When buying a harmonica, it pays to choose a quality model, with good raw materials for its replaceable parts. Never buy a second-hand harmonica either. Remember, this is an instrument played with the mouth, so, for hygiene reasons alone, it’s unsuitable to use one that’s already been in someone else’s mouth!
Anyway, harmonicas aren’t expensive, so it simply makes sense to buy a new one. Take a look, for instance, at the range and prices at Harmonica Store, where you will almost certainly find the right one for your needs.
But, before you buy, let’s talk about the different components of a harmonica, their characteristics and what you should be looking for.
– This is the main part of the instrument, containing the air chambers covering the reeds. It’s laid out rather like a comb – that’s where the name comes from. The three most common types of materials used in the making of the comb are:
Wood has a warmer sound than any other material. It’s the choice of Bob Dylan, for instance, because he likes the natural feel. However, a wooden comb is naturally sensitive to water and may swell and warp when wet. Note though that Hohner claims its new deluxe Hohner Marine Brand, with its special sealed pear wood, doesn’t have this problem.
Usually aluminum or stainless steel, this is an expensive material for a comb. It does not experience wear easily, but is prone to corrosion.
This is the most popular material used for comb, thanks to its ease of maintenance. It is also “friendly” to the lips. A Plexiglas® variety is used in high-end models. This is also easy to maintain but can crack after some time.
2. Cover Plates
– This is where the sound resonates and where the acoustic sound is produced. Two types to highlight here:
• Traditional Open Cover Design:
Made of stamped metal or plastic, these covers are screwed or nailed into place. Open cover plates are used with the low to medium priced harmonica such as Hohner 270, 280 and Big River.
• Closed or Cover-All Design:
Allows a louder tone such as the Hohner Meisterklasse, Hohner Super 64 and Suzuki Promaster.
3. Choosing Your First Harmonica:
Most learners find the diatonic harmonica easier to begin with, rather than the chromatic or tremolo. But each has its strengths according to the type of music you want to play. So:
- Blues music, country, fork and Gospel music widely use the diatonic.
- Jazz and classical music are mainly using the chromatic.
- Folk music especially for Asian folk dances uses the tremolo.
Beyond these, other types of harmonica are not recommended for beginners.
All twelve musical keys are available on harmonicas. Traditionally, learners start with a 10-hole diatonic harmonica in the key of C. As you progress, you may eventually need to get harmonicas tuned to each of the keys.
Improved technology will likely make harmonicas more airtight and longer-lived in the future, but that doesn’t mean today’s models can’t provide for all your needs and style. There’s lots of choice – and so much fun to be had!