Hohner Flexcase XL
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How Long Does a Harmonica Last?

How Long Does a Harmonica Last?

This may seem like the proverbial piece of string question, but it is quite a common query from harmonica customers, so I’ll attempt to give some (qualified) answers.

First of all we should identify what actually goes wrong with a harp to make it stop working. Generally speaking, the comb and cover plates are exceptionally durable, and will rarely need to be replaced. Wood comb harmonicas like the Marine Band 1896 Classic may experience some swelling, which eventually will make playing them uncomfortable, but this doesn’t render them unusable. What does, however, is an out of tune or broken reed. Let’s look at how this happens and give an estimate of frequency of occurrence for the various types of harmonica on the market.

Tremolo, Octave and Chromatic Harmonicas

 

Hohner ACE 48 Chromatic Harmonica – Side View

These types of harmonica have two sets of reed plates, and these tend to be more expensive than on diatonic harps. The good news is that when properly cared for, these harmonicas should last for many years before they go out of tune, or a reed snaps. The primary reason for this is that note bending on dual reed plate harmonicas is fairly rare, and the absence of this technique means that the reeds are under much less stress than on a ten hole diatonic used for blues playing, which often features heavy bends. The wider note range of most chromatics and octave/tremolo harps, also means that any wear is spread out across a greater number of reeds.

As an estimate, the average player will get at least two years of use from an octave or tremolo harp, before reeds will need to be replaced. This figure increases to three or more years for chromatic harmonicas.

Diatonic Harmonicas

Hohner Rocket Harmonica
Hohner Rocket Harmonica

Diatonic harps tend to be less expensive than their dual reed cousins, but this is balanced by reduced longevity. The reasons for this are twofold – most diatonic players make extensive use of note bending, which is very hard on reeds, and, with only a limited range of notes available, playing is concentrated in a small tonal area, accelerating wear.

As a guide, a quality German or Japanese harp with brass reeds may last anywhere from three months to a couple of years, depending on frequency of playing and the extent to which the player bends notes. Harmonicas with stainless steel or phosphor bronze reeds tend to last significantly longer – anywhere from 50% to 100% longer in fact.

The only caveat here is that stainless steel reeds can be more brittle than brass ones, and can snap when inexpertly played using unnecessarily heavy draws.

 

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