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 about 30 years teaching harmonica. I encourage you to check out the recommendations of other harmonica teachers as well, and ultimately make your 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.
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Harmonica Reviews Update
Best Harmonica for Absolute Beginners
Best Harmonica for Beginners & Intermediates
Best Harmonica for Advanced Intermediates to Professional
Best Harmonica Overall
Diatonic or Chromatic?
Pro Harmonica Ratings
Economical Harmonica Ratings
Harmonica Reviews Update!
In a previous post, I mentioned that there was a downgrade in the performance of the Hohner Special 20’s and Hohner Crossovers.
Since then my team and I have communicated with Hohner, and apparently, there were some harps with factory errors that went out. Hohner has caught the problem, and the performance of the most recent lot of Special 20’s and Crossovers I received are back to their high performing standard.
So here’s my synopsis with brand new recommendations and revised ratings:
Which harmonica should you buy?
Well, that depends upon the level of your playing.
FOR ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS
HOHNER BLUESBAND #1 BUDGET HARMONICA FOR BEGINNERS ONLY: Click here for Hohner Blues Band pricing: If you’re a beginner who would prefer to “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 nice start. It’s a good harmonica for saving dollars while you’re learning your rudimentary harmonica techniques.
FOR BEGINNERS & INTERMEDIATES
If you’re confident you’re going to stick with the harmonica, and you want to learn to bend and play with a bluesy tone, you’ll need a higher performing instrument.
Both these harmonicas below are highly responsive (easy to play) with a better than average tone.
Bang for the buck I recommend:
FOR ADVANCED INTERMEDIATES TO PRO
Before giving you my humble opinion here, please be aware that there are many factors which may affect your choice (e.g., style of music, heavy breather, light breather, “over-blower”) so I’m giving you a simple response to a potentially complex subject.
#1 SEYDEL 1847 SILVER IS #1 OVERALL: This is my #1 favorite harmonica, but you will probably need to have it customized by a professional as explained below. Click here for Seydel 1847 Silver pricing
#2 HOHNER CROSSOVER is #1 out of the box (no customization needed as explained below). Click here for Hohner Crossover pricing
THE SEYDEL 1847 SILVER
The is currently my favorite harp, but it’s tough on the piggy bank. That said, if you want to purchase the best-made harmonica on the market, then the Seydel 1847 Silver is my current winner (all of the various 1847 models are awesome). The only drawback for me is that this harmonica needs additional customization by a professional craftsman for it to play with the responsiveness I like. (I prefer to play at low volumes, and I overblow occasionally, so a highly responsive harp is critical).
The 1847 is made in Germany. It has a massive tone and the highest level of craftsmanship. I’ve had a Seydel 1847 Silver for four years, it’s still in tune, and plays like a champ.
My only caveat is that the Seydel 1847 might be “too much harmonica” for you if you want a low-cost solution. If you’re a beginner that wants to learn to bend and you don’t want to spend money for customization then go for the Hohner Special 20 or the Lee Oskar.
But if you’re someone who wants the very best then get a customized Seydel 1847 directly from one of the below technicians, and it will blow your mind. Here are the two harmonica technicians I recommend but please be aware that they are a one-man operation so you may need to wait a while before they complete your order. It’s a bit easier to order the harmonica directly from them but you can also send harmonicas you already own to them.
Greg’s Jones: I recommend his Overblow/Overdraw set up. You’ll find his customized harps at 1623customharmonicas.com.
Please understand I’m not in business with the above two technicians, but I have personally received only top professional work from them.
The Crossover is a responsive harmonica out of the box, so customization is less crucial. If you don’t want to spend the extra cash getting the Seydel 1847 customized by a professional technician, then go with the Hohner Crossover or the Hohner Special 20.
Many harmonica technicians I respect say the Hohner Crossover is the best performing out of the box harmonica. This means it will be responsive (easy to bend) without having to have it customized.
I hate to complicate this article but, I honestly can’t tell much of a difference between the Hohner Crossover or the Hohner Special 20 regarding how they actually feel when I play them. The reason I’ve rated the Hohner Crossover higher than the Hohner Special 20 is because it’s so highly regarded by players I respect.
If you want the very best, and time and money is not an object, order a Seydel 1847 directly from the technicians I mention above.
If you’re in the game of saving money while still getting a professional-level harmonica, go with the Hohner Special 20 (no customization necessary).
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 side button?
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 (diatonic) first and then you can progress to a chromatic harmonica if you choose.
(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:
- Seydel 1847 Silver. (Rated 10 out of 10 if you’re an advanced player). As mentioned above, if you’re a beginner I would only recommend this as your #1 choice if your going to get it customized. Please read above.
- Hohner Crossover (9.5)
- Hohner Special 20 (9) (Best for beginners who want to save a buck and are struggling to learn to bend)
- Lee Oskar (8.75)
- Seydel Session Blues (8.5)
- Suzuki Manji (8)
- Bushman Delta Frost (8)
- Suzuki Harp Master (8)
- Hohner Golden Melody (8)
- Bushman (The Original Soul’s Voice) (8)
- Suzuki Promaster (8)
- Hering Harmonica (8)
- Huang SilverTone (7.5)
- Hohner Pro Harp (7)
- Hohner Big River (7)
- Hohner Marine Band (7)
- Hohner Steve Baker Special (7) – (one of my personal favorites, but not the easiest to learn on)
- Hohner Blues Harp (7)
- Hohner Cross Harp (7)
- Hohner Meisterclaus (7)
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
Economical harmonicas costing less than $10
(Only for absolute beginners looking to test the waters)
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, choosing a harmonica from the Professional Harmonica Ratings list above will be EXTREMELY helpful (bending is the technique that gives the harmonica that soulful “crying” sound).
What makes a great harmonica?
For me, the thing that determines a great harmonica is a combination of two things:
- The “purity” and quality of the sound.
- 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. I prefer the Hohner Blues Band which is why I include it in my Happy Harpin’ Harmonica Lessons.
When you are ready to learn how to bend to get that bluesy sound, I STRONGLY suggest you try a Hohner Special 20 or any of the professional harmonicas mentioned above.
If expense isn’t an issue and you’re NOT a beginner then the Seydel 1847 Silver or the Hohner Crossover are both beasts of a harmonica. (see 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.