The Best Harmonicas for Blues - Top Blues Harps

Harmonica for Blues

Original photograph by Ralf Schulzei, modified by Gearank.com and available under Creative Commons license.

Disclosure

We recommend all products independently of 3rd parties including advertisers. We earn advertising fees from:
• • • • •
Sweetwater
• • • • •

Amazon

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
• • • • •

Harmonicas have gained various nicknames, including blues harp, tin sandwich, pocket piano and mouth harp. Their handheld and rectangular design, along with their ability to produce a range of tones are the reasons why harmonicas have earned these names.

Since its release during the 1800s this instrument has been used in many genres such as classical, folk, country, rock, jazz, and blues. This guide focuses on the best diatonic harmonicas that are great for playing blues, updated for 2020, based on the most current user reviews, ratings and expert recommendations.

The Best Blues Harmonicas

ARTHOMES H-01 Blues Harmonica

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 80+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$12
ARTHOMES H-01 Blues Harmonica Major Key of C

The ARTHOMES H-01 is a compact harmonica in the key of C major, with 10 holes and 20 tones. It is small enough to fit in a regular size pocket, making it ideal for those who are looking for a portable diatonic harmonica or for younger musicians. Matching its small size is its affordability, which ARTHOMES is able to achieve without compromising quality or functionality. Finally, this harmonica is bundled with an even smaller 4 holes 8 tones necklace harmonica, a cleaning cloth and a carrying case.

Specifications

  • Type: Diatonic
  • Tuning: Richter
  • Number of holes: 10
  • Reeds: 20 Phosphor Bronze
  • Cover plates: Copper
  • Reed plates: Nickel
  • Comb: Plastic
  • Length: 4.14 in

Pros
Satisfied owners of the ARTHOMES H-01 include young beginners and their parents, as well as experienced musicians, many of whom are impressed with its overall build quality. Value for money is also its strong suit, making it an ideal harmonica to test the waters with.

Cons
Just keep in mind that this is quite an inexpensive instrument and once you get the bug you may find yourself looking for something in a higher price range.

Overall
If you're looking for a good quality yet affordable portable harmonica, or you're looking to gift a young upstart with a starter harmonica, then this ought to be at the top of your list.

Lee Oskar Major Diatonic

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 800+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$44
Lee Oskar Major Diatonic Harmonica - Key of C

The Major Diatonic harmonica features Lee Oskar’s plastic comb that’s easier to clean and maintain. Its recessed bed securely holds the reed plate in order to prevent air leakage and project louder sounds. Since Lee Oskar are one of the pioneers the modular system, they provide replaceable and easy to install mountable reed plates for this particular harmonica along with the rest of their harmonica line.

Specifications

  • Type: Diatonic
  • Tuning: Richter
  • Number of holes: 10
  • Reeds: 20 Brass
  • Cover plates:Stainless Steel
  • Reed plates: Brass Reed
  • Comb: Plastic

Pros
This harmonica received a lot of good ratings when it comes to its quality construction and sound for its price. Its reeds are quite durable, and when worn out after a long period of use, many users were pleased that its replacement reeds are easy to install and cost less than the harmonica itself. In terms of playing, a number of users mentioned this harmonica produced a bright and full tone with effortless bending.

Cons
Some users suggested that this harmonica is not ideal for using advance techniques such as "overblowing".

Overall
With its big holes that prevent overlapping notes while playing, this harmonica is a great choice for beginners and for those who are looking for harmonica that's easy to repair.

Hohner Marine Band 1896

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 750+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$47
Hohner Marine Band 1896 Classic Blues Harmonica - Key of C

The Marine Band 1896 is one of the original blues harps designed by Hohner and has been a staple ever since. Since its patent in 1896, it has been played by world-renowned musicians, such as John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young. To this day it is still being used by many professional harmonica players around the world. It has a reputation for its full tone, patented stainless steel covers, and its wooden comb.

Specifications

  • Type: Diatonic
  • Tuning: Richter (Harmonic Minor and Natural Minor also available)
  • Number of holes: 10
  • Reeds: 20 Brass
  • Cover plates: Stainless steel
  • Reed plates: 0.9 mm brass
  • Reed plate surface: Brass
  • Mouthpiece surface: Pearwood lacquered
  • Comb: Pearwood, brown
  • Length: 3.9 in

Pros
Versatile and reliable for its price, the Marine Band produces a bright and rich sound suitable for playing blues, rock and country songs. Professional harmonica players have praised its quality exterior and responsive reeds. The plastic case that it comes with it provided decent information for maintenance of the harmonica.

Cons
Since it has a wooden comb, the downside for this is that it swells when it gets moisture and it may cause lip injury after long periods of time. It takes a bit more effort when it comes to taking it apart for cleaning and tuning, but with proper care, it's built to be durable and long lasting. Many users mentioned the holes were smaller and its built-in wooden comb are stiffer compared to other harmonicas they have tried. In this case, beginners may find it challenging to play at first, though they get better over time with practice.

Overall
Overall, this is a great choice for intermediate and professional players.

Hohner Special 20

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 1100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$48
Hohner Special 20 Harmonica - Key of C

The Special 20 has been used in both public performances and recordings by music industry veterans such as Bob Dylan, and John Popper of The Blues Traveler Band.

A lot of modern harmonicas were modeled after the Special 20. It showcases an airtight design and recessed reed plates for faster sound production. Its comb is made of plastic, which is durable since it doesn't absorb any moisture, while its classic reeds and tuning provides great response and rich tone.

Specifications

  • Type: Diatonic
  • Tuning: Richter/Country
  • Number of holes: 10
  • Reeds: 20 Brass
  • Cover plates: Stainless Steel
  • Reed plates: 0.9 mm brass
  • Reed plate surface: Brass
  • Mouthpiece surface: ABS
  • Comb: ABS, black
  • Length: 4 in

Pros
As expected from an industry standard instrument, amateurs and professionals alike raved about how well made it is. It's sturdy plastic comb with recessed reed plates are what makes it comfortable to play as well as easy to clean and maintain. Since its plastic comb is less prone to moisture, it's less likely to wear and tear after long periods of time.

Cons
Although it is reported by some beginners drawing on some of the holes were a bit challenging for them, many of them still find it easy to use when it comes to bending techniques.

Overall
At a reasonable price point, this harmonica is an exceptional choice for both professional and beginners alike.

Hohner Blues Harp MS Harmonica

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 550+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$48
Hohner Blues Harp MS Harmonica - Key of C

Hohner designed this harp to handle the intensity of blues style playing, with a sound that also matches what's expected of the genre. It has a wood comb that helps shape its classic tone, which should be at home with blues, rock and similar styles. What makes this blues harp stand out is its "modular system" design, which lets you swap out its parts to change the tone, including its comb, reed plates, and cover.

Specifications

  • Type: Diatonic
  • Tuning: Richter
  • Number of holes: 10
  • Reeds: 20 Brass
  • Cover plates:Stainless Steel
  • Reed plates: Brass Reed
  • Comb: Wood
  • Length: 4 in

Pros
Fun to play and great sounding sum up nicely how most users feel about the Hohner Blues Harp MS. Even experienced players are impressed with its tone, some of them appreciate how easy it is to bend notes and apply vibrato. Its ability to switch parts around is also well received.

Cons
While not substantial compared to positive reviews, there are a few who report they had reed tuning related issues. Interestingly, even those who have broken their Hohner Blues Harp MS are still impressed with its overall quality and sound.

Overall
With its musician-approved blues tone and its versatile modular system design, the Hohner Blues Harp MS is very easy to recommend.

Things to Consider When Buying Harmonicas for Blues

Type of Harmonica

It's recommended for beginners and for blues players to start with diatonic harmonicas. They come with 10 holes and are tuned to a major or minor scale of specific key. For example, if it's tuned to the key of G, it will only play the G major scale. Although you can play blues on a chromatic harmonica, diatonic harmonicas are a befitting choice for playing blues, country and folk because of the additional drawing and bending techniques needed to produce that "bluesy" sound, and the missing notes from the scale.

Which Key to Get

As mentioned above, harmonicas are tuned to a specific key. It’s best to get a harmonica tuned to the key of C if you’re just starting out. You’ll be able to play up to 3 octaves on a C major scale. Many of the songs you will learn are also tuned to the key of C. Most blues harmonicas are played in what's called a "second position" or also known as a "cross harp". This means playing the harmonica tuned to a perfect fourth below the original key of the written music by using the 2 draw hole as a root note instead of using the 4 blow hole used for the first position and original key. If the music is written in G, then a C harmonica is used in the second position. This is the most common position used for playing blues.

Construction

Comb Material

Choosing a comb material matters more in terms of maintenance. There are four kinds of materials produced: wood, plastic (ABS), plexiglass and metal. For beginners, it's best to go with plastic since it's easy to maintain and is comfortable on the lips. Metal combs are also another option that's less prone to wear and tear due to screws, though they are a bit more expensive. Wood is also another common material produced and they are much more prone to moisture, which can cause swelling and may leave cuts in your mouth while playing the harmonica, yet some people say that they give a much "warmer" sound and don't mind the efforts of maintaining it.

Cover

The cover of the harmonica is what creates the acoustics. It all depends on what type of sound you are going for when it come to choosing the type of cover design. A lot of affordable to mid-range priced harmonicas have traditional covers where the back of the cover is more open producing a bright and clear tone. Another type is the cover-all design, which slightly muffles the harmonica, but resonates it more to produce a full, warm, and mellow tone. Metal covers produce a brighter sound while plastic produces a much softer sound.

Price

The quality of the harmonica are usually is on par with the price, especially with ones that are well built with high-grade materials. If you're a hobbyist, a budget option would suffice. If you are serious about learning, it's more difficult to learn on a cheap harmonica since its poor construction causes air to leak out making them hard to play. It's best to invest in harmonicas that are within the $30 - $65 price range.

Best Blues Harmonica Selection Methodology

This guide was first published on September 7, 2017 written by Denise Azucena and the latest major update was published on January 8, 2020 written by Alexander Briones.

Because a particular model of a blues harmonica comes in several different keys, we decided to take the approach of only rating ones in the Key of C because the ratings are similar across the different key versions of a particular blues harp. This means you can use our guide to decide on a model you like and then buy it in any key you want. Once we had established this approach we then gathered feedback and reviews about each relevant harmonica that was available from major American online music gear stores. Our rating sources included online retailers, forums, blogs and music gear review websites and videos. For this 2020 update, we analyzed over 8,200 sources that we used for the Gearank Algorithm to produce scores out of 100 for each harmonica. We then used those results to select the highest rated options, along with a good budget option, to recommend above. We also used those review sources to report on what musicians say about each model we recommended. You can see all 26 models that were short-listed in the Music Gear Database. For more information about this process see How Gearank Works.

Comments

Seydel 1847 classic are my

Seydel 1847 classic are my favorite. I have a few Suzuki Manji, and several Hohners like marine band deluxe, special 20,and rocket. I've heard that Lee Oscar's are not a good harmonica especially for bending if you're a beginner. If I had to recommend a good, decent priced harmonica for someone starting out I'd recommend a Hohner marine band or special 20. The marine band has a wood comb and the sp20 has a plastic one. Once you progress or can afford to spend a few more dollars on a good quality harmonica I'd say a Seydel 1847 classic, or Hohner crossover.

I've tried all the major

I've tried all the major brands in the past year, having gotten serious about getting better in early 2018. I now own 57 harps, and I like the 3 Lee Oskar minor key and 2 major key harps I have pretty well. I feel the same about several Hohner Special 20s I'm pretty happy with. I don't like the feel of the Marine Band on my tongue when tongue blocking. My favorite Hohner is the Crossover; it has a smoother lacquered wood comb, costs $30 more, and has a bluesier sound that's worth it to me. I love the feel and sound of several of my even more expensive Seydel 1847 Blues Silver (white comb--$90) and 1847 Blues Noble (black comb--$110) harps, except for an A harp that has balky reeds in holes 2 and 3. I've had this issue with almost every A harp I've bought, except a Lee Oscar I recently bought. I've been disappointed with several Seydel Session Steels, which have an orange comb, feels nice and smooth, but often has balky reeds in holes 2 and 3 that are harder to get a decent sound from even for my F and G harps. I love my Suzuki chromatic 48, and have been fairly happy with my Suzuki Low D, Low F, and tremolos (C and Am). I haven't tried regular key diatonic Suzukis due to reading some negative reviews about their playability--that's hearsay though, so I can't be critical without firsthand experience with them. I should get one or two and try them, I guess.

Post a Comment or Question

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Comments

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <b> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.