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Diatonic Harmonica Tunings - An Update

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Barbeque Bob M
Nov 09, 2009 10:09 PM GMT

Here is an updated/corrected list of diatonic harmonica tunings that now includes the Hohner Marine Band Crossover and the Suzuki Manji:

7 Limit Just Intonation
BLOW 0 -14 2+ 0 -14 2+ 0 -14 2+ 0
HOLE# 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
DRAW 4+ 2+ -12 4+ -29 6+ -12 4+ -29 6+
Used on all Hohner diatonics (except for the Golden Melody and Solo tuned harps, which are tuned to Equal Temperament) until 1985, Hering 1923 Vintage Harp, and the just tuned versionof the Suzuki Fabulous.
19 Limit Just Intonation
BLOW 0 -14 2+ 0 -14 2+ 0 -14 2+ 0
HOLE# 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
DRAW 4+ 2+ -12 4+ 3+ 6+ -12 4+ 3+ 6+
Used on Marine Bands/pre-1990 Old Standby's/Sp20's/Pro Harp/pre-MS series Blues Harps, wood combed version of the Hering Master Blues, and the Bends Juke.
Hohner Comprimise Tunings for the Marine Band/Special20/Marine Band Deluxe since 1992
BLOW 0 -12 1+ 0 -12 1+ 0 -12 1+ 0
HOLE# 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
DRAW 2+ 1+ -11 2+ -12 3+ -11 2+ -12 3+
Hohner Comprimise Tunings for the MS series since 1992
BLOW 0 -10 1+ 0 -10 1+ 0 -10 1+ 0
HOLE# 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
DRAW 2+ 1+ -9 2+ 3+ 3+ -9 2+ 3+ 3+
Includes since 1992, MS Blues Harp, MS Meisterklasse, Big River, Cross harp, Pro Harp, MS Marine Band (discontinued and only issued in Europe), Martin, Tiffany, MS Bob Dylan, MS Steven Tyler models.
Seydel Comprimise Tuning since 2007
BLOW 0 -14 2+ 0 -14 2+ 0 -14 2+ 0
HOLE# 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
DRAW 4+ 2+ -12 4+ -2 6+ -12 4+ -2 6+
Suzuki Manji Tuning
BLOW 0 -5 0 0 -5 0 0 -5 0 0
HOLE# 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
DRAW 0 0 -5 0 0 0 -5 0 0 0
Marine Band Crossover Tuning
BLOW 0 -5 1+ 0 -5 1+ 0 -5 1+ 0
HOLE# 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
DRAW 1+ 4+ 0 1+ 2+ 1+ 0 1+ 2+ 1+
Please read an excerpt from a posting Steve Baker placed on Harp-L on this tuning:
0=443Hz w. minimal air pressure, all deviations are in cents, 1Hz =
approx. 4 cents on most tuners
Blow reed plate:
Root notes (1, 4, 7 & 10) tuned to 0
Thirds (2, 5 & 8) minus 5 cents
Fifths (3, 6 & 9) + 1 cent

Draw reed plate:
1-draw is very difficult to measure accurately. With absolutely
minimal air pressure maybe +8 cents, more in low keys. Like that it
will sound right with normal air pressure. It's essential that it
sounds good when played together with 2-draw and as an octave
interval with 4-draw.
2-draw + 4-6 cents depending on the key, at normal air pressure it
should sound at the same pitch as 3-blow
3- & 7-draw tuned to 0
4- & 8-draw 1 cent higher than 2-draw (i.e. + 5-7 cents)
5- & 9-draw + 2 cents (this will mean the 7th chord sounds rough, but
sounds better as a single note. You can even tune it a little higher
if you prefer that sound)
6- & 10-draw 1 cent higher than 4-draw (i.e. + 6-8 cents)

It's highly recommended to check that all perfect intervals (octaves,
fifths and fourths) sound without interference beats. This is what
piano tuners do too. You'll find it's damnably difficult to obtain
constant readings from your tuner and I can only recommend playing
very softly indeed and holding the note for a long time so you get a
fairly clear note value. I use a Korg MT-1200 tuner with a built-in
spread which tunes the upper octaves slightly sharper (as do piano
tuners) and use the smallest spread the machine offers. It's hard to
work to this degree of accuracy with a tuner which only shows Hz values.

Hope this will be of assistance,

Steve Baker

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Comments (17)

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Nov 09, 2009 10:20 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

On the Marine Band Crossover tuning, hole 1 draw should read 8+. It is important that you read Steve Baker's note on this tuning very carefully.

Nov 09, 2009 11:50 PM GMT
HarpMan Freeman Replied:

Thank you for the extra effort you did to get this out to us.

I know it is helping me a lot.

Great Job!!

Thanks again

Nov 15, 2009 10:11 AM GMT
Tuggy B Replied:

Excellent info Bob, Thank you!

Jan 25, 2010 11:44 PM GMT
Boby Replied:

Thanx A LOT !

you probably saved hours, if not days of my time.

Just one question: does 0 = 443Hz on all charts?

Jan 26, 2010 10:38 AM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:

I think that base tuning depends on your playing style. 442 is optimum for me. 443-444 is accepatable but a bit higher than I like.

Jan 26, 2010 5:44 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

For most people, they do not play with a breath force soft enough to have a harp tuned to real A440 and play it that way as well (with the possible exception of one player, according to Brad Harrison, and that's Howard Levy), as in real playing breath for 98% of the players on the planet (and that includes many big name pros as well), an A440 tuned harp is often gonna wind up being played in A438 or worse, in the hands of harp player who plays far too hard all the time, A437, and that's gonna sound really flat against a band playing in A440.

Tuning to A442-A443 for the vast majority of harp players makes the most sense so that no matter how hard you play, you won't fall below A440 and this is where most companies have their standard pitch at.

0 cents on a tuner is, by default, equal temperament, based on the standard pitch you based it upon, meaning if you set the standard pitch on your tuner at A443, then 0 cents is basically that.

Jan 27, 2010 5:40 AM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

sometimes BBQ Bob when I read your stuff i think im back in college.. I has a had time then to.

One day I hope to understand this stuff, I print them out and i have a folder, and when a friends of mine comes around and know a bit I say here what the heck does this mean. Once they are done trying to teach me and me saying yes I understand but not really.

abner (BluEyes )

Jan 27, 2010 6:32 AM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:


Are you sure Howard tunes his harps to 440Hz? If it's true i'm shocked.

BTW There can be other reasons to tune 442 is some pianos are tuned to 442 and some orchestras. So If harp would be 440 or slightly lower it would be a dramaticaly flat. It's not a criminal for solo instrument to be a bit higher in pitch.

I also noted than lower reeds tends to change pitch with much volume more dramaticaly. So I tried to tune 1-st octave to 443, 2-nd octave to 442, 3-rd octave to 441 and I like it. All octave splits sound good with any breath force.

Jan 27, 2010 7:35 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

Boris, several months ago, I had a 30 minute phone conversation with Brad Harrison about his new B-Radical harps and as you know, before he undertook this project, he was one of the best customizers around, especially for overblow players and somehow during the conversation, Howard's name came up and like Joe Filisko, he also did some work for Howard and when he told me Howard's stuff were all tuned to real A440, I had him repeat that because I know a fact that 98% of the players on this planet, including big named pros absolutely cannot play with the kind of breath force that's light enough to pull that off accurately at all, and trust me, that blew me away!!!!

What you mentioned about the tuning sounds actually closer to how pianos get tuned by using the stretch tuning method, and for those who don't know what that is, on pianos, every octave away from middle C is tuned 2 cents sharp, and then the next octave is another 2 cents sharper.

Jan 27, 2010 9:25 PM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:

Wow! I shocked about Levy. It seems that he uses very tiny gaps, still great dynamics. I'm not ready for lowering my gaps tighter and playing more softer (i'm soft player, you can listen to my playing at my profile if you're interested in). BTW I have tighter gaps at harps I use for practice and rehearsals than at harps I use at gigs.

My tuning is opposite to stretch! My tuning is seems to be "constricted". I try different octaves on different harps and just note that slightly flat octave sound better on harp than slightly sharp with any breath force. The reason of stretching for piano is matching slightly sharp 4th harmonic when playing 2 octave interval (very rare used on harmonica, I only hear it from Richard Hunter). The reason for harmonica as I mention before is that lower reeds have more tendency to goes slightly flat with harder breath, while higher reeds are more stable in pitch and my "constricted" tuning gives more freedom for attack while playing octave splits.

Apr 19, 2012 6:14 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

For 19LJI, 5 & 9 draw is 1.5 cents sharp and NOT 3 cents sharp.

Apr 22, 2012 4:14 PM GMT
Mondo Replied:

Great info, Bob. Many thanks for his post!

Jul 08, 2015 4:36 PM GMT
Dave J Replied:

Hello all.

First, thank you Bob for the chart. I have been looking for something like this for a while!

Is it safe to presume it is still accurate? I realize I am ressurecting the post from the dead.

I ask because the "Hohner Comprimise Tunings for the MS series since 1992" seems to lists both the "MS Blues Harp" and the "Big River".

Given that everyone seems to imply the Big River is best for mostly first position work and country, I am wondering why that would be.

The "same" intonation/temperment would imply it would be nice (less expensive_ "blues" harp backup for the car. Am I misunderstanding this?

I've played mostly Lee Oskars for the last 10 or 15 years but I am trying to find a nice tuning balance for blues and jazz that does not get me funny looks from my guitar player. I suspect this is the "holy grail" of sounds, but I'd like some suggestions.

Some guys (with a better ear than mine) tell me the (Equal Temperment?) Lee Oskars do not mesh as well in some chords with the guitars. I am curisous where they would fall on your chart. I presume in "7 Limit Just Intonation".

Is there a current harp in production still using "19 Limit Just Intonation"? "Hering Master Blues" seems to be gone.

Sorry for all of the questions. Thanks again!

Lonesome Dave

Jul 08, 2015 6:40 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

Guitars and pianos are all tuned to equal temperament. Most harps are not tuned to true A440, but usually at about A442-A443 because in real playing breath, the average player's breath force, which is, unfortunately, a lot harder than they realize, will actually flatten the pitch some and if a harp was actually tuned to true A440 from the factory where it's being done on a tuning machine with an air compressor rather than breath, which tends to be a lot more consistent than most player's breath, that harp can get pitched downward as low as A437, which would be really flat.

The compromise tunings are essentially done so that the chords sound better overall, but you don't have the big difference that 7 limit just intonation has where 5 & 9 draw is tuned way down flat, which for some, that'll clash, especially if you play past 3rd position, tho the chords on the harmonica are going to be fully in tune with itself. The only other instruments that give off more harmonic overtones than the reeds of a harmonica are pianos and if you look carefully at an acoustic piano, there's a reason for the exact spot where the hammer strikes the string, and hitting it in the particular spot chosen acts as a damper to cut down on the harsh, odd numbered upper harmonic overtones and if this isn't done, equal temperament does not work on a piano.

On the MS Blues Harp and Big Rivers, the reed plates are exactly the same in each model and that's why the tuning is listed that way because they're exactly the same. Thew MS series, with the exception of the Blue Midnight model is a compromise tuning closer to equal temperament wheras the compromise tuning for the Marine Band, MB Deluxe, Special 20, the new Rocket model and the MB Thunderbird are tuned closer to just intonation, which gives a purer, sweeter sounding chord.

Any model you don't see listed above, including the Lee Oskars, are all being tuned equal temperament, and the big drawback with ET is that when you play chords, especially if you'er one of those players who are guilty of playing way too hard all the time, they will always sound really dissodent as hell. The vast majority of chromatic harps are tuned ET, but because of the windsaver valves on them, those act as a damper that cuts down on the high number of odd numbered harmonic overtones, mellowing the sound out and making the chords sound clearer than it would be on a diatonic that doesn't use them at all.

Hering isn't doing much outside of Brazil anymore and amnother Brazilian company called Bends had been using 19LJI on their Juke model, but they've been out of business for a few years now.

What you friend told you was not ET clashing, but 7LJI doing the clashing and its usually when you play against instruments that are tuned ET, but if you don't play too hard, the clashing is considerably less noticeable, especially when the pitch standard is higher than A440 on the harp you're playing, and if you're thinking of 7LJI, make sure the standard pitch is at least A442 (but this is NOT from playing breath) but if you do plan on tuning yourself, play the note VERY SOFTLY because if you play it hard, your tuning will never be accurate at all.

In the end, you gotta go with what's right to your own ears and your playing style. If you play positiosn past 3rd position, I'd strongly advise that you do not tune them to 7LJI but to either 19LJI or one of the compromise tunings. The compromise tunings closest to ET are the ones used on the Suzuki Manji and then the Hohner Marine Band Crossover model.

Jul 10, 2015 2:24 PM GMT
Dave J Replied:


Thank you kindly for the reply.

I have ordered a Hohner (MS Series) "Big River" (new Compromise tuning?) and a Hohner "Blue" Midnight" ("Chicago style" = 19LJI?)for comparision.


Jul 13, 2015 7:45 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

You should also get a listen on Pat Missin's site for some sound files showing the differences between equal temperament and just intonation at

Jul 13, 2015 7:46 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

Hre's the link again:

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