Shop Harmonicas by Type
Most of the popular brands of Harmonica provide their most popular models in multi packs, usually comprising three Harmonicas. It's not unusual for a harp player to own multiple keys in the same model so these packs are a great value way to purchase multiples. Hohner, Seydel and Suzuki all offer multi packs of their top selling harmonicas.
Signature versions of musical instruments became a very popular marketing initiative in the late eighties and it's very common to see partnerships between musical instrument manufacturers and artists. Hohner have embraced this and offer a small selection of signature harps including Bob Dylan, The Beatles and Ozzy Osbourne. Ozzy may not seem like an obvious choice, but he is known for playing Harmonica on 'The Wizard' in the late sixties.
The most common and popular harmonicas are Diatonic. They have only the notes of a certain scale as opposed to all the notes. They are available in a multitude of keys, models, tunings and temperaments. We stock literally hundreds of diatonic harmonicas. These models are the mainstay of our business and also that of the main brands including Hohner, Seydel, Lee Oskar and Suzuki.
Less common and more expensive than diatonic harmonicas are the chromatics. Chromatics have more holes than a diatonic, with more notes available. The playing style is very different from a diatonic and a great example of chromatic playing would be Stevie Wonder, who was arguably one of the most iconic players of this instrument. We stock a vast range of chromatic harps from all the major brands.
Octave harmonicas feature two reeds for each hole. Each reed plays the same note but an octave apart. This creates a unique sound that you can't replicate on other harps. Octave harmonicas are typically used in folk and gospel music. Our range of octave harmonicas is extensive with all the main brands and models stocked.
Orchestral harmonicas are available in bass, tenor and treble and can be used together to create an orchestral sound. Typically an orchestral harmonica is a more expensive instrument and will be in a bass, tenor or soprano version or chordal version.
The Tremolo harmonica has two reeds per note which are slightly different tunings of the same pitch. The resulting effect is a wavering or warbling sound which is popular in folk music. By playing both the slightly sharp and slightly flat notes at the same time, the resulting effect on the human ear is an in tune note with the warbling sound that resembles the tremolo effect.
The Harmonica Company is a specialist in the supply of harmonicas, harmonica amps and accessories. We pride ourselves on our subject knowledge, customer service, wide product range and rapid shipping.
Origins of the Harmonica
Although many people associate the German manufacturer, Hohner, with the invention of the harmonica, its relationship to the instrument is more akin to Ford Motor Company’s relationship to the automobile; that is to say, their role was mass production rather than creation.
In fact, the first instrument that resembled a harmonica was produced by the German musician and inventor, Christian Bauschmann, whose designs were copied and then sold by the watchmaker and fellow countryman, Christian Messner.
Mattias Hohner, later in the nineteenth century, was able to develop methods by which the harmonica could be mass produced, and, from this point onwards, the popularity of the instrument increased rapidly, due to its portability and inexpensiveness. In the USA, it became one of the instruments of choice for Civil War veterans and early blues musicians; the latter using at the time unorthodox techniques to make the blues scales achievable on an instrument whose Richter tuning was largely designed to facilitate the playing of German ‘Oompah’ tunes.
Further innovations followed in the 20th Century, primarily led by Hohner, who created the first chromatic harmonica, through the use of two sets of reed plates tuned a semitone apart, and a spring loaded slide to direct air to the appropriate set of reeds.
The folk explosion of the 1960s, led by artists such as Bob Dylan, brought with it a new generation of fans, and the harmonica continues to be used in a wide range of musical genres, from classical to rock.
As the country that gave the world the harmonica, Germany remains one of the primary manufacturers of the instrument, with two of the world’s oldest harmonica companies – Hohner and Seydel – still producing instruments in Trossingen and Bielefeld, respectively.
Seydel manufactures all of its harmonicas in Germany, and specialises in harps with stainless steel reed plates. As a result, its harmonicas tend to be more durable than Hohners, but have a higher entry point in terms of their retail price.
Hohner manufactures its more expensive harmonicas in Germany (generally those priced at £30 or more), but, unlike Seydel, it offers a range of Chinese made entry level harps, such as the Blues Bender, which are available at significantly lower price points.
Post World War Two Japan focused heavily on mass production and the use of harmonicas in educational settings. This led to the creation of two major harmonica producers – Tombo and Suzuki. The former is mostly known for its relationship with harmonica prodigy and businessman, Lee Oskar, whose extremely popular and well regarded harps they manufacture. Suzuki, which is a separate entity to its car and motorbike producing namesake, manufactures a wide range of diatonic, tremolo and chromatic harmonicas in Japan and is well known for its attention to detail and high level of manufacturing excellence.
In recent years, China has begun to produce high quality harmonicas that can bear comparison to European and Japanese models. Companies such as Easttop and Kongsheng are able to manufacture harps that combine excellent tone and playability with significantly lower costs than those from traditional manufacturers.
Types of Harmonica
Broadly speaking, harmonicas can be divided into four main categories: diatonic, chromatic, tremolo/octave and orchestral.
Diatonic in simple terms, means the harmonica is tuned to one key – that is to say that the notes playable, without resorting to special techniques, are only those of a single scale. So a C major tuned harmonica would be able to play the notes, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C (in simple terms, the white notes on a piano) at various pitches. Diatonics usually feature 10 holes and are popular for blues, pop and folk music. One downside of diatonic harmonicas is that, with certain caveats, a different key of harp will need to be used for the requisite key in which a song is written. Although this means that professional harmonica players may been 12 or more individual harps, in practice, most popular and rock music can be played with a smaller selection than this, given the unpopularity of keys such as F major within the genre.
Chromatic harmonicas have two sets of reed plates tuned a semitone apart. In most instruments a spring loaded slide is used to direct air to the top or bottom set of reed plates, enabling full chromaticism across the harmonica’s entire range of notes. Although chromatic harmonicas are significantly more expensive than diatonic harps, their ability to play in any key within the Western musical tradition, means that, unlike diatonics, one harmonica can be used for almost any piece of music (within the limitations of range).
Tremolo and Octave harmonicas have two sets of reed plates, just like chromatics, but do not feature slides. Instead both sets of reeds are blown or drawn at the same time, giving a distinctive tone. Tremolo harmonicas have the two sets of reeds tuned a small frequency apart, giving a warbling sound, whilst Octave harmonicas tuned the reeds an octave apart, which gives a deep tone.
Orchestral harmonicas are designed to be played in orchestral settings and tend to cover different pitch ranges to other harmonicas. They are often quite large, and many operate at frequencies usually produced by double basses in classical orchestras.
Famous Harmonica Players
Two musicians who are most inextricably linked in the public’s imagination with the harmonica are Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder. The former is associated with extensive use of the diatonic harmonica in his protest and folk songs, whilst the latter is known for his virtuoso use of the chromatic in classic tunes, such as For Once in My Life.Back to top