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The chromatic harmonica comes as a 10, 12, 14 and 16 hole model.
The 12 and 16 hole chromatic harmonicas are the norm and most brands have at least one of each.
The most common chromatic Harp is a 12 hole harmonica in the key of C and it covers 3 full octaves.
The chromatic harmonica has been designed to provide you all the sharp and flat notes at the simple push of a slide.
When you play without the slide all the notes are natural notes: C D E F G A B once you push the slide in you get the sharps and flats. In this regard, the chromatic harmonica is close to a Piano and much easier to understand and master than a diatonic harmonica whose note layout can drive one insane.
The Key of C is logically the main key most players use at all times simply because as the chromatic harmonicas also have all sharps and flats the player doesn't really need anything else to play in all keys. The Chromatic harmonica is indeed a fully chromatic musical instrument much as a Saxophone, a Violin or a Trumpet.
That being said some manufacturers offer the 12 hole tuned in other keys.
Hohner has 2 models that comes in 9 keys, The Hohner Chromonica 270 a classic but aging model, and the CX12 black a more modern option.
They both come in C, D, Eb, E, F, G, A, Bb, B and Low C also sometimes called C tenor. Even if there is barely any pro player using those special tuned keys one might find it interesting in the following cases:
- If your technique is limited and ability to play in multiple keys on one harmonica is not very developed you might then use the chromatic more like a diatonic and switch harmonica key for different song keys
- You're looking to have a higher or lower register or different flavor for a specific tune. Using a G or Low C harmonica for instance will give you access to more low notes than on a standard C and that might just be what the tune your playing needs.
The Suzuki SCX-48 comes in C, D, F, G and A
The Harmo Angel 12 comes in C, D ,G ,A, Bb and Low C and might well be the Best chromatic harmonica money can get you under a $250 budget.
Both of these use phosphore bronze reeds and a modern design suited for any genre of music.
There is only one 10 hole chromatic on the market it's the Hohner Chromonica 260 and it has actually been discontinued by Hohner but Harmonicaland still has new ones in stock. It's more portable than a 12 hole and gives you the best of a 12 without the last 2 holes that we usually don't use that much since they are very high-pitched notes.
There are only 2 options for a 14 hole: Hohner Meisterklasse Chromatic a high-end instrument one of the best chromatic harmonica for the professional player and the Suzuki SCX-56 a more affordable model.
The 16 hole Chromatic harmonica was introduced years after the 12 hole became popular mostly to offer players an additional octave in the low register making it possible to play violin classical pieces. In this aspect, the 16 hole would be the model of choice for classical players. Funnily enough, that is also the preferred model used by Blues players because even though they rarely use the chromaticity of the instrument the low octave give them some extra growl.
Hohner 16 hole chromatic harmonica models include the classic Chromonica 280 used by most Blues players probably their best selling chromatic harmonica as well as the fancier Super 64C and Super 64X
Suzuki has several models ranging from the SCX-64 all the way to their top of the line Fabulous model which is by far the most expensive 16 hole chromatic harmonica ever made.
Seydel just recently added a 16 hole to their catalog with the Symphony 64
Harmo gives you a nice quality priced 16 hole with the Angel 16 and a rare brass comb model called the Admiral 64.
The chromatic harmonica has been very popular in Jazz with Larry Adler, Toots Thielemans or Gregoire Maret. We can also hear it in famous pop songs played by Stevie Wonder and Eurythmics.