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What Are John Popper's 14 Harmonicas?

Learn about John Popper's 14 harmonicas, and how to play them, in this Howcast harmonica lesson with John Popper of Blues Traveler.


Hi, I'm John Popper, lead singer of the band Blues Traveler. I also play harmonica, and am arguably one of the best in the world. But thank God, there really never can be an actual best, but I'm damn good. I'm gonna teach you a few things about the harmonica.

Every diatonic or blues harmonica or folk harmonica, and the term diatonic means in the key of, that's all it means. Each harmonica, right here, has the tune that it's in. G harmonica. And this is an A-flat harmonica. As labeled here on the sides so that any tech can know which one will be gone.

So when I want to play in a B blues, I use an E harmonica. A lot of blues harmonica players play that way and they call it cross harp. If I want to play a G blues, I use a C harmonica. That's a G there that I just played right there.

So, you have all 12 keys. In western music there are 12 tones. A, A-flat, B, C, D, D-flat, E, E-flat, F, H. I have two little ones here that are special. This is the lowest harmonica they make and this is the highest harmonica that they make. You know, I have this G here that is the lowest on the scale while this is an octave higher. Same key, but an octave higher. It just lets you do really shrill things like hang up telephones and freak out dogs. And that's what that's for. And then this one here, this isn't the highest key, D1 which plays in A blues, but they made an extra low D1. And this is kind of a nice, low sex sound sort of like Lauren Bacall's voice, it's good for low blues or whatever.

So basically, I travel with 12 harmonicas and an additional 2 for a whopping 14. And that's basically what you got.

But here's the problem. These harmonicas go out of tune when you beat them up the way I do. And when they're out of tune, they're pretty much screwed. I mean, some people, Howard Levy, that great harmonica player I mentioned, you know, actually, he'd treat the reeds. The result is he'll have harmonicas that will last him for years. But they got spit all over them. Frankly, I, staining the metal with spit all over them and I break the reeds. I just get a new harmonica because they're pretty much screwed and I don't got time to heat treat things and you know, and what are they, like 30 bucks? I just throw them away. And then I started throwing them away to the crowd and then the crowd started expecting me to throw them and then I'm throwing perfectly good harmonicas into the crowd because they expect me to throw them. And that's why I got so freaking pre-eminent.

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