Harmonica compromise tunings

Any harp I work on can be tuned to your preference. Here's a visual representation of some Richter tuning options. These are not altered tunings where the notes are changed - these are all standard harmonica tuning. Every manufacturer tweaks the tuning of the individual notes to get a unique sound. These tweaks either emphasize the sound of single notes or the sound of chords.

If you want nice sounding chords and melody notes at the same time, then you need to compromise.

There are many ways to compromise and this shows a few ways you can do it. It's a little like a burger joint - you can have it any way you like!

Chords on a Suzuki Manji are nicer than on a harp tuned to Equal temperament, but they are not as nice as the chords on a current Marine Band. Marine Bands in the 1950s used to be tuned to provide even richer sounding chords than they do today, but the 5 draw on those harps sounded very flat (about a half semitone flat!) So you can compromise in any direction, and you decide if the emphasis is on single notes or chords.

This chart provides you with a view of which notes are offset from ET with the intensity of the color showing how far they deviate. I'm a visual person and this sort of thing helps me grasp the tuning differences.

The differences can be subtle. If you are playing unaccompanied, you probably won't notice notes being out-of-tune. It is hard to tell if a note is ten cents off from ET when played all by itself. But if you and the band are playing the same note at the same time, the difference is easier to hear - or hard to miss! Likewise, a chord played on an ET chord still sounds okay. It is more dissonant than it could be, but it still gets the point across.

Click on the image to download it as a PDF.

PDF icon Tuning meter.pdf101.31 KB