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Which Chromatic to buy???

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Jul 26, 2010 2:29 AM GMT

I have fallen in love with the sound of a great chromatic blues harp! I am thinking of buying one, but I have no idea where to start. What key? What brands are good? I can't afford a top of the line model so any suggestions would be helpful... Is there a level of quality that is necessary to be successful at getting decent tone? I feel kind of like I did when I started playing a diatonic...

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Comments (21)

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Jul 26, 2010 5:31 AM GMT
BP Replied:

What do you mean by "chromatic blues harp"? Do you mean a chromatic harmonica in Richter tuning, a diatonic harp played chromatically 9with overblows etc) or a standard 12 hole solo tuned chromatic?

Jul 26, 2010 7:23 AM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:

Seydel Saxony is great, but I still didn't try new suzuki's.

Jul 26, 2010 12:12 PM GMT
Kingobad Replied:


I mean using a chromatic harmonica for playing blues.

Such as this:

Jul 26, 2010 12:51 PM GMT
Kingobad Replied:

or this:

Jul 26, 2010 4:05 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

Most of the time, blues on a chromatic tends to be played in 3rd, but George "Harmonica" Smith, who taught Kim Wilson, Rod Piazza, and William Clarke, also played blues on a chormatic in 1st position as well and two examples of that are on the CD Now You Can Talk About Me on Chicago City and Boogie 'N' With George and also on his Arkansas Trap CD on a tune called Monkey On A Limb. He also alternated between chromatic and diatonic often as well during the same tune and two examples of that are Blues For Reverend King, which was originally on an old ABC Bluesway LP called ...Of The Blues on the tune called Blues For Reverend King, alternatinga 64 Chromonica played in 3rd (key of D) and a key of G Marine Band played in D,and on his old Tribute To Little Walter LP on Last Night, and on this tune, he alternates between a key of G 270 played in A and a Marine Band in D played in A.

Sugar Ray only uses 12 hole chromatics, usually either a 270 or a Toots Hard Bopper and William clarke only used 270's (all 12 holers) in the keys of Bb, C, and F.

Jul 27, 2010 11:30 AM GMT
Kingobad Replied:

What key should i purchase? Will I miss out on something if I just purchase a C?

Jul 27, 2010 2:01 PM GMT
John P Replied:

I don't play chrom very well at all. Frankly, I find the layout difficult to handle. But I was looking at a spiral tuned chrom on line that seems like it would be easier to learn on. Check out a site called "Jim's True Chromatic." FWIW.

Jul 27, 2010 5:07 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

The first key to start out with is key of C, and then later go to the other keys. I usually have with me a 16 holer in C then 12 holers in Bb, F and G as well. George Smith carried pretty much what I do with him plus he also carried around an A as well.

The pattern of the chromatic note layout is basically repeating holes 4-7 on a diatonic three times on a 12 holer, 4 times on a 16 holer and this set up was done so that it would be easier to remember as opposed to using the standard Richter tuning used on a diatonic, which as you go further up the scale, remember ing where everything is can become difficult.

This is the note layout on a 12 hole chromatic with the slide out, which is essentially holes 4-7 on a diatonic being repeated:

HOLE #1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Obviously, when the slide is pressed in, that releases the reed plate that ahs notes 1/2 step sharp.

First thing to remember is that like a half valved diatonic, they do NOT respond well to being played hard and the most you can bend on a chromatic is 1/4 step. Herings can be bent closer to a 1/2 step, but no matter who makes them, you have to EASE your way into it or the note will blank out on you in a hurry.

Jul 28, 2010 2:17 AM GMT
Broke Leg J Replied:

Bob, I have to say I appreciate your insight on a wide variety of topics. I'm a newbie but recently acquired a Suzuki Chromatix SCX-48. I'm just starting to play it and I find, as Bob suggested, bending isn't something you can do greatly (but then it's a chromatic instrument, so you don't need to bend to hit a note). The reviews I read were very good and the unit seem solid, with smooth slide function. The curved mouthpiece is throwing me a bit still, but I'm learning.

Jul 28, 2010 7:31 AM GMT
BlowsMeAwy Greg Replied:

How to learn slowly? First, get very comfortable with blues in 3rd position on a diatonic. Then the transition to chrom is easier. Second, half-valve the chrom - I bought a Hohner CX-12 on Brendan's recommendation and followed his instructions on how to do it. Now I have a chromatic that bends as easily as a diatonic and the button works besides. It is working for me - I'm learning my way around the chrom!


BlowsMeAway Productions

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Jul 29, 2010 12:53 AM GMT
Joe L Replied:

I bought a 16 hole chromatic in C and just started trying to play what I heard. I started listening to Carey Bell, Little Walter and James Cotton play it.

My opinion and experience has been slightly different than Greg's. I feel much more comfortable playing third position chromatic than third postion diatonic. It may be a mental block on my part. I just loathe doing it, but playing the chromatic doesn't bother me much.

Jul 29, 2010 12:54 AM GMT
Joe L Replied:

If dough is a big concern, get a solo tuned Marine Band 364. BBQ Bob is right on. If you play it too hard, you'll get no sound.

Jul 29, 2010 9:35 PM GMT
Pat P Replied:

man... the chat room is closed, and folks are migrating to the button. I'm starting to wonder about that whole "2012" thing! ... :)

Jul 31, 2010 3:56 AM GMT
Kingobad Replied:


I'm not planning on hitting the button unless it is an emergency. I plan to play third pos. I just want that big screaming mic'd chrom sound for a number or two... Then back to the diatonic where I belong...

Jul 31, 2010 3:57 AM GMT
Kingobad Replied:

And if the chat room had been up... you could have talked me out of it....

Aug 01, 2010 5:23 AM GMT
Andrew T Replied:

Definitely start with a C solo tuned. Anything from the Hohner Educator 10 or Chrometta series which are more affordable and suited to beginner's needs to the big beautiful hunk of plastic I play known as the Hohner CX-12. And although I don't own one I understand the original Cromonica is sort of the industry standard (like the Marine Band of Chro harps), so that might not be a bad place to start. Anyway happy harping and let us know what you end up going with. I've been nerding out pretty solid on Chromatic lately so I'd love to chat.

Aug 03, 2010 2:36 AM GMT
Joe L Replied:

Avoid the button!

By the way, Great Hello to all of the lonely harplayers!

Aug 03, 2010 3:20 AM GMT
Maka M Replied:

I too am contemplating trying a chromatic. Any advice on the relative merits of 10, 12, 14 or even 16 holes? Is 'the more the merrier' true, or does it just make it harder to master?



Sep 19, 2010 12:56 AM GMT
Kingobad Replied:

Holy crap!!! I got the Hohner 270 deluxe - mostly because I wanted screws to service the thing. What a sound!!! I have been playing a lot of 3rd pos. diatonic and was missing the octaves in half step increments. I could compensate fairly well, but this is definitely the sound i was after. So far it is a sweet harp. I can tell a few reeds need to be gapped, but for the most part is a great sounding instrument. I'm assuming I'll need to seal the comb too - as I don't trust Hohner's "natural finish."

Sep 20, 2010 6:09 AM GMT
Winslow Replied:

The comb probably won't need sealing. YMMV, but wood combs on chromatics don't seem to swell the way diatonics do. I've owned several 270s (and a 270 Deluxe) and have never had problems related to wood combs and moisture.

Sep 27, 2010 6:37 PM GMT
Andrew T Replied:

I'm going to respectfully disagree with Joe L and suggest that you EMBRACE THE BUTTON! Ask yourself if you'd rather have spent $200 on a harp you can play in only one key or is it a harp you can play in 12 keys?! Study multiple positions (tee hee hee hee hee) and experiment with the button. No need to limit yourself on the instrument.

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