Harmonica tunings


Quick question - I’m after treating myself to a custom harp and have a question re tuning. Would players in the 50’s and 60’s have been playing 7 or 19 limit JI? And if I get a 7 limit tuned harp will that restrict me to playing older stuff on it or would modern blues tracks work just as well? Any thoughts would be gratefully received


I believe that would be the 7-limit JI which I personally would NOT recommend for anything other than solo unaccompanied playing. I suggest going with the 19-limit. Joe Filisko


Thanks for the reply Joe. I will definitely take your advice


Until the introduction of the Golden Melody in 1974, unless the diatonic harmonica were solo tuned like the long discontinued Marine Band Soloist/School Band models or the present day 364S, ALL diatonics being made, the tuning right out of the box was in 7 limit just intonation. 19 Limit is more versatile in terms of positions, but ALL diatonic recordings made until 1974, there wasn’t a choice and they’e all in 7LJI. Hohner began using 19LJI in 1985 and stopped using just intonation in 1992 and settled on three different compromise tunings that are still being used to this day but the GM have still bee tuned to ET since its introduction.


Interesting. Those 50’s & 60’s recordings from players like Snooky Pryor sound great to my ear but as Joe says it would be used mainly for solo playing these days - maybe we’re just too tuned into 19L these days for it to sound right to the modern ear…


Hey BB, My personal investigation leads me to believe that the date of change from 7-limit JI is closer to 10 years earlier, about the time that the Blues Harp was introduced. But I certainly could be wrong. JF


Joe, In the US, I didn’t see them in the retail stores until 1985. Back around that time, it is certainly possible that these were issued in Europe years earlier than out this way and even after 1985, many retail stores still had stock tuned to 7LJI as late as 1989 still lying around.

The first harps in the US I ran across using 19 limit just intonation was when Huang Harmonicas got first introduced in the US in 1982 and all of their diatonics were tuned that way at the time.


The different tunings you can have in a customised harp can suit different playing positions. So rather than thinking of a setup for Blues or Rock, you might think more of the tuning for playing in 1st, 2nd, 3rd position etc. Furthermore, whether the song is major or minor.

Just intonation can be varied to suit 1st position, second; second & third; third only… It doesn’t mean they are wrong if you use another mode. It just means you are playing an optimised tuning for the purpose you want.

In practical terms though, it is not really realistic to have all 12 keys in all optimised tunings, for each position/mode you play- unless you are earning enough from your music and have the time to make and use all these options.

But, fine tuning a harp is certainly worth doing. Just focus in on how you want it optimised. The best sound is the one that YOU like.