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I was looking around the website of one of the most important maker of harmonica and I checked the tuning chart of an harmonica in the A key.

I am beginning to study harmonica and expected to find on the holes from 4 to 7 the scale of A. When playing a harmonica in C I get the scale of C major, so I was half expecting to find A major or (maybe) some bluesy variation on it.

This is the tuning of an A harmonica, starting from hole 4, till hole 7:

A4 - B(H)4 - Db5 - D5 - E5 - F#5 - Ab5 - A5

With equal temperament, these pitches, would correspond, of course, to those that I was expecting (Three sharps: F#, C#, G#).

They mention that this harmonica features a "modern compromise tuning": note that I find it to be the same for the classic model of the harmonica so the compromise must be somewhere else (maybe the temperament is not equal?). They market the Crossover type of harmonica as more versatile, and I have no doubt that this is true: does this versatility depend on this choice of the notes?

And most of all: why the peculiar choice of names for the notes? Why calling it Db5 instead of C#5? Why Ab5 instead of H#5 (btw, in the scale of A one would naively expect that A is not lowered or raised)? I suppose that this kind of tuning must be in some sense natural but I need some help to figure out why is it so.

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Since in A key we all know that there are three sharps and zero flats, I believe they also know what they're doing and call the notes appropriately, so F# is really F# and Ab is really Ab. I cannot believe they are messing with names. That is, probably, the best compromise they can achieve with this particular kind of harmonica. So its Ab will be a bit lower than a G# played on an electric keyboard or any other instrument with precise pitch.

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Being a German firm, I believe, their B/H is understandable. However, they do seem confused with notes from key sigs. I can't believe it's due to other tunings apart from 12edo. Although because each harp is actually dedicated to a particular key, somewhat like early harpsichords, etc., it could be that they are accurately tuned, and they call the notes appropriately. But I doubt it. It must have lost something in the translation...

Be interesting to see Hohner's take on notes on a chromatic!

  • The B/H4 is fine, but I am confused by the mix of flat and sharp notes. Since they are the oldest maker of harmonicas I presume that they know what they are doing... – Francesco Jan 10 '17 at 16:46
  • You have an interesting point on the chromatica. Here it is: us.playhohner.com/instruments/harmonicas/chromatic/… and again it is a mix of # and b ... – Francesco Jan 10 '17 at 16:48
  • It's interesting, but they're not alone. I work with some guitarists who talk their language!! – Tim Jan 10 '17 at 16:48
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    With the chromatic, I'd almost expect them to name all altered notes sharpened, because that's what the button in does. Thus C>C#, G>G#, even, maybe, E>E#, but I think they are just confused. A chat with them might clear it up. Speak German? – Tim Jan 10 '17 at 17:04
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The Crossover is not standard tuning. So the Crossover harmonica is tuned differently than their other standard harmonicas. Start with a standard model with standard tuning if you're just beginning harmonicas. Then move on to the specialized harps. Have fun.

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