If you think you can use grandfather's harmonica that has been sitting in a closet for 25 years, it's probably not a good idea. Chances are the harmonica you kept for years may have sentimental value for you but may also be rusty, smelly with a cracked wooded comb and, therefore, not 100% playable. Remember that harmonicas don't age well when they're left on their own.
Below are my opinions on some of the best chromatic harmonicas on the market. I have owned many different ones over the years and some of my favorite models are listed below. If you are a complete beginner I suggest starting with a 12 hole model then upgrade to 14 and finally to a 16 hole. All right let's dive in!
Recommended 12 Hole
Super Chromonica 270 & Deluxe Models
I started playing the Super Chromonica 270 when I was a teenager in Paris. It remains to this day one of my favorite 12 hole chromatic harmonica. The 270 Deluxe model is similar to the classic Super Chromonica 270 but assembled with screws for facilitate maintenance. It has a warm tone that I love and it has a good responsiveness.
A recent model that I found great for beginners who want to start with a high-end instrument. It has a plastic comb which won't swell up and lasts longer than a wooden one. Also there are new features added to this harmonica that make it unique such as adjustable spring pressure, the ability to add or remove weight to change the tone, better ergonomic design for playing comfort and its silent slide action. The mouthpiece has also been improved and is very airtight. I recommend the Ace 48 if you want to invest in a more advanced model that will last.
CX 12 Jazz
One of the strengths of the CX-12 features a remarkably well design plastic body along with a mouthpiece-comb assembly which is completely airtight. It's completely airtight. The mouthpiece is a bit larger than a Hohner 270 or a Toots' Mellow Tone and may fatigue the jaw at the beginning if you're making the transition from these models. However it's completely airtight and easy to disassemble for maintenance. You don't need a screwdriver to remove the slide and the cover plates it's very easy to pull apart and put back together thanks to its mechanism. I have noticed that the slide was a bit noisy. The sound of the instrument is quite distinctive as you can listen to below. French harmonica player Claude Garden made it his harmonica of choice.
I used to play the SCX for many years. It's a good chromatic harmonica with a warm full tone. Every hole should work perfectly out of the box except perhaps the 12 draw. I have noticed it didn't come out right on a few SCXs that I have ordered. Besides that, it has basically everything we can expect from a decent chromatic harmonica such as ABS combs, phosphor bronze reed plates and an ergonomic mouthpiece. The two parts slide mechanism make cleaning fast and easy. I wish the button slide used a stronger glue as I had a few come off. So make sure to check it six months or a year after purchase. You can find it in 12, 14 and 16 hole versions.
Chromatic DeLuxe Steel
Though it is a bit more expensive than the model above, it is totally worth the price. The Seydel Deluxe Steel is a great all around chromatic harmonica which looks like an enhanced version of the Hohner Super Chromonica 270. Every note sounds right out of the box, especially the high notes. The sound is bright and, consequently, projects very well. If you are looking for a 16 hole instrument from Seydel I would recommend the high end Symphony.
Recommended 16 Hole
New Super 64 Performance
I play my new Super 64 Performance everyday for three hours and, no need to say it is quite comfortable and I feel good playing it. Hohner has made great improvements from the old Super 64 such as: the ability to disassemble each reed plate separately; changing the spring tension; improved airtightness all around and enhanced, ergonomic design among others new features. It is also lighter than the Super 64x.
New Super 64x Performance "Black Beauty"
My new go to harmonica for performances and recordings. I love the design of the new Super 64x . Moreover it has a unique bright tone that I haven't encountered on any other chromatic harmonica. It's heavier than the silver Super 64 but still feels confortable holding in the hands. I found that it has probably the biggest sound along with th e Symphony thanks to its double reed plates. I think you can't go wrong with this 16 hole!
The Symphony is one of the best harmonica I have played. You can chose between an acrylic comb, a bit more fragile and heavy or a plastic comb. I got to try the plastic comb model which is totally airtight and solidly built. The volume level on this instrument is impressive and responds quite well with notes being easily bent. Lastly it comes with a heatable hard case which is on point if you wish to warm your harp before playing.
The Sirius has one of the richest tone of all the harmonicas I have played. I personally love it and I used it on my album "Breathe" and used to bring it to every gig. It’s highly responsive in the middle register perhaps less on the low notes if you are playing on a 16 hole model but this is a common problem shared by most of chromatic harmonica. It has ABS plastic combs with weighted brass, which it gives more comfort. The Sirius comes in all sizes 12, 14 and 16 hole.