Best Harmonicas for Beginners in 2020 – A Mouthful of Joy
The harmonica fits right in your pocket and you can play the blues or whatever your music preference, all on your own. Here’s my list of favorites which should help you pick out the best harmonica for you.
Below you will find the best harmonicas for beginners and intermediate players. Any of these will get you playing in no time without breaking the bank.
10 Best Harmonicas for Beginners - Play the Blues Like You’re in Memphis
Table of Contents
- 10 Best Harmonicas for Beginners - Play the Blues Like You’re in Memphis
- 1. Hohner Special 20 Harmonica
- 2. Lee Oskar Harmonica
- 3. Fender Blues Deluxe Harmonica
- 4. Hohner Marine Band C Harmonica
- 5. Swan Mini C Harmonica
- 6. Hammond HA-20-C Harmonica
- 7. Anwenk Beginner’s C Harmonica
- 8. Mippy Diatonic Blues Harmonica
- 9. Boseno 10 Holes Double Tremolo Harmonica
- 10. InnerSound Standard Diatonic Harmonica
- Tuning Differences
- Musical Genres
- The Comb
This excellent little instrument is no toy. Just consider the fact that one John Popper plays one when performing with the Blues Traveler. The Hohner Special 20 is a reliable little thing that has a comb made of molded plastic which is enclosed in steel covers on both sides.
If you peek inside, you’ll be greeted by 0.9mm reed plates of brass. As is the case with all Hohner harmonicas, the Special 20 is a well-built and durable little thing.
Even though it is a diatonic harmonica tuned to C major, it is quite loud and at the same time it is quite comfortable to play, even for a prolonged period of time. This is great for any aspiring artist who’s willing to practice a lot.
At this price range, you really need to dig deep to find another harmonica that performs as well as the Hohner Special 20. A true gem.
Another professional instrument, the Lee Oskar harmonica comes from a very reputable manufacturer, praised by many pro players around the world.
Even at first glance you can see that the craftsmanship here is top-notch and that the materials used are top shelf. This is a harmonica meant mostly for players who play blues and rock, as it is noticeably louder than most of its rivals in the same price range.
The 10-hole configuration includes holes that are slightly larger than what you commonly find on other harmonicas, which results in an increased comfort while playing. This is very important in those loud situations on stage when you need to cut through snare drums and stacks of Marshall amps.
Last but not least, this harmonica comes tuned to a diatonic key of C.
Even though most people associate Fender with their legendary electric guitars, they are also well respected in the world of harmonicas and harps.
First of all, the Fender Blues Deluxe looks rather neat, as it sports a comb made from molded PVC and covered in chromed metal. Traditional and classic at the same time, just like the guitars they’re so well-known for, the guys at Fender came up with a harmonica which is as nice to look at as it is easy to play.
Marketed as the perfect instrument for both beginners and pros, it is quite comfortable and can be played for hours without any major fatigue.
It is tuned to the key of C and it really sings. It isn’t too loud, although if you plan on some serious gigging it may not be on par with the other louder instruments in your band.
There are several different color options to choose from and it is also nice to know that it comes with a plastic vented case for those moments when you’re not using it.
Over here we have one of the best-selling and most famous harmonicas in the world. Considered by many as the gold standard, such giants as Bruce Springsteen and the late John Lennon had their own Hohner Marine Band.
As such, it is often used as a benchmark against other harmonicas.
It has a 10-hole configuration and is tuned to the key of C, but unlike the other ones with plastic comb, the Marine Band is equipped with the much more traditional wooden one.
It is because of the wood comb combined with 20 reeds that it has that inimitable full sound that no other harmonica at this price range can match. The wood used for the comb is pearwood. How cool and exotic is that?
Of course, such a great product would come in a protective case, and as is always the case with any Hohner harmonica, you get a month of free online lessons with the purchase.
The only problem I had with it is that it was not that easy to disassemble and clean like some of its modern rivals that are equipped with plastic combs.
For those who really don’t want to break the bank buying their first instrument, the Swan Mini Harmonica is probably the best option. At an extremely low price, you’d expect it to perform more like a toy than a true instrument, but that simply isn’t the case.
Somewhat smaller and lighter than most, it is the perfect instrument for a beginner. Almost by standard, it comes tuned to C major and has the most common configuration with 10 holes.
Even though the design is nothing to write home about, it looks more expensive than it actually is – the miracle of low-cost manufacturing. There is also a choice of six different color options to choose from, and those include silvery, blue, gold, red, coppery, and black.
It can’t match the playing comfort or the loudness of pricier models, which one might expect. You can use it to learn the basics, and move on to a better and more professional model if you really dig the instrument.
The harmonica comes with a hard plastic case.
Imagine how cool it would be to have a pocket version of the legendary Hammond organ? Well, that’s possible now. Of course, it doesn’t sound like the original, because of the sheer size necessary to produce such a gargantuan sound, but this is probably my favorite of the whole bunch here.
Sure, it doesn’t come cheap, but the very instant you lay your eyes on it, you are sure this is a magnificent little instrument. Just take a look at the deep black finish, wonderfully contrasted with the iconic Hammond logo.
It is tuned to the key of C and the very moment you blow over phosphor bronze reeds you’d know that you’re onto something special.
It is loud enough, the sound is clean and warm, and basically any harp player in the world would be delighted to have this little feller in his pocket.
Of course, it goes without saying that such a precious little thing comes with a hard shell carrying case.
Last but not least, we have yet another competitively priced harmonica that’s designed especially with students and beginners in mind.
When it comes to value for money, Amwenk beginner’s harmonica might just be the true winner here. It is a well-built little thing that features a plastic comb with a 10-hole configuration for 20 tones.
Steel covers can be found on both sides, and it is a fairly comfortable harmonica to play. The reeds are made from copper, but don’t expect anything spectacular in terms of sound clarity and volume.
As is the case with most beginner harmonicas, it is a small one and can be held in one hand. It also features a convenient black plastic carrying case, so it doesn’t get damaged or scratched when you carry it around with you.
Here we have a quality beginner harmonica from Mippy. It is a compact 10-hole mouth organ with streamlined contours. It is 5.8” long, 1.6” wide, and 1.2” tall.
The Mippy is a versatile harmonica made for a wide range of genres and styles. In my opinion, aside from classic blues, it is best used for folk, country, and folk blues. That being said, you won’t regret using it in a jazz or even rock setting.
In contrast to its versatility, this harmonica should primarily be used by beginners. It might not be the best professional harmonica for experienced players, in the sense that the sound isn’t the clearest.
The Diatonic Blues Harmonica is made in the key of C, like the vast majority of beginner-oriented mouth organs. It features diatonic construction with 10 holes and 20 reeds. The reeds are made of phosphorous bronze which is a pretty common material at this price point.
The soundboard is made of copper, while the cover plates are made of stainless steel. The cover plate sports a laser-etched company logo within a mirror design. The comb is made of ABS which is standard fare for a beginner-level harmonica.
Thanks to the fully enclosed ends, this harmonica has minimal amounts of air leakage. Its compact size makes it easy to hold and play.
Boseno’s 10 Holes Double Tremolo Harmonica sits on the cusp of beginner and lower intermediate classes. It features a standard 10-hole construction with two reeds per note (thus being a tremolo harmonica). Like most beginner-oriented harmonicas, this Boseno model comes in the key of C.
This compact harmonica is 4.01” long, 1.06” wide, and 0.74” high. It is great if you like to cup your harmonica in front of a microphone when you play. It weighs just 83 grams, which is pretty light even for a 10-hole mouth organ. This also makes it one of the best blues harmonicas for students and beginners in general.
The cover plate is made of copper (instead of the commonly found stainless steel) and it comes in shiny blue finish. It features laser-etched polished finish and the company logo at the top. The reed plates are made of phosphorous bronze. They are attached to 1mm thick copper plates, which gives this harmonica a clearer, more resonant tone.
At the heart of this mouth organ, the comb is made of food-grade ABS resin, so you shouldn’t have any problems as long as you clean it regularly.
You can use this compact Boseno mouth organ for pretty much any style and genre, with folk and blues being its strongest suits. In addition to learning and practicing which beginner mouth organs are made for, you can use this Boseno model for smaller gigs as well. That being said, it would be wise to invest in a more extended harmonica for recording.
InnerSound’s Standard Diatonic Harmonica is a super-affordable instrument. It is made primarily for those looking to buy their first mouth organ and players who have recently started. The Standard Diatonic Harmonica comes with a set of 24 holes in two rows. It is tuned to the key of C, the most common and beginner-friendly key.
As for the size, the Standard Diatonic Harmonica belongs to the large end of the spectrum. It measures 17.6cm in length, 3.0cm in width, and 2.2cm in height. Due to its size, it might be impractical for players who like to cup their harmonicas while they play.
This super-affordable mouth organ is made with a titanium cover with mirror finish and company logo on top. The comb is made of high-grade ABS resin which is skin-friendly and safe for human use. Like the vast majority of inexpensive mouth organs, this one has phosphorous bronze reeds. They’re sturdy enough for regular play, but you should avoid extreme and violent note bends.
The Standard Diatonic Harmonica is good enough for you to learn the basics of the traditional genres and styles, with blues being its forte. As good as it is for learning and practicing duties, you should consider a more well-built and clear-sounding model if you plan to perform on stage or record.
Even though I’ve included quite a handful of excellent products on my list here, there are a few other things that you should know and take into consideration when buying your first harmonica.
First of all, you should be well aware of the fact that there are three different categories of harmonicas, different by the way they are tuned. There are chromatic, diatonic, and tremolo harmonicas available out there.
Diatonic harmonicas are definitely the most commonly used type and they are designed so they play in a specific key. Usually, the ones meant for beginners are tuned to the key of C major, and most harmonica teachers will suggest you start off with one just like that.
Basically a diatonic harmonica is one that a beginner can grow with. You can combine different inhale and exhale to reach notes that are not found naturally in the 10 holes.
Over time, you should be able to incorporate various techniques to combine your harmonica with other instruments in the band to come up with some extraordinary effects. All diatonic harmonicas have a 10-hole configuration.
Once you progress a bit, you will probably want to explore the world of chromatic harmonicas. They come equipped with a lever so placed that it can direct air to two separate reeds. This lever is commonly operated by a button to make it possible to play all 12 tones that are in the western scale.
The best chromatic harmonicas enable you to play virtually any mode or scale, once you have the necessary skills. In most cases these harmonicas are larger than the diatonic ones, but on the other hand they are also louder, which is great if you plan on performing live on stage.
Finally, we have the so-called tremolo harmonicas, which utilize two reeds for each note, with slight difference in tuning between the two. This is why they are also sometimes referred to as the echo harmonicas.
The choice of your first harmonica will also be greatly influenced by your favorite music genre. If you’re into more popular music types such as rock, pop, blues, folk, or even jazz, chances are you’ll be using one of the 10-hole harmonicas, just like the ones included in my reviews you’ve just read above.
Traditionally, you’ll learn how to play the harmonica in the key it’s labeled for, but with time you may progress to a cross harp player where in most cases you’ll be playing in a specific key four steps down from the one the harmonica is labeled for. In most cases this occurs when playing in a blues band.
The reeds are in charge of the tone of your harmonica. They are found within the comb and are installed pre-tuned. Each reed has a fixed pitch, which depends on the mouth organ’s key and the reed’s position within the comb. Lower notes use heavier and longer reeds, while higher notes use shorter, more rigid reeds.
The common reed materials include brass, steel, plastic, and aluminum. Beginner harmonicas also widely use phosphorous bronze reeds.
There are two ways in which reeds are attached to reed plates. They are most commonly riveted to the plate, though they can be welded as well.
The reed plates are in turn usually screwed to the comb. They can also be bolted or attached in another way. Back during World War II, some harmonicas used tension to keep the reed plates secured to the combs.
The comb is the central part, the body of the harmonica. Originally, all combs were made of wood. Today, harmonicas are more commonly made with plastic and metal combs.
Wood, though the number one comb material for a long time, is not without its flaws. For example, wood combs can expand due to prolonged contact the moisture. When a wood comb dries and contracts, it can compromise a harmonica’s air tightness.
ABS is the most common comb material used today. It is affordable, easy to mold, and offers excellent sturdiness and durability relative to its price.
Beginner, lower-intermediate, and intermediate class harmonicas are predominantly made with plastic combs.
Metal is another material used for combs. It is not as common as plastic since it can only be found on some high-end models. Metal combs are the sturdiest of the three and do not have any problems with moisture-related expansion and contraction. But if it is made of a low-quality alloy, it is potentially susceptible to rust.
Playing a musical instrument can definitely give a magical sensation. Not everyone is a natural talent though, but that shouldn’t stop you from delving deep into the world of music by creating your own.
Sometimes it is hard to even pick an instrument to learn, but if you’re a beginner you should definitely think of a portable instrument which will not take you years to master and which you can enjoy on your own.
That’s how many people got started with playing the harmonica.
Even though this article is meant to get you to know harmonicas a little better from the perspective of a beginner, I've featured some highly potent models too.
There’s no doubt that the harmonica is a wonderful instrument. It is also extremely portable and you can play it on your own, so you don’t need a band. Once you get your skills developed, you can play almost any popular track out there.
Hopefully this article made it clearer as to what you need to look for and what qualities make a harmonica the best for beginners. Now all you need to do is to grab one so you can play your blues!