Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Harp amp upgrade
Harp amp upgrade
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Chris West
1 post
Dec 17, 2017
3:41 PM
We are looking to upgrade our harp players amp for our local blues band. He has a small Carvin practice amp that he used to use to play out live as well. A year or so ago, he purchased a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe thinking it would help him with volume and feedback issues. Not working out at all and I offered to do some research for him and help him with next purchase. After hours on the internet I have come up with the following: Mission amp Chicago 32/20....Fender 59 Bassman 90's reissue....or a 65 Princeton Reverb Reissue. Also found out that his Shure 520 DX made in Mexico is not a real desirable mic to be using. I am only going by what I have read and hope to be able to eventually steer our harp player in the right direction. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Lots to learn!!

Last Edited by Chris West on Dec 17, 2017 4:50 PM
2418 posts
Dec 17, 2017
4:01 PM
I'll guess you want him to have bigger volume than he's got now. I've had a lot of amps and mics and the gain issue that causes feedback- and the tone loss at higher volumes- make this a big deal. I'm from an era when there were NO harp specific amps, just guitar amps that worked better for harp than others.
One of my best for more volume and retaining tone was a replica '59 Bassman, hand built by Steve Clark at Sligo Amps about 10 years ago. It was pricey then and likely more so now but it was a beaut. So my bias would be the Bassman. You will hear from others who are probably better versed in this though.

The late model 520's have elements which are not the best. A vintage controlled magnetic, crystal or controlled reluctance element in that shell would make a big difference. There are other choices as well. Again there are others here who can maybe guide you more closely.

I gave up big volume some years ago after realizing I was damaging my hearing, my harps, and my voice, trying to get over the big stage volume and hear myself, not to mention not being heard out front.

One other piece of gear though, that is a big help, is a delay pedal, preferably one built for harp mic and frequency.
My rig these days is a 12 watt vintage Silvertone, with a vintage CM mic or a Shure 585 hi z ball mic, into a Lone ?Wolf harp delay and then the amp. This is a good rig for small to medium rooms. In a duo, with matching amps, this is a good setup. For bigger volume you will want maybe more power but also consider keeping band volume a bit lower and also micing a smaller amp out through the p.a.

A lot of my issues were around no able to hear myself on stage, and the audience not hearing me out front.

Some harp guys go with a digital modeling pedal and a suitable mic, right to the p.a., and I've heard some of these that sound good as well.

Ok, let the games begin!



2809 posts
Dec 17, 2017
4:09 PM
A Princeton Reverb will not be a substantial upgrade in volume. The Mission 32-20 is a fabulous amp. I own one and I love it. The reissue Bassman is very good, if the amp has the blue frame speakers meaning that you’ll be looking for an older one and not the LTD model. A 520DX is a usable microphone. Is it the best? No, but it’s pretty good. I’ve used them in a zillion different amps with success. Solve the volume problem first.
1666 posts
Dec 17, 2017
10:17 PM
Putting lower gain tubes in the preamp of the HotRod will help a lot with the feedback issues. I believe it's a 40 watt amp,not much different from a Bassman There are a couple of pedal that are designed to tame feedback,Squeel Killer and Kinder AFB

Last Edited by Tuckster on Dec 17, 2017 10:19 PM
5125 posts
Dec 18, 2017
4:00 AM
I reckon I’d try deal with the HRD before shelling out for another amp, but that’s me.
No doubt the Mission is a good thing, I expect also the most expensive by a considerable amount. As mentioned the PR is probably not gonna be loud enough if your man was thinking about 40w w/- 12” to get him over the line. Bassman is a common solution, can also require some adaptation on part of player to get to a good place. I’m a bit concerned that the harp player is enlisting someone else to sort it out but reasons no doubt.
Try 12at7 in V3, and 12au7 in v1.
HRD is notorious for steep taper on volume control, and combined with the natural gain of stock preamp this makes it very tricky. Easiest intervention is tube swaps but also plug into low gain input, steer clear of the drive/more drive channels.
There are plenty other things can be done if desired.
If amp is too tame with 12au7 in preamp, try with 12ay7. Tubes v1 and v3 are where the action is though.
1757 posts
Dec 18, 2017
4:43 AM
Jason reviews a Harpgear 50 very favourably somewhere. Mind it's so expensive I'd be surprised if it weren't damn good. There you go: - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNsDmXB3Log

Last Edited by Andrew on Dec 18, 2017 4:46 AM
Chris West
2 posts
Dec 18, 2017
7:55 AM
SuperBee....yes I have taken on the responsibility of getting him set up for our band. I have no experience with harp amps and mods other than the hours put in reading forums and articles on the subject. Lots of research, but am enjoying it. Please keep the helpful comments coming guys...appreciate all the input believe me!! Did not even think of tube swap for Hot Rod that he is currently trying to sell. Am leaning hard towards a 90's Reissue Bassman or the Mission Chicago 32/20, but this retube of Hot Rod might be a good place to start also? Keep 'it coming guys and Thanks very much!
37 posts
Dec 18, 2017
8:55 AM
I recently sold a Mission 32/20 with the 3x10 speaker setup and a 50 watt output transformer. It is a great amp for harp. The only reason I sold it was because I no longer do enough harp stuff to warrant it. I still have a Bassman 5E6 which I built from scratch. 40 watts of great harp sound. I use a 12" Cannibus Rex speaker in it and it kicks ass. I would recommend both for your friend. I once owned a HRD and even with tube swaps it could never hold a candle to the Mission or Bassman circuits.

Last Edited by Jaybird803 on Dec 18, 2017 9:09 AM
2419 posts
Dec 18, 2017
9:07 AM
Thinking back one of my early amps was in fact a Hot Rod Deluxe. It was rare that my volume was up to band volume without feedback.
Others can explain this better but a guitar pickup and a hi z mic element are very different frequencies. What works with a guitar is high gain to get distortion. High gain on a harp mic creates mostly squeal. But a low Z mic many times is pretty dry tone-wise, so we like the high impedance of a "hot" element and we want to tame and filter the signal. First is drop the gain.
Most times my efforts would tame the squeal but I'd lose tone and volume.
I did love my Bassman but I was not getting many side gigs and it was cumbersome to lug around for say a jam. If a harp guy is working and it's with a rhythm section and electric guitar(s) it's a good idea to have a purpose-built harp amp with some power.



321 posts
Dec 18, 2017
11:01 AM
In case it is helpful, lately I have been keeping my 10 watt amp directly in front of me and tilted toward my head (and mic'ed to the PA). Band can get more or less in the monitors. Allows a lower watt amp to do the trick. I don't know what your sound set up is and just why the amp is "not working out," so hard to know if this is helpful or not. Good luck.
[Edit: sometimes I just use the Lone Wolf Boogieman pedal and go ampless to the PA.]

Last Edited by TetonJohn on Dec 18, 2017 11:04 AM
5126 posts
Dec 18, 2017
12:03 PM
The reason they are feedback-prone is the combination of that steep taper on volume control with high gain of preamp. Can tame volume somewhat by changing resistor R9, something in 470k-750k range. But the tube swaps may drop gain enough that it’s no longer a problem anyway.

The circuit is very similar to the larger hot rod Deville. I’ve just been reading the likes of Kim Wilson and Gary smith expounding favourably on their use of those amps. My own experience is primarily with a hot rod Deville, but did also own a hot rod deluxe and studied the circuits enough to know they are very similar. When I can to modify mine I applied mods which had been used in a deluxe, and obtained very similar results.
With modding though, it’s very personal. Some people like a very distorted sound, an amp that breaks up early, others like it to be tighter, break up later. I nodded my Deville to break up rather early and was happy with it for a long time, but the last year or so I’ve been finding it’s a little too distorted for my taste, so have been adjusting power tube bias to tighten it up a bit. I had increased the preamp drop resistor (R75) to lower voltage on plates of preamp tubes to around 170 volts. This is an option, rather than the tube swaps, but more invasive and thanks to the construction methods these amps are a bit of a pill to work on.
1653 posts
Dec 18, 2017
3:23 PM
Rather than add to gear suggestions I will note that mic handling and cupping is a major factor in reducing feedback while increasing volume. Also, amp adjustments including gain and master volume (if the amp comes that way), treble, and bass will affect feedback and volume issues. You need to mess with the gear at high volume to find what works for your sound. Amp placement makes a difference, too.

A related issue is the ability of the player to cup to project tone into a mic and to manage high volume gear without feedback. Yes, the effects/mic/amp/speaker combinations and feedback reduction gear do make a difference, but so does the player. All the gear in the world won't substitute for a player building those mic handling and cupping skills... and tone.

I have used other player's rigs without changing a setting and been asked to turn down, and I have heard other players using my rig and not be heard. Others step up and create massive sound with the same gear without squealing.

You can tell which players have the ability to get good tone through any gear they use, as well as who can manage gear to get the most volume before feedback.

Oh, just to be clear: I am not NEARLY the best at doing this among the many players I have encountered, just reasonably good at it. Maybe near the 80% mark?

Once a player has the gear to achieve volume and tone without feedback, then they need to work on learning how to use it to optimum effect, and without constantly causing squealing feedback.

Doug S.
4589 posts
Dec 18, 2017
3:52 PM
very well said... you speak the truth.
Chris West
3 posts
Dec 18, 2017
4:35 PM
I have found a 59 Bassman reissue LTD used for $850.00 (so far) and they will take his Hot Rod in on trade. The Bassman does not have the blue Eminence speakers, but has the Jensen Special Design in it. Tube rectifier is the 5AR4 with 6L6GC's and 12AX7's. Whaddya think fellas?

Last Edited by Chris West on Dec 18, 2017 4:36 PM
4591 posts
Dec 18, 2017
5:52 PM
i have a vintage 59 bassman...

the speakers i am currently using include a re-coned p10Q and a re-issue P10Q
they sound just fine. when the blue frame Eminence speakers came on the scene
they were not highly regarded in some circles. you heard the same thing that is spoken about the new jensens. you can choose to believe or not believe. the choice is yours. 90 per cent of the tone will come from you. ok the 80 / 20 rule is in effect
Barley Nectar
1328 posts
Dec 18, 2017
9:20 PM
Nope, wrong speakers and price is way high. + 1 for Dougharps above. I have played the Hot Rod series amps several times. Thay are tricky to diel in but wonce there, Look Out Matilida! SuperBee knows. Nothing wrong with the HRD IMO. I do like my RI Bassman better though. Blue frames and 5U4 recto with 12AY7 in V1.
90 posts
Dec 19, 2017
9:53 PM
From personal experience I have a Memphis Mini which I use at home and really small venues but most of the time I gig with my Mission Chicago. Great amp with great tone. Also very powerful.
102 posts
Dec 20, 2017
12:55 PM
I am curious as to the experience of this harp player who has handed you the task of researching/buiyng him an amp, at particular expense.
Does he have a lot of experience playing amplified harmonica? The fact that he has a newish Mexican made Shure 520 and a practice amp gives me some indication that he's maybe a bit new to playing loud blues harp, perhaps even new to playing harp with a loud band?
If you are an experienced player you can still make a new Shure Green Bullet mic through a mediocre guitar amp sound pretty decent. Cupping ability and technique, as has been stated in other helpful posts.
From the info given, before you spend big $ I would assess all the factors of mic, technique, experience. What do you really need?
A new Shure 545 stick mic(wired to high impedance) through a 15-30W tube amp (like a used Fender, Peavey) with a lower gain preamp tube can make a hell of a sound, especially if mic'd up to the PA. Unless you are doing really loud blues with multiple guitars and keyboards, horns, etc., this is at least a good starting point to see what kind of sound you are going for. And always worth having around.
322 posts
Dec 21, 2017
7:18 AM
Chris, you said volume was an issue; just a bit of background might be helpful. Is it that he can't hear himself? Or the reset of the band can't hear him? Or the audience can't hear him? Does he mike to the PA or is he expected to provide all his own volume to the house? What instruments in the band? Etc.

Last Edited by TetonJohn on Dec 21, 2017 7:19 AM
3507 posts
Dec 21, 2017
8:22 AM
Princeton Reverb 65 RI is a great harp amp, but it's a relatively small amp and will be outgunned in many live performance situations.

I find that my Peavey Delta Blues 1x15 is a terrific harp amp. Very versatile, capable of of high volume before feedback, but sounds good at low volume, too. Can get dirty or stay clean. Tubed down with 12AT7/ECC81>12DW7/ECC832>12AT7/ECC81 it is very harp friendly. My mic of choice is a 545 Ultimate which has a volume control. You can use the VC to attenuate or cool out the input signal which allows you to crank the amp up somewhat for tone. I use this amp in various situations. The musicans I play with like it, and I'm very happy with it.

Last Edited by hvyj on Dec 21, 2017 1:31 PM
721 posts
Dec 21, 2017
9:55 AM
If money isn’t tight,
Bulletini mic,into a squeal killer,into a reissue bassman .

Chris West
4 posts
Dec 23, 2017
4:46 PM
Just a quick Thank You for this forum and to all of you who have responded! Very useful and knowledgeable information and I've learned a lot in a short amount of time thanks to your replies. As of right now, he is leaning pretty heavy towards the Mission 32/20. Will try and get him to pick up a good delay pedal as well. Will let you know how this journey goes and thanks again very much!
Chris West
5 posts
Jan 12, 2018
8:02 AM
Well fellas...Hot Rod Deluxe is gone and he now owns a 2008 Bassman LTD in excellent shape! Has the Jensen P10R's and after having him blow through it at store, did not sound bad at all! Was able to take volume close to 6 before any feedback, but also had a Boss DD-3 delay hooked up to just show him what a delay can do to his tone. Will be ordering a Lone Wolf Delay and doing the pre amp swamp in V1 and V3. Can anybody repeat the info on which tubes to use and where....was under the impression to leave the 12AX7 in V-2 position as is. Thanks for all the help guys! Ya made for a happy harp player and I am glad he liked the sound out of it! Work to do, but at least we have a good platform to start with!
4632 posts
Jan 12, 2018
9:34 AM
probably best to leave the phase inverter tube alone, you can switch the first 2 around.

if you have a dd3 really no need for a lone wolf delay,
use the money for one of their other pedals.

i,d bet the fat cat would be a nice addition. or a harp tone +

rod piazza still uses his dd3
155 posts
Jan 12, 2018
10:25 AM
I have been using 5 different amps since 1968 the one that stands above the rest ,for playing in bars, clubs etc.Is a 1978 MUSIC MAN 2x10, 65/30 w. Set to bass/8, med./3, treb/2 or off if there`s too much feedback.VOLUME/7 to 9 , master volume ,adjust 7/10 this is the best amp tone I`ve had in 40 yrs. Leo Fender made them, and they are wonderful,also great for guitar too.....played with harp volume as loud as the guitar.....

Last Edited by nowmon on Jan 12, 2018 10:27 AM
324 posts
Jan 12, 2018
11:19 AM
Following 1847s idea about a LW pedal -- I expect the harp octave would sound great -- a bassman not being the easiest to push to breakup -- the octave pedal has a sweet, mild "distortion" and bonus of helping with feedback some.
(I've always thought the octave pedal was not named well for marketing what affect it has.)
AND...you can return it to LW if you don't like it (30 days I think).
Edit: The LW harp Attack and Harp break would serve similar purpose of dirtying up the bassman at reasonable volume -- largely a matter of taste -- you could order all three and keep your favorite!

Last Edited by TetonJohn on Jan 12, 2018 12:29 PM
Chris West
6 posts
Jan 16, 2018
5:50 PM
Anybody have any suggestions on which 12AY7 to purchase for Bassman LTD? We are going to pull the AX7 out of V-1 and drop to the 12AY7 as many have suggested. Just not sure which brand,etc.? Lots of choices and not so much experience! Thanks guys!
163 posts
Jan 16, 2018
6:00 PM
If your buying vintage tubes GE, RCA and Sylvainia are all good. If your buying new Electro Harminix and JJ are both decent.
Chris West
7 posts
Jan 28, 2018
10:19 AM
Heh fellas! Had the Bassman Reissue to it's first live gig last night and guess what? No feedback!!! Only changed out V-1 AX7 to an Ay7 and bingo! He was getting an awesome tone out of that amp and he enjoyed the heck out of it! Happy harp player equals a happy band!! Lone Wolf Harp delay should be here this week and away we go! Thanks for all the advice and help! Much appreciated!
2461 posts
Jan 28, 2018
10:52 AM
He'll like the delay too. Key with any delay is, not too much!
That's good to see that a harp guy is heard without hassle on stage.



5222 posts
Jan 28, 2018
11:46 AM
What’s the band name?
Chris West
8 posts
Jan 29, 2018
9:12 AM
SuperBee......Band name is The Sons Of Legend from Upper Michigan. Fourth year together and enjoying every minute of it! Thanks for asking! Have a few clips on Reverb Nation.com and some on our Website on Facebook as well.

Last Edited by Chris West on Jan 29, 2018 9:13 AM
98 posts
Feb 02, 2018
7:16 AM
I noticed alot of people here love Fender amps. Nothing wrong with that. I myself was using a Peavey for the longest time. Then I went a different route. I decided to buy a Laney. Every single model, from a 10 watt combo to the big guns are made exclusively in the U.K. A great breath of fresh air compared to Asian built amps.
772 posts
Feb 03, 2018
9:42 AM
Chris West - I see you first posted this several weeks ago so maybe you have come to a decision. Studio start time has been delayed so here's my two cents anyway.

First off, your harp player should be the one doing the research. You doing it is ridiculous. If he isn't passionate enough about his playing to work on his own sound get another harp player.

Failing that and to answer your question. I would go with a 2nd hand Bassman. They can be had for well under $1,000 and, especially in this case, are easy to sell without losing any money or at least very little. The Mission may be a good sounding amp in some people's opinion but it will not be an easy thing to move on and you will most likely not get what you paid for it.

Depending on how much volume is required, the size of your average gig, etc. you could also go with something smaller. The Princeton RI might be a good choice. Though I haven't played one myself I've heard good things. Some will no doubt object but I've used a Kalamazoo for loads of bar gigs with a fairly loud band. Part of the secret was swapping in a Webber 10A100 for the stock speaker. Increased volume by maybe 20%, added some bottom without losing the crunch, and made for a somewhat more "quality" tone. I was actually asked to turn down by a guitar player using a 100watt twin!. Adding a line out to run through the PA is easily done but even easier is picking up a Sennheiser 609 and hanging it on the front. The mic is flat in shape and designed for that application. It can be picked up fairly easily 2nd hand for under $100 and resold for what you paid for it.
Chris West
9 posts
Feb 08, 2018
5:45 AM
I promised I would post updates on progress with "The Bassman" LTD so......swapping out the 12AX7 in V-1 took care of squealing issue and Lone Wolf Harp Delay pedal is everything they say it is. Really gave him a big, fat tone out of the Bassman. Was still pretty clean and he was still searching for a bit more breakup out of the amp. Was having the bias checked by a local amp tech and I mentioned swapping out 12AX7 in V-3 for a 12AU7 as some have recommended.He had a drawer full of GE 12AU7's and gave us one to try. Swapped it out at rehearsal last night and made all the difference in the world. Plenty of volume, no squeal and just the right amount of"dirt" when pushed.We have a very satisfied harp player and band as well. I totally enjoyed doing the research for him and I learned a lot in a short amount of time. Again thanks to all who contributed and that Bassman LTD Reissue is one hell of a great rig for harp! Thanks guys!! Blues On Brothers!!
2488 posts
Feb 08, 2018
7:16 AM
Chris, if more guitarists and bandleaders had your attitude, harp players might get a big head! Seriously That was a great thing you did. I struggled for years with volume issues.
Once I got a Bassman I was actually forbidden to bring it on stage at a new jam because a guitarist was afraid I'd blow him up! He would not listen when I tried to explain, it would turn down as well as up. Other than that it did take care of the volume issues and allow me to relax and focus on why I was there- to add to the whole.
Working WITH is much better than working DESPITE.
Good Show Man.



4696 posts
Feb 08, 2018
7:54 AM
the bassman is a clean amp. you have to really crank it to get it to break up.

listen to james cotton, not a very distorted overdriven sound. just a very slight break up.
Chris West
10 posts
Feb 08, 2018
12:30 PM
To jbone and 1847: Will pass the word on to him....he is 73 years young and loves what he is doing. He was really frustrated with issues mentioned above and can now "relax and focus" as you put it! WE had the amp cookin' last night at rehearsal with no issues whatsoever!Actually had to reach over and turn him down a bit....Ha! Can't thank you guys enough.....great journey and all is well!!

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