Come in all different shapes and sizes, there are loads of types and brands out there, luckily for playing blues we mainly use one type of harp which it the ’10 hole diatonic’ or blues harp. That should make things easier, but even within the blues harp family you’re faced with a choice of many different manufacturers and models. So where to start?
Probably the most well known brand of harp is Hohner who have a long history of making harmonicas, you wouldn’t go too wrong by choosing one of their offerings. However there are also other manufacturers who make decent harps too, like Lee Oscar (Tombo), Suzuki and Seydel.
There is quite a variation in price between the budget harps and top of the range harps like Hohner’s Meisterklasse, I have found that the very cheap harps are not very good, the mid-price ones a good choice, and the expensive ones are great, but you must keep in mind that harmonicas don’t last forever and eventually the reeds will go flat, dull or break. And even if you can get replacement reed sets they’re usually quite expensive (probably the same as a mid price harp).
Ok, so they all have 10 holes and come in different keys. I’d say the main difference between them all is the material used to make the body which is either wood, plastic or metal. Here are a few examples:
Wooden bodied harps – Marine Band, Blues Harp
Plastic bodied harps – Special 20, Golden Melody, Pro Harp, Lee Oskar, Tombo
Metal bodies harps – Meisterklasse, Suzuki MR350
The type of material used will produce a slightly different tone, wood has a warm natural sound, metal more precise and louder, plastic is somewhere in the middle.
Some players play blues style chromatic harp using an octave technique, this is in addition to the normal blues harp for a different sound, mostly on minor blues in 3rd position. I demostrate this on the video using a Hohner Super 64.
So there’s loads of great harps out there to check out, at the end of the day it’s going to boil down to personal preference in sound and feel, and what you can afford. Also you’re going to have to check out different keys of harp too – which I’ll go in to detail later.
A couple of my favourites is the Special 20 and Marine Band, I’d love to have a whole set of Meisterklasse but haven’t got that sort of cash at the moment, hey, this is the blues, right!