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Assorted Harmonicas
at Doctor Sax WoodWinds
Photos (below) taken July 3, 2012


Due to recent requests, I have been starting to stock up on harmonicas. Below I show what I have today. Let me know if you have a request.

If you don't already have a harmonica, a good place to start is to get a "Key of C" 10-hole diatonic harmonica, such as the Hohner Special 20 .

But there are other shapes that the 10-hole harmonicas come in, such as the Hohner Golden Melody which has has rounded edges and the actual mouthpiece area is a little wider.

For sanitary reasons, you can't try out harmonicas beforehand, but since certain makes and models seems to "fit" your mouth better than others, you are going to have to buy and try a couple of different kinds to figure out what your preference is.
When you are an absolute beginner it doesn't matter as much, because you are just getting used to the basics of how harmonicas respond, how to move about on the instrument, what the blow and draw holes sound like, etc.
But when you start to get a little more advanced you start to try out different models...not just to determine how they seem to "fit", but also how they to respond when you try a particular playing technique.
Once again, this takes experimentation and trying out different makes and models.

There actually are 12 basic keys of harmonicas you can buy, but the key of C is a good start.
The key of C is a midrange harmonica – not high, not low, and it is the harmonica used in most all the instructional packages you might buy.
At the bottom of this page is information on selecting a harmonica in the proper key.
If you are going to be playing a lot of blues, the "A" harp will come in real handy, because so much blues is in the key of E - and the key of A harmonica is the 2nd position "crossharp" for a song in the key of E.

What's a Chromatic (vs. diatonic) harmonica?
Chromatic models incorporate the full chromatic scale and allow the player to play in any key using one harmonica. Chromatic models provide the complete 12-note octave with all sharps and flats. Each hole contains four reeds: two are for natural notes and two for chromatic notes. The reeds for chromatic notes are brought into operation by pushing a slide button on the side of the harmonica. This closes off the air flow from one set or reeds and permits the other set to vibrate freely. The preferred instrument for Jazz and Classical, chromatic harmonicas are also used for Blues and Popular Music. 

Which Diatonic harmonica is the best?
Some popular models are (in no particular order) the Hohner Marine Band, Hohner Blues Harp, Lee Oskar Major Diatonic, Hering Blues, Hohner Golden Melody and Hohner Big River.

What are the different types of harmonicas?
The most common and useful types of harmonicas are either 10-hole major diatonics (for blues, rock, country, and folk) or chromatic harmonicas (commonly used for jazz or classical, and for melody playing). Most other types like tremolo, octave, minor tunings, bass and chord harmonicas, tend to be for special purposes.

Which harmonica key to buy?
Usually the key of "C" is the best first key for diatonic. Recommended diatonic keys after the key of "C" include: "A", "D", "F", "G", and "Bb" (roughly in that order). Of course, if there is a song in a particular key that you want to play along with, then you would need the correct diatonic key for that song.
For chromatic harmonicas, the "C" harmonica may be the best. Learning and working with scales will allow you to play your chromatic harmonica in any key you choose. Unless you have a special purpose or reason, you do not need to buy a chromatic harmonica in any key other than the key of "C".

Wood or plastic harmonica comb?
Plastic combs tend to play better and last much longer than wooden combs. There is very little difference in tonal quality. Most of the overall harmonica tone quality is derived from the player's technical ability. Plastic combs tend to leak less air than the wood combs and thus are easier to play.

The pictures are below:
Two Lee Oskars...one in the key of "C", the other in "G"
One Hohner "Pro Harp" in the key of "G"
A Hohner "Echo" harp, in the key of "G"
A Hohner "Echo Celeste" in the key of "C"
Three "Special 20's" in the key of "C", "G", and "A"
An "Old Standby" in the key of "Bb"
A set of inexpensive "Chicago Blues" harmonicas in 7 different keys.
And a "Cross Harp" key reference chart.

More information about "Cross Harp" and selecting which key of harmonica is at the bottom of the page.



Picture one - Lee Oskars - C & G


Picture two - Hohner "Pro Harp" - G

Picture three - Hohner "Echo" - G.

Picture four - Hohner "Echo Celeste" - C.

Picture five - Hohner "Special 20's - C, G & A

Picture six - "Old Standy" - Bb

Picture seven - "Chicago Blues" - 7 key set

Picture eight - "Cross Harp" - key reference chart.


Most recorded harmonica you hear is done in crossed (or second) position.
This means that the harmonica used is not in the same key as the song.
Discovering this is a big step toward learning how to play blues harmonica.

In second position the draw chord becomes the song key instead of the blow chord.
See the following chart to select the correct harmonica for playing crossed harp (second position) in any song key.
Note that the harmonica you want to use is 5 half tones above the key the song is being played in.

Song Key
A#/Bb D#/Eb
C#/Db F#/Gb
D#/Eb G#/Ab
F A#/Bb
F#/Gb B
G#/Ab C#/Db

Harps in G, A, B-flat, C, D, E-flat, and F should suffice.
The low F is a good choice when the band plays something in C. Further, the "C" Harmonica often sounds shrill on the harp.
The low F doesn’t have so much of the blues harp character and is not very loud, but it is a nice alternative to the high F.
The B-flat and the E-Flat are good because the band sometimes has brass instruments joining in and they play better in F and B-flat.
An E harp is good to have in case some joker wants to play in B.
Blues Harp sounds best around the key of G.
The B-flat harp is good in the key of F.
The G harp is the lowest normal harp and sounds deep and resonant.
A is a good harp to have to play in the key of E. Slide players still like to use an open E tuning. Delta blues is often played in E or A.

Harps in G, A, B-flat, C, D, E-flat, and F should suffice. If the band calls another key, take a break.

Key of A – The most popular of all harmonica keys for blues. On the lower end of the harmonica range, this key has a throaty, authoritative sound. Great for all of those blues and country tunes in the key of E (the key in which the accompanist or band is playing.)

Key of Bb – The key of B-flat is a nice mix of lower and higher keyed harmonicas. Great for jazz and blues in the keys of F, Bb or C.

Key of C – The most popular of all harmonica keys. Typically, the best pitch range for the beginner.
The range of the lowest and highest notes can facilitate learning how to bend notes.
Along with playing this harmonica in the key of C, it is often also played in the very common key of G.

Key of D is a screamer, perfect for rockin' in the popular keys of A and E minor – also very useful in bluegrass and country styles played in the keys of D and A.

Key of G – This key is at the lowest end pitchwise of the traditional harmonica key spectrum.
The key of G has a huge sound reminiscient of a tenor saxophone and is commonly played in the keys of D, G & A minor.

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