The melodica is an easy instrument to pick up, and with practice, can sound just as good as other instruments costing 10 times more. I’ve written a guide on how to choose your melodica.
A quick lesson
Let’s have a very quick look at how the melodica works, because it makes a difference when you’re choosing which one you’re going to buy.
Hidden away from sight, deep inside the instrument, you’ll find a set of reeds.
Reeds are what make the sound in a melodica.
There’s a separate reed for each note.
A reed is a tiny metal frame, like a window frame, with a little thin stick of metal inside, which we call a tongue.
When you blow through the melodica, and press a key, the air is automatically directed to the correct reed.
And as the air passes through this little window frame, it makes the tongue vibrate.
This vibrating movement turns the air into a beautiful melodica note.
So now you know – reeds are a hidden, but vital part of the melodica, and make a big difference to the quality of the instrument.
How many keys do you need?
So how many keys do you need? 32 or 37, or more?
Let’s look at the difference between the 32 and 37 key models. They’re the same, apart from, the 37 key has 5 extra high notes on the right of the keyboard.
You’ll probably be able to play most music on a 32 key instrument. But occasionally you’ll find yourself missing those extra high notes, just for some melodies.
If it’s really important for you to have those extra few notes, because you don’t ever want to be left short, then it’s better to go for a 37 key model.
I’d say go for the 37 key if you can afford one, but don’t worry if you can’t. Many players are very happy with 32 keys. Because it has less notes, it’s also a bit smaller, so easier to carry around.
How much should I spend on a melodica?
There’s 4 main price levels for different types of melodicas.
Head to the end of the article for specific recommendations
Level 1 melodicas
These are the cheapest melodicas which you’ll find for under $30 for a 32 key, and under $40 dollars for a 37 key. They’re a great choice if you’re just starting out.
I think they’re good value for money. They’ll come with a carry case, a hose and a mouthpiece. They’ll be in tune, though not perfectly in tune.
This isn’t something to worry about too much with a melodica.
It’s the nature of these instruments that even when they’re perfectly tuned, once you start playing, and the reeds get wet, the tuning becomes a bit unpredictable anyway.
These cheap melodicas will eventually go out of tune, after a lot of playing. I don’t mean hours of playing. Probably months or even years, depending on how much you play. At this point you can learn how to tune your melodica, or just buy a new one.
These level 1 instruments are by far the most popular choice for melodica players who are starting out, and they’re also popular with some experienced players, who want that raw, classic, melodica sound.
For a Level 1 melodica recommendation, take a look here.
Level 2 melodicas
These instruments will set you back around 75 to $110.
They include some great instruments, like the Yamaha Pianicas, and Suzuki melodions, which I recommend all the time.
Like the level 1 melodicas, they’re also largely plastic, and come in 32 and 37 key sizes, with a case, hose and mouth piece.
But for the extra money, you’ll get better quality reeds.
They’re a big step up from the cheaper reeds, and will have been hand tuned at the factory. Not always to perfection, but normally pretty good.
The reeds will also have been set up, optimised, so that when you blow, the sound begins immediately. This is called a ‘fast attack’. It’s something you’ll need if you’re going to be playing fast or complex music, or if you need good control over what you’re playing.
You could in theory buy a cheaper melodica, and set it up yourself. Some players do, and it is worth learning how to do it. But if you want the reeds optimised out of the box, this is the level to buy at.
Another good reason to buy one of these, is that they take much longer to go out of tune than the cheaper ones. If, or when, they do, then it is time to learn how to tune your own melodica, because they’re too expensive to just go out and buy another.
Tuning isn’t as difficult as it sounds, there’s an article here on just how to do that.
I have heard of people successfully sending their instruments back to the manufacturers when they go out of tune, while they’re still under warranty. It’s because most melodica companies don’t actually acknowledge that a melodica even goes out of tune, so they class it as a repairable fault.
My favourite melodica is a level 2 melodica – it’s right here!
Level 3 melodicas
There’s quite a big jump here to around $500-$1,300. There’s not much choice here either – you’re basically looking at one of the Suzuki Hammond melodicas or the Wooden Suzuki W37.
The Suzuki Hammond 44 Melodeons are much bigger instruments, with 44 keys. They have a part metal body, a smooth, uniform keyboard, and an internal microphone, with an audio jack. So you can plug it in directly to your recording device and get a clean signal, even if you’re recording in a noisy environment.
There’s also higher quality reeds, which have a smoother, more refined tone. They’ll still go out of tune like any melodica, but will hold their tuning well, like the level 2 instruments.
The wooden Suzuki W37 has a wooden case and wooden keys, but the inside is the same plastic insides as the Pro 37. Personally, I can’t her much difference between the two.
Level 4 melodicas
This is a nearly non-existent level, existing mainly in myth and within the Melodica World forums. These are the rare handmade wooden melodicas, which sell for thousands of dollars.
They include the Victoria Vibrandoneon and the Ballone Burini Eolina. They’re very rare, but do appear on Ebay every few years.
Melodicas that I recommend
I’ve made a list of quality instruments, suitable for playing in a band and for recording. I’ve played them all with good results.
Let’s begin with the smallest melodicas, perfect for that trip away, and progress to the largest sizes.
The smallest pro level melodica has a dinky 2 octave keyboard.
This is as cute as pro level melodicas get.
It’s perfect for taking on a trip, and fits nicely into the hand.
This little brother of the Yamaha range shares all the positive characteristics of its elder siblings. It’s well made and has a warm, lively tone.
If only all tunes fitted into 2 octaves…
This is the next step up in the world of Yamaha ‘Pianicas’, and has a 2 ½ octave keyboard.
I’ve always loved Yamaha melodicas, because they’re good quality instruments at a fair price. The tone is solid, and the reeds hold their tuning well.
This is an instrument I take with me when travelling, and I used it to write all of the tunes in my Melodica Lessons book.
I also recorded all 10 YouTube lessons with a P32D.
Suzuki also make good quality melodicas, or ‘melodeons’ as they call them.
They’re definitely up there with Yamahas in terms of reed quality.
This 32 key model has a warm tone, some say leaning towards the sound of a harmonica.
An advantage over the Yamaha P32D is the condensation-release valve, and it’s good looks!
This is Suzuki’s full size, 32 key melodica.
It was my go-to melodica for many years. It rivals the Yamaha P37D
The M37C has a strong metal panel at the back, and a set of great sounding reeds. The sound is warm, loud and resonant.
This is Suzuki’s flagship pro level melodica.
Go for this if you want the best that Suzuki has to offer.
Personally, I find it very similar to the M37C, so I’m not sure whether it’s worth paying the extra money.
This is my favourite melodica!
It’s one of the most popular full size melodicas on Melodica World.
The P37D combines volume, warmth and a good response.
I think the deep burgundy colour makes it slightly more grown up looking than some of its contemporaries. It’s also great value.
I made a YouTube review of this melodica
Hohner must be the most well known melodica makers, and are famous for coining the word ‘melodica’!
I discovered this melodica while recording the ‘16 Hohner Melodicas’ Youtube video.
It was a pleasure to play, and I think it really stands out on the design front, and has a funky matching case to go with it.
There’s also a reggae version, if that’s your thing…
Hammond have really aimed for the stars with this 3½ octave, 44 key melodica.
I bought one of these as soon as it was released, excited by the extra notes.
At level 3, it’s a cut above most melodicas, with a smooth action, and even tone.
It’s ideal for playing classical music, because of the extended range and pure tone.
The reeds are top quality.
It also has the added advantage of 2 built in pickup microphones, so you can plug it directly in to an amp, or into a mixing desk for recording.
This nearly identical to the model above, but has a brighter, louder tone.
I found when comparing the two, that the tone of the 44HP was cleaner, almost digital sounding in comparison.
The metal back plate is perforated, letting out more sound for a louder volume.
This is a melodica you don’t see much of. It’s a 2 octave bass melodica, and goes a fifth lower than the Hammond 44.
It’s great for playing bass lines in a band, or for the bass player in a melodica ensemble.
The only downside to this instrument is that the lowest notes take slightly longer to sound, also know as having a ‘slow attack’
And just when you thought it was all over…
This isn’t technically a melodica.
But it looks like a melodica, and plays like a melodica, and has the coolest sound if you’re looking for something a little bit different.
It’s a really interesting instrument, one of a kind, and sounds a bit like the panpipes. It takes some practice to get a consistent pitch, but in the meantime, it sounds great for effects!
I hope this has been helpful. Remember that at this level, it’s all down to personal choice, what you’ll be using it for, and the sound you prefer. Whatever model you go for, nothing’s more important than making sure you do your daily practice!
There’s a helpful first lesson on youtube here
Related article: The Ultimate Guide to the Melodica in 2022