What is the harmonica?
Currently, this musical instrument is classified as a woodwind-metal instrument, which is very rare. We can find traditional wood and metal models, but they are also manufactured with ABS plastic and in various combinations that provide captivating sounds for listeners. It's also considered a free reed instrument due to its independently vibrating channels.
The harmonica design is quite complex. Among its components we find:
- Comb: These are the channels or ducts that constitute the core of the instrument and where most of the sound body is concentrated. It can be made of different types of materials, such as plastic, metals and wood. Alloys such as titanium are also used in high-end models.
- Tabs: These are the plates or sheets made of metal or other materials that form the comb and determine the tone. Depending on the type of harmonica, it can also give double tones and semitones.
- Covers: Two sheets that encase the inner parts of the harmonica. These sheets are usually made of a stronger material than the rest of the instrument, for greater protection.
- Valves: Strips of plastic, brass or some other material that adapt to the reeds to produce the different sounds.
- Embouchure: This is the part where the player places their mouth and blows so that the air moves inside the instrument and produces the sound.
All these parts vary according to the harmonica range and type. In some cases, there are signature harmonicas, which are manufactured under the indications of a recognized musician. These can have mixed parts, as well as various sizes, shapes, tabs and combs.
Generally, it's an affordable musical instrument, and you can find packs of which the price is a real bargain yet are of very good quality in manufacturing, materials, sound and design.
Types of harmonica
This is a small but versatile instrument that you can find in two versions, with their own subcategories. However, the main harmonica types are: chromatic and diatonic.
This is the most complex, since its internal structure has been designed so that the musician can play the sustained sounds and, therefore, flats. Chromatic harmonicas come in various sizes but are not tuned in different keys (unlike diatonic harmonicas), so you can play in almost any key. Very affordable packs are available, with impressive variety.
One of the advantages of this type of harmonica is that you can make the chromatic scales, since there are four reeds in each cell for you to achieve the two notes, either by sucking or blowing. Some of these harmonicas have a button that activates the mechanism to direct the air column towards the reed that has the desired sound. This is the most popular harmonica among professional musicians.
Also known as
one of the most popular for performing various techniques such as bending and overbends. It contains ten holes that provide the tones up to an extension of three octaves.
Unlike the chromatic harmonica, the diatonic harmonica cannot be used to play in all keys because it's only tuned for a specific key, so you will find diatonic harmonicas in C, D, E and even in sharps. For this reason, manufacturers offer packs that come with harmonicas of various tones.
Other types of harmonics
We can also find special harmonicas created to produce some characteristic effects. These are a few of them:
It has a double row of holes, so it contains two upper and two lower tabs. When these collide with each other, the distorted tremolo sound is produced. It's possible to find harmonicas of semitones, such as the Asian ones, and others that have ten or more holes, so that the musician can express all his creativity.
It's characterized by having a double row of holes of which one is an octave above the other to give the sensation that two harmonicas are being played at the same time.
How to play the harmonica?
To play a harmonica, the first thing to define is the type of harmonica you have. Once the type has been determined, we proceed to practice certain sounds, scales or short phrases. It's important that we focus on iconic song phrases.
These are some tips that will serve as a fundamental basis if you want to learn how to play the harmonica:
We always recommend diaphragmatic intercostal breathing because it's the best for playing any type of wind musical instrument.
This is vital, since the blues is characterized by stretched sounds, such as bending, among which we find the bend up and bend up/down. The first is a sound that starts from a base tone and ends one or several tones higher, while the second is a sound that starts from a base tone and rises several tones to return to the base tone.
Another technique is the trill, a succession of three notes played quickly. There are also many terms whose names are part of bluesman jargon, for example “dragging”, which is used to refer to bending and also to play several tones in succession in an ascending, descending and ascending/descending manner.
In the same way, we find techniques in which we must suck instead of blowing and it's advisable to learn as many as we can so that our arsenal is as wide as possible.
Repertoire is a very important aspect. Generally, the musician associates advancement with the songs or rhythms they can play. Therefore, to learn how to play the harmonica it's advisable to know the techniques and practice breathing while playing a lick, riff or phrase of an iconic song.
Where to buy a harmonica
Currently, there are a huge number of options for buying a harmonica. But not all of them are really recommendable, so it's necessary to find one that has at least three fundamental characteristics:
- Large stock: In order to choose the right harmonica, it's important to find a store that has a varied, large stock, with different types, models, materials and tonalities.
- Convenience: Many times we do not have enough time to visit a physical store. Therefore, it's advisable to look for one that sells harmonicas online that is available 24 hours a day, but also offers multiple payment and shipping options.
- Specialization: We should look for a store specialized in musical instruments. Don't shop in a department store, but in one dedicated to selling instruments.
There are a wide variety of online stores that offer the three elements mentioned above. One of the largest and with the vastest stock and the best reputation in the music market is Thomann.
The best harmonica brands
- Hohner: It's perhaps the major reference in reed instruments. The harmonicas in this family are wonderful, and the Marine Band Crossover model is for many reasons, the ideal choice.
- Thomann: All the quality of this German house is expressed in its chromatic harmonicas, that surpass in several aspects those of many high-end brands.
- Harley Benton: A Thomann brand and a reflection of their quest to meet the needs of budding learners, which is evident in their student packs.
- Seydel Söhne: Many of their pieces are rated by experts as the best on the market. In our review we describe an excellent option that you should hurry to get to know.
- Lee Oscar: The mark of this virtuoso harmonica player who, after not finding the perfect instrument, set out to create one with his own stamp of approval.
- Suzuki: This brand is perhaps the most expensive you can find on the market, but each and every one of its chromatic harmonicas is worth it.
- Thomann Chromatic 64 Harp
- Hohner Chrometta 12C48
- Seydel Söhne Chromatic de Luxe Low C
- Hohner Chromonica 270/48 C- D
The best chromatic harmonicas
Thomann Chromatic 64 Harp
Excellent value for money.
Low volume in some octaves. The sound is a bit cold.
- Material: brass, ABS plastic.
- Tuning: C.
- Sound: good.
- Weight: 100 gr.
For many years, the Thomann family has offered beginner and intermediate musicians the development of musical instruments with an excellent price-performance ratio. The Thomann Chromatic 64 Harp harmonica is a good example. We'll tell you all about it below…
In this model, Thomann has achieved a perfect union by combining brass with ABS plastic. Brass is one of the best metallic materials for the manufacture of wind instruments because it's much more resistant to humidity, and a harmonica needs it because it receives a lot of saliva. Also, ABS plastic is one of the best options because it helps keep the price down, has a great durability and gives many nuances to the sound.
The case is also made of brass, but not the conventional type, rather a fully stainless nickel brass, which guarantees that your instrument will resist the salivary flow almost indefinitely. In addition, it has a nickel finish to enhance durability and other sonic aspects.
The comb of this instrument is made of ABS plastic , which is also more resistant than other materials, but also adds an important nuance to the sound. Finally, to join all the parts of this harmonica, the manufacturers have opted for brass screws to ensure durability in each of its components.
This chromatic harmonica has been designed with C tuning and a 64 reed extension to give you access to five octaves. This means that it ranges from middle C (C3) to C8 (C8) to play all these musical notes.
The reeds are 0.9 mm thick, a good detail because, like any musical instrument, the sound depends to a large extent on the stability of its components. The thickness of the reeds of the Thomann Chromatic 64 Harp is responsible for its great sound.
The aesthetics are just as attractive, with a nickel-plated finish that evokes the most emblematic harmonicas in history. Thomann has undoubtedly manufactured a proposal that not only has high quality materials but is aesthetically beautiful.
The Thomann Chromatic 64 Harp harmonica has a wonderful sound, although perhaps it lacks some warmth in comparison with counterparts of higher ranges. However, with this harmonica you have the possibility of using five octaves, which implies an extension similar to that of a piano with 64 keys, but without the basses. This expands the sonic possibilities exponentially and due to its C tuning, the playing capabilities are suitable for any musical style and with any type of accompaniment.
An equally striking detail is the lever for switching between natural and sustained tones. When it's up, when blowing you get the notes by intervals of third C, E, G and then the octave of C to start the scale again. The notes D, F, A and B are obtained by aspiration. The quality of the transition between each octave is simply wonderful.
The arrangement of the reeds on this harmonica allows the sound to be sweet and linear when blown lightly, but when blown hard it becomes harsh, ideal for acid blues. The low frequencies are very stable and this is maintained until the last note. The reverb is rich in nuances and allows you to perceive the musical harmonics in each of its notes. Likewise, vibrato and bending techniques are very easy to perform and are of great quality.
The Thomann Chromatic 64 Harp is excellent, both in the quality of its materials and for having a design that allows a very wide range of notes to be reached, resulting in a sensational sound. For this reason we recommend it for all learning levels if you want to buy an affordable chromatic harmonica. Find the best prices at Thomann.
Hohner Chrometta 12C48
Great quality in each piece, design and sound.
It only has 48 reeds (three octaves). The recording of low and high scores is not ideal.
- Material: brass and ABS plastic.
- Tuning: C “C”.
- Sound: good, bright, powerful.
- Weight: 185 gr.
Honhner is one of the great makers of reeded instruments, from accordions to harmonicas, and is perhaps also the most important and highly regarded. The Hohner Chrometta 12c48 harmonica has some great traditional features, but also stands out for its great appearance and sound. But if we examine it in detail, we learn that it's practically the same as the other harmonicas mentioned in our list, although the Hohner is more expensive and has a smaller range of notes.
The Hohner Chrometta 12C48 is made of brass and ABS plastic, the same materials as the Thomann Chromatic 64 Harp. As described above, brass is an excellent material with a high resistance to moisture. It has a cover made of nickel-plated brass, which is much harder, more stable and resistant to oxidation than ordinary brass.
The tabs are also made of nickel-plated brass which guarantees the highest resistance to salivary flow.
The comb of this model is identical to that of the Thomann. It's made of ABS plastic, which is also the best option compared to other materials, as it also provides important nuances to the sound. Finally, brass screws are used to join all the parts of this instrument.
This is a chromatic harmonica tuned in C and has 48 reeds, unlike the Thomann Chromatic 64 which has 64. That means it only provides access to three octaves: from middle C (C3) to C6 (C6). The tabs are 1 mm thick. This is an important detail and is responsible for the noticeable difference in sound compared to the Thomann.
This an elegant harmonica. Not only does it have a nickel-plated finish, characteristic of classical harmonicas, but the name of the series is engraved on the top plate and each of the holes is numbered.
Anoter great detail is the size of the lever to switch between natural and sustained tones, since it's large and very easy to manipulate. In other words, this instrument has been conceived as a classic and was designed especially for beginners.
This is the best part of the Hohner Chrometta 12C48, because there is nothing like it on the entry-level harmonica market. It's smaller than the Thomann, because it has 16 fewer reeds, and therefore the sound has a higher resonance and more stability. You have the possibility of using four octaves: from C3 to C6 and with the right technique, you can reach C7. However, the high and low records are not as good.
With the switch or lever up, by blowing you can produce the notes by intervals of third C, E, G and then the octave of C to start the scale. The notes of D, F, A and B are played on aspiration. Similarly, you can get the sharp notes by holding the lever down . To make the notes do#, fa and sol# you must blow, but the notes do#, fa#, la# and do can be achieved by inhaling.
One thing we have fallen in love with is the natural vibrato that transports you back in time to 1930. The resonance is just as impressive and powerful thanks to its small enclosure and the same is true of the reverb, which is like a cushion of sound that dampens as it arrives, in a fascinating way.
The transition of the notes is a delight: almost imperceptibly it manages to pass between octaves with an enviable ease and sweetness. The same is true for the low frequencies: it has a lot of presence and the brightness is strong, consistent and stable. On the other hand, the versatility of this instrument is such that with a high level technique you can produce the sensation of very high notes.
This is a harmonica that stands out more for its sound than its materials. It's the reflection of the Hohner brand, made of good quality materials, with a traditional design, aesthetically beautiful and with a versatile sound in every sense. Now, if we compare it with the Thomann, it has less tonal possibilities and the Thomann is more affordable. We recommend it for those who want the sound of yesteryear, classic, powerful and with extravagant sparkles. Interested? Find the best price at Thomann.
Seydel Söhne Chromatic de Luxe Low C
Quality materials and good workmanship.
Somewhat expensive. The sound lacks depth, needs to be more doughy and powerful.
- Material: brass, chrome, polymethylmethacrylate.
- Tuning: C “C”.
- Sound: Good, but not ideal.
- Weight: 185 gr.
Seydel Söhne is one of those brands that manufacture high-end instruments and, therefore, the target audience is professionals. However, you can still find a few entry-level options within its harmonica selection, such as the Chromatic de Luxe, which is accessible to all audiences, yet of a top-notch quality.
The external structure is made of high quality brass, which makes it a little more resistant to humidity. In addition, it has a chrome coating that makes it completely stainless and more resistant to breakage. This is a significant difference with respect to the other harmonicas mentioned, as it's finer.
The comb is made of polymethylmethacrylate. This is an acrylic plastic used in engineering and proves to be superior to ABS plastic, as it's more resistant to twisting, oxidation and has better acoustic properties. In this sense, this is a harmonica that is simply exceptional for the quality of its materials.
This harmonica is in the key of low C. It has twelve main holes and 48 reeds for a total of three octaves: from C3 (C3) to C6 (C6). Its design incorporates a special ventilation system to allow the air to move through the interior uniformly and more easily.
The reeds are 1 mm thick, so you'd think they sound similar to those of the Hohner harmonica, but that is not the case, thanks to the acrylic of the comb.
On the other hand, the acrylic has a brown tone to make it stand out, and both the mouthpiece and covers are chrome-plated to give it a 1960s feel.
This harmonica should be very similar to the Hohner harmonica but, in the truth, is totally different. The low frequency response is poor, it doesn't have much depth, unlike the Hohner which has a powerful bass. However, the mids are very similar, balanced, with excellent response and transition to the high frequencies.
The brightness is powerful, warm and sweet, so it's especially suited for folk and jazz, although we recommend it especially for modern music, such as acid blues and other more current variables. The reverb is rich, although we would have appreciated more power and volume.
The Seydel Söhne Chromatic de Luxe Low C is a high-end option, highly praised by professional musicians as it's made of superior materials, with a stable sound but, in our opinion, seems lacking in bass. We recommend it for intermediate and advanced players looking for high quality and durable harmonicas with a modern sound for today's music and a vintage or retro look. Find the best prices at Thomann, on this link.
Hohner Chromonica 270/48 C- D
Excellent quality of materials, build and sound.
- Material: brass.
- Tuning: C.
- Sound: good.
- Weight: 100 gr.
This piece from Hohner is unlike any other harmonica. But not for its materials, rather for its design, which changes up the sound significantly, and showcases an instrument with one of the best melodics you can find on the market.
The case of the Hohner Chromonica 270/48 C- D B-Stock is made of chrome-plated brass, one of the metals used for high-end instruments due to its impressive fracture resistance. It also has an excellent response to humidity, because unlike brass, chrome does not tarnish and accumulates less dust, which makes it easier to clean. For assembly, the manufacturers also opted for chrome-plated screws for maximum strength.
The internal body of the cells is made of pear wood, so this harmonica moves away from the rest to seek a sound with greater acoustics but without compromising resistance. It's not a wooden harmonica strictly speaking, but undoubtedly the pear wood provides an impressive acoustic quality, aside from being very sturdy.
The design of this instrument has been a real novelty for us because the manufacturer has taken every aspect into account. For example, the reeds are 1.2 mm thick, which gives a better balance to the instrument . Hohner seems to love harmonicas with 48 reeds and three octaves, and no wonder, because these instruments respond with two octaves higher if the technique is good.
The first thing that stands out about this harmonica are the fully audible bass sounds, wonderful, because they have that depth that is expected from a harmonica within this price range and with the weight of the Hohner brand.
The mid frequencies do not disappoint and are excellent for classic blues and traditional jazz. Similarly, the treble sounds are exquisite and give a tango feel. Yes, we know, we're talking about a harmonica! But if you are familiar with tango, this instrument will remind you of that elegant, sensual and full-of-passion sound.
The Hohner Chromonica 270/48 C- D B-Stock is the top contender in our list of chromatic harmonicas. Its materials are top notch, the design is great and it combines the best of nature (wood) and technology (chrome alloy) to result in a sound that is beautiful and versatile in every sense of the word. What Vicente Amigo's playing is for the flamenco duende, this harmonica is for the blues and any other style that crosses its path. Find the best price on Thomann.
Without hesitation, we can say that the best chromatic harmonica on this list is the Hohner Chromonica 270/48 C- D B-Stock, as it has it all: excellent materials, design and a phenomenal and versatile sound. However, it's fair to say that the Thomann Chromatic 64 Harp harmonica is a great musical instrument that has everything to rank second only to the Hohner. If you want to buy an affordable harmonica for beginners, the Thomman is the best choice.
The best diatonic harmonicas
Diatonic harmonicas are the most common harmonicas used in the blues genre. These instruments must stand out for the same characteristics as the chromatics: materials and design, to finally contemplate the final result: the sound. Let's take a look at the best options on the market.
Harley Benton Blues Harmonica Set
Complete set with all the necessary harmonicas to play any song and at an excellent price.
The screws are made of oxidizable metal. The sound leaves something to be desired. It's purely for beginners.
- Material: brass.
- Tuning: alltunings.
- Sound: 7/10 .
- Weight: 1.8 kg the set of twelve harmonicas.
Harley Bento's philosophy is to meet the needs of beginner musicians of any instrument, anywhere in the world. This harmonica is a clear example of the eagerness and quality that this firm imbues in its pieces. This is a really good set for many reasons and, although it's aimed at beginners, in its particular characteristics we find more than enough reasons to value it.
Each of the harmonicas in this set has an outer casing made of ordinary brass. It's not nickel plated, not chrome plated, or anything of the sort, it's just 60/40 brass. But not to worry, because it's a very resistant material to fractures and shocks.
The comb is made of ABS which, as already mentioned, is a good quality material with excellent acoustic capabilities and high resistance. To join the parts together, the designers have opted for common metal screws and for this reason, it requires a bit more care than usual, since it's the part with the highest risk of oxidation.
This pack consists of twelve diatonic harmonicas tuned in C, D, E, F, F, G, A and B, but also in D flat, E flat, G flat, A flat and B flat. That's all you need if you're a beginner or intermediate musician who wants a complete pack for amazing blues sessions or any other genre.
As in all starter packs, the comb has plastic cells. There are ten cells and each cell has two brass reeds for a total of twenty covering the length of each musical scale. In addition, for greater convenience, the manufacturers incorporate a practical and elegant box.
The sound of these harmonicas has left us with a good impression, for it's the most classic you could find in packs for beginners. It has a natural reverb that is pleasant and evokes the touch of “The Blues Brother”, a wonderful Rock and Roll blues. It also has a natural vibrato that facilitates the execution of this note.
In this sense, the sound acquires a lot of body the harder the performer blows or inhales , the volume is really good and beginners will appreciate it.
This is an excellent pack that has been manufactured to indulge beginners who wish to enter the world of harmonica music. It has everything you need: the different tunings, acceptable quality materials, well thought-out design, as well as a rich sound ideal for classic blues and rock blues. With it you can become the next great bluesman. Find the best price at Thomann.
Hohner Melody Star C- Major
Hohner quality. Good transitions and decent volume. Affordable.
At times, the sound can be jarring. The comb is made of common plastic.
- Material: brass and plastic.
- Tuning: C (C).
- Sound: generally good, but when you blow too hard it can be loud.
- Weight: 90 gr
Hohner not only manufactures chromatic harmonicas for beginners but also diatonic harmonicas of good quality and designed for beginners. In the Hohner Melody Star C-Major we find a good model that has an almost unbeatable value for money. However, its features do not stand out from its competitors and its sound is even a bit inferior.
The plates of these harmonicas are made of 60/40 brass. The reed plates are also made of brass and have a thickness of 0.9 mm, which is common for all beginner instruments.
However, the problem is with the comb, which is made of the most common and ordinary plastic. It's just plastic, as if the designers took the first plastic cup in sight and used it to make the comb for this harmonica. This flaw causes the sound to be so distorted when blowing hard. We find no justification because no matter what a brand name is, such a cheap item will always respond as what it is: a poor quality material.
This is a diatonic harmonica in C major “C”. Unfortunately, however, it only has eight holes, i.e. 16 tabs. This causes the musical potential to be really limited. Let's just compare it a bit with Harley Benton's proposal, which is twelve harmonicas with twenty reeds. If we decided to make a pack of this limited Hohner, it would cost three times as much as the Harley set.
In other words, we are talking about a higher cost for a lower quality and fewer sound possibilities. So there is no justification for Hohner to have compromised its reputation with this harmonica. As customers of this brand, we're a bit disappointed.
Sound is the aspect that suffers the most. As we have mentioned, the combination of materials and design influences this characteristic, which is the most important in a musical instrument.
The Hohner Melody Star C-Major is poor in nuance when compared to less reputable brands. The harmonics are almost imperceptible and they must be heard, they must be present in the whole interpretation. In a reeded instrument, harmonics are very valuable and in this diatonic harmonica in C they are so rare that we ask ourselves: why, Hohner?
The transitions save the result a bit, because the movement between notes is good, the volume is good when you blow and aspirate with medium power, but when too much force is applied it becomes excessively loud.
This is the first time in our reviews that we have mentioned an instrument and said we were disappointed. However, we can find users who give a good rating to this product. Under what criteria? It's certain that they do not specify with the dedication that we offer you at culturasonora. Check out the best price at Thomann.
Hohner Marine Band Crossover A
Quality materials. Excellent sound.
Achieving the highest tunes can be exhausting.
- Material: stainless steel, brass and laminated bamboo wood.
- Tuning: “A”.
- Sound: excellent.
- Weight: 120 gr.
All is not lost with the diatonic harmonicas from Hohner, because now the company is determined to offer a piece of superior quality, for a very affordable price. The Marine Band Crossover is an instrument that, thanks to its quality, is a legend among diatonic harmonicas.
The Hohner Marine Band Crossover A is made of high quality materials: stainless steel, nickel-plated brass and bamboo wood. Stainless steel can be found on the outer plates and screws, but brass is on the tabs to ensure durability and a traditional appearance. The comb, on the other hand, is made of bamboo, a new design patented by Hohner to offer an ecological, sustainable product with a great sound quality.
The manufacturers have opted for a line that spans the full range of notes, from C to B, but this one specifically is tuned in the standard Richter system for major “A”, which is the most common key of the blues.
It also has 20 0.9 mm brass reeds for a full diatonic experience. In addition, a detail that is not only sustainable from an environmental perspective, but also from an acoustic perspective, is the bamboo comb that not only adds aesthetic beauty, but also enriches the sound quality.
Here we find the result of dedication, the desire not to cut costs and the will to offer the best to loyal customers: a sound of the highest quality, the best among all the diatonic harmonicas you can find on the market.
The Hohner Marine Band Crossover A has a natural and exquisite vibrato. It's husky but beautiful and with awesome harmonics and that's exaclty what we want! Nothing else, because harmonics are the lifeblood of this instrument. We also note that it retains its quality in tonal transitions and each of them is rich in reverb and with an ideal volume.
Traditional blues sounds great, but jazz musicians appreciate the sound because it's stable, powerful and the high frequencies are maintained without creating disturbances. However, you need a good technique to reach the higher tones, otherwise it can be a bit exhausting.
This Hohner diatonic harmonica is a jewel that will visually and aurally embellish all your interpretations, so we recommend it for all learning levels. A student should aspire to have this harmonica and teachers surely want it because its materials, design and sound are the best in this price range. It's a high-end instrument at an amazing price. Find the best deals at Thomann.
We are not afraid to confess that the Hohner Marine Band Crossover A is the best of them all, because everything about it is excellent. We recommend it for beginners, intermediate and even professional musicians. But if you are looking to buy a diatonic harmonica set, then Harley Benton is for you, don't think twice and go for it.
Technical Characteristics of Harmonicas
|Thomann Chromatic 64 Harp||100 gr||Brass, ABS plastic||C||Good|
|Hohner Chrometta 12C48||185 gr||Brass, ABS plastic||C||Good, bright, powerful|
|Seydel Sons Chromatic de Luxe Low C||185 gr||Brass, chrome, polymethylmethacrylate||C||Good, but a bit lacking to our liking.|
|Hohner Chromonica 270/48 C- D B-stock||100 gr||Brass||C||Good|
|Harley Benton Blues Harmonica Set||1.8 kg/set||Brass||All tunings||7-Oct|
|Hohner Melody Star C- Major||90 gr||Brass and plastic||C||Generally good|
|Hohner Marine Band Crossover A||120 gr||Stainless steel, brass and laminated bamboo wood||A||Excellent|