and have lost the nack for it a bit. Now I want to restart, but did not realize how technical the art has become. I am worried that at 42 I’m too old to learn ;)

    Seriously, with a young song who seems to enjoy music, this is the ideal opportunity to ensure some future jamming. I’ll be back once I have bought a Hohner Special 20 in C. I am also looking to invest in a set, the Hohner Piedmont Blues A, Bb, C, D, E, F and G, for the future.

    Thanks!

    Reply

    • Jodi

      |

      Emil – I’m a 52 yo woman just getting into it so I got 10 years on ya for that one :) So if I can do it, jump in with both feet and one for the son too – learn together – make it a tradition and then when your son grows up, you and he will have a great “reunion” when getting back together for visits when you both pull your harps out of your pockets :)

      Reply

  • Emil

    |

    Oops, that should have read ‘a young son’ :oops:

    Reply

  • jim

    |

    question i just received your lesson bundle,have gotten thru first two videos and with the techniqes demonstrated with the tongue ,the harder i try seem worst isound.so would like to know are teeth important i have none.also having trouble with single notes and forming my mouth thanks

    Reply

  • Gary Popelka

    |

    Hi JP,

    I’m starting to accumulate a few harmonicas and would like to purchase a case for them. The problem is that I can’t find an empty case without the harmonicas – I have to purchase the harps with the case. Any idea where I can find a case only for 5 – 7 harmonicas? Thanks.

    Gary

    Reply

  • John Thompson

    |

    Am really excited about getting started on the harmonica!! Why is the package of 6 or 7 with the case so inexpensive???

    Reply

  • dodge

    |

    Dear sir, I reside in the UK & would like to purchase Your dvd lesson set after seeing Your videos on youtube. My question is, at the age of fifty years, would I be considered too old to learn the harmonica & would it be possible to purchase Your dvds for delivery to the UK? I look forward to Your reply.

    Reply

    • dorrene

      |

      Dodge,

      …and all the others who have reservation playing the harp because of age….

      In my opinion, there is no age limit to learning. Instead just focus on having fun playing the harmonica. If you’re having fun blowing and drawing, you’ll get to play good song in your harp/harmonica sooner than you expect.

      I’m just a beginner (less than one month) but every time I play the harp, I get to learn something new (for me). One technique is not forcing to get that song or practice correctly at one sitting, instead relax and accept that I play bad at first –> I will surely improve the next time I try again –> and I did, even if it’s just a small improvement but I really did. That’s double enjoyment for me. So I am looking forward to performing with an audience soon.

      I’m just happy I started to learn and play the harmonica.

      You can do it!

      Reply

      • JP Allen

        |

        Dorrene…I couldn’t have said it better myself…you nailed it!

        jp allen

        Reply

  • omid

    |

    I have a bluesmaster of suzuki
    how is it for learning?

    Reply

    • JP Allen

      |

      Great.

      jp

      Reply

  • marcus

    |

    i had a cleft pallette when i was born and it makes some of the tech harder than it should be.When i was in grade school i played alto clarinet and it just came natural so i never thought the harp would cause me so much stress but im not givin up cause im addicted to blues.Im playing with a marine band c but my ? is would the 20 make that much of a difference .

    Reply

    • JP Allen

      |

      The Marine Band is great.

      If you’re having a challenging time learning to bend try the Special 20.

      jp

      Reply

  • john"JACK'gerstel

    |

    Hey jp and jason.Look what I stumbled on. Great harpy questions. I have jp’s lessons, 5 special 20’s, a 16 hole hole chromatic & 48 chord honer. I’m sticking with jp’s lessons, I trust him!!! BIG QUESTION__I’m the 82 yr old guy you have helped before, I wear dentures..Doesn’t that restrict the flow of air when trying to bend. I get so far, and the bend quits. Help if you can. thanks I’m a trying phew!!! Jack—————- DARLING I AM GROWING OLDER .SONG TITLE BEFORE UR TIMIE

    Reply

    • JP Allen

      |

      I really don’t know Jack. My guess would be to play without the dentures if your denture have the plate on roof of your mouth.

      I really wish I knew the answer to this. Does anyone?

      jp

      Reply

      • Jodi

        |

        Hey Jack – you have 30 years on me but I’m new to dentures and the harmonica so take this however you want. Playing the harmonica is ok (for me) with the dentures in, however, tho I’m not bending yet (just getting started again after I tried in the 80s) I found that some of the mouth positions that JP has described have worked better when I’ve removed the dentures than when I have them in.

        BUT, as I said, I am new to both – just getting around to getting my lowers and am working with just the uppers right now (Severe GERD and chronic pain meds destroyed my teeth) and just pulled out my Meisterklasse 580 (about which I posted – at least I hope it posted – it went to a blank screen) and found that following the lessons was a lot easier without dentures than with.

        Give it a go without and see what you find out – that’s going to be the best way for anyone because what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.

        Good luck!
        Jodi

        Reply

  • Toby

    |

    Hey,

    I enjoyed your lessons and i’m really learning a lot but my harmonica is made in china and it has the brand parrot that my friend gave me. Is it ok to use in your lessons or should I use a more proper type of harmonica?

    Thanks

    Reply

    • JP Allen

      |

      Hey Toby. I’m not familiar with the brand “parrot” but it should be ok if it’s a 10 hole harmonica in the key of C

      Reply

  • Jake

    |

    Hi JP,
    I recently got a golden cup 10 – hole harp on a school trip. When I got back I decided to see if I could learn. I couldn’t get a teaher until I was sure I wanted to play the instrument so I looked online and found you. I found that my notes don’t really match the ones I can hear you play. Should I get one of the reccomended harps or is this one Ok for now?

    Reply

  • Travis

    |

    I have the oppurtunity to buy “Hohner Piedmont Blues Harmonica Harp set 7-Harps w/Case” for around $30. This set includes A, Bb, C, D, E, F, and G harmonicas. Do you think it would be a worthy investment to buy them?

    Reply

  • Matthew Stephens

    |

    Hello JP, I love your work.
    I have been away from music for about 20 years. Recently my wife bought me a Piano Accordion for Christmas. I will admit that i am addicted. There have been days that i have gone at it 7 to 8 hours in a row. My technical skills and theory need a lot of work but i am compensating with extreme passion. I have been running through the Bob Dylan sheets and started to realize that the reason i love Dylan is the Harmonica. In the last 3 weeks i have blown out two harmonica’s and was forced to go buy a real one (Lee Oskar in C) and once i got it i was hooked. I have also purchased an A minor harmonica from Lee Oskar and man does it sound cool with the blues.
    What i really want to know is how do i know what harmonica to use with what song. For example, All along the watchtower, the music i play on the piano accordion is in A minor. What key of harmonica would you play with this?
    Thanks in advance.

    Reply

  • Dave

    |

    Hi J.P I have a question the instruction manuals I have picked up all have you grasp the harp between the thumb and forefinger of the left hand I see from your vids you use the right hand why is this ??

    Reply

  • Captain

    |

    I find the information given very helpful however I would like to know after we get some practice behind us what next as far as the next harmonica to purchase.
    We have our harmonica in C but we get to play some jams and sit in with a band or even try to learn songs from CD’s. What key harmonica would be most likely to be our best choice and or what two harmonicas would be best to ad to our collection as we progress?

    Reply

  • Mel Johnson

    |

    Enjoying lessons, the videos are great! Can’t wait to
    get the rest of the course !

    Reply

  • wesley

    |

    hey JP i recently got a hohner marine band tremolo and didn’t really know if this would be OK to learn to play on

    Reply

  • David

    |

    Hey JP!

    I just got my first harmonica yesterday as a gift and I doubt I would’ve actually tried to do anything with it if not your lessons and videos! Thanks alot!

    The harmonica I got is a Hohner’s 150th Anniversary model. Have you had experience with it? Is it any good for a beginner?

    Thanks for everything! :)

    Reply

    • JP Allen

      |

      Hey David,

      If it’s a diatonic harmonica in the key of C it will work great.

      jp

      Reply

  • David

    |

    Hi JP,

    I just bought your learning kit and I am very axcited about learning to play the harmonica. However, I have a question for you. My wife bought me a Hohner Special 20 – Marine band in D for my birthday. I know is it a great harmonica, but I cannot find any courses or book teaching how to play with a Harmonica in D… I know I’ll get a Hohner Bluesband in C with your package but I still would like some information of my possibilities with my harmonica in D.

    Thank you for your answer and advises.

    Best regards,

    Reply

    • JP Allen

      |

      Hey David,

      My advanced products do use the D harmonica. It’s a great key to have.

      jp

      Reply

  • Laurel Anne Smith

    |

    Thanks J P I am enjoying the new information on playing, also the bending technics, lyrics and notes …This summer I purchased a Hohner Special 20 key of G, Our son gave me a new Lee Oskar C. and a M Hohner PUCK C I play mostly single notes and would like to be able to play some Blues and do better with bending… I also have the Pedimont Blues set a gift from our daughter. Just because I have all of these does not mean I have mastered what I would like to.

    You have helped me a lot.. and I appreciate it. Thanks again..

    Reply

  • JC

    |

    JP. I’m wondering if you have a recommendation as the next best substitute to the special 20 natural minor. It seems several months back Hohner discontinued offering the sp 20 in key of D natural minor among others for reasons unknown to me. I simply dont like the Lee Oskars as they have an entirely different feel and playability, although they are freely available in all nat minor keys. So what should I try, not even sure what’s available in key of D natural minor (to play cross on songs in Am)

    Reply

    • JP Allen

      |

      Seydel makes great custom harmonicas and I like their customer service. jp

      Reply

  • Joe

    |

    Hey JP! I love your site, it has a lot of great tips and tricks! I wanted to ask you though, I recently started playing, and got a Hohner Meisterclaus, in C Diatonic, as a present. Why do you rate it lowest out of all the other Diatonic Harps? Is there something wrong with it? Is this a bad harmonica for me to be using in the beginning? I’m very new to this wonderful instrument, but I’m wondering if this is a bad harmonica for me. Thanks for the great site man, keep up the good work!

    Joe

    Reply

    • JP Allen

      |

      Hey Joe, as a gift it is a great harmonica…it’s smooth on the lips, tone is nice and responds well to what you ask it to do. I just don’t recommend the investment as there are many other comparable harmonicas for a lower price. jp

      Reply

  • Peter Leung

    |

    Dear,

    It is great to “discover” this website. I am new, and get confusing when I read your recommendation to buy Hohner Special 20. It is because I saw a list of Horner(Old Standby, Hot Metal, Official Scout, Great Little Harp, Hohner American Ace, Fuego Azul, Pocket Pal)

    Can you tell me what it mean? Thank you.

    Reply

  • CS

    |

    I recently purchased the Hohner blues bender as a beginning harmonica. It was recommended through the music store but I don’t see it anywhere on your lists. Would it be better to get the one that you recommended. I don’t know the difference.

    Reply

  • Aaron

    |

    What are the longest lasting harmonicas?
    I need a brand that has long lasting reeds but
    I don’t want to go over $50.
    I generally go with honer big river band
    But I know there is a better one then that somewhere
    That won’t cost me an arm and a leg..

    Reply

    • JP Allen

      |

      Hey Aaron, probably the longest lasting harmonicas are Lee Oskars. But as a warning, the Lee oskar is equally tuned which means it will sound great for single notes, but not for chords. I always recommend the Hohner Special 20 for a harp that lasts a long time and has great sounding chords.
      jp

      Reply

  • Braden

    |

    This article was very helpful, although I found it too late. I already purchased a cheap Hohner harmonic that is near impossible to bend. I want to play the blues and you can’t play the blues without bending. I plan on getting a Special 20 as soon as I can afford it. Thanks for the helpful advice.

    Reply

    • JP Allen

      |

      When you’re ready the upgrade will be worth it. The special 20 is great for bending. jp

      Reply

  • Shivam Gupta

    |

    Am new to this ,what to know which one to buy,here i got suggestions for
    Hohner Silver Star,Hohner Blue Band,Hohner Ocean Star ..

    Please resolve my Confusion ..
    Please consider Beginner till intermediate state ….

    Please help me ASAP

    Reply

  • amie

    |

    Thank you this information is very helpful!

    Reply

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