Hohner Koch

How Much is My Harmonica Worth?

Around once a week on average, I receive an email from a customer who has been dealing with a late relative’s estate and has found a collection of what appear to be vintage harmonicas. If they aren’t enquiring about whether we would be interested in buying them (we’re not – for reasons I’ll explain later) they’re usually concerned with the value of the instruments. My answer is always disappointing, as it can be summarised with the words ‘not’, ‘a’ and ‘lot’. One day I may be surprised by being shown a particularly rare and sought after harmonica, but that day has not yet arrived. Let’s look at why this is, and whether there are any harmonicas that have significant value.

There’s an old joke in the cycling world that goes something like this: my greatest fear is that after I die my wife sells my collection of bikes for what I told her I paid for them! Whilst I have had customers who have surreptitiously purchased sets of relatively expensive harps, the same joke can’t really be used in the world of harmonicas; they’re an inexpensive instrument (with a few notable exceptions), whose value is unlikely ever to be more than £100 on the used market.

The reasons for this are numerous. First, harmonicas have been made in their millions over the years, so supply is never likely to be particularly limited. Second, they’re an instrument with a finite lifespan, which doesn’t lend itself to being left unused for long periods of time. Third, and most importantly, the nature of how the harmonica is played brings with it a whole host of hygiene issues when buying a used instrument.

If we compare harmonicas to electric guitars, where certain models such as original ’59 Les Pauls and pre-CBS Fenders can command five and even six figure values, we can see how the different nature of these instruments and their production has influenced their value. Even at its early 1960s peak, Fender would have produced far fewer guitars than a brand like Hohner; I’d say the ratio of Hohner harmonicas to Fender guitars manufactured in a given year in the 1960s would have been at least 100:1. Ergo, no lack of harmonica supply. Guitars, if stored correctly, show no detrimental effects from being left unplayed, and many musicians even feel that an older instrument acquires a superior tone with age. This is not the same for harmonicas, where an unplayed diatonics or chromatic is likely to be rusty, swollen and good for nothing if left in a draw for a few decades. Lastly, and most obviously, there are no hygiene issues with playing a guitar that previously belonged to someone else.

All of this adds up to mean that vintage harps (and newer used ones) have very little desirability, and, therefore, value. There are exceptions, however, so let’s look at typical prices for different types of harmonica.

Nearly New Diatonics and Chromatics

Hohner New Golden Melody

An unused or little used modern diatonic will usually fetch around half the price of an equivalent new harmonica on a platform such as eBay. So, for example, a Hohner Special 20 will usually sell at around the £15 mark.

Vintage Harmonicas in Working Order

Hohner Sonny

Older diatonics and chromatics with no specific provenance and without cases will usually fetch around a third of the price of an equivalent new modern harmonica.

Vintage Harmonicas with Provenance

Marine Band Special 20 with Leather Case
Sonny Terry Marine Band Special 20 with Leather Case

Vintage harmonicas that have been owned by famous players often fetch more than an equivalent new harmonica, but the premium is generally not astronomical. For example, compare the $2,000,000 paid for Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Strat with the $400 you’d need to purchase a Special 20 once owned by the late harmonica legend Sonny Terry.

Rare Vintage Harmonicas

Pre War Marine Band
Pre War Marine Band

There are a small number of vintage harmonicas that are particularly sought after by collectors. These include pre-War Marine Bands and Chromonicas that are in good working order. Don’t expect them to be worth a fortune, though!

Are There Any Valuable Used Harmonicas?

Hohner Silver Concerto Chromatic Harmonica

The only harmonicas that will command significant values on the used market are those that started with high values. So, although you might only get half your money back on a Hohner Silver Concerto, the fact that it started off life at £7,000, means that even with depreciation it’s a somewhat valuable asset.


One comment on “How Much is My Harmonica Worth?”

Are sets of harmonicas worth much? I recently received a set of Wilhelm Thie models, Universal-Concert-Mundharmonika, in C, D, G, and A. They are in their original box. Would you know of anyone near Seattle? Thank you!

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