I wanted to buy a harmonica or a recorder, as they are what i found interesting the most out of wind instruments.my budget is low at about 300 egyptian pounds, which is about20$. I have seen what options i can get with that amount of money and it seems like i can get a decent yamaha or suzuki plastic recorder but when it comes to harmonica,it seems like the only ones i can get are what they call 'toy' brands like swan, which i have heared are pretty bad.i like the harmonica sound a bit more than the recorders but if it seems like i can only a bad harmonica , i would probably go for the recorder.I also seen so people say that with harmonicas i would have to get a new one every couple of months as the reeds die,what do you think?

  • What music do you want to play? Oct 13, 2017 at 2:53
  • I have a Yamaha recorder and one thing I know about them is that they aren't much better quality than any other recorder. I don't know if this will work for you, but you could buy the cheap harmonica to get a feel for playing then save money for a better one. I would say that a harmonica has mor emaintainence costs though
    – user30646
    Nov 2, 2017 at 22:50

4 Answers 4


They are, like, totally different instruments and useful for quite different kinds of music. A recorder is strictly monophonic and has a rather pure sound and rather rigid pitch. A harmonica is chorded and diatonic and has a sound with lots of harmonics and quite bendable pitch.

With regard to maintenance, either are pretty low-key but don't like excessive humidity. A recorder is a more "classic" music instrument, the harmonica will more often be used for blues and folk.

When you are playing together with others, you will need a whole set of harmonicas (8 or so) to get along. With a recorder, you'll just need more skill for navigating different keys.

The instruments are so different that I see little point in making the decision based on price. I really think you should pick what you like more. If you get hooked, the music will worm itself into your wallet eventually anyway.

  • will more often be used for blues and folk Not really. The chromatic harmonica is a full-fledged, popular and excellent jazz instrument, with masters as such as Toots Thielemans, Stevie Wonder, and today Yvonnick Prene.
    – Stinkfoot
    Oct 12, 2017 at 19:21
  • @Stinkfoot if you're talking about getting a harmonica for $30, you're not talking about a chromatic.
    – Some_Guy
    Oct 12, 2017 at 20:32
  • 1
    @Stinkfoot - I think you nailed it with the term 'masters'.
    – Tim
    Oct 12, 2017 at 20:36
  • @Some_Guy - see my posted answer.
    – Stinkfoot
    Oct 12, 2017 at 20:55
  • @Tim - if I can do as much as I do on chromatic, you sure don't have to be a master.
    – Stinkfoot
    Oct 12, 2017 at 21:02

(The following answer refers to diatonic harmonicas, not to chromatics)

Until recently I would have advised you that there is no point in buying a harmonica that costs less than $30-40. They were all so bad that they were WORSE than having nothing, because they discourage your and make you think that YOU are the problem, whereas actually the harmonica is the problem.

This is no longer the case however. If you are reading articles/watching videos about harmonicas that are more than a year old, then all of them will say DO NOT BUY CHINESE, buy a hohner, seydel, lee oskar, suzuki etc. They were right at the time, but the situation has changed. East Top Harmonicas have started making professional quality harmonicas for about 15 USD. I own one, and it's honestly JUST as good as a Hohner/Suzuki Harp, it's incredibly impressive what they've managed to do. Kongsheng is the other Chinese manufacturer that has started to make decent harmonicas, but I haven't tried one of those myself. (Research Kongsheng and Easttop and you will see how good the reviews have been)

However, the advice still remains: do NOT buy a swan/hohner "blues band"/random cheap toy harmonica off amazon. You will be so so disappointed, and unable to make any real music.

To adress the question of recorder vs harmonica. Recorder wins for maintenance: a decent plastic recorder will basically last forever and all you have to do is keep it clean. A good harmonica, it depends on a lot of factors: how hard/often you play, the humidity of where you live. But ultimately, harmonicas do wear out. Having said that, unless you play so hard that you blow a reed, a harmonica will go for years and years. It won't be at its best, but it will still be playable. Most likely, you will want to repace your harmonica in 1-2 years.

Since both options are in your budget, I would male your decision in the following way:

Watch some beginner music lessons on youtube for both the harmonica and the recorder: which one appeals to you the most and makes you more excited to learn?

Also, another option for a cheap instrument might be a Ukelele, which will definitely help you if you later want to move to other stringed instruments (like the guitar for example).

My other question to you is what are your local options? The Egyptian currency is quite weak on international markets, are there any folk flutes for example that would be affordable?

  • Thanks for answering the question.Well,there is a folk flute called "nay", but it is really hard to find nowadays as it is made from a kind of a rare wood which is also not that strong.However,there are Some egyptians and arabs who craft these folk flutes but usually don't sell it to egyptians as most egyptians wouldn't simply afford a 2000 e.p flute which is also fragile.Arab crafters of arabic musical instruments like the nay and the oud charge alot of money on their crafts and sell it on the internet as they simply can't make a living out of it in egypt alone. Oct 12, 2017 at 19:41
  • I love the Ney! I didn't realise it was used in egypt, I've only ever listened to it in Persian Music. But to be honest I don't know that much about the Egyptian people and their folk traditions. It's a shame to here that it's prohibitively expensive for local musicians, but I suppose with the amount of craftmanship that goes into it it makes sense that they're expensive. I wish you luck in your quest to choose an instrument, I'm sure this is going to be the start of a fun journey for you, whether you go down the reed/flute/stringed instrument path.
    – Some_Guy
    Oct 13, 2017 at 11:26

A recorder will allow you to play only single note tunes, whereas a harmonica will give you the option of playing chords as well, which can make a welcome change to your playing. Yes, a decent harmonica will cost more, and will last well if looked after, and a recorder will take more abuse and neglect, and possibly not be as adversely affected by weather change. A harmonica will restrict you to playing in one key (two if you play cross harp!) but you will be able to play in several keys on the recorder. Reeds should last a heck of a lot longer than a few months.

As ever, the choice is yours, all I do is point out pros and cons.

  • harmonica will restrict you to playing in one key | ? A good chromatic harp can be purchased for about $25 and allows you to plan in any key, just as a piano does.
    – Stinkfoot
    Oct 12, 2017 at 19:25
  • I think this is not totally true. A good chromatic harmonica will cost more, and to be able to play in various keys will take a lot of practice.
    – Tim
    Oct 12, 2017 at 20:35
  • A good chromatic harmonica will cost more See my posted answer. and to be able to play in various keys will take a lot of practice Same is true for many instruments, and C, Db, G and F are all easy on the C chromatic. The chromatic's layout is not particularly difficult - granted, you do have to know some basic theory - scales and key signatures - to navigate it - as with many other instruments.
    – Stinkfoot
    Oct 12, 2017 at 21:00
  • @Stinkfoot - I wasn't aware of cheap chromonicas - mine go back several decades when they weren't cheap at all. How a cheap one will stand the test of time, only time will tell. Of course C is an easy key - along with C# (button in). G and F will only have one affected note each, but once one gets to A, Eb, etc, then yes, it's as difficult as any other instrument. I never ventured down those paths, only using it for Rhapsody in Blue and so on, with chromatics rather than # and b in a different key. Must dig it out and give it a go again!
    – Tim
    Oct 13, 2017 at 6:09
  • you know music - you can play piano and guitar. The chrom is not hard at all in the keys I mentioned, once you get into the groove with it. I suppose B is pretty easy too, with the slide in most of the time so you've already got 5 sharps. It's a very cool instrument - the sound is very pure - great for ear training and hearing scales and melodies well.
    – Stinkfoot
    Oct 13, 2017 at 10:40

The differences in maintenance between a recorder and a harmonica have already been explained well.

However, it looks as if the answers are focusing on the diatonic harmonica, which is limited to a few keys (usually only two) and have neglected to focus on the modern chromatic harmonica, which is a full-fledged instrument despite its small size, and is used even in classical and jazz settings. It allows you to play music in every key, just like a piano or guitar.

Musically the modern chromatic harmonica gives you far more options than a recorder or a diatonic harmonica - you can become a complete musician playing only the chromatic harmonica.

I assume this option has been neglected because of your stated budget constraints, but recently good quality chromatic harmonicas can be purchased for $20-$25. See: Swan Chromatic Harmonica in C Key 10 Holes . There are several listings for this chromatic, with prices that vary slightly depending on the supplier, but AFAIK they are all the same instrument. You can see the reviews of these instruments, including mine, up there.

I have one of those Swans - I paid $24 for it, and I like it very much. It plays better than my Hohner Chromonica and every reed works perfectly (more consistent than the Hohner) Although it doesn't sound quite as good as the Hohner, it's certainly not bad sounding at all.

I'd strongly recommend going this route if you want to learn to play a "real" musical instrument. Add in this book when you can afford it and you will be on your way very quickly: Easy Harmonica Songbook: For Chromatic Harmonica | 70 Audio Examples | Lyrics and Tabs .

I have no interest in Swan, Amazon or Yvonnick Prene - just using my personal experience as a guide.

  • 1
    Fair enough. For $20 I'm going to buy one of these tonight and see how it goes. It looks like the discontinued hohner koch: no windsavers. I've been trying to track a harmonica like this down for a while just for the curiosity of it: to retune it to richter and play it like a diatonic with extra notes. I've got a suspicion that it will leak like a sieve, but we'll see how it goes!
    – Some_Guy
    Oct 13, 2017 at 8:55
  • @Some_Guy - No windsavers. It works well for my use, which is limited - but it plays pretty nicely, sounds decent and bends nicely - for me - I've never played any serious chromatic harp. For the OP I think it's a great choice - as you know, the chrom is a full-fledged instrument. BTW, before you buy the $20 one, see if you can ascertain that it's the same one as the others listed there - they run from the $20 to about $26 depending on the seller. I think they are all the same but I'm not sure. Might also be differences in ship time/charges. I have Prime-paid $24 total-was here the next day.
    – Stinkfoot
    Oct 13, 2017 at 10:33
  • you know what, it arrived today and it isn't bad at all!!! Yes, OK, it leaks a fair amount, but it's totally playable, and the tuning isn't half bad either! For $20 this is insanely playable!!! What a lot of fun!!! Time to but a couple more and start doing some retuning/slide reversals I think ;))) Thanks for the tip!
    – Some_Guy
    Nov 1, 2017 at 22:12
  • @Some_Guy - I really like my 10 hole Swan-compact, feels good, sounds quite OK-$24 all told for it. No complaints! I just bought a Sydel 12 hold tuned to Low C - great instrument- sounds great. Is it 7x as great as the Swan? Not really. I mostly play old fashioned tunes on them, but I also use them for practicing scales and ear training- sound is pure and clean. I love the chrom -I see it like a portable piano - instant music anywhere. Sometimes I'm tired and don't feel like sitting with a bass. I lay back and have fun with a chrom. I'm going to get another Swan and try bebop tuning.
    – Stinkfoot
    Nov 2, 2017 at 18:31

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