What keys to buy.
I carry the following harps around with me in a Sears long socket holder bag. Its a black piece of cloth that has 8 pockets for harps (or long sockets) and rolls up with a strap to hold it together. I have a Low F, G, A, B-flat, C, D, E-flat, and F. The low G is a Special 20 and the rest are Big River Harps. The bag wraps up and fits nicely in my harp box. The box is a small 1940s tweed makeup case that I converted for use with harps. I unroll the socket holder on the top of the amp and I have written the keys of the harps with fabric paint on the pockets so I can find the harps quickly.
The low F gives me a choice when the band plays something in C. I dislike playing in C because it always sounds so shrill on the harp. The Low F doesnt have so much of the blues harp character and is not very loud, but sometimes it is a nice alternative to the high F.
The B-flat and the E-Flat are good because the band sometimes has brass instruments joining in and they play better in F and B-flat. I used to carry an E harp to the jams, but I found that it is hardly ever used. There is not much need to play in the key of B. I keep an E harp loose in the box in case some joker wants to play in B.
Blues Harp sounds best around the key of G. I enjoy playing my B-flat harp in the key of F. The G harp is the lowest normal harp and sounds deep and sultry. A is a good harp to have because Muddy liked to play in E and slide players still like to use an open E tuning. Delta blues is often played in E or A.
G, A, B-flat, C, D, E-flat, and F should suffice. If the band calls another key, it may because they want you to take a break from playing. Let them have their fun, but the next song will be in E and you'll be back, badder than ever.
- Why Blues Harp? A philosophical discussion of why I play harp.
- What Brand Harmonica should you buy? How to tell which brand is good for you.
- What Harp Keys to Buy. This is what I carry around with me. Once in a blue moon the band wants to play something in another key, but I can usually talk them out of it.
- Key chart. You need this for the first month and then you should have it memorized. Handy to have, though, at three in the morning after you've started your second six-pack.
- The Care and Feeding of Harmonicas. Regular maintenance for your harp.
- Identifying the Key of a Song. An art, not a science.