2003 P.Missin - Details

What does "cross tuned" mean when describing chromatic harmonicas?

The terms "straight tuned" and "cross tuned", or "cross positioned" are often used when describing chromatic harmonicas. This can sometimes cause some confusion, particularly because of the term "cross harp" being used to describe a diatonic harmonica being played in second position.

Rather than describing the way the instrument is played, straight tuned and cross tuned describe how the chromatic harmonica is constructed. Look at this picture of a typical 12-hole chromatic harmonica (a Hering Baritono to be precise):

If you look into the mouthpiece holes you should be able to see that they are open towards the top of the holes, but closed towards the bottom. This means that with the slide in its "out" position, the upper reedplate of the harmonica is brought into action. This reedplate has all the natural notes (the C major scale, if it is a C chromatic). Pushing the button in moves the slide so that the holes are closed towards the top and open towards the bottom, closing off the upper reedplate and bringing the lower reeds into play. This set of reeds gives you the sharps and flats (the C#/Db major scale on a C chromatic). This arrangement is called straight tuned or straight positioned.

However, take a look at this instrument (a Hohner CX-12):

Looking into the mouthpiece holes you should be able to see that the first hole is open towards the top and closed at the bottom, but the second hole is open towards the bottom and closed at the top. Likewise, the third hole is open towards the top and closed at the bottom, the fourth hole is open towards the bottom and closed at the top - and so up all the way up the mouthpiece. This is the cross tuned or cross positioned arrangement. You still get the natural notes when you play with the button out and the sharps and flats when you play with the button in, but their distribution between the two reedplates is different. On a cross tuned chromatic in C, the C and D notes are on the upper reedplate; the C# and D# are on the lower reedplate; the E and F are on the lower reedplate; the E# and F# are on the upper reedplate; etc., etc.

With the exception of the CX-12, the discontinued CBH-2012 and a few less common models, most 10 and 12 hole chromatics are straight tuned. Older Hohner 16 hole chromatics were straight tuned, but they later changed them over to the cross tuned layout. Hering seem to be the only company currently making four octave chromatics that are straight tuned.

What does this mean to the player? For the most part, not a great deal. Regardless of whether it is straight or cross tuned, a standard C chromatic harmonica gives the C scale with the button out and a C# scale with the button in. The only appreciable difference is that the slide has to move further on a cross tuned instrument, which means that to get the sharps and flats you have to push the button further in than you would on a straight tuned chromatic. This is an issue for some players, others barely seem to notice it. It also means that if you open up a cross tuned chromatic to work on the tuning, you need to be very careful to make sure that you are working on the correct reeds!


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