HOW TO SELECT A NEW CHROMATIC HARMONICA…
It ain’t easy! (I’m sorry to have to say that, but you already know… it’s true!)
Because you can’t try them out like you can with a guitar or piano.
Chromatic harmonicas, the ones you’ll likely select, are NOT carried in retail stores I know of.
You can’t pick them up and put them to your lips and play them because they don’t let you. Yes, there are a few large internet retailers, or retail stores with some inventory, but even these have very little inventory selection to pick from in stock.
So you’re stuck getting advice from bald folks me! Oh Dear!
Like I said, it ain’t easy!
BUT…and this is a significant but, there are some things you can do to help you in your selection process, and get you to a great choice.
- A 16 hole, 64 reed chromatic harmonica is not a bad first choice
- A Suzuki SCX 64 is a good value harp and you may like the rounded mouthpiece.
- The Seydel Saxony is a pro harp and very airtight…a sensitive pro instrument. Highly recommended
- The new Psardo Elite and Gold Bar harps have exquisite sound
- Used harmonicas on EBAY often need pricey repairs, that’s been my experience
- There are many videos on YOUTUBE on various harps…get advice there before purchase
It’s useful to remember that you are not selecting a harmonica to use the rest of your life, harmonicas are more a friend we work with for part of our journey.
What was a good choice a year ago, may not fit the need so well today as our skills improve.
These are some of the instruments I’ve found satisfactory…
THE SEYDEL SAXONY, available in various tunings (I play orchestra tuned) is a very fine harp for the money. They are as airtight as they come, durably built, and the stainless steel reeds are very long lasting and stable. Seydel offers full parts availability, and note that Suzuki and Swan do not. Overall, Seydel seems the best manufacturer at the present time, and for that reason Seydel was selected along with Psardo harps (Philharmonicas.com) as LOVE OF CHROMATIC HARMONICA MANUFACTURER OF THE YEAR IN 2017
If you want a 16 holer, Seydel now makes two Symphony models, one with black aluminum comb, the other with the green acrylic comb. You will find the aluminum comb more stable.
In the $100 price range (starter harp) the Swan SW1248M which is their Masters harp with black cover is a great choice. It will stand up to daily use, but takes a bit more breath to activate reeds than I like. You’ll find some useful customizations to improve airtightness on the Facebook Group CHROMATIC HARMONICA CUSTOMIZATIONS, you’ll also want to visit the FB Group CHROMATIC HARMONICA REPAIR.
I have several reviews of the Swan SW1248M on Youtube.
Swan also makes a 16 hole Masters harp and this is a fine value also.
Moving up you have the Suzuki SCX models available in 12, 14 and 16 hole models with their durable phosphor bronze reeds. A very reliable instrument, with a sound (tonal harmonica footprint) pros often find uninteresting, the instrument is definitely a good value for a beginner or intermediate player.
Next you have the Psardo Elite and Gold Bar harps, and as they have sealed chambers both in the comb channel and above the reeds as well (unique heavy cover design) so each sealed chamber with 4 reeds total acts like a small clarinet, and the sound is focused and unequalled.
Psardo is also winner of the 2017 LOVE OF CHROMATIC HARMONICA MANUFACTURER AWARD. The Psardo is also unique in that the reeds are actually attached to small plates which screw onto the comb in pairs of 2 reeds, so reed replacement is easy for the novice. The Psardo harp has many patented improvements over other harps.
It is my view that the most important physical attribute to a harp is airtightness, as most harmonicas share the same basic design. Tone suffers and the instruments are harder to play when they leak. Some German manufacturers suffer from this problem.
I like the durability of stainless steel reeds, but brass reeds have a warmer sound.
As a general trend, you’ll find harps made in Asia improving in quality each year, and I’m thinking here of Swan and Easttop.
As you will not be able to test the harp you buy prior to purchase, you’ll be depending on Youtube reviews or advice from friends. These are likely your best source of information on what each harp is and is not.
Understand that the demands of the professional musician on chromatic harmonica are different from the novice’s needs, due to the hours pros play each day and their demand for total control of vibrato and bends and other effects.
Of course, the sound and comfort in play of most any harmonica can be improved by customization, and it’s worth your time to consider those improvements. Seydel and Psardo harps are so well made, customization is typically unnecessary.
Another fine 12 hole harp to consider is the Polle, but at $4500 retail and a year’s wait to delivery, it is a narrow gate.
I’ve purchased many used instruments on Ebay, but all had repair issues. A purchase from a friend, especially one with good harmonica repair skills, is a good option too.
In time, harmonicas develop reed problems and of course the breathsavers age and fall off as the glue ages. That’s more a repair issue, than criteria for harmonica selection.
At one time, Hohner was the industry leader.
Of course, the fast way to determine harmonica quality is price…typically those which cost more are better. Simple but true.