The melodica is a musical instrument that’s both fun and incredibly expressive.
It sounds like a harmonica, it has a keyboard like a piano or a synth (albeit only usually 2 or 3 octaves), and its free reed system means that unlike a saxophone or a trumpet, anyone can get a sound out of it simply by blowing, without any special techniques.
With so many different styles of melodica on the market at such a wide range of prices, one must ask the question: what is the best melodica?
The answer to the question depends on various factors: for starters, do you need to be able to plug your instrument into an amp or are you fine playing acoustically or mic’d? Also, do you need more than 3 octaves or are 2 octaves enough, and in which key will you be playing in predominantly (Cmajor/Aminor where there are no sharps or flats or another musical key)?
Keys and Octave Range
Just as the case with the saxophone, clarinet, and many other wind instruments, the are 4 basic types which correspond to 4 different ranges of pitch. From highest to lowest, these are the soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.
The most common types of melodica are in the alto range, followed by those that have more keys and can span from tenor to alto.
The vast majority of solo melodicas are in the alto range. A ‘professional’ melodica would be one in this range that has 37 keys, for a full two-octave range. We’ve also included some interesting budget melodicas that have 32 keys.
We’ve also reviewed one melodica that has 44 keys, the Suzuki Hammond 44 HP. This melodica ranges from C to G4. This is half a piano keyboard, ranging from bass to soprano.
Weight and Durability
As a general rule, the lighter melodicas are the ones that have fewer keys. All of the melodicas here can be played with one hand, including the Hammond 44 HP which weighs in at 1.3 kg.
To put this into perspective, a standard tenor saxophone weighs in at 3 kilograms.
Breath and Action
As you’ll see in our reviews below, different melodicas may come with different mouthpiece attachments that provide a greater level of tonal control for experienced players.
Still, the great thing about a melodica is that since it borrows its reed design from the harmonica, anyone can get a sound out of it right away. Thus, the melodica is a great option for multi-instrumentalists and producers who want a wind instrument, but don’t necessarily have the time to learn the flute or the saxophone.
A multioctave melodica is also far easier to play than a chromatic harmonica.
Now, then, we’ve got some of the basics out of the way. Still, what is the best melodica? As is the case with all musical instruments, there’s a high level of subjectivity. Still, here are five of the best reviewed and most widely used melodicas out on the market.
Hammond 44 Hyper ASIN B003J9M1YC
This classic melodica has 3 mouthpieces and has been designed in conjunction with Suzuki Musical Instruments who also manufacture it at their facilities in Japan.
This is a 44 key harmonica, with more than 3 octaves in the key of C. Its reed’s plated in tempered phosphorous brass. This is an electroacoustic instrument with an integrated dynamic microphone and a standard quarter-inch jack (the same kind of jack that electric guitars use) to produce a super bright, “hyper” sound.
As far as playability is concerned, a super shallow key stoke that makes for a quick action. If you play a lot of quick, sliding glissandos, this may very well be the melodica for you.
Hammond 44 Hyper
- Short key travel making it easier to play and allows faster fingering.
- 44HP can make powerful sounds, and more suitable for playing Rock and Reggae music
- 4.17 x 22.17 x 2.05 inches
- Weighs 1200g (approx. 2.6lbs) and with its original case, 1520g (approx. 3.3lbs).
You can also alter the tone and playability of this Japanese melodica by switching between the three different mouthpieces. Use the short mouthpiece (together with the adjustable velcro hand strap) to play the Hammond 44 HP Pro like a trumpet. Switch to the flexible mouthpiece to be able to hold the melodica at arm’s length (where it’s easier to see all of the keys) or attach a guitar staps to the strap buttons and play it that way with both hands. With the extended L-joint mouthpiece, you can play this instrument on a flat surface (the top of your other synths for instance) where you can [lay it just like your other standard keyboards. The non-skid feet will keep it from sliding.
Suzuki M-37C Alto Melodian Melodica ASIN B000Y7LVES
Whereas the Suzuki Hammond ‘C’ as their root note, this 37 keyed model from Suzuki has a 3-octave range that starts at ‘F’ and ends at ‘F3’.
Suzuki M-37C Alto Melodian
- Comes with 37 keys with 2.17 x 4.33 x 18.5 inches build
- Precision tuned and constructed to last a lifetime!
- Phosphor bronze reeds, all aluminium covers and full 37 note range.
- Includes a Standard/Trumpet/Flexible Tube Mouthpiece; and Soft Gig Bag with Handles
This melodica has been the instrument of choice for numerous conservatories and schools over the years. It stays in tune well, even with heavy use. All of the components are made from tempered brass and other metals, while a vinyl finish makes the instrument smooth to the touch. There is a release lever for moisture (a spit valve).
Accessories include a standard mouthpiece, trumpet, mouthpiece, an extension tube, and a leatherette carrying case.
Yamaha P37D Pianica ASIN B000XYFBMK
Here is another 37 key melodica from another reputable Japanese company, although when compared to the Suzuki M37C the Yamaha P37D is significantly less expensive *it’s about half the price).
Still, the ‘Pianica’ has a bright and bold sound that cuts through the mix in large ensembles with lots of different instruments. In fact, if you listen to the Yamaha P37D and Suzuki M37C side by side, playing the same melodic phrase one right after another, it’s hard to even tell the difference between the two 37 key melodicas.
Sure, if you really listen closely while comparing the two, you will notice that when the Suzuki has a slightly more full-bodied sound that’s spread across a wider frequency range whereas the Yamaha, in contrast, seems to cling to the higher frequency range.
Yamaha P37D Pianica
- 37 Keys and comes with tube as standard
- Weight (incl. packaging) 1.6 kg
- Dimensions (incl. packaging) 51.0 x 18.0 x 7.0 cm
- Includes case
We’re being picky here, though, and if you’re not necessarily looking to feature the melodica in your live playing or recordings but instead are simply looking to add a studio quality melodica to your arsenal of synths, drum machines, electro-acoustic instruments, and other musical tools, then the Suzuki P37D Pianica is great value for the money.
It might not be the “road dog” that the Suzuki M37C is but then again not everyone needs a melodica that stands up to the rigors of being a touring musician. The “Pianica” from Yamaha may have a more nasal sound than other melodicas too, but then only serves to help it stand out in a mix. Combine it with some studio reverb to give it that gritty, LoFi, Kingston inspired charm.
Hohner 32B Piano-Style Melodica ASIN B0055DCWKS
Speaking of LoFi charm, this Hohner 32B melodica is a no-frills instrument that’s extremely affordable. Unlike the other melodicas we’ve gone over so far, this melodica doesn’t come with an extension tube or an alternate mouthpiece.
It does come with a zip-up carrying case and there are even instructions, making this an ideal 32 key melodica for beginners. At this incredibly low price point, there’s also little risk for those who are curious about playing the melodica but don’t want to invest in a more expensive instrument like the Hammond 44. With 32 keys, it also has a shorter range which makes it more compact and thus more portable.
Hohner 32B Piano-Style Melodica
But don’t be fooled into believing that just because first-timers can start playing right away with this melodica that it’s some sort of toy. Hoehner is easily the biggest name in the world of harmonicas and the melodica and the harmonica are close cousins, with the basic inner workings of each being essentially the same.
Also, the master of the melodica (at least in the world of dub reggae, where it often features as the lead instrument). Seeing as how Pablo almost exclusively played Hoerner melodicas just like this one, it’s safe to assume that this model’s suitable for the pros as well as the beginners.
Mugig 37 Key Piano Style Melodica ASIN B06WGVLQC5
Going even further down in price we have this 37 key melodica from Mugig. The mouthpiece comes with an extension tube, so you can play this either standing or sitting.
It’s made from plastic, but this is non-toxic, food grade engineering resin, so there’s no need to worry about playing for hours with your fingers on the keys or the mouthpiece in your mouth.
Mugig 37 Key Piano Style Melodica
At this price point, you ought not to expect an instrument that has incredibly precise intonation over years of use. It does come out of the box sounding in tune with a classic sound. If you’re looking to record some melodica on a budget, this model will get the job done.
The incredibly low price of this melodica makes it suitable for music educators who want to use the melodica as a teaching instrument in a class setting. It’s also a good option for those who like to modify existing instruments and/or repurpose parts from existing instruments for new music making creations.