There’s nothing like a harmonica. It’s an instrument small enough to fit in your pocket, and when you’re good at it, people take notice. It covers so many genres like blues, folk, rock, and look at how long they’ve survived. Hohner alone has been making harmonicas since 1857. And at the end of the day, if you’re looking for an inexpensive instrument with little startup cost, nothing beats a harmonica. Plus, should times get tough and you ever find yourself behind bars, movies and television have taught me that being a good harp player is the best way to pass the time.

Which One Do I Choose?

There are certainly plenty of options out there. At the most basic level, it usually comes down to what key you want, or if you’re looking for the versatility of a chromatic harmonica. For those new to the music game, songs are generally played in keys (unless you’re playing atonal or aleatoric music which is… well… a different conversation). You may have heard people say, “This song is in G, that one is in B-flat (Bb).” What that means at the most basic is that this particular song uses the specific notes that fall into a G or Bb scale. You’re basically deciding which notes your harmonica will be able to play, and which notes that it won’t. Now, chromaticism is a different story. That means that your harmonica can play every note, every sharp, every flat, etc. Maybe not the best for beginners, but let’s check out this chart that Hohner made which you can find on most (if not all) of their harmonica packaging.

The word “Diatonic” is a fancy word for what we were talking about before. It means these harmonicas have keys. They are not chromatic. If you are new to harmonicas, experts usually recommend C as a good starting point. It’s an easy key with no sharps or flats. If you look at a piano, it’s C to C. All white keys. No black keys. Very basic. After that, I usually recommend G and D. Some people recommend G and A. There’s no wrong answers here, and eventually you’ll have a full arsenal with every key in it. But what this chart really shows you is which harmonica is good for which genre and situation. Blues player? May want to check out Marine Band harps. Country? Maybe grab a Golden Melody or a Big River Harp. And hey, check out the Crossover. Seems like that one is the Swiss Army Knife of harmonicas. They show that one in every category. Very versatile.

Marine Band: The Overview 

We were proud to have Ronnie Shellist from Hohner Harmonicas in the Sam Ash Studio to give us an expert look at the Hohner line. He started out by showing us the Marine Band Series. Have a look below as he tells you all you need to know.

Marine Band 1896

  • Pearwood comb
  • Nails to secure the cover plate
  • Bob Dylan, Chicago Blues
  • Raspy Bright Tone

Marine Band Crossover

  • Bamboo Comb (Heavy Lacquer/Waterproof/No Swelling)
  • Screws holding cover plate (good for maintenance)
  • Opened back end for volume and projection
  • Adjusted reed profile for long life and durability
  • Slightly brighter than the 1896

Marine Band Thunderbird

  • 9 Keys available
  • Octave lower then standard harmonicas
  • Extension of the crossover
  • Adjusted cover plate to accommodate reeds to prevent rattle
  • Low thicker reed material to accommodate low resonating reeds
Available for Special Order Through Sam Ash

Progressive: The Overview

Ronnie continued his guided tour of the Hohner brand by showing us all that the Progressive Series has to offer.

 

Special 20

  • Plastic comb (no swelling or cracking)
  • Climate resistant
  • Easy to play
  • Brass reeds similar to Marine Band, but with closed side vents
  • Different tone (Mellow, Warm, and Round, Less Bright)
  • Rock and Roll, Blues, John Popper

Golden Melody

  • Howard Levy, Jazz
  • Designed for melody playing
  • Equal temperament tuning (true pitches on each note)
  • Retro look
  • Plastic comb
  • Full length cover plates
  • Very comfortable to hold and play

Rocket

  • Extension of Special 20
  • Air-tight seal from screw placement on cover plate
  • Opened back end with side vents for projection
  • Slightly larger channel openings
  • Speed and Volume
  • Brighter tone with more attack
  • Versatile for many music genres

Rocket Low

  • Same design as Rocket, but with a lower tuning
  • No open side vents (this is to maintain low mellow tone)
  • 5 keys available (C,D,E,Eb, and F) all an octave lower
Available for Special Order Through Sam Ash

MS-Series: The Overview

Moving right along, Ronnie continued with an expert overview of the MS-Series. Check it out.

 

Blues Harp

  • Deuce Wood comb
  • More projection and attack
  • Open back for protection and volume
  • Single screw cover plate design
  • No open side vents
  • All parts interchangeable in the MS-Series

Big River

  • Plastic comb (easy maintenance)
  • Open side vents (Projection and Volume)
  • Screwed cover plate design to get under the hood
  • Budget friendly but with quality German manufacturing and brass reeds
  • All parts interchangeable in the MS-Series

Which One Do I Choose?: The Chromatic Edition

From here, Ronnie moved into the exciting world of chromatic harmonicas. You may remember from before, but chromaticism is the ability to play each note in the musical language. You are no longer bound to any particular scale or key like we were with the diatonic harmonicas. From C to C on a piano, we can now play every black note in between and open up our world of harmonica playing. Lucky for us, Hohner extended their selection guide to the chromatics below.

Want a great jazz harp? looks like the CX-12 series might be for you. Blues? Try the Chromonica. Looking for a chromatic with a nice classic harp sound? Give that performance series a try.

CX12: The Overview

Ronnie continues our Hohner education with the CX12 chromatic harp. Check it out.

CX12

  • Unique design makes it so that no tools are required to take it apart
  • Combs and reeds are removable
  • Button slide with great action
  • Mouthpiece is one big round piece with circular openings making it very easy to play
  • Air-tight design gives it lots of volume and projection
  • Bright, clear, and robust tone
  • Good for jazz, classical, and learning to read music as you have access to all the notes

Chromonica 270: The Overview

Ronnie kept the Hohner spirit going with a look at the Chromonica 270. Check it out.

Chromonica 270

  • Pearwood comb
  • Silver plated chrome mouthpiece (very comfortable)
  • Brass reeds
  • Nice action on the slide
  • Many different styles and genres
  • Easy to learn to read music with this harp

Discovery 48: The Overview

Let’s see what Ronnie has to tell us about the Discovery 48 chromatic harp. Check it out.

Discovery 48

  • Ergonomic cover plate with plastic mouthpiece and comb (very comfortable)
  • Easy to maintain
  • Designed with moveable button for left handed players
  • Good introduction to chromatic harps

ACE 48: The Overview

Finally, Ronnie ends our Hohner session with a look at the ACE 48. Check it out.

ACE 48

  • Next generation chromatic harp
  • VarioSpring slide to adjust the button action
  • Robust tone with nice volume and projection
  • Acoustic Coupling Elements (ACE): brass elements that you can leave in, remove, upgrade and change out for wood element, etc.
  • Easy to work with and case doubles as workstation
  • 2 cover plates make it easy to work on one side of your harp at a time
Available for Special Order Through Sam Ash

Conclusion

As you can see, when it comes to harmonicas, Hohner is a brand that has you covered. There are so many options that cover every range of style, genre, and nuance. If you are new to music or just want an affordable instrument to learn and carry around with you, then there is nothing better than a harmonica. So have a look and listen one more time and see which harmonica is right for you.

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Dave Stutts
Dave Stutts is a native of the greater Hampton Roads area of Virginia. He received his Bachelors of Music degree in Theory & Composition from the prestigious Christopher Newport University music school. He is a music composer living and working in New York City. He specializes in orchestral/symphonic work as well as pop and digital music. His scoring work has ranged from Chamber Ensemble pieces (String Quartets/Brass Quintets), larger ensembles compositions (Wind Ensemble/Symphony Orchestra/String Orchestra), as well as short film and video game work.He is also a songwriter and a regular gigging musician in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. He refers to his style as Pop/Rock and Blues. His musical career began when he started playing guitar at age 5. He later progressed to Bass in middle school, Drums in High School, and finally Percussion and Piano in college. When asked, he has cited Michael Giacchino, Hans Zimmer, and John Williams as his major film and video game inspirations, and John Mayer as his primary pop inspiration.