What Is the World’s Best-Selling Musical Instrument?

Many would say the guitar is the world’s best-selling musical instrument; however, another instrument takes the top spot. What is the world’s best-selling musical instrument?

The harmonica is the world’s best-selling musical instrument worldwide. There are over 3 million harmonicas sold each year, according to the 2019 Global Harmonica Sales Market Report.

The harmonica is popular for these 5 reasons:

  1. Small, light, and portable
  2. Affordable
  3. Easy to maintain and clean
  4. Compatible with many music genres
  5. Easy to learn and play

Although fewer people play the harmonica than in the past, it remains a very popular musical instrument today. Other best-selling musical instruments are guitars (especially acoustic guitars) and the piano (particularly digital pianos).

Read on to learn more about the world’s best-selling musical instrument, the harmonica, and other best-selling musical instruments.

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What Is the World’s Best-Selling Musical Instrument?

The world’s best-selling musical instrument is the harmonica. There are over one million harmonicas sold each year, according to the 2019 Global Harmonica Sales Market Report. [1]

The harmonica is so popular because it is so simple. It is a small, rectangular musical instrument that produces sound when a player blows into the holes along its mouthpiece using the tongue and mouth.

Below are the 5 reasons why the harmonica is the world’s best-selling instrument:

1. Small, Light, and Portable

The harmonica’s size is usually 4.02 inches (length) x 0.83 inches (width) x 1.18 inches (height). It weighs only 85 grams. You can conveniently place it inside your pocket or in your small pouch. Moreover, you can hold it in your hand and play it without needing any supporting device.

2. Affordable

It is cheaper than most musical instruments. Its cost is from $35 to $90 for a diatonic harmonica for beginners and $120 to $250 for a chromatic harmonica. Other popular musical instruments, such as an electric guitar, could cost from $500 and up.

what is the worlds best selling musical instrument

3. Easy to Maintain and Clean

All you need to clean a plastic or alloy harmonica is lukewarm water. Rinse the harmonica and then tap it against your hand, making sure the mouthpiece is facing down. Wipe dry with a soft, clean cloth, and then air dry thoroughly before placing it in its case.

For harmonicas with additional features, you can wipe it clean with a damp, soft cloth instead of rinsing it with water. Clean it regularly to avoid the accumulation of dirt or the formation of rust.

4. Compatible with Many Music Genres

Many artists play the harmonica in a wide range of musical genres, folk music, jazz, classical, modern, pop, rock, and roll. Most chromatic harmonicas can also play all the 12 musical keys. Thus, you can play with any type of music and only have to adjust the tempo.  

5. Easy to Learn and Play

It is easier to learn due to its simple keys and smaller size. You can do it yourself with the help of tutorial videos or lessons. All you need is enough ‘air-power’ to blow into the harmonica.

Researchers have also found out that playing the harmonica can strengthen the muscles needed for inhalation and exhalation. It strengthens abdominal muscles as well, so you can cough better to eliminate phlegm.

Depending on the genre, players choose from different harmonica types to suit their styles.

What Country Is the Harmonica Most Popular?

The U.S. has the highest sales of harmonicas each year, with China coming in second. [2]

When Hohner exported harmonicas to the U.S., he only produced around 700 harmonicas per year. However, as African-American blues became popular in the U.S., the harmonica market has also expanded, with about 22,000 units sold per year.

The height of German harmonica imports into the U.S. was in the 1920s, with 21 million in 1926, 21 million in 1927, and 16 million in 1928. By the end of 1986, Hohner had produced more than a billion harmonicas for the worldwide market. [3]

In the 19th century, the harmonica industry started selling millions of units worldwide every year, with the U.S., China, and Japan having the largest sales. In some Southeast Asian countries, such as Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, playing the harmonica is a part of their elementary curriculum.

The music genres in which harmonica is popular include country, pop, folk, bluegrass, and many more. Classical music artists also discovered the unique sound the harmonica can contribute to their repertoires.

What is the world’s best-selling instrument? The harmonica is the best-selling musical instrument in the world. There are over 3 million harmonicas sold every year, according to the 2019 Global Harmonica Sales Market Report. The guitar is the second best-selling instrument in the world.

Next, let’s look at the main types of harmonicas.

Main Harmonica Types  

1. Diatonic

Musicians use this harmonica type for pop, rock, blues, and country music. It has 10 holes that provide 19 notes but plays only in a single key at a time. If you want to play all the keys, you have to purchase one harmonica for each key. The key of C has these notes: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.

If you only want to purchase one harmonica, you can choose the key of C because it is the most common, and it is easier to learn. You can play the blues, pop, country, and rock using this harmonica.

2. Chromatic

Musicians usually play the chromatic harmonica in classical and jazz genres. This is because it could play all the notes in the chromatic scale. You can play all the 12 possible keys, such as A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A#/Bb, C#/Db, D#/Eb, F#/Gb, G#/Ab.

3. Tremolo

The tremolo is a double row harmonica from 8, 10, or 12 sets of double holes. They are typically used by expert musicians, who can play the double holes properly. It is not recommended for beginners. The bass, octave, and orchestral are other types you can choose from. 

What Is the Most Popular Harmonica Key?

1. Key of C

Generally, the most common key that harmonica players prefer is the key of C. The key of C has a middle pitch, so you can quickly learn your piece’s notes. It is also easier to understand than other keys. Both players of the diatonic and chromatic harmonicas prefer the key of C. The key of C has the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.

2. Key of D

The key of D is another alternative you can use when the key of C is not featured in your harmonica. This key is a half-step higher than C and F. The key of D has D, A, B, C#, E, F#, and G notes.

Tips for Buying Harmonicas

best selling musical instrument in the world

1. Diatonic Harmonica Is Recommended If You Are a Beginner

If you are playing for the first time, the diatonic harmonica is easier for you than the chromatic or the tremolo. The reason is that it comes in different keys that you could choose from.

An excellent choice is the Hohner M2009BXC Marine Band Crossover Diatonic Harmonica:

Click here to see it on Amazon.

Many players prefer to use the key of C because it is easy to learn. Professional musicians and beginners find it convenient and easy to use with various music genres.

Also, its airtight stainless steel covers ensure the instrument’s longevity. You can play it comfortably due to its specifically molded comb with a projecting mouthpiece.

If you want to try other brands as a harmonica learner, feel free to do so. Remember to pick a diatonic harmonica in the key of C that has the standard 10 holes.

2. The Plastic Cover Maybe More Popular but a Stainless Steel Cover Is More Durable  

When buying your harmonica, select a stainless steel cover, as this is more durable than a plastic cover. Although the plastic cover is more popular with players as it is ‘friendly’ to the lips, it can crack more easily than steel covers.

An example of a harmonica with a steel cover is the Hohner SPC Progressive Special 20 Harmonica:

Click here to see it on Amazon.

Like any quality Hohner harmonica, this model features a durable, airtight stainless steel cover and a projecting mouthpiece for playing comfort.

This 5-piece harmonica set comes with a durable zippered neoprene case. You may want to buy all the keys of A, C, D, E, and G. You can get all these commonly used keys in one bundle with the best deal in the market.

Whether you are a beginner or professional musician, this musical instrument is one of the best harmonicas you can have in your collection.   

3. Buy Only from Reputable Sellers

There are many harmonicas on sale online and offline; however, not all of them are good. There are a few that are permanently out of key. You will know the sellers’ good standing by going through its customers’ reviews. Also, if they have been long enough in the business, it indicates that they have a good track record.

4. Consider the Price

A harmonica is cheaper than most musical instruments mentioned above. However, if it’s dirt cheap, be suspicious, as it is probably out of tune, leaky or unresponsive. You can buy a reliable and perfect-sounding harmonica at a reasonable price. So, prioritize quality and durability instead of price. It will cost less than $500, anyway.  

5. Buy from Your Local Music Store

It is better to buy from your local music store to inspect the instrument before buying it. You can also find out immediately if the instrument has factory defects. Moreover, you won’t have to pay shipping charges. You can choose your harmonica right there and then and take it home with you.

History of the Harmonica

China first invented the harmonica and called it sheng. The instrument quickly spread throughout Asia as part of traditional music. In the late 18th century, musicians introduced the sheng to Europe.

The harmonica started with bamboo reeds and metal reeds in the 19th century called the Aura. In 1825, Richter, a European, invented the modern harmonica, which has two reed plates and ten holes.

As the harmonica (also called the French harp) gained popularity, Vienna and other cities mass-produced the musical instrument. Soon, Christian Messner in Trossingen, Germany, began making harmonicas a side business to their clock business. The harmonica business picked up, and later on, Matthias Hohner, a clockmaker too, bought all the harmonica business. He then exported harmonicas to the United States.

Hohner succeeded in the business and eventually passed on the harmonica business to his five sons. The harmonica business thrived in the U.S. and Europe that more musical stores began selling harmonicas.

In the 1930s and 1940s, when the blues genre became popular, the harmonica was used as accompaniment. When a famous singer, Bob Dylan, used the harmonica in folk music, it became popular. Since then, more and more musicians have included the harmonica in their repertoires.

The harmonica gained global popularity when more musicians, such as Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, John Mayer, Dan Aykroyd, Bono, Billy Joel, Bryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen, and many others, played it. This popularity increased the global sales of this musical instrument.

The harmonica has been for a while and still is the world’s best-selling musical instrument. There are more than one million harmonicas sold worldwide per annum.

best selling musical instrument worldwide

We have discussed the world’s best-selling instrument. Let’s now proceed to the other best-sellers next to the harmonica.

Other Best-Selling Musical Instruments

The guitar is the second best-selling instrument in the world. According to reports, there were 1.5 million acoustic guitars and 1.1 million electric guitars sold in the U.S. in 2014 alone. This sale figure is 30 percent of the total musical instruments sold in 2014, about 8.7 million. [4]

The piano is the third best-selling instrument in the world. The U.S. is the biggest market for pianos. There were 174,000 digital or electronic pianos sold in the U.S. alone [5]. There were about 40,000 acoustic (regular) pianos sold in the U.S. in 2019. [6].

Conclusion – What Is the World’s Best-Selling Musical Instrument?

The harmonica is the best-selling musical instrument worldwide. There are more than one million harmonicas sold worldwide each year. The harmonica is the best-selling instrument because it is small and lightweight, easy to play, and is affordable.

The harmonica isn’t as popular as it once was; however, the harmonica market led by Hohner and Jambone predicts higher sales in the coming years.

Other best-selling musical instruments are guitars (especially acoustic guitars) and the piano (particularly digital pianos).

The guitar and piano are significantly more expensive than the harmonica, so musicians who are financially constraint will prefer buying the harmonica. This option adds to the number of harmonica sales.

Related reading:

How Many Strings Does a Harp Have?

How to Play Jaw Harp

Banjo Vs Ukulele – What Are the Differences?