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Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Beginner - what harp to buy?
Beginner - what harp to buy?
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Richard Wood
1 post
Jan 11, 2021
9:31 PM
Hi guys, I am a newbie who is looking for some advise on what harmonica to look at as a beginner.

I do not want a kids toy, but also do not want to buy something that is too difficult for a beginner to learn on. I have a musical background having played trombone and guitar before

I am based in South African and from what I have seen the brands we can get here are Hohner various models ( HH532, HH562, Silverstar and Blues Harp) as well as Fender ( blues deville and blues deluxe models)

I see the Silver star is for beginners but is it a "kids toy" type?

I am keen to play blues so understand I need a Harp in Key C . Its which model that has be stumped

Look forward to hearing your opinions


1138 posts
Jan 12, 2021
4:16 AM
SP20 un C is a very good first harp.
Sorry for any misspell, english is not my first language.
6878 posts
Jan 12, 2021
4:47 AM
+1 on the special20.

The silver star is not a harp I'd recommend. I have one, and at one point I decided to see if I could turn it into a good harp.
I improved it, but using everything is learned in repairing and setting up hundreds of harps I really could not make it play responsively enough that I'd want to use it. I can play a tune on it but it's hard work to play well, even to the extent of my mediocre skillset.

The DaBell harps are getting nice reviews at the moment. Maybe worth looking at. Also the KongSheng models and some of the Easttops. Personally, I'm a Sp20 fan, but there's no denying some of the Asian manufacturers are making a good impression in the last few years.
331 posts
Jan 12, 2021
10:05 AM
Hi Richard,

There are many Hohner (and other manufacturers Seydel and Suzuki, Easttop, Lee Oskar, etc) models with "blues" in the name. Some are OK, some are decidely not.

Among the ones you list, Model 532 is the Modular Series (MS) Blues Harp. It is an OK harp, as is the Model 562, the MS Pro Harp. The price for these harps is about the minimum for a decent harp. (An exception is the Hohner Big River, which is often cheaper than the other Hohner MS harps and it is comparable to a Marine Band)

Thumbs down on Silver Star and Blues Band, they're terrible. I've only tried one Blues Bender and it was OK for a player with some experience, but not a beginner-friendly harp. The Fender Deville is a rebranding of the Easttop T008k, which gets generally good reviews. My own experience has been mixed. They are air-tight enough for good bends, but the tuning on half the ones I got was way off. Even allowing for the equal temperament, the chords sounded terrible. Thumbs down on the Fender Deluxe.

When you buy a guitar or bass, a proper shop owner will look at the neck, saddle, pickups etc., and make basic adjustments. Harps need adjustment too, but the price of a harp, even three or four times as expensive as the above, doesn't justify the time spent on it, from the shop's perspective. So it is a good idea to learn how to make these basic adjustments yourself.

Every harp I get, I remove the cover plates and then loosen the screws that hold the reed plates to the comb. Then re-tighten the screws, "finger-tight." It's pretty obvious why loose reed plate screws would be a problem, but they can also be too tight, bowing the reed plates away from comb and creating air gaps.

While you have the cover plates off, take a look at the reeds. They lie either above the reed plate they're attached to (draw reeds) or under it (blow reeds). It is important that the free tip of the reed is the correct distance from the reed plate. If the distance is too small then the reed will hesitate before sounding or not sound at all. If it is too great, then the sound will be dull and airy and you will have to work very hard.

You can increase or decrease the distance by gently pushing the reed in the desired direction with a fingernail or a suitable instrument.

Good luck on your harp journey!
Honkin On Bobo
1536 posts
Jan 12, 2021
2:36 PM
Hohner special 20, hands down.

Ignore whether the other harps have blues in the name it means nothing. In the beginning, don't pay to much attention to all of the nuanced advice you'll get from experienced players because you're not ready for it, yet. If you've played guitar and trombone and have a musical background you probably already know this.

Special 20 is most definitely not a toy. Plays great right out of the box. Plastic comb means you won't have to worry about a wood one swelling if you play overly "wet".

First steps, perfect single notes and bending, holes one to six. Don't get sucked in to the pitch that you need a custom set up harp to get the beginning bends. You don't. It's all in your embouchure, i.e. jaw position tongue shape etc.. Once again your experience as a guitarist and trombone player will help you in number of ways including practice discipline and plan and knowing what feels/sounds musical.

key of C is a good choice, as it puts you in the middle of the spectrum which makes getting bending down probably easier than other keys, not necessarily because you want to play the blues. Great blues come in all keys. But other good ones would be D and A, putting you in the the keys of G,A, and E respectively for those three harps (in second position that is, where all the awesome bluesy stuff is, in my humble opinion). Drill the blues scale until ya cants drill no more, hit that 4 draw like there's no tomorrow.

Above all have fun, and Wail on!!!!

Last Edited by Honkin On Bobo on Jan 12, 2021 3:07 PM
3299 posts
Jan 12, 2021
3:39 PM
While there are many to choose from, I'd go with the Special 20. If that model is readily available near you that is a positive, as well as it being a decent harp. I am mostly an out of the box player, meaning I don't adjust much of anything when I get a harp. Works for me.
The plus of Special 20 to me is, many beginners draw and blow far too hard and thus wreck a reed or two. So if you do this- and it's no sin- you can get another harp to continue your journey, and maybe later have the damaged reed replaced by someone. OIU do have harps repaired from time to time but mostly I play more gently and don't kill reeds at the rate I used to.

Music and travel destroy prejudice.




Richard Wood
2 posts
Jan 12, 2021
8:51 PM
Hi Guys, thanks for all of the feedback, clearly a lot to absorb, but I will work through it and visit some of our stores soon.

So far I have been "window" shopping on line to see what is available and from the feedback I can see our options here in South Africa are a lot less than you guys have. I guess in part that is due to Blues not being a main stream style here.

Thanks again for all the info, I hope I can get started soon


2148 posts
Jan 12, 2021
10:37 PM
Richard. Welcome. Check out Rockin Ron's (Cali based) if you want/need to buy online. I order from him from here in Oz sometimes. Service is exceptional.

BronzeWailer's YouTube
Richard Wood
3 posts
Jan 13, 2021
12:28 AM
Thanks Bronzewailer, I did look at importing but our Rate of Exchange is so bad at the moment it actually ends up costing twice as much as what I can buy the same model here- I think the stock in country at the moment was bought in before our ROE took a dive coz of Covid. also importing at the moment is not easy, for the same reason.
2950 posts
Jan 13, 2021
11:48 AM
Buy a chromatic, you’ll never figure it out.
Hours of entertainment.
Soap Music
37 posts
Jan 14, 2021
1:43 AM
Stay with the guitar. Harmonicas are 30 quid a blow and l dare not total up the amount lve spent buying these things during the last 40 years.
Can't live without em.
195 posts
Jan 15, 2021
11:15 AM
Richard, I started out buying SP 20's and still use a lot of them. Added L.O.'s to the mix before I switched over to mostly Suzuki with several Seydels to fill in missing gaps. You'll find most of the forum members have tried numerous makes and models before gravitating to one they like best. You'll probably end up doing the same based upon availability and pricing where you live. You'll also quickly want other keys and then the alternate tuning bug might bite you. Welcome to the forum...this is the best place to learn about everything you'll want to know about harps, tunings, mics, amps, pedals, you name it.
Richard Wood
4 posts
Jan 17, 2021
5:09 AM
Raven, thanks for the inputs and feedback. What you have said sounds very familiar, it seems no matter what I have done over the years ( Guitar, woodwork, Golf, fishing, leather work and and and) nothing is as straight forward as we 1st think.

I must say the feedback and info people have shares here is awesome. thanks everyone. I hope to be able to make some tunes soon.
395 posts
Jan 18, 2021
11:02 AM
I would agree the Special 20 would be my 1st choice if available locally or on Amazon if that's convenient in South Africa. Other good choices for a good model that you can stick with as a beginner are:
Suzuki Harpmaster
Hohner Big River
Seydel Blues Session
Easttop T008K (very good at low cost)

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