© 2004-2021 P.Missin - Details

This is a heavily revised and expanded version of a post written to harp-l in Februrary 2004. Recently it's become something of a challenge to keep this information up to date, as other manufacturers have come to the market and the established manufacturers have changed their product lines several times. Please take the following as an overview and for details on specific models you may wish to check the harmonica reviews on this site.

Temperaments of various out-of-the-box diatonic harmonicas

So tell us - where (besides a customiser) can one find a harmonica in that Just Intonation? If that's a component of SBW / LW's playing style, I want it! I know Hohner's current MS & HM tuning standards are NOT "Just", but some "compromised" version of it.

The Hohner Golden Melody is tuned to straight 12TET at around A=442/443. The other HandMade/Classic Diatonics are currently tuned with a light temperament, quite close to the traditional 7-limit tuning, but with a somewhat less "flat" 5 draw and 9 draw. The new Marine Band Crossover uses a compromise tuning favoured by Steve Baker, somewhat closer to equal temperament than JI.

The MS harps use something that is tempered a little further from JI and the 5 draw and 9 draw in this tuning are considerably sharper than on the HandMade/Classic harps. The MS harps also tend to be tuned a little higher overall.

The Hohner Silver Star is tuned to 12TET and I assume that others of their Chinese-made range are tuned similarly. Based on limited samples, it seems that their Special 20s in Country Tuning (where the 5 draw has been raised by a semitone) use the same light temperament as the standard Special 20, with the 5 draw tuned a little below its equal tempered equivalent to make a relatively smooth major triad in holes 4, 5 and 6 draw. Based on an even smaller sample, it seems that their Marine Bands in Natural Minor Tuning are tuned close to 5-limit JI, with all the minor thirds and minor sevenths tuned sharper than their equal tempered equivalents. It may also be worth noting that Hohner tunes the root notes of the chords (1 blow and 2 draw) on their mN harps to the same values as on their major key harmonicas. This means that the Eb in hole 2 of a Cm Natural Minor harp (what Lee Oskar would call a GmN) is substantially higher in pitch than the D# in hole 2 of a B major harp. I haven't worked on any recently made Hohner harps in Harmonic Minor Tuning, although for what it is worth, the old Hohner Orchester minor harps were in 12TET (as were the Orchesters in major keys).

Seydel seem to use a tempering scheme similar to that used on the HandMade/Classic Hohners, but usually tuned a tad higher overall, most often being rooted relative to A=445 or so. On some of their harps the 5 draw and 9 draw notes are tuned closer to 7-limit JI, on other harps they are tuned a little higher, closer to a 19-limit tuning. I currently have no experience of how their minor and other tunings are tempered, but I believe you can special order harps from them tuned to your preference.

Do any of the manufacturers use Just Intonation? I'd like to find a stock harmonica in that tuning - Maybe the Hering 1923? The Delta Frost?

The Delta Frost is equal tempered, as are most Japanese made diatonics, mostly around A=442. One notable exception is the recent Tombo Folk Blues II which uses an unusual JI variation - the 5 draw is tuned so that it is a perfect fourth above the note in 4 blow (close to where it would be on an equal tempered or 19-limit JI harp), then the 6 draw is tuned to make a pure major third with it, the 9 draw and 10 draw notes being tuned similarly. This makes for a nice smooth partial chord to suggest the subdominant in the first position key, but it also means that the minor chord in holes 4, 5 and 6 draw is now somewhat out of tune, as the interval between 4 draw and 6 draw is somewhat narrower than a pure fifth. The recently introduced Suzuki Fabulous diatonics are apparently available in both 12TET and JI, but as yet I haven't had a chance to study one. The Suzuki Manji uses a compromise tuning which is essentially equal temperament with a few cents lopped off the major thirds of the chords. The new Suzuki Olive has a similar tuning, but the sample I tried also had the 6 and 10 draw noticeably lowered. For a long time, all Lee Oskar diatonics were in equal temperament. However, since around 2018, the Lee Oskar major diatonic tuning has used a light compromise temperament, the other tunings remaining in equal temperament.

Huang diatonics have used various tuning schemes over the years, but the most recent ones seem to be intended to be in 12TET, although their tuning is somewhat variable. Ditto for most of the other Chinese made diatonics.

Most of the stock 10-hole diatonics in the traditional 7-limit Just Intonation scheme produced in the 21st century seem to come from Brazil, specifically Hering and Bends. Neither company is currently producing harmonicas, although new old stock Herings can still be found for sale. For the most part, Hering diatonics were in JI usually tuned somewhere between A=442 and 445, but the Super 20 and the Hering Blues were later changed changed over to 12TET. The Golden Blues was changed to "brilliant tuning", meaning that it is tuned a little higher than their other harps, but they didn't specify whether its relative tuning is Just or tempered and I haven't worked on one for a while. The older wood combed Hering Master Blues was in JI, but the later plastic combed model featured a more tempered tuning. I also recall that the last Hering Free Blues I worked on was tuned Just, but that was a while ago and I don't know if their tuning was changed in later production runs.

Bends also used 7-limit JI for most of their diatonic models, although there was some variation between different production runs.

For what it's worth, the last Hohner 364 and 356 Marine Bands I serviced were closer to 7-limit JI at A=444 than to anything else, although the now-discontinued SBS harps used a light temperament much like that used on the 10-hole MB. I've not played one myself, but Hohner also have a diatonic produced solely for the US market called the Blue Midnight. This is an MS harp apparently tuned to 7-limit JI. I've also not yet played the 7-limit JI version of the Kongsheng Mars that was recently introduced.

However, the single most important thing to keep in mind is that we are dealing with mass-produced items and there will often be significant variation in the tuning even between supposedly identical models.


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