The harmonica might have been around longer than you think. First invented in China in 3000BC, it was known as a Sheng. It was remarkably similar in design but used different materials. But it was light years in its use from what we might call the Best Blues Harmonica.
It arrived in Europe in 1821 and was used for tuning pianos. Its appearance in the US had to wait another ten or so years. The Chinese scorned western attempts at its manufacture, accusing the western versions of being sub-standard. I found that amusingly ironic.
And then came the blues…
It has long been associated with Blues music, but of course, it is much more of an instrument than that. Yes, it has formed an essential part of the Blues sound. But it has made its mark elsewhere — for example, Larry Adler.
Born in the US, but he made his fame in the UK and Europe. He played classical pieces and film soundtracks. The 1958 British film ‘Genevieve’ being one. Beatles producer Sir George Martin recognized the talent and produced an album of Gershwin songs played by Adler.
If you haven’t heard him play ‘Summertime.’ It is not just the Blues. Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Uncle Tom Cobley and all have used it.
They fall into two categories Diatonic and Chromatic. Diatonics only play some notes of a specific scale. Chromatic plays all the notes of the Chromatic scale. It is Diatonic that is often used in modern music and Chromatic for Classical and Jazz.
Calling it a Blues instrument is a misconception and an injustice. It can be, but it has much more variety than that. Some harmonicas, though, are made though for that idiom. And they add so much to that genre that the Blues wouldn’t be the same without one. We are going to look at some.
Why is it called a ‘Blues harmonica?’
Well, you have to be sad when you play it!
But seriously, if you are looking for the Best Blues Harmonica, then keep reading, and we’ll find the perfect one for your needs…
Top 8 Best Blues Harmonica On The Market Review
1 Hohner 532BXC Blues Harp MS Modular System Diatonic Harmonica, C-major – Best All Round Blues Harmonica
Whether you play the harmonica or not, most people have heard of Hohner. Founded in Germany in 1857, they not only make harmonicas but also specialized keyboards like the Clavinet, Accordion, and Melodica.
The Hohner 532BXC is a basic Diatonic harmonica in the key of C. Just four inches long; it is often considered a more practical alternative to a Hammond Organ. It has ten single holes with twenty reeds and covers a range of three octaves.
A quality build…
It is made with good materials as you would expect from Hohner and has brass reeds and a Doussie brown wooden comb. Doussie is an orange and brown wood that matures with age. The comb is an essential part of the instrument being the main body which covers the internal air chambers.
This harmonica also has a Doussie wood mouthpiece. The covers are stainless steel, and it has brass reed plates. You can see then that Hohner has used quality materials in the manufacture of this instrument.
Rich and full…
The tone of this harmonica is influenced by its wooden comb, which gives it a rich and fuller sound. This is an MS harmonica or Modular system. That means that whilst it is designed for a certain sound and genre, and all the components are interchangeable. This means you can change the components to get the sound best for you.
A nice instrument that is not cheap, but has that quality Hohner builds and a very good sound. It comes in a plastic carrying box and is made at Hohner in Germany.
- Well made with a wooden comb and mouthpiece producing a great sound.
- Modular system design.
2 Fender Blues Deluxe Harmonica, Key of C – Best Beginners Blues Harmonica
I must confess I had to look twice. Fender making harmonicas? I am tempted to say that at least it won’t be as bad as some of their guitars they have made lately. This though, is a budget harmonica that has some plus points.
This is designed I assume very much for a starter. It is in the key of ‘C’ and is designed to be quite versatile. It is a ten-hole harmonica with a traditional four-inch length and a chrome metal cover. And it has been made to be a cheaper version, so it has not been fitted with a wooden comb. Instead, it has a molded PVC plastic comb.
This is not uncommon with budget models, but it does affect the tone somewhat. There are those that prefer a plastic comb. This is because it is not affected by the natural moisture that occurs when playing. It does though, have brass reeds that are replaceable.
The quality of the build in terms of its stability is good. It certainly isn’t going to fall apart. The sound will vary from higher grade instruments, but for many, that will be fine.
Great for beginners…
This is not a professional level instrument and doesn’t pretend to be. It is for a beginner, and for someone starting out, it is fine. It is certainly set at a very attractive price point. For its manufacture, it has ‘gone home’ if you like. The harmonica is made in China. It comes with a vented plastic case.
- Sturdy build with some nice but basic features.
- Very cost-effective price.
- Some will just want higher quality.
3 Suzuki Bluesmaster MR-250 Harmonica – Key C
The Suzuki Bluesmaster is a diatonic ten-hole harmonica. Harmonicas made by Suzuki are well-known for a number of reasons. They produce a very powerful sound, and they are built to a high specification, which makes them very sturdy. In fact, someone remarked you could run over one with a truck, and it will still get up and play.
This model is made in Japan and comes with a slightly different shape, which is considered by some easier to hold. The stainless steel cover though, is what you would expect to find on other instruments.
Phosphor bronze reeds…
Internally it is quite similar to other harmonicas and features phosphor bronze reeds. It hasn’t got a wooden comb, though. That is made from ABS plastic. As we have mentioned, this isn’t considered a problem for many players.
With plenty of use, a wooden comb can absorb some moisture. A plastic comb obviously will not. Plastic will last longer, but it doesn’t have quite the same resonance.
Equal Temperate tuning…
Most of the Suzuki range of harmonicas are tuned to an ET design. That has nothing to do with ‘going home’. It is a description of the tuning. ET, or Equal Temperate tuning, divides the octave into equal steps. It tends to sound better if you are playing single notes.
The alternative system and possibly more common design is Richter tuning. This is better for playing chords. The lower sections of the harmonica playing the dominant and tonic chords on draw and blow, respectively. If you were playing in ‘C’ then this would be C and G.
This might be of no consequence to a beginner. But it might have an effect for an experienced player depending on the style of music they are playing.
This is a well-made harmonica with a loud and pleasant sound. It is priced reasonably, and so is an attractive option.
- A well-made harmonica with a tough build.
- It produces a nice sound that is quite powerful.
- Equal temperate tuning might not be suitable for some styles of playing.
4 Fender Blues Deville Harmonica, Key of C – Most Stylish Blues Harmonica
Back to the land of the Telecaster and Precision bass, we go for another offering from Fender. What is not uncommon is that this is an instrument that seems to be surrounded by intrigue. Not uncommon with Fender these days.
This is the second Fender harmonica we have looked at, and it appears that it is a step up in quality. However, we can’t see exactly what the difference is. The internals seems to be the same or similar to cheaper models. It doesn’t have a wooden comb, and it is instead made from a molded PVC, and there are the phosphor bronze reeds.
It does though, have a rather nice looking black finish. And is in the Key of C, and it comes with a vented plastic carrying case to assist drying out after use. However, it does sound quite nice and is quite a powerful instrument.
Loss of volume…
It is quite expensive as a starter instrument, so it is aimed more at the experienced player. If it has a fault, it is that the higher notes sometimes come out a little weaker. That is not uncommon with some harmonicas. But the sound generally is more than acceptable.
Now, it wouldn’t be Fender these days unless there was a little irritating mystery involved. Despite opinions to the contrary, a lot of their guitars and other instruments, including harmonicas, are made overseas, outside of America. Fender is sometimes slow to admit this. This particular model is made in China.
But is it?
One respected source said he suspected this was actually made by the UK company Easttop Harmonicas. And that it just had a Fender logo slapped all over it. Another said it was actually made by Lee Oskar, a Danish harmonica player, in conjunction with a Japanese company Tombo Manufacturing. Again, with the Fender logo applied.
It could be, of course, just be made by Fender. In which case, it is made in China. Of course, it could also be Professor Plum in the library. Take your pick?
Good, but not the best…
However, whoever actually made it, it sounds ok. Not as good as some others that are close price-wise, but it is a more than adequate step up for some players.
It is a standard 4 by 1 by ¾ inches in length.
- A nice black finish adds a bit of style to it.
- Quite well-made.
5 Hohner 560PBXC Special 20 Diatonic Harmonica, C-major – Most Versatile Blues Harmonica
Back to Hohner for another harmonica, this one the Special 20. This is a well-known harmonica and well-liked.
The Hohner diatonic special twenty has a little claim to fame. It was one of the first harmonicas where the reed plates were recessed into the comb. This was an interesting design feature because it created a mouthpiece that projected slightly.
For the beginner, this was a very influential design structure as it made it easier to play and, therefore, quicker to learn. At the time, an interesting idea, but it is now used in the design of harmonicas all around the world. It also created a slightly different sound from the traditional design.
This harmonica is in the Key of C. Whilst it is suitable for the beginner, it is also positioned as an experienced player instrument. The comb is an injection-molded plastic that has the projected mouthpiece we discussed earlier. The 0.9mm recessed reed plates are made from brass and are mounted with screws. It has stainless steel covers, which have closed sides. It is made in Germany.
The sound is quite good and powerful. Certainly, this is a harmonica that will be considered as one of the Most Versatile Blues Harmonicas you can buy.
This harmonica is standard size at 4 by 1⅛ by ⅞ inches.
- A well-respected instrument at a reasonable price.
- Hohner quality in the build.
- Some may prefer a wooden comb for sound reasons.
6 Fender Blues Deluxe Harmonica, 7-Pack with Case – Best Set of Blues Harmonicas
Back to Fender, we go again. This time for a set of harmonicas. As most will know, you need a variety of tunings to be able to play in a variety of keys. These are a near full set. It is a seven-pack, which includes C, D, E, F, G, A, and B flat.
It is good to see that the seventh harmonica has a B flat tuning. This is more practical for playing Blues harmonica than a straight B scale would have been. They are all ten-hole instruments.
Classic Fender design…
They are all a traditional design with chrome-plated covers, and they come in a vented carrying case. And feature ABS plastic combs and brass reeds.
They are designed to be easy to play and are best-suited playing-wise, to the starter. Why a starter might require all seven harmonica keys is a little confusing. That would probably be better suited for an experienced player. Someone who is with a band of some description and needs to cover a variety of keys.
However, I don’t think the quality of these instruments is high enough for an experienced player, let alone a pro.
A stepping stone…
For a beginner, they are quite good. I suspect, though, that once the starter has learned to play a bit, they will grow out of them quite soon.
Nevertheless, they make an attractive gift for a young player and are set at a price point that is very competitive. In fact, for all seven, you would pay less than you might for one quality instrument by some manufacturers. Perhaps that tells its own story.
Practical and versatile…
They are a decent sound and quite easy to play. They are all made in China.
- Set covering all relevant keys.
- Cost-effective price for seven instruments.
7Fender Blues Deville Harmonica, Key of G – Best Blues Harmonica in G
Staying with Fender, let’s have a change of key to G. Most players when they start to learn the harmonica will usually start with a ‘C’ instrument. There will come a time if they are starting to play with other musicians when they might want a change. They might actually need one because not all music is written in C. A ‘G’ harmonica is a possible next step.
This harmonica is designed as that next step. It has the same materials and design format as its ‘C’ cousin. The moisture-resistant PVC comb and reeds made of phosphor bronze are still there, as is the traditional shape and size. It also continues with the black color theme, which is quite attractive. It comes with a vented plastic case.
Good for starter players…
Where it is made is anybody’s guess, but wherever it is, it sounds ok. Not the best you will find, but for a starter and beginner, it is a decent sound. It also plays quite easily.
This is again the standard size at just over four inches and weighs four ounces.
- A black finish is quite nice and makes a change from traditional chrome.
- Good harmonica for a starter.
8 Hohner Blues Bender PAC – Best Value for the Money Blues Harmonica
This is very much a budget level Hohner, and is one of the few Hohner harmonicas that are made in China. It is aimed at the starter and those learning to play Blues harmonica. For this reason, the Blues Bender has been designed to help the student bend the notes, hence the name.
Hohner brought to the world a harmonica called the ‘Marine Band Harmonica’ back in 1896. It became a standard, especially amongst the early Blues players, because of its unique tone. It became the number one choice of the pros.
That tone, in part, was created by its specially designed and shaped cover plates. The reeds were thicker, and the shape of the covers meant there was more air between cover plates and reeds. They created a great sound but also had powerful volume and projection.
Those basic principles have been applied to a certain extent with this harmonica. The Blues Bender PAC (Patented Acoustic Covers) harmonica attempts to introduce you to some easier note bending.
Superb if you want quality on a budget…
It is though a basic harmonica with no frills attached other than a replica of a great design. The price point for such an instrument by Hohner is very low and going to be attractive.
It has a Plastic Injection-molded comb, and the acoustic covers are stainless steel. There are twenty thick reeds plates, and it is made airtight for easier bending.
A classic design for modern times…
Hohner is not saying that this is a replica of a vintage version of the original, far from it. But it does have some of the original design parameters that allowed those early Blues players to get those sounds and bent notes. A great little harmonica for either starter or improvers who are trying to bend it as ‘Sonny Boy’ did.
And at such an attractive price, it has to be a good option.
- A good place to start to learn to bend the notes at a great price.
- Designed with similar plate designs to the Marine Band.
- Really only designed for practice rather than performance.
Best Blues Harmonica Buyers Guide
You might have to be sad, but you also have to be good…
What does it take to play the Blues? This is an instrument that can sound exhilarating or just plain dreadful. So given that you don’t want to sound dreadful, what do you look for when buying one?
There is a little bit of not running before you can walk with this instrument. Most starters begin with a diatonic ‘C’ harmonica. The standard ten hole instrument is the best for a starter, while the best design is a single row. You will see double row instruments with 10 or 12 sets of double-holes. These are known as Tremolo harmonicas and are not best suited to the starter.
The materials used in manufacture can be important for a number of reasons, and there are differing opinions about that issue.
Some will argue there should be a wooden comb; others say plastic is better. Plastic certainly won’t be affected by the natural moisture accrued in use. It will be quicker to dry out, and it will not deteriorate.
Wood could be affected by the moisture and take time to dry out and could deteriorate over time. But the sound is clearly better. Perhaps plastic is fine for the student, and wood becomes a choice when the level of play demands it.
If you are an experienced player, you will know what you are looking for. There are options included for most except the very top professional levels. There is no shortage of choice, but there is a shortage of quality manufacturers. With this instrument, the track record of quality will play a part.
Still got the Blues?
But, if you’ve got your heart on a Harmonica, but haven’t found what you’re looking for yet, take a quick look at our review of the Best Harmonicas currently available in 2020.
So, what is the Best Blues Harmonica?
Well, for me, I would want a simple and easy to play harmonica with a track record of quality. I would sacrifice the wooden comb for a plastic one, I am not a professional harmonica player, so plastic will suffice. I would, therefore, choose the…
A well-respected harmonica with a powerful sound.
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