What is the Best Brand of Harmonica?
In almost all sports, areas of interest or hobbies, the question of who or what is the best or greatest is both perennial and ubiquitous. Who’s the greatest Formula 1 driver/footballer/athlete/guitarist? What is the best car? Who’s the best songwriter? These questions can be found on many forums and social media sites, cropping up with surprising regularity and sometimes causing feuds between those of differing opinions that deteriorate into laughably vitriolic arguments over what are ultimately subjective opinions.
The world of harmonicas is no different in this respect, so the question, ‘what is the best brand of harmonica?’ is largely meaningless given the inherent subjectiveness of desirable qualities such as tone and feel. However, it is possible to apply some objective criteria, such as tuning, tuning stability and durability, to this question, and pick out the proverbial wheat from the chaff.
In terms of country of manufacture, Germany and Japan are still, in my opinion, the best. China has some manufacturers, such as Easttop and Kongsheng, that are capable of producing extremely well made harmonicas, but the quality control is not always 100%. There are other Chinese manufacturers, such as Swan, that make harmonicas that every now and again a customer will rave about being exceptionally good for the money, but this opinion will always be balanced by other customers who’ve bought the same harmonica and have been seriously unimpressed.
To summarise: Chinese manufacturers have improved dramatically in the last 10 years, but, unlike other areas of Chinese manufacturing, they are still lagging behind the Germans and Japanese.
Looking at the main manufacturers, then, we are left with Hohner, Seydel, Suzuki and Tombo (manufacturer of Lee Oskar) – all of which are based in either Japan or Germany. Some may wish to add Brazilian manufacturer Hering to this list, but both quality and supply have been patchy of late, making it difficult to recommend them.
Choosing a ‘best brand’ from these manufacturers is somewhat akin to deciding whether Gibson or Fender make the better guitars; it is largely a result of personal preference. However, some characteristics do stand out: Suzuki chromatics are outstandingly well made, and represent exceptional value for money; Hohner excels with popular 10 hole diatonics such as the Crossover and Special 20, as does Tombo with its Lee Oskar range; and, lastly, Seydel make exceptionally durable diatonics and chromatics that will sound great for years.
One other thing to note is that Japanese made harps tend to be tuned to equal temperament, whereas German harmonicas are more likely to be in a compromised tuning. This means that those who play mainly single note melodies rather than chords are more likely to favour the purer sound of Japanese harmonica. Conversely, if you prefer to mix chords and single notes, a German made compromise tuning harmonica will provide better results.
All this being said, however, I do have a personal favourite brand. It is a completely subjective opinion, but if I had to choose one brand of harmonica to use for the rest of my life, Suzuki would narrowly edge it, ahead of Seydel and Hohner.
As ever, any questions or comments, please drop us a line in the comments section below.