I will speak on what I know and feel about the diatonic harmonica. Please, remember some of what I pronounce are my opinions and should be taken with a grain of salt (and to keep it spicy) a couple pinches of pepper.
Right off, you are probably wondering what in the world is a diatonic harmonica? The diatonic harmonica or the harp as most players call it (also nick named the mouth organ, the tin sandwhich, the Mississippi Saxaphone, and the French Harp) usually has ten holes in it and each hole allows the player to inhale and exhale for the notes, (harp players call these blows and draws) and is commonly four inches long. The materials that it is most commonly made of can be of wood, metal, and plastic and most likely a combination of two i.e. wood and metal, metal and metal, and plastic and metal.
Historians believe what we would call a harmonica was invented a few thousand years ago in China. It had bamboo reeds and was called a "Sheng". The Sheng soon became popular in Europe in the late 18th century.
It didn't take long for European music inventors to get on the band wagon for in the beginning of the 19th century they began tinkering with metal reeds in lieu of the wood of the Sheng.
Then around 1820 Christian Friedrich Buschmann, a young instrument invented "The Aura"with metal reeds". The Aura had only blow notes, but it became popular. It certainly was not the harmonica what we have today, but it was a start. Incidently, a company that makes the Delta Frost and Soul's Voice harmonicas named itself after Christian Friedrich Buschmann albeit they did Anglosized the spelling to Bushman. And, yes, they are very good harps.
Finally, a Bohemian named Richter in 1825/1826 invented what we consider the modern day harmonica. This harmonica had two reed plates (making it twenty reeds total) of metal (I believe they were of brass) with ten holes. The other new differences were the holes were blows and draws. It is believed by most authorities that he also established the Richter tuning which many harmonicas makers employ even today for their diatonics.
Then in 1829 the Viennanesse got the bright idea of making money and began mass production of harmonicas. Of course, the other cities in Europe did the same. One of the places doing this was a village in Germany called Trossingen. In Trossingen two cousins, Christian Messner and Christian Weiss clock makers by trade started producing harmonicas in their spare time. For the two cousins the harmonica business was good. A few years later another clockmaker paid them a visit. His name was Mathias Hohner. Hohner learned their craft and eventually started his own business.
Some say Matthias was not a good harmonica player himself, but he was a very good businessman. Mr. Hohner was so successful that he was shipping harmonicas to the United States in 1862 (just in time for the lonely soldiers of the Civil War who needed something to cheer themselves up).
The soldiers of the Civil War were not the only ones to pick up the tin sandwich. Many people picked up the humble harmonica. Amongst these people were cowboys and the African- Americans of the south. Since the harmonic was one of the cheapest, smallest, and easiest (to play) of musical instruments the Black Americans over time incorporated it into their music: the blues.
The great musicianship of the blues put the diatonic harmonica on the listening map of the world. Unfortunately, it has also typecast the instrument. Most people think of the harmonica as only an instrument of the blues and nothing else. Worst yet, others deem it a toy.
This last incorrect and outrageous idea came to my realization years ago when I was browsing a musical dictionary. I came across an entry that stated that the harmonica was a toy. Luckily for me, I knew better and was stunned that I knew this and they didn't. Both allegations are untrue. The diatonic harmonica that one usually buys in a music store is not a toy (the prices can run from $5.00 to $60.00, however beware of the cheapies). The diatonic harmonica is a real musical instrument and depending on how dedicated and innovated you are a very serious and versatile instrument.
For some examples of jazz go to
And for a little bit of classical go to:
Okay, okay this last video the boys did take some liberties, but you should get the idea.
I am not exactly sure what got me started on the harmonica, but I'm sure my mother bought me my first ones which is really amazing considering she thought that I was tone deaf. Or, it could be she was thinking that if I had a harmonica in my mouth then I couldn't sing. No one in my family could or can stand my vocalizing including my dear sweet wife. This took place in the late sixties.
My first harps were Marine Bands soon followed by the Hohner Blues Harp. The only thing I knew back then was if you're going to play your guitar in the key of G Major then you had to use a harmonica in G Major and so on otherwise, I didn't know what I was doing. Playing cross harp back then to me was a foreign concept. I enjoyed trying to make music with them.
My first harmonica hero was Charlie McCoy. I first heard him on KNIX Radio in Phoenix doing the Orange Blossom Special. The morning dj, W. Steven Martin would (I believe) play it every Monday morning and called it "The Shower Song". The way Charlie could hit all those notes so fast and so clear really impressed me. The other trait I grew to appreciate over time was Charlie's smoothness. Charlie McCoy plays the harmonica like Itzhak Perlman plays the violin accurately, smoothly, and passionately.
Other harmonica players I have to come to appreciate and admire are Jazz Gillium, Sam Myers, Charles Musclewhite, Brendan Powers, Adam Gussow, and Todd Parrott.
Needless to say, there are others.