What a beginner should consider when buying a harmonica
- What key?
Get a diatonic harmonica in C
Harmonicas come in different keys – the one you want to get initially is a diatonic harmonica in C. Why this key in particular? The reason is it will allow you to play the widest repetoire of songs for beginners, it will allow you to play the blues; the musical style most commonly associated with the harmonica. Additionaly, nearly all learning material you will find is for this particular key.
If you are serious about wanting to learn how to play, be prepared to spend minumum £8.
Anything less than this and you will be buying a peice of Chinese made trash – the notes will go out of tune, it will sound like crap, be nearly impossible to play, let alone bend any notes or do anything funky at all. At the lowest end of the range, a Hohner Silver Star is a competent performer.
- Buy online or in-store?
I would recommend buying online
Be aware that most musical instrument shops on the high street have a very limited stock of harmonicas – nearly always a couple of Lee Oskars and a bunch of Hohners. If the shop will let you, test out the harmonicas, see which one you like best. Normally they won’t (and probably shouldn’t) let you get all your germs and bacteria all over the instruments. But what the heck, if the sales staff don’t care, then I would personally take full advantage. If you are patient, I would recommend ordering your harmonica online – you will have a wider range to choose from, plus you can be sure that you won’t have any one else’s germs and bacteria all over your new harmonica (hehe) – a good UK retailer I have used is The Harmonica Company. Amazon is also an option.
- Which model/make to go for?
A good harmonica recommended by my teacher Con O’Neil was the Suzuki Bluesmaster about £20.
This one will last you a million years without a reed going bust, and give a good bright, full sound. The majority of musical instrument shops I have been into don’t stock this, so online would be your best bet. Most good harmonicas fall within a similar price range. Anything upwards from £20 is an extra luxary and really only meant for harmonica geeks and professionals in my opinion. Another possibility within a similar price bracket are the ubiquitous Hohner Marine Band (sold in all shops) – this is the harmonica most people start off with – and I quite liked the one I owned, however Con told that the comb is made of wood which is not so great for beginners – we tend to use quite a lot of saliva which causes the wood to expand – hence the preference for the bluesmaster which has a plastic comb and gives a better sound for those starting out.
However, having said all this, choosing a harmonica is a personal thing and there are a number of subtle differences such as spacing between holes, the size of the wholes, the shape of the harmonica (the hohner Golden Melody with its banana shape the turboharp come to mind) which can make a difference to the way it feels so if you like one I haven’t mentioned or disagree with me, go ahead, knock yourself out!
Top to bottom, left to right: Turboharp, Hohner Golden Melody, Suzuki Bluesmaster & Hohner Marine Band
- More things to considerFor a bucketload of more recommendations and other things to consider, have a look at this exaustive list of reviews here by Ian Chapman. Lee Sankey also has a lot of good advice here: