I want to make this the ultimate article on harmoniums. When researching what is a harmonium I started looking for harmonium styles and brands. I was amazed at all of the harmoniums available on the market to choose from.
With so many to choose from, and a little bit of due diligence on your part, you are going to find the right harmonium for you. That really is the purpose of this article.
We will take a look answer the question about what a harmonium is, best harmoniums focusing mostly on style, some on brand, as well as zero in on their features and benefits. Not all harmoniums are created equally as you will see and the features really matter in finding the best harmoniums.
Let’s get started with a little background on harmoniums, their parts, and then dive into the best harmonium brands available based on style, features, benefits, price, and availability.
A Little About Harmoniums
Harmoniums get their sound by using bellows that push air when a key is played. They are most commonly found in Indian music and used to play popular, experimental, and classical music.
Harmoniums are over 300 years old getting their start in Europe. You will find them in rectangular shape either in the form of a box or a suitcase. All harmoniums have basic parts that include the cover, bellows, keys, stops, reeds, coupler, and handles.
Harmoniums are manufactured primarily in India, Kolkata (Calcutta), and Delhi. If you are looking for a more affordable harmonium they are built in Delhi. The better quality harmoniums are built in Kolkata, also known as Calcutta.
They cost more because they are more intricate to build and are more elaborate in how they are built. Used harmoniums can be bought online starting at $300 and up. Depending on quality and features you could spend upwards of $3000 or more for a high end harmonium such as a Diljit Dosanjh Harmonium.
Parts Of A Harmonium
1. Keys. When looking at a harmonium one of the first things you notice are the keys. These look similar to keys you find on a piano or accordion because they are black and white.
2. Cover. Harmoniums come with a cover. This is an important feature that serves to protect the harmonium as well as mute higher frequencies if there is a need for that.
3. Bellows. Bellows are used to push air and make the sound you hear from a harmonium. Bellows are either multi fold or two fold.
4. Stops. On the front on a harmonium you see the stops. These are knobs that control the flow of air. There are two types of stops, Drone Stops and Main Stops.
5. Reeds. An harmonium has metallic strips called reeds. These help to create the sound a harmonium makes as air is pushed into it. The size of the reeds determine the sound and pitch you hear.
6. Coupler. One final part that is important in creating a sound an octave apart is the coupler. When a key is pressed the couple enables the same key an octave higher to be pressed. This creates a musical sound common only to harmoniums.
Each part is important in producing the best harmonium brands. The quality of the materials and craftmanship put into each part plays in role in what ends up being the best harmoniums.
Because most harmoniums are made in either Delhi or Kolkata India we will look at those only. Design, sound, and budget will go into what we feel are the best harmonium brands.
1. Styles & Features
We have stated there are 2 primary styles, Kolkata, or Calcutta and Delhi. Let’s look closer at these individually.
This is where beginners learning to play an harmonium will start. Overall this is the most commonly played harmonium for professionals as well. This is due to three primary reasons.
1. Budget. Delhi harmoniums are less expensive then Kolkata harmoniums and less expensive then other musical instruments in general. They will run in the range of $500-$1000 although we found many on Amazon in the $400 range.
2. Design. One of the reasons the cost is less is the simple design. They are light in weight and easy to take care of. Because of this they are easy to travel with as well.
3. Sound. Delhi harmoniums are heard in a variety of music. This is because of its organ tone. You hear it in modern folk music as well as ambient, Indie, and other styles as well.
– Box Types: Standard and Collapsing
– Coupler: (optional) right action, activated by wire mechanism located under keys
– Exterior Construction: Traditionally pine or kale softwood, sometimes teak
– Interior Construction: Softwood; sometimes composite or particle board
– Key construction: One-piece
– Length of Scale: 2 to 3.5 octaves, 25 – 42 keys
– Reeds: Punjabi; various levels of quality
– Reed banks: 1 or 2, Bass, Male
– Reed orientation: Horizontal
– Scale changer: Not available
– Weight: 13-28 lbs.
These are completely different then Delhi Style harmoniums in almost every way including price, sound, feel, and how they look.
1. Budget. People who buy a Kolkata are willing to spend more as a Kolkata Style harmonium costs in the range of $1200-$1800. The most expensive ones can reach a price of $3000.
2. Design. They are solid in construction with ornate intricate design you can only describe as beautiful. They are very detailed in how they are engineered.
3. Sound. Kolkatas produce a somber full tone due to the fact they are built with three, and four sets of reeds. This allows them to play easily in different octaves. Kolkata harmoniums are heard integrated into Western music, but are most common in Traditional Eastern, Classical Indian, and Ghazal music.
– Box Types: Standard and Traditional Collapsing
– Coupler: typical, left action, activated by wooden bars under the keys
– Exterior Construction: Teak, quality varies
– Interior Construction: Solid teak
– Key construction: Two-piece
– Length of Scale: 3 to 3.75 octaves, 37-44 keys
– Reeds: Palitana; various levels of quality
– Reed banks: 3 or 4, Bass, Male, Female
– Reed orientation: Horizontal / Vertical
– Scale changer: Available
– Weight: 32-48 lbs.
2. What Are Best Harmoniums Brands?
Here is a list of the best harmoniums by brand listed alphabetically according to The Top 10 In India website.
Bajaj Collection. Comes in at #4 on India’s top selling harmoniums.
Bina. They are a legend in the harmonium industry. Known for using only the highest quality wood Bina is able to produce harmoniums that deliver the best tone available. Their staff is top notch overseeing all aspects of the manufacturing process.
Harmoniumwala Harmoniums. Makers of high end Calcutta Harmoniums with designs and acoustics that rate at the top of the market.
Diljit Dosanjh Harmonium. Higher quality and priced brand available online from various retailers.
Kapler Harmonium. This is the top selling harmonium at the Top 10 India website. A 9 Stopper, Chudidaar Bellow, 42 key, Two reed, Bass Male, with Cover.
Khushi Musicals. The second best selling harmonium at the Top 10 India is a Folding (Portable) With Coupler 3.5 Octave 9 Stopper Rosewood.
Maharaja Musicals Harmoniums. With expert craftmanship they are able to deliver a quality product at a reasonable price.
MKS Harmoniums. A four generation company originating in Kolkata, they specialize in all of the technical aspects of harmonium manufacturing.
Pal Music House. The third most popular selling brand in India.
Paul & Co. Harmoniums. Built for longevity using only the finest wood. Performers tout them for their durability and elegance.
Sandhu Musicals. Ranked #5 on the list of best harmonium brands selling in India.
Sharma Musical Store Harmonium. 8th best selling brand.
Sur O Bani. #9 on the list.
Surjan Singh & Sons. Rounds out the Top 10 best brands of harmoniums in India.
Thanks to Amazon, harmoniums like everything else, are easy to buy online. As a general rule this is not the way to find the best harmoniums to buy. Using the Internet is fine, but you will be better served if you buy your harmonium from a true India store such as Old Delhi Music.
I also found the web page Top 10 Best Harmoniums in India 2019 helpful.
Amazon does update their list of best selling harmoniumslist of best selling harmoniumslist of best selling harmoniums every hour.
You can get an idea of the best brands by looking at the list on Amazon as well. As I write this the Top 15 best selling harmoniums give us an idea of the best brands which I have bolded. The best price is for Amazon Prime Members.
(1). OM Harmonium Mini Magic By Kaayna Musicals, 4 Stop- 2 Main & 2 Drone, 2¾ Octave, Dark Colour, Gig Bag, Bass/Male- 440 Hz, Best for Yoga, Bhajan, Kirtan, Shruti, Mantra, Meditation, Chant, etc. out-of-stock.
(2). Harmonium Musical Instrument, Maharaja Musicals, In USA, 9 Stops, 3 1/2 Octave, Double Reed, Coupler, Dark Mahogany, Standard, Book, Padded Bag, A440 Tuned, Harmonium Indian Sangeeta (PDI-DC) $429.
(3). Harmonium, Maharaja Musicals, In USA, 3 1/4 Octave, Double Reed, Coupler, Natural Color, 7 Stops, Standard, Book, Tuned to A440, Padded Bag, Musical Instrument Indian (PDI-ABF) out of stock.
(4). Harmonium Mini Magic By Kaayna Musicals, 4 Stop- 2 Main & 2 Drone, 2¾ Octave, Teak Colour, Gig Bag, Bass/Male- 440 Hz, Best for Yoga, Bhajan, Kirtan, Shruti, Mantra, Meditation, Chant, etc. out of stock
(5). Harmonium #1, Maharaja Musicals, Handmade Harmonium, 3 1/4 Octave (Saptak), 7 Stop, Standing, Coupler, Multi Bellow, Book & Padded Bag, Tuned A440, Dark Mahogany Color, PDI-DB $548
(6.) Harmonium, Maharaja Musicals, In USA, 3 1/4 Octave, Double Reed, Coupler, Natural Color, 7 Stops, Standard, Book, Tuned to A440, Padded Bag, Musical Instrument Indian (GSB-ABF) out of stock
(7). Queen Brass Harmonium-Peti-Baja Octave -7 Stop-Bass/Male Reed-440 Hz-Multi Fold Bellow $255.00
(8). Harmonium Teak Wood by Maharaja Musicals, In USA, 3 1/2 Octave, 9 Stops, Special Double Reed, Coupler, Natural Color, Standard, Book, Padded Bag, A440 Tuned, Musical Instrument Indian (PDI-GF) $485.00
(9). Maharaja Musicals Harmonium, 11 Stops, In USA, 3 1/2 Octave, Double Reed, Coupler, Natural Color, Standard, Book, Padded Bag, A440 Tuned, Harmonium Indian Musical Instrument (PDI-AAE) $499.00
(10). Maharaja Musicals Harmonium, 11 Stops, In USA, 3 1/2 Octave, Double Reed, Coupler, Natural Color, Standard, Book, Padded Bag, A440 Tuned, Harmonium Indian Musical Instrument (PDI-AAE) $419.00
(11). Harmonium by Maharaja Musicals, Folding, 9 Stops, In USA, Portable, Natural Color, 3 1/2 Octaves, Tuned to A440, Coupler, Book, Bag, Indian Musical Instrument (PDI-AHH) $489.00
(12). Harmonium BINA 23B, USA, Professional, Folding, Safri, 3 1/2 Octaves, 9 Stops, Rosewood Color, Coupler, Double Reed, Nylon Bag, Book, Indian Musical Instrument, Kirtan (PDI-AGH) $538.00
(13). Harmonium by Maharaja Musicals, In USA, 9 Stops, 3 1/2 Octave, Double Reed, Coupler, Natural Color, Standard, Book, Padded Bag, A440 Tuned, Musical Instrument Indian Sangeeta (PDI-ABG) $425.00
(14). Maa Padma Farms Unique Professional Harmonium Musical Instrument MINI/Handy Well tuned Baja Harmonium of Indian Instrumentals with cover- Vrindavan $429.00
(15). Maharaja Musicals Calcutta Harmonium, Scale Changer, In USA, Concert Quality, Triple Reed, 9 Scales – 3 3/4 Octave, Folding, Coupler, Tuned to A440, Mahogany Color, Padded Bag (PDI-BGH-MMF) out of stock.
What I get from this list is Maharaja Musicals is the top seller of harmoniums on Amazon. You can buy both new and used on Amazon and you have to weigh that when you look at price.
3. Does Size Matter?
Harmoniums that are portable are very big in the marketplace for a reason. People who play harmoniums are people who move around a lot. They take their harmoniums with them whether it be to therapy sessions, on tour, a yoga session, or even on vacation.
For these reasons harmoniums are built to be small and lightweight and those sell very well. However, you don’t want to look specifically just at size. You also want to consider other things.
The best harmonium brands need air to deliver the quality sound they are famous for. This is done through a set of bellows the musician controls by the use of their hands.
As air is drawn into the harmonium and bellows deliver air to the needed areas. Volume of air is important obviously then because the less you are you are producing the less quality of sound you’ll have.
This doesn’t necessarily mean a smaller harmonium is going to be better. It does mean you should pay attention to air capacity to make sure you’re not sacrificing quality of sound.
Harmoniums are going to lose air between the reeds and the external bellows. Regardless of the size you are going to want to pay attention to air leakage.
Cheaper harmoniums leak more air than more expensive ones do. Pay attention to that when determining how much you’re willing to spend because again the quality of sound will be sacrificed if you are leaking air.
4. Shape Of The Harmonium
Today Indian harmoniums are built with standard or collapsing shapes. There are many variations in these two models, way too many to list in this article. However, there are a few pros and cons you should keep in mind when you’re looking at the design of a standard or collapsing box.
Standard harmoniums deliver a great tone and are solid design. Some of the pros include durability, stability, return bellows, and a more full sound. The primary cons are because of the size they’re heavy which make them hard to transport and travel with.
Traditional or Collapsing Harmoniums
Traditional harmoniums have a removable lid and fixed bellows. They are bulkier than a folding harmonium, but are generally more reliable.
Because they have fixed bellows they are less likely to leak air. They’re easy to open and close, and while they do have a few moving parts are more reliable than a standard harmonium. They have return bellows which means they deliver optimal amount of air and performance.
The disadvantages include as you pump they rock back-and-forth. Some models are bulky and heavy.
Collapsing Safari Style Harmoniums
These are also known as folding harmoniums and are continually the best selling type of harmonium on the market. They’re easy to travel with because they fold and are light in weight.
The primary disadvantage is because they have more moving parts they’re more likely to have parts that need to be replaced which can be more costly.
Compact harmoniums have simplified boxes. This makes it easy for you to sit down, or to move around in the room when you’re playing. They’re easy to travel with flexible in use and simple to maintain.
The disadvantages include limited sustainability, not as much dynamic range as other types of harmoniums, and they may take some getting used to.
The really aren’t any big advantages to these other than they are thin in size. However, they’re also very heavy.
They don’t offer you enough air reserve to sustain your sound, have a little range, are awkward to use because your hands are below the bellows, can weigh over 25 pounds, and they’re difficult to maintain.
Foot Pedal Harmonium
You may have seen these in the past although they’re not built much more anymore. They do have a foot pedal similar to what a piano would have which lets you play with both hands.
However, they’re not very portable and are expensive. Very few harmonium manufacturers make these anymore.
Summary Of Harmonium Shapes
You’re better to look at more standard and common styles when making a purchase of a harmonium today. You won’t pay as much attention to brand.
You will look at what is the best buy for you based on price and versatility. Other options that are more user-friendly for beginners should be taken into consideration as well.
5. A Little More On Bellows
Harmoniums have two types of bellows, top fold and multi fold. The style of the bellow is not as important as air retention.
Whether you bring the air in from the top or the side is not going to impact sound when it comes to playing. Most harmonium musicians play with their left hand which will then be on either the top or the side so it’s irrelevant which type of bellow it is.
Nontraditional harmoniums have right handed bellows which will probably have to be modified. When purchasing a harmonium look that it can be played left handed with top or left side bellows.
Again the key thing is that it’s retaining air. Side bellows cost more then top, so as a beginner go with a top fold model.
6. Using Levers, Knobs, Buttons, Slides
– Stops. Use stops to determine how much air goes into which reed.
– Drones. These are on a harmonium to play a single note constantly under the primary note you are playing with a key. You make a drone by using a factory install knob. You can also set a drone to play on the note that you want it to play
– Coupler. An octave coupler lets you double the note an octave higher than the one you are playing.
– Scale changers. Factory installed scale changers are handy when you want to play in multiple keys without changing the keys you are actually playing.
The scale changer automatically changes the key to what it is set at. Professional musicians will never use this because they can automatically play in any key and wouldn’t need a scale changer.
Let me sum up knobs, levers, drawings, and stops this way. You will not grade your harmonium based on how many buttons it has.
The key thing is to determine if it is able to deliver air at the optional rate you want. If that’s the case then you can learn how to use stops, drones, levers and knobs regardless of how many your harmonium is shipped with.
7. Keys To Buying The Right Harmonium
As I researched this article I see very little emphasis put on harmonium brands. The exception to this is to someone who is experienced.
You are going to look at a brand you have experience on. This holds true for most musicians regardless of the instrument they are buying.
Beginners don’t have a point of reference other then what they read or maybe have seen in
concert or on You Tube.
So with that in mind let me offer a few key points that will make buying the right harmonium easier for you to do. You have options and here they are!
Portable or Regular
Portable harmoniums are the preferred harmonium in todays market. Here’s why.
1. Size. They fold up to 1/2 to 2/3 their size.
2. Easier to travel with.
3. Handle in front carries like a suitcase.
4. You lose no sound quality with portable versus regular.
That really is the big key. You sacrifice nothing in terms of sound so more people take the advantage a portable harmonium provides.
Scale Change or Regular
Most manufacturers say they sell more three reed scale change model harmoniums. Players say they like to play in the Key of B flat because of how their hands sit on the keys.
With a scale change model you shift the keyboard to the left or right to adjust to the key being played in. Piano players like the key of C or the key of G. Guitar players like the key of E.
Talking all of this into consideration it would seem a scale change harmonium is the way to go. However, most instruments do not have the option of a sliding scale so the musician has to learn how to play in all keys.
How serious are you going to be? Keep this in mind.
Double or Triple Reed?
Most harmoniums come with two or three reeds per note. A triple reed gives you most options and a fuller sound. Double reed instruments are enough for a beginner and less expensive.
Small or Full Size?
Best brand harmoniums will come in full size, or a slightly smaller version. For most players a double reed non scale changing harmonium that is lighter in weight and smaller in size is the best way to get started.
The Bina 23b would be considered a best harmonium brand for these reasons. This instrument often is enough for one singer.
How Many Stops?
The larger knobs on the front of a harmonium are the stops. These are opened and closed to adjust the air flow into the air chambers.
A harmonium with 2 air chambers would come with 4 stops. If it has 2 sets of reeds and 2 air chambers you can make an adjustment to play only one set of reads. This affects the sound. Most people keep all of the stops out all of the time.
The smaller knobs on the front of the harmonium are called drones. When pulled out they play a fixed note. These are usually the black keys, C# or Db, D# or Eb, F# or Gb, G# or Ab, and A3 or Bb.
When you buy an harmonium the dealer can adjust these for you.
An harmonium has 2 or 3 air chambers. This is where the air goes to power the bank of reeds.
The banks of reads will be set in different octaves. When you play the key for one note you’re going to get several different octaves of sound.
Reeds are made out of either brass or copper. These are similar to an accordion reed in how they’re constructed.
Reeds come with three different octaves, bass, male, and treble, also called female. As you would imagine base reeds are the lowest, male an octave higher and treble reeds one higher octave than that.
A double read harmonium will usually be set out at bass/male, or male/treble. A triple read one can be set for bass/male/male, bass/male/treble, or male/male/treble.
Bass reeds require more air so if you were playing a bass/male/treble harmonium it will have less sustain then a male/male/treble instrument which would be louder.
All of this is not as complicated as it sounds, but it does affect the sound.
As we have stated bellows pump air into the harmonium. An internal bellow pushes the air to the reeds.
Bellows can be two fold, three fold, or seven fold. Two and three fold bellows attach to the bottom. Seven fold bellows can be attached to either the left or right side for hand pumping.
How many folds there are doesn’t really affect the quality of the instrument. Again that’s more affected by the amount of air and that’s pushed and how much leakage there is.
More expensive harmoniums are going to be seven fold bellows. Some musicians feel like this gives them more control. If you’re a beginner purchasing a left handed bellow will be more natural and is the most commonly purchased one.
This is a good feature to have on your harmonium when you purchase it. It has a switch to toggle it on or off. It plays the key an octave higher then the key you are pressing.
The last thing I want to go over when buying an harmonium is shipping. Because so many harmoniums are bought online today shipping is a key.
Many people wonder if you really can ship a harmonium, at least successfully? The short answer is yes, and it has been done thousands of times.
Harmoniums are fragile, but it is all in how the packed. You may be able to find what you are looking for locally depending on where you live.
However, chances are you will go online, comparison shop, and find the best brand of harmonium at the price you want to pay.
You are then going to add shipping costs to that. Do you need to insure your purchase?
For this I defer to Old Deli Music and some interesting stats he put online. He kept track of how much he paid for shipping insurance versus how many dollars in claims he filed.
He found that 99% of the time the harmoniums he bought came in not damaged. He estimates he spent more then 4X’s what he needed to on shipping insurance.
Pay attention to the retailer you are buying from. They often will handle breakage costs for you at least on a domestic shipment.
Breakage would be a part or the whole harmonium. It is expected you may have to make a minor adjustment like you would to any acoustic instrument.
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Summary: The Ultimate Article On Harmoniums
I have covered a lot in this article on the best harmonium brands. There are many good brands of harmoniums on the market today.
Bina stands out and has the longevity top make a claim to being the best. We found Kapler is the top selling brand on the Top 10 India website. Maharaja Musicals dominates harmonium sales om Amazon.
Are you the type of person that buys something based on what everybody else is buying? This is a little harder to calculate when it comes to buying a harmonium.
This is why we spent so much time not only on best selling brands online, but to also go into everything that makes a quality harmonium.
You must decide for yourself what the best harmonium is by looking at how much you will use it and how you will play it.
Features and benefits are critical when making a harmonium purchase. Ultimately the most important thing is the sound and how easy it is for you to get that sound.
Air flow and leakage determine whether your harmonium will sound the way you want it too. Once you are pushing the right amount of air, and playing the right keys, you a great chance of loving your new harmonium purchase.