Harmonica Buying Guide

Harmonicas can be supplied in multitudes of makes, types, sizes and musical keys. Some of the popular types include Diatonic, Chromatic, Tremolo and Octave tuned.

To make it easy and simple for your first choice of harmonica, Eagle Music explains here the types of music that can be played on them and the most suitable type of harmonica to choose.

If you are an absolute beginner we recommend that you buy a ten hole single reed diatonic harmonica in the key of C (these are also our lowest priced harmonicas. But don’t go for the cheapest in the range! The better the quality of the instrument you buy, the more reliable and easier it will be to play).

Diatonic harmonicas are also called ‘Harp’ or ‘Blues Harp’, they are used by many professionals playing Rock, Blues, Jazz, Folk and Country Music. Diatonic harmonicas are ‘Richter’ tuned which means they do not have all the notes of the scales throughout their range of octaves, they only have one full major scale. Nearly all tutor books for beginners are written for a C harmonica and on any accompanying CDs or DVDs the player (on the CD/DVD) will be playing a harmonica in the key of C. At Eagle music we have an extensive range of tutor books, song books,CD’s and DVD’s for the absolute beginner,intermediate and advanced player.

Spare reed plates are readily available for many of the many of the diatonic harmonicas that are sold by Eagle Music Shop. If you are ‘handy’ it is more cost effective to fit a replacement set of reed plates than it is to replace the whole harmonica.

Chromatic Harmonica is the choice if you are a proficient musician. It has a wide range of notes including sharps and flats that are accessible by pressing in a slider that opens another set of reeds in the harmonica. The Chromatic harmonica can be used to play all types of music. Typically you play more of the main melody of a song or tune on a chromatic rather than playing chords as on the diatonic. The chromatic harmonica is sometimes used to great effect in blues, but its musical versatility also makes it suitable for countless other styles and it‘s more commonly heard playing jazz, classical music, pop, soul or standards. Accomplished players are able to play virtually any kind of music on this instrument.

Solo-Tuned harmonicas are excellent for playing tunes and solos because they have all the notes of the scale (relative to the key that the particular harmonica is tuned in) throughout their range of octaves. They can be considered in the same class as the chromatic harmonica in its use, therefore great for Classical, Irish, Jazz, Rock, Pop and the Blues.

A simple guide for choosing the correct harmonica for different music styles

Irish and Scottish folk music

Diatonic Harmonicas
Popular models for Irish music to play reels, jigs etc is a diatonic in the key of ‘G’ it helps if you have an airtight, responsive, well-tuned harp. For Scottish music, harmonicas in the key of A are much used.The best available ‘off-the-shelf’ models have either a plastic or metal comb (the bit in the middle!). Models we recommend are: Seydel, Cross Harp, Meisterclass, Golden Melody, Suzuki Pro Master, Lee Oskar by Tombo and Hering Blues & Black Blues.

Tremolo Harmonicas
Tremolo harmonicas are also a good choice for Irish music because they have a pleasant, accordion-like sound, well suited to folk music. They are generally tuned like diatonics e.g. on a 3-octave harp - the 1st octave is DO RE MI SO SO TI DO. 2nd octave is full. 3rd octave is DO RE MI FA SO LA DO. This can be restrictive, for instance, many tunes played on a ‘D’ whistle would fall outside the scope of a ‘D’ tremolo. Also it is very difficult to bend notes on a tremolo harmonica. One answer is to buy a great big one (4 to 6 octaves!), another is to purchase a model which is solo-tuned, ie all its octaves are full. The Tombo ‘Band Deluxe’ is an excellent choice.

Chromatic harmonicas
Physically the easiest type of harmonica to play folk music with as it is not essential to perform difficult bends and a full chromatic scale is available. They are however, a very different instrument to the 10 hole diatonic. At |Eagle Music shop we recommend the Seydel, Hohner and Hering range. If you are ever around the Manchester area, look up Mat Walklate: an excellent traditional player of these instruments.

Blues Music

A diatonic. Choose a quality harmonica made by Seydel, Hering, Hohner, Suzuki and Lee Oskar by Tombo.

R&B, Rock and pop music

A diatonic. or in some cases a chromatic. Choose a quality harmonica made by Seydel, Hering, Hohner, Suzuki and Lee Oskar by Tombo.

Classical Music

A Chromatic. Choose a quality harmonica made by Seydel, Hering, Hohner and Suzuki.

Jazz Music

A Chromatic and in some cases a diatonic ..Choose a quality harmonica made by Seydel, Hering, Hohner, Suzuki and Le Oskar by Tombo.

Here we’ve provided with you some Q&A’s to further assist your buying decision.

Q. I am new to the harmonica,which one do I buy?

A: The most popular harmonica for a complete beginner is a 10 hole Diatonic or Blues harmonica in the key of C. Most starter tuition books are accompanied by a CD in that same key (C) with tunes and instruction for you to play along to.

Q.What do prices start from?

A: Starter harmonicas compared to most instruments can be very affordable. You can buy a good quality harmonica for less than £10.

Q. I am an improving player and want to get a better harmonica.

A: We stock the world’s top brands including Hohner, Seydel, Suzuki and Hering. We have dedicated staff who play all types of harmonicas with years of experience both on and off stage who can help you chose a more professional quality harmonica.Look to pay £30 upwards for a good professional grade harmonica

Q. What about after sales and maintenance of my harmonica?

A: There is very little maintenance needed on a harmonica if properly looked after. However we can give you advice on what to look out for and any upgrades or repairs you may need.

Q. What sort of warranties do harmonicas come with?

A: Once you receive a harmonica from us we give you 7 days to make sure it’s playable. We are always available to speak to if you have an issue further down the line for advice. Manufacturer warranties vary but do include cover. Unfortunately harmonicas are not covered for wear, accidental damage, negligence or tampering.

Q. What about harmonica accessories. Do Eagle Music sell accessories too?

A: Absolutely. Here at Eagle Music we carry a large selection of quality accessories including branded replacement reed plates, neck braces, maintenance kits, pickups, cases etc. Everything you will ever need!

Q. What does the ‘Key’ mean?

A: This means ‘Key signature’ and simply put will determine how high or low in the musical scale you want to be.

Q. I want to play the blues. What harmonica is best for me?

A: The blues can be played on most types of harmonica. Most commonly it is played on a 10 hole diatonic or blues harmonica after which it was named! The harmonica key you buy depends on what key the song you want to learn or play along to.

Q. Where are the best harmonicas made?

A: Harmonicas today are built all around the world. Currently the oldest manufacturers are Seydel based in Germany as are Hohner. Suzuki and Lee Oskars are Japanese and Hering are Brazilian. These big 5 manufacturers have state of the art factories producing lots of different types of harmonicas. Certainly Germany has a very good reputation and history of producing fine harmonicas.

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