The Harmonica Bag

From Harmonica World June-July 2011

Anyone who sticks with harmonica ends up owning a few. For some, quite a few. Carting them around means some sort of bag. Last year I finally got my harmonica bag sorted properly.

It took me more than 30 years. Here is the story.

I started with Marine Bands, and learned about different keys at a festival in New Zealand in 1978. I bought myself a set, they lived in the little cardboard boxes they came in. These boxes didn't last, I needed something better.

An early harmonica mentor was Greg Baker (from Adelaide, still playing). He gave me a harmonica belt, my instruments lived in there for the next 10 years. This belt was meant to be worn, but never by me. I use one harmonica at a time, and see no point in wearing the rest.

The belt disappeared, along with the instruments in it and an old Astatic mike, bought from a busker in Washinton DC. The instruments were easily replaced, the mic less so. About this time I switched to Lee Oskars. Along with the replacement plates, the plastic cases clipped together. Still do.

I used the Lee Oskar cases for a while. They imposed some order on my collection, which had outgrown the lost belt.

Around this time I started using alternate tunings. This made life (much) easier in bluegrass sessions, but doubled my instrument count. Jim Conway, the great Australian player (also my neighbour) suggested the next step - plastic fishing tackle boxes.

These are easily found in Australian stores, cost arout $2, hold 5 harmonicas in individual compartments, and are almost indestructible. I bought a stack of these boxes, and retired the Lee Oskar cases. During an organistion burst before SPAH 2005, I labelled the boxes.

These boxes were a decent solution, but had problems. They rattled. A lot. They took up space on stage, so I started leaving some boxes in the bag, then needed the instruments within. Different keys, tunings would get mixed up while I sorted through various boxes.

There had to be something better. I remembered meeting Brendan Power (columist for Harmonica World and player/maker extraordinaire). His case was a masterpiece of miniaturisation. Surely I could do something too.

I took the case from a Hohner budget harmonica set, removed the inserts, installed some felt and elastic. The result - a small case holding 14 instruments. I repeated with another Hohner case, now I could carry 28. They fitted nicely into a backpack.

Problem solved.

Actually, no. You had to open the cases just right or the instruments fell out. Also the cases pressed the harmonica combs together, I damaged one of the wooden ones. Time to think again.

I decided, after 30 years of playing, to get a purpose built professional harmonica case. There are plenty around, but are often too big, or don't hold enough instruments. I now carry more than 30 diatonics, plus 4 octave chromatics (another story).

I looked at the Seydel cases (available at, they had what I needed. I bought their hard case (20 diatonics, 4 chromatics), plus their soft case (another 14 diatonics). On stage I now have all my instruments, I know where they are.

I should have done this years ago.

The two Seydel cases fit into a small backpack. This also carries a water bottle (essential), a small whisky flask (not essential but nice), business cards, CDs, a camera, and, if necessary, a canvas bag with a mic (Audix Fireball V), leads and a multi effects unit (a Korg PX5D).

This fits easily over one shoulder, the only real problem would be if I were to lose it.

So. My harmonica bag has be sorted. At last.

Except... I've now started playing tremolos, and carry 5 of them. In a plastic fishing box.