Best Blues Harmonica Players

The Top Ten

Paul Butterfield

Even "extraordinary" is an understatement. Part of the magic derives from his playing harp upside-down and backwards. As a result, his tone was fuller and richer than anyone before or since, owing to his oral cavity being in unorthodox juxtaposition vis-a-vis the blow and draw plates. Because he played right-to-left, he came upon licks and created runs never before heard. His wind was superhuman. His vibrato is unmatched to this day. His use of chords was revolutionary, and when he laid vibrato on his chords, the effect was celestial, as it was with single notes, as well. You'll not see his like again. Though his musical ability was superhuman, May 4th marked thirty years since we lost him to his own all-too-human weaknesses. RIP.

While it's difficult to choose a best Blues Artist, choosing a best Harmonica Player is so much easier. Where I love listening to Little Walter, Charlie Musselwhite et al, Paul's playing is hypnotic; it's like there's nothing else in the world except me and this amazing sound. When he plays, I drift. Simple.

What can I add that hadn't been so eloquently put already? He deserves to take gold. Simple.

All the other people on this list could be in any order except Mr Butterfield. The way he plays the harp is just extraordinary.

Little Walter

Little Walter is the Godfather of blues harmonica! He stands alone as the one who transformed blues harmonica playing from a un-amplified, background, sideman instrument, to an amplified lead instrument that could solo with power alongside the other amplified instruments of the band. It was not only his sound, but his musicality, inventiveness, and song writing, that sets him apart from all others. In so many ways he was/is the premier harp player, and the one who has most influenced all blues harp players! Little Walter is ‘The Don’!

Lush, if you've never ridden in a 1972 Cadillac Coupe Deville at 100 miles an hour you don't understand. Every time I listen to him you hear different layer and the different angle. Not what you call fancy. Just deep!

The pioneer of amplified harp, and really the only choice, overall, for #2. A great deal is owed him.

Sonny Boy Williamson II

Full of himself, but knew what he was doing!

Lovely rounded notes, Sonny Boy produces a smooth harmonica sound, but with characteristic sudden attacks that catch the listener off-guard. His gimmicky “in mouth” playing could never distract from his wonderfully polished technique.

George "Harmonica" Smith

So very under appreciated and not as well know. I call his style " intricate simplicity"

love him

Junior Wells
Jimmy Reed

Correction: Hadn't noticed Jimmy was on this list. He doesn't belong here any more than does Mick Jagger. Jimmy was a repetitive screecher; pretty much a one-trick pony with little imagination and no virtuosity in his playing. Anyone breathing could master his "technique" in a week or less.

This is quite ironic. You'd think with a name like Reed, he'd be better than his name suggests, but he's actually one of the weakest harp players on this list.

My personal taste would say that Jimmy Reed's playing is a little screechy and scratchy. For me, it has to be smooth and have that 'up and down' flow like sea waves. Paul Butterfield, Junior Wells, Charlie Musselwhite, Taj Mahal and King Biscuit Boy are all able to produce that perfect sound.

Walter Horton

No one sounded like Walter Horton! Absolutely amazing!

Everybody borrowed from Shakey, including me. (Oops... Fergot. Ah'm invisible, now.)

Charlie Musselwhite

The blues overtook him when he was a little child and drove the poor boy Wild!

The best. Especially in an ensemble. Soulful and tasty.

Top shelf-none better...I listened to his ''Stand Back'' album for 6 straight hours without picking up my harp--& when I started to play again, I was a different & far better player...even my bandmates mentioned it next night on the gig...if you want to learn, this cat is the best!...

Charlie Musselwhite is a fabulous blues harmonica player. One of the best, if not the best.
I've seen him live in several blues clubs, and he
always blew me away.

'God Bless Charlie"

Jimmy D.

Mick Jagger Sir Michael Philip "Mick" Jagger is an English singer, songwriter, and actor, best known as the lead vocalist and a co-founder of the Rolling Stones.

Owing to national pride and other emotional attachments, some may think Jagger "deserves" to be here. But reality bites, and he really is not a good harp player, and certainly far outside the abilities and musicality of everyone else on this list. Sorry, but what is, IS.

He does deserve to be here and I'm glad he was added.

Sorry, but Jagger has no place on this list. He's been at it for at least fifty-five years, and still sounds about like I did when when I'd been playing less than a year, forty-five years ago.

Please. He sucks. And not on harp

Jason Ricci

Jason is a master of the craft. I'm a pro sax player on the New Orleans circuit and have shared the stage with him several times. Nobody shreds the "Mississippi Saxophone" like Mooncat.

No one has the speed, preciseness and diversity coupled with the ability to play with such soul. The Jimmy Hendrix of the harp.

Yes, JR can shred (probably the best at this) but he can also do soulful, country-style blues with the best of them (check out his collaborations with JJ Appleton). His versatility, creativity and originality is unmatched. If you play the harp, what he can do is unworldly. Yes he DOES have demons. All part of his make up.

Belongs in the top 10.

The Contenders

John Popper

He should be up at the top, this list is ridiculous having him all the way down here at 15, really?

Simply just incredible I can listen to his solo's all day long.

I actually met him once

My favourite

Sonny Boy Williamson I

The original. No one had heard the harmonica played like it before.

Sonny Terry

King of the chuggers.

23 is too low!

Way too low

The best

Will Wilde

Very credible Blues harp player and deserves his place here, but his thing is more Blues-Rock, Hard-Rock based. His passion for harmonica knows no bounds. He is SERIOUSLY overlooked. Check his band out (Will Wilde Band) sometime. You'll see what I mean. He has an amazing set of pipes on him too. An overall incredible musician.

He has to be heard to be believed He can play all types of Blues, but I particularly love his slow Blues. He's just incredible. Check him out on YouTube as soon as you've read this. Any Blues harmonica enthusiast will not be disappointed. Oh, and he's English. Just saying...

Alan Wilson

The "Blind Owl" was so incredible. Take a listen.

Boogie Chillen No2 by Hooker at Heat



James Cotton

Cotton in his prime was right up there with his mentor Sonny Boy Williamson

Sugar Blue
Rick Estrin

Powerful. I've seen him at least a dozen times over the last 27 years and he just seems to get better every time.

Check out "D.O.G." The song's a hoot, and his licks mighty respectable.

Saw little charlie and the nightcats twice. Rick estrin is awesome
So is little charlie by the way

Norton Buffalo

He is so incredible in so many ways. He is versitile in his playing and a great entertainer.

Taj Mahal Henry Saint Clair Fredericks, who uses the stage name Taj Mahal, is an American blues musician, a self-taught singer-songwriter and film composer who plays the guitar, piano, banjo, and harmonica, among many other instruments.

Butterfield is rightly first choice but Taj's talent with the harp mustn't go unnoticed. Should really be in the top five.

Dirty, greasy, juicy, slurry, throaty harp. Loved him for more decades than I care t'member.

Carey Bell

Not sure why,but Bell's playing always makes my ears perk up.

Robert Plant Robert Anthony Plant (born 20 August 1948) is an English musician, singer, and songwriter best known as the lead singer and lyricist of the rock band Led Zeppelin.

I didn't add him into the top 10 at first because his only really impressive harp playing is on When The Levee Breaks.

Paul Jones

25th? Seems a bit low for such an accomplished player. Surely, he's top ten?

Lead with Manfred Mann - 76 and still playing at his best. Got to be in the top ten!

Charlie McCoy

61 Albums on music row toured France scores of times.

Lee Oskar

Solo or with War...hands down an amazing harp player!


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