The Harmonica Dilemma

Many moons ago I used to play blues harmonica. As I developed an interest in guitar, I fell away from playing harp. Paul Butterfield is my all-time harp hero, and when I was playing I developed a special fondness for the Hohner Marine Band Special 20 model. Harmonicas are one of those instruments that only come in one key, so if you’re playing with a group for example, you need a set of harmonicas so that you can cover all of the keys of the tunes.

I ran across my small suitcase of harps a few weeks ago and tried playing a little bit; over the years I’ve lost my most of my chops, as they say. I thought it would be useful to do a brief review here as there are a large number of harmonica manufacturers now on the scene.

Unfortunately, with harmonicas you get exactly what you pay for- if you buy a cheap harmonica you’re not going to be getting much value, you’ll just be getting a cheap harmonica. Cheap harmonicas are difficult to play because so much air is lost through their poor construction, and it’s often impossible to bend notes properly. Being able to properly bend notes is essential for playing blues harp.

A decent harmonica is not cheap. A Hohner Special 20 now goes for about $45. Yes, that’s right, $45 for one harmonica in one key. So, if you want a set of harmonicas, which is really what you do want, it’s going to be expensive. Harmonicas currently fall into two categories- expensive and cheap. Part of my purpose on this website is to present musical instruments that are a good value- you don’t necessarily have to pay an arm and a leg for a good guitar or stomp box. Not so with harmonicas. The Hohner special 20 is still considered one of the professional standard harmonicas and is also the best one that I’ve played. Because the comb of the harmonica is made of plastic, there is no wood to swell up and gradually hurt your lip. The plastic comb also extends the life of the harmonica.

So, what to do? You can buy a set of 12 harmonicas, so that you have a harmonica in every key, but if you buy cheap harmonicas  you just going to be getting cheap harmonicas that are hard to play and don’t sound good. It’s a waste of money. If you buy a set of 12 Hohners, you are going to be out hundreds of dollars. So it appears that you have to make a compromise, and I found one that’s satisfactory. Hohner is offering a five-piece Pro Pack that has harps in keys of C, D, E, G and A.  If you need a different key, you can always buy one single harmonica. You’ll find stainless steel covers on both sides of this harmonica.  0.9mm reed plates made out of brass are present in them as well. Included with the harmonicas is an attractive soft case. The current price for the pack on Amazon is $187.


Not cheap by any means, but probably the best value out of the growing horde of harps.


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