Best Blues Harmonica – Extensive Research and Results

blues harmonica


Do you want to know what makes the best blues harmonica? Here we feature the top rated 10-hole diatonic harmonicas, ideal for those who play blues and similar styles. We showcase each one along with an updated look at what makes them market favorites, based on the most current reviews and ratings data.

The harmonica’s unmistakable sound is integral to many musical styles, including folk, blues, country, rock, pop, jazz, and more. It is also featured in iconic TV and film scores, a good example of which is the Sesame Street’s main theme.

Because of their simplicity, many consider harmonicas to be good starter instruments. But it is in no way limited to just newbies, given its long list of big name artist users which include Toots Thielemans, The Beatles, Alanis Morissette, Yard Birds, John Mayer, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and many more.

The Best Blues Harmonicas

Author & Contributors

Small Fish Diatonic Harmonica

94
GEARANK
94 out of 100. Incorporating 6350+ ratings and reviews.
$9.99

Cons

  • Requires a bit more air and effort to use

Pros

  • Great for beginners
  • Affordable option
  • Slightly longer 10-hole harmonica

Testing the waters is an essential process for anyone before you can decide to go all-in. This beginner-friendly harmonica is an affordable option for kids and adults alike.

It is similarly spec'ed to harmonicas that are priced higher, with 10 holes, 20 brass reed plates, and a stainless steel covering. Interestingly, it is slightly longer compared to the usual 4" length.

Experienced musicians appreciate how easy it is to use, and the overall value it brings given its price tag. Being easy to store is another positive trait that it gets commended for in reviews.

Of course, affordability doesn't come without drawbacks. In terms of playability, a bit of air and some effort might be needed. It's not disturbing, but it's something to just consider when buying this blues harp.

This is the best harmonica for beginners that you can get at a very affordable price.

Specifications

  • Type: Diatonic
  • Tuning: Richter
  • Number of holes: 10
  • Reeds: 20
  • Cover plates: Stainless Steel
  • Reed plates: Brass
  • Reed plate surface: Brass
  • Mouthpiece surface: ABS
  • Comb: ABS
  • Length: 5 in

Fender Blues Deluxe Harmonica

92
GEARANK
92 out of 100. Incorporating 14600+ ratings and reviews.
$12.99
Fender

Cons

  • Position cover plates might lead to minor playing adjustments

Pros

  • Reliable brand, inexpensive
  • Easy to play for beginners and pros alike
  • Impressive intonation

The Fender Blues Deluxe Harmonica is another proof of Fender's success outside their usual market - which is guitars and related gear.

This blues harp is meant as an entry-level option, with an affordable price tag that will easily appeal to beginners.

As the label implies, this one follows after the Blues-style 10-hole diatonic design, used by some famous blues harmonica players. It has impressive intonation and easy playability that newbies and experienced harmonica players would enjoy. 

The reviews it's received throughout the years are a testament to that even going as far as comparing it to more expensive harmonicas. 

It has chrome metal covers, brass reeds, and ABS plastic combs that work together to provide a distinctly bright voice. However, some experienced users do complain about the position of the cover plates. It does lead to slight adjustments to your technique. 

For beginners though, I think it wouldn't be a problem. Value for money continues to be its main strength, given its big brand backing, specs, and sound quality.

With its Fender brand backing and good market feedback, it is hard to go wrong with this affordable harmonica.

Specifications

  • Type: Diatonic
  • Tuning: Richter
  • Number of holes: 10
  • Reeds: 20
  • Cover plates: Chrome Metal
  • Reed plates: Brass (Replaceable)
  • Reed plate surface: Brass
  • Mouthpiece surface: Not Specified
  • Comb: ABS
  • Length: Not Specified

Eastar Major Blues Diatonic Harmonica

94
GEARANK
94 out of 100. Incorporating 3300+ ratings and reviews.
$8.99
Eastar

Cons

  • Needs screw tightening regularly
  • Low notes are just decent according to some experienced players

Pros

  • Great upper register tone
  • Resilient
  • Great for beginners

The Eastar Major Blues Diatonic Harmonica's main distinguishing feature is its colorful finish, which includes eye candy colors like purple and pink. The colorful design, I'd say, draws attention to help get kids interested in picking it up.

It also helps that it sounds good for the price, as attested to by beginners and experienced musicians alike. I find that the. low notes sound decent but where it shines is on the mid-high to high registers.

Reliability is another major reason why many rate this highly, with reports of it still working fine even after being dropped multiple times. However, there are a few reports of it breaking apart due to loose screws. 

Thus, it is recommended that you check and tighten the screws periodically just like any other models out there.

It doesn't stray too far from conventional 10-hole harmonica designs, and the same can be said with its tonality.

Other noteworthy features include the use of ABS on the edges to make the harmonica easier on the hands, a 1mm thick brass base, and it comes with matching colored cases.

But mainly, I think this harmonica is built for youngsters more than professionals. So if you're looking into getting these for your kids, this is one of the best blues harmonica options out there.

Specifications

  • Type: Diatonic
  • Tuning: Richter
  • Number of holes: 10
  • Reeds: 20
  • Cover plates: Silver
  • Reed plates: 1 mm Brass
  • Reed plate surface: Brass
  • Mouthpiece surface: ABS
  • Comb: ABS
  • Length: 4.7 in

East Top Blues 008K Diatonic Harmonica

94
GEARANK
94 out of 100. Incorporating 4150+ ratings and reviews.
$20.71
East Top

Cons

  • Some might not like the bright sound
  • Few reports of reeds clogging or breaking

Pros

  • Bright tone
  • Build like a tank
  • Can handle advanced techniques

At 4" in length, the compact profile of this harmonica makes it easy to store in pockets, and it does so while retaining all the features you'd expect from a 10-hole harp.

Owners of the East Top Blues 008K commend its overall build quality. It also features a food-grade ABS plastic comb that's sturdy yet safe to use.

Even with its smaller size, East Top was able to fit 1.2mm thick phosphor reed plates, resulting in a sound that's still similar to its regular-sized counterparts. The stainless steel cover plates which come in different colors: Blue, Silver, and Black.

With this harmonica, you'll be surprised at how well you can play riffs and runs with the 008K. It's very responsive and gives off a bright tone. It sounds good given its compact profile and it can handle advanced techniques. 

However, some don't vibe with its tone. This might not be the best harmonica for those who prefer a warmer sound. There are also a few reported reeds clogging or breaking earlier than expected.

Though not as affordable as entry-level harmonicas, it still gets a lot of praise for its quality per price ratio and can rival more expensive alternatives. It's a great folks and blues harp overall, especially for the experienced musician.

Specifications

  • Type: Diatonic
  • Tuning: Richter
  • Number of holes: 10
  • Reeds: 20
  • Cover plates: Stainless Steel
  • Reed plates: 1.2mm Phosphor Bronze
  • Reed plate surface: Phosphor Bronze
  • Mouthpiece surface: Not Specified
  • Comb: ABS
  • Length: 4 in

Hohner Marine Band 1896

94
GEARANK
94 out of 100. Incorporating 4600+ ratings and reviews.
$43.14
Hohner

Cons

  • Wooden combs swell
  • Can cause lip scuffing
  • Periodic maintenance and care needed

Pros

  • Classic, old-timer aesthetics
  • Easy and responsive playability
  • Even sound projection in different registers
  • An ideal fit for intermediate and professional players

The Marine Band 1896 is one of the original blues harps designed by Hohner and has been a staple for those who play blues harmonica.

Since its patent in 1896, it has been played by world-renowned musicians, such as John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, and Neil Young. To this day, it is still being used by professional harmonica and guitar players around the world, including bands like Walk Off the Earth.

I can't stress enough how beautiful it looks when you first unbox it. It's made of patented stainless steel covers. Its wooden comb adds further to the old-school, classic look.

It gives off a bright and rich, tone with a tad bit of warmth on the mids. When you play this is how even the projection of sound is in all registers. 

In terms of overall sound, it has a bit more width compared to Hohner Golden Melody which is known to emit a more mellower sound.

If you've been playing for a while, what's immediately noticeable is how this Hohner blues harp is a level-up to inexpensive harmonicas. Being expressive and easy to play are the main reasons why the Marine Band 1896 is highly rated.

Now, a few things to be aware of. The 1896 still is subject to the following conditions. Wooden combs are notorious for swelling due to temperature and moisture. It may cause lip scuffing after playing for long periods as well.

Many users mentioned the holes were smaller and its built-in wooden comb was stiffer compared to other harmonicas they have tried.

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.

Nonetheless, the Marine Band 1896 continues to be the favorite for those who play blues, rock, and country songs. Overall, this is a great choice for intermediate and professional players.

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

Hohner Special 20

93
GEARANK
93 out of 100. Incorporating 5650+ ratings and reviews.
$41.76
Hohner

Cons

  • Not ideal for a beginner harmonica

Pros

  • Well-made build quality
  • Plastic comb means no swelling
  • Easy to clean
  • Comfortable to play

Hohner stays at one of the top harmonica brands and you could see why in this list. At the time of its release, many who play harmonica found the Hohner Special 20 to be another timeless classic. It's no surprise that other manufacturers similarly modeled their 10-hole harmonicas.

As expected from an industry-standard harp, amateurs and professionals alike rave about how well-made it is. Its sturdy plastic comb with recessed reed plates is 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. You're not subject to wooden comb swelling compared to the Marine Band 1896. Plus, it's comfortable to play, thanks to its unique recessed reed plates.

The recessed reed plates and airtight design allow for faster sound production. Its classic reeds and tuning provide a great response and rich tone.

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

It's a best blues harp contender with a lasting legacy includes a long list of performances and recordings by music industry veterans such as Bob Dylan, and John Popper of The Blues Traveler Band.

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

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. In the harmonica world, the best first pick is usually with 10 holes and is tuned to a major or minor scale (including pentatonic scale) of a specific key. 

For example, if you have a G harp 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. 

It's due to 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 in folk and blues playing. 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" 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 scale. 

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 to maintain 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 comes 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. However, this type resonates 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 is usually 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 poorer construction causes air to leak out making them hard to play.

So if you want to seriously incorporate the harmonica in your music, it's best to invest in harmonicas that are within the $30 - $65 price range.

Best Blues Harmonica Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in 2017. The latest edition was published in May 22, 2024

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. 

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 looked at the models available from major music gear retailers in the USA and placed 25 diatonic harmonicas on our short-list for closer examination - you can see them all in the Music Gear Database.

We then gathered feedback and reviews about each harmonica. This means going through every bit of information from online retailers, forums, blogs, and music gear review websites and videos. 

For this edition, we've analyzed over 40,800 sources that we used for the Gearank Algorithm to produce our rating scores out of 100 for each harmonica. We then used those results to select the highest-rated options to recommend above. We also used those review sources to report on what musicians say about each model we recommended. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

Drawing from his experience in performing and recording, he teaches guitar and bass and mentors young artists to be better musicians. And when he is not busy playing or tinkering with musical gear, he puts on his entrepreneurial hat, which helps fund his passion for collecting guitars, mecha figures and Gunpla kits.

Contributors

Allen Articulo: Co-Writer and Product Research
Denise Azucena: Supplemental writing.
Jason Horton: Editing and Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: Original photograph by Ralf Schulze and modified by Gearank.com under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

The videos above have been embedded in accordance with YouTube's Terms of Service.

The individual product images were sourced from websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation provided by their respective manufacturers.

4 thoughts on “Best Blues Harmonica – Extensive Research and Results”

  1. 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.

  2. Avatar
    Patrick Clark

    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.

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