DON’T BUY A MELODICA until you read this [2020]

Let’s start off by looking at exactly what a melodica is. Its a small wind instrument, with a piano style keyboard. You hold it with your left hand, and play with the right, or you can put it on a table and play with both hands. You blow through one end of it, while pressing the keys to make a sound. It’s an easy instrument to pick up, and with practice, in my opinion, can sound just as good as other instruments costing 10 times more.

Let’s have a very quick lesson about how the melodica works first, 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 one 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. And this vibrating movement actually 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.

So how many keys do you need? 32 or 37, or more? Let me first explain the difference between the 37 and 32 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 its got less notes, it will also be a bit smaller, and easier to carry around. 

So, how much should you spend on a melodica? There’s 4 main price levels for different types of melodicas. Let’s start at level 1. These are the cheapest melodicas which you’ll find for under $30 for a 32 key, and under $40 dollars for a 37 key. These are 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 probably not perfectly in tune. This isn’t something to worry about too much with a melodica. Its 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.

The next level is level 2, and will set you back around 75 to $110. These are instruments like the Yamaha Pianicas, and Suzuki melodions. These melodicas have many similarities to the level 1’s above. They’re 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 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.

For the next level, level 3, there’s quite a big jump to around $5-600. There’s not much choice here. You’re basically looking at one of the Suzuki Hammond melodicas. These 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.

And the final level is level 4. This is a nearly non-existent, level, existing mainly in myth and the occasional Ebay find. These are the rare handmade wooden melodicas, which sell for thousands of dollars. You’re probably not looking for one of these if you’re a beginner.

I’ve made a list of quality instruments, suitable for playing in a band, or for recording. These all start at level 2.  For a Level 1 instrument recommendation, take a look here.

Ok, let’s begin with the smallest melodicas, perfect for that trip away, and progress to the largest sizes.

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1) Yamaha P25F

Yamaha P25F

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…

Find latest price for P25F here

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2) Yamaha P32D

Yamaha P32D

This is the next step up in the world of Yamaha ‘Pianicas’. Yes, they call all their melodicas Pianicas. It’s a legal thing, as only Hohner are really allowed to call a melodica a Hohner melodica. The P32D provides a few more notes, bringing the keyboard up to 2 and ½ octaves. Some players find that that’s enough for their needs, and see the P32D as the perfect balance between size and range.

Find latest price for the P32D here

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3) Suzuki M32C

Suzuki M32C

Suzuki also make good quality melodicas, or ‘melodions’ as they call them. And their 32 key model is no exception. It has a warm tone, some say leaning towards the sound of a harmonica. This is another very popular instrument amongst players of the smaller melodica. An advantage over it’s Yamaha counterpart is the condensation-release valve, which is built onto the end of the instrument.

Find latest price for the M32C here

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4) Suzuki M37C

Suzuki M37C

This is Suzuki’s full size melodica. This is a mighty machine, with a strong metal panel at the back, and some good sounding reeds. The sound is warm, and its loud.

Find latest price for the M37C here

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5) Suzuki Pro 37

Suzuki Pro37 v2

This is Suzuki’s flagship pro level melodica. Despite this, it’s proved to be less popular than the much cheaper M37C (above). They’re very similar melodicas, with most agreeing that the M37C has the edge on tone, playability and price!

Find latest price for the Pro 37 here

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6) Yamaha P37D

Yamaha Pianica P37D

One of the most popular full size melodicas on Melodica World, the P37D combines volume, warmth and response. The deep burgundy colour makes it slightly more grown up looking than some of it’s contemporaries. It’s also great value.

Find latest price for the P37D here

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7) Hohner Airboard 37

Hohner Airboard melodica

Hohner are perhaps the most well known melodica makers, and are famous for coining the word ‘melodica’! They make a standard range of 32 and 37 key models, but this one 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…

Find the latest price for this Hohner melodica here

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8) Hammond 44

Hammond 44

Hammond have really aimed high with this 3½ octave, 44 key melodica. It has a smooth action, even tone, and is ideal for playing classical music, or any style where an extended range is called for. It also has the added advantage of a built in pickup microphone, so you can plug it directly in to an amp, or into the desk for recording.

Find the latest price for the Hammond 44 here

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9) Hammond 44HP

Hammond 44HP

If you get bored with the Hammond 44, then consider purchasing it’s twin, The Hammond 44 HP. It offers a variation in sound to the standard 44 model, replacing the reeds, to deliver a brighter, cleaner sounding instrument. The metal back plate is also perforated, which allows more sound to escape.

Find the latest price for the Hammond Pro 44HP here

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10) Hammond Bass Melodion

Suzuki Andes A25F

A rarely spotted, but none the less incredible melodica, this bass melodica goes much lower than a standard melodica.  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’

Find the latest price for this bass melodica here

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And just when you thought it was all over…

BONUS EXTRA!  Andes A25F Andes

Suzuki Andes A25F

Ok, this isn’t technically a melodica. But it looks like a melodica, and works 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!

Find the latest price for this unique instrument here

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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

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Related article: Your First Melodica Lesson |The Melodica in Pop Music

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