beginner forum: for novice and developing blues harp players > Learning to play amped
Learning to play amped
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Killa_Hertz
1861 posts
Nov 04, 2016
7:00 AM
This is sort of a thread just to kick start some conversation.
But I also wanted to talk a little about it. Because I'm just starting to get more into amped playing and I'm finding a few things are a little tough to get used to.

I think I have a pretty decent acoustic tone. ( atleast compared to the level that I'm at.) So I dont think that is my major problem. (That doesnt mean I'm not always striving to improve it.)

One of the things Im finding hard to get used to is adjusting my playing to get my best tone, While im playing amped. Let me explain .... When playing acoustically I am constantly making micro adjustments. Weather it be to my embouchure, to my breath force, my throat, etc. ... in order to get the desired tone I want. Now these things happen very fast and almost automatically. (It's not like Im holding ever note and trying to make it sound better. I think you likely know what I'm talking about here. I Hope.) Obviously these Micro Adjustments have a great deal to do with the acoustic tone that I'm hearing while playing. Because I can hear the tone coming from the harp I know how to adjust it if it seems a bit off. My problem is that while playing amped I have a kindof hard time telling what the harp is doing and I think this leads to me playing a little sloppy at times. ( Tone wise.) Especially after playing for a long period of time. It's very hard to tell when playing through a Dirty Amp weather everything is just right or not. It sounds ok, but I'm just wondering if I'm playing with the full quality of my acoustic tone.

A good analogy would be a Def persons voice. Because they cant hear it, they can't adjust the tone to sound how it should. ( I hope that didn't come off too crass.)

Does/Did anyone else have an issue with this?


What are some issues your having with amped playing?

What is the best form of amped practice for you?
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Last Edited by Killa_Hertz on Nov 16, 2016 8:34 AM
MindTheGap
1858 posts
Nov 04, 2016
8:51 AM
Good topic. Even more mysterious than playing harp acoustically, and that's mysterious enough.

The main thing I found to help specifically with amped tone was playing acoustically very gently indeed, and setting the amp so that at that playing volume it's flickering into distortion. Then small variations in playing force and cupping make big difference in sounds - though not necessarily in output volume. It's like a 'third dimension' of expression.

My analogy is with an electric guitar with the amp turned way up, but played fingerstyle very gently. Lots of interesting tones and timbres.

After a lot of trial and error I found that was the way I could best emulate the kind of sounds I hear on recordings and demos.

It's hard to tell what people are really doing - especially when you see a vid with the harp player all doubled up as if with the effort of huffing and puffing. My working theory is that's showmanship, but I'll never know.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Nov 04, 2016 8:54 AM
Killa_Hertz
1863 posts
Nov 04, 2016
11:33 AM
I think your probably right. I also think how hard people play amped likely varies with the player .... as it does acoustically.

I've always played rather soft acoustically. However recently I have found I have been playing a little more forcefully. Not sucking hard, but actually with more pressure from the diaphragm??? If that makes sense.

I found that there is a level of tone you can achieve while doing this that just can't be had playing softly. I could be wrong, but I'm just stating my observations.

I find that there is a perfect spot between soft controlled breathe, with a slight constant force from the diaphragm, good embouchure with the harp rather deep in the mouth, and big open throat that really gives a good desirable tone. However its a very narrow spot, so micro adjustments must always be made in each of these areas to keep it going. But if I can't clearly hear what the harp is doing I find it almost impossible to keep it there. I suppose I will soon learn how to hear this even through a distorted amp, but as of right now .... i cant ... lol.

I suppose with enough time it will even become muscle memory and I wont have to adjust.

Also it has a bit to do with me slipping on all of these things while I try to free my brain to Improvise. It's a real delicate balance between structured thinking and artsy free thinking. If that makes any sense ... lol.
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Last Edited by Killa_Hertz on Nov 04, 2016 11:37 AM
MindTheGap
1859 posts
Nov 04, 2016
12:42 PM
I get the impression that people play a lot harder acoustically, and as you say that gets a certain strong sound that you can only get that way. But with amped I think soft is the way. The output can still be big though. It's just my belief (from comparing) that you get the 'biggest' sound by playing quietly and having the amp loud.

There's a bit in the Little Walter bio I remember hazily where either he is shown, or someone else shows him, how to survive three sets every night by not blowing/drawing hard but letting the amplification do the work.

There's a specific technical thing to do with cupping the mic: when playing acoustically the goal seems to be to get lots of nice harmonics, crackles and pops to make an interesting timbre. The goal of deep cupping though is to reduce all that and just get a strong deep fundamental harmonic. Then the amp adds all the nice stuff.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Nov 04, 2016 12:43 PM
SuperBee
4237 posts
Nov 04, 2016
1:49 PM
I probably should know at least something about it given all the amps stacked in my room.
I used to practice at home with an amp but now I really don't. I practice with an amp in Col's garage and occasionally with the band that doesn't practice.

I don't think a lot about how to play amped though so probably not much help.

One thing I know about playing through an amp is that when things get loud and it's a battle to hear yourself, considerations of good tone are hard to maintain.
I also notice that the awkwardness of holding a mic up to your face can induce a kind of stiffness which can inhibit fluency.

When I play at home nowadays it's usually some specific thing I'm doing with the gear rather than practice as such.
When I'm using an amp though, I suppose I'm looking to get some dynamic development through the course of a song, so in 'shake your hips' for instance, it's a pretty gritty sound right off the bat, but I want it to build so after the break the level really comes up for the last verse and outro and I want the harp to reflect that. A lot of that is how I play, I'm doing more tongue blocking in the latter part. I mean I'm playing using my tongue to block throughout the song but I think I'm doing more slapping in the latter part and it's really the nuance of that which comes through, there's an intensity from the extra crunch on the attack which comes from the chord. You hear it acoustically but through the amp there's distortion from the chord, but it's quickly shut down as it's slapped to the single note. So it's a fine balance and I live in that space where my tongue is just touching the harp. its similar in a few songs really. It's like an impression of extra volume but I don't think I'm really playing 'harder'.
Much is made of a 'sealed cup'. Certainly that is one important thing. But it's not something you have to be doing all the time. If you do it all the time you don't have variety. It's an effect. You might like to use it a lot and that's ok but it is more interesting when it represents change.
One thing took me a while to catch onto is the need to create a chamber between mic and harp. I used to have the mic right up against the harp. Better to leave some space. Then you can manipulate the air in that space and vary the tone. You can't do that if the mic is too close to the harp.
Fil
209 posts
Nov 04, 2016
2:39 PM
SB, I've been wondering why I couldn't get much in the way of hand effects and tone variance with the mic. Now I just opened the space between harp and mic, re your comment, and see what you mean. How about that! Something to work on. Thanks. For Killa, another issue for me is overworking the mic's VC. I've got to figure that out. Do,you use one?
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Phil Pennington
SuperBee
4241 posts
Nov 04, 2016
3:00 PM
Jason Ricci put me into that in a video he made some time back about holding a mic. He uses a 57 and I use bullets but seems to be the same deal.
I don't work the volume control much, presently. But that could change. I did use it to turn down and still play in one song. Maybe should do it more but hard to judge the house sound with out someone to spot for you.
Killa_Hertz
1864 posts
Nov 04, 2016
6:53 PM
"It's just my belief (from comparing) that you get the 'biggest' sound by playing quietly and having the amp loud"

Perhaps your right MTG. You just always hear people say "you have to have good acoustic tone to have good amped tone." Which leads one to believe that you play the same way when doing both. But is there two different ways you must play?

I guess that leads to the question, do the pros play differently when amped than they do when playing acoustic?


" I also notice that the awkwardness of holding a mic up to your face can induce a kind of stiffness which can inhibit fluency"

YES BEE!! God yes, it drives me nuts frankly. I can get pretty cookin while playing acoustic, but the mic can sometimes feel like your stuck in a tar pit. But im hoping that fades with practice.

I also strongly agree with your dynamics statement. Its all about the dynamics

I haven't tried the space between the harp and mic thing ..... but i surely will.

"Another issue for me is overworking the mic's VC. I've got to figure that out. Do,you use one?"

Funny you should ask. My ultimate 545 has one, but none of my other mics did. Until yesterday when my VC came in from greg. It's awesome. Now i can use my jt30 and actually walk up to the amp. 8^)

Im unsure what you mean about over working it though.

I have noticed some players (while playing a gig) will start playing their solo and forget that they killed the vc. Dough!

Im still trying to get used to it. I find I often an turning it the wrong way.


P.S. MTG. What's this little walter bio you speak of???? Ive gotta see it.
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Last Edited by Killa_Hertz on Nov 04, 2016 6:54 PM
MindTheGap
1860 posts
Nov 05, 2016
12:29 AM
Re the VC - I don't understand the overworking it comment. I think it's a useful, almost vital, element. Trimming in play, adjusting for the acoustic volume of different harp keys, and as an on/off switch to kill feedback when not playing.

Re fluency using the mic. Yes indeed, but that's a matter of practice. I found it's no good practicing without the mic then performing with it. You have to practice with the mic in situ even if not plugged in.

Re LW bio - sorry to disappoint you but it's a book :) The Little Walter Story.

Re acoustic volume, it's just my conclusion from experiment. I've got to stress I have no idea what the big boys really do. And remember that many people aren't necessarily that analytical; they may not be consciously aware of exactly what they do.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Nov 05, 2016 12:30 AM
Fil
210 posts
Nov 05, 2016
6:35 AM
"Overworking the VC" ...thinking about it, and in response to your and Killa's comment, the problem is more like I don't know how to use it. At the jam the other evening, it became a distraction, especially since I was having trouble hearing myself anyway. I probably should have bumped the amp up a little and gotten some room. So much to learn, so little time. It's like having two instruments, a harp and a VC'd mic, or at least adding another several degrees of complexity to the "simple" little ten holer. This beginners' forum is a,good thing.
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Phil Pennington
ME.HarpDoc
206 posts
Nov 05, 2016
8:01 AM
Killa, I have the same two mics, an Ultimate 545 and a JT30 both with Greg Heumann VC. They behave differently through the same amp. The JT is dirtier, the 545 seems a little louder. The JT hits a feedback threshold sooner. That's one place where I work the VC. I find my best setting for volume, tone, etc. on the amp and adjust volume with the VC.

The other place I work the VC is when comping behind one of the players at a jam, I'll often turn the VC down slightly then up for a solo. I, like others, rarely practice amped at home as the settings that are tolerable at home (and to the neighbors) have little meaning once at a jam. However, understanding that you do most of your playing at home, you may choose to set the he volume of your amp high to get the breakup and tone you want from your amp then use the VC to quiet it down. You'll just have to play with it to see what works for you.

As for creating space between the harp and the mic, I found that to be essential. I learned a lot about holding the 545 from Jason's video but I also found it best to find a way to hold and cup the jt30 and maintain a similar space. As Fil noted, it gives more ability for hand effects, still not like acoustic though.
Killa_Hertz
1865 posts
Nov 05, 2016
9:18 AM
Harp doc ... setting the amp and getting a good sound out of it isn't really my issue. Its the actual playing part that i need work on. Yes the 545 and jt30 are very different. My jt30 w/cr has much more output. That's why it feedsback sooner. Because the output is much higher. The 545 also has that butterfield sound. So it depends which amp and which sound i want. I love the Pe533 also. It's s very dirty bottom heavy mic. Ive got quite a few different mics that i love. They all have their own unique voices, outputs, responses to cupping, etc.

" settings that are tolerable at home (and to the neighbors) have little meaning once at a jam"

What do you mean? Surely just practicing playing with a mic and with the amp sound should be very advantageous. Regardless of volume. I would think anyways.


As far as settings

An amp sounds best right at that feedback threshold. So i turn the VC all the way up and find that feedback threshold on the amp and then back the vc down to about 75%. Then i know that when I crank it up to 100% on the solo it will be right on the money dirty without feeding back. Some use pedals for this (mike Fugazzi uses his harp break this way. Similar to a guitarist tube screamer.)

I find that the positions i use on the vc depend on the mic and amp combo. Meaning the 75% thing was just a guesstimate. Sometimes it's more like 50%. Or if i turn the volume up really high on the amp i turn the vc down to more like 25% and you can get alot more power tube distortion. Aswell as speaker breakup. I don't have to do this on my vox though because i have a 12au7 tube in the preamp. So i can crank the volume on the amp to 10 .. vc to 75% .. and its just straight dirty power amp breakup. And its got a 6" speaker so its also very compressed and sounds great. So it all depends.


"It's like having two instruments, a harp and a VC'd mic"

Exactly Fil. The mic and amp are like an instrument on their own. But as far as the settings ..... (that's kinda why i dragged on so long in that last bit.) .. If you want that classic chicago breakup honky sound .... try turning the tone all the way down, then turn the volume up right until it's feeding back, then bump the vc down. Also tube swaps can really help. I'm just getting into all that myself, but i was amazed what a difference a good set of nos vintage tubes and a lower gain preamp tube did for the sound. In my vht i put a rca smoked glass 6v6gt and a Mil Spec Sylvania 5751. It sounds SO much better. Less feedback, nicer warmer breakup and at higher volume.

Like you said though. SO much to learn. But hey that's half the fun. 8^)


"remember that many people aren't necessarily that analytical; they may not be consciously aware of exactly what they do."

That's very true MTG. Especially the old school guys. They just do it, they don't really know how ... lol. But its a good question i think. I'm going to try to ask a few guys and see what they do.

Shoot... a Book?! Is there an audio version??? Lol. I'm too A.D.D. to read a whole book. Lol. Ill dig on amazon and see if i can find it in audio.
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MindTheGap
1861 posts
Nov 05, 2016
11:20 AM
Yes a book, imagine :) It's quite a dull read actually: factual and straightforward. Just my kind of thing. Not the basis of any upcoming Hollywood blockbuster bio!

Amps are fun, but I wish it wasn't so much trial and error and mystery. As a guitarist you can stroll into a shop and buy a guitar and a nice amp and it all works without this jiggery pokery.

On the other hand I do feel that the harp-mic-amp ensemble is an instrument in itself, and that's a good thing. Still much easier to get a good sound than learning the oboe.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Nov 05, 2016 11:23 AM
Killa_Hertz
1866 posts
Nov 05, 2016
1:50 PM
Haha! Actually i kindof like the fact that it takes some real trial and error to get all your gear working right. Aswell as You (the player) to be able to work right with it.

It's sort of a trial to see if you have what it takes. Weeds out the faint of heart. Great guitarist are a dime a dozen. But a GREAT HARP PLAYER! Now that's something to be seen. ......
.... Lol. 8^)


Anyhow i came across this lil blurb on FB and it kinda hit right in there with what we were talking about here. So ..

Check it out.

https://m.facebook.com/groups/170410456333975?view=permalink&id=1269102266464783&ref=bookmarks¬if_t=event_aggregate
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Spderyak
96 posts
Nov 07, 2016
1:20 PM
For me playing amped picks up far more of subtleties and articulations that can otherwise get lost.
other than that if you like a distorted sound some of those same articulations also can get lost anyway..

but one of the most important things..
if you are playing a bullet style or even any mic in your hands with a cord
if you step on that cord while playing it can yank that mic out of your hand and smack it to the floor in front of every one in a heart beat...and that is when you say
...I should of practiced more with the amp...

Last Edited by Spderyak on Nov 07, 2016 1:23 PM
Killa_Hertz
1874 posts
Nov 07, 2016
2:12 PM
I think my biggest hurdle by far is the stunted movement. When your playing fast runs, it's all about light breath and agility. Just hitting the breath pattern with the head movement. There really is no stopping. So when your mouth gets slowed down it throws everything off. And on top of it all, then you start to think about it and now your creative centers of your brain are all tied up with thoughts of "this damned microphone ..... " lol.

I wonder if maybe practicing playing acoustically while holding a tennis ball or something, would work? Just learn to play that way.


I think just holding the mic can throw me off. Sometimes as soon as i set the mic down because I'm just stuck and i lost the groove ... it's like diarrhea of the harp, and i just belt out stuff. Good stuff. It's very odd.
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Last Edited by Killa_Hertz on Nov 07, 2016 2:13 PM
Fil
212 posts
Nov 07, 2016
5:11 PM
If you just want something to hold, try a small coffee cup or small whiskey glass. You get some nice quiet resonance, too.
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Phil Pennington
SuperBee
4252 posts
Nov 07, 2016
6:00 PM
Yes I like to hold both of those.
Fil
213 posts
Nov 07, 2016
6:36 PM
well played:)
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Phil Pennington
MindTheGap
1864 posts
Nov 08, 2016
12:44 AM
Boom-tish!

I know exactly what you mean by 'stunted movement'. Surely you should practice with your mic(s)? No need to plug them in particularly.

The mic adds a lot of mass to the hand/harp combo and it really does affect movement and coordination. Warbles are a very evident example - I prefer to shake harp not head, so it makes a big difference.

So drink up your coffee and whiskey, wash up the cup and glass, and break out the mic!
Killa_Hertz
1876 posts
Nov 08, 2016
11:51 AM
MTG

Yea, I think its both the weight AND the fact that you lose the ability to sort of make subtle movements by moving the harp with your fingers. What I mean is .. if you curl your fingers a bit you can get movement with the harp that way aswell. And with a mic it kind of becomes impossible.

Atleast I THINK I do this .... I could be wrong, but it seems like something else is missing.


As far as the warbles. I used to shake the harp too. And actually (even though i play left handed) found that I could only get a good warble with my right.

But after discovering this problem with the mic ... I have started to do the head shake version. It just seemed like it made everything easier.

I also have played a bit with the cup. after jason made that video I had to try it. Tried every cup in the house and then some ... its pretty cool. R.J, Mischo also has a song on his new album doing this. As does jason ricci.
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Sundancer
48 posts
Nov 08, 2016
9:19 PM
I live in a very densely populated part of the world in an 800 ft2 shack - a beach shack, not a sharecroppers shack. My acoustic harp is probably too noisy for the neighbors, but I'd love to amp up. Is it possible to hook headphones up to an amp so you can hear yourself amped up but the outside world a only hears the acoustic version?
MindTheGap
1866 posts
Nov 09, 2016
3:08 AM
Killa, yes I think so too. A lighter mic helps a bit to reduce the inertia, but even so the ensemble feels less agile.

Sundancer, yes indeed. And if you embrace the idea of playing more softly when amped, there is even less ambient volume. You can use one of those little modelling amps with a headphone output, built-in reverb and an mp3-in socket.

A beach shack sounds nice though - is it?

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Nov 09, 2016 3:09 AM
Killa_Hertz
1880 posts
Nov 09, 2016
8:59 AM
MTG
Lighter mic defiantly helps. Im going to take your advice and start playing with a mic in hand even when playing acoustic around the house. Sounds like a good idea.


Sundancer

There are a few good amps and things you can use to play with headphones.

I have a vox DA5. The new and improved model is the Vox mini5 rhythm. It has alot of great functions built in.

effects, amp models, an extra input to plug in a phone or mp3 player so you can play backing tracks, heaphone output with speaker emulator, adjustable wattage settings, and its even battery powered OR AC powered.

I'm not sure what you were looking to spend. There are certainly much cheaper options. For example a lil smokey headphone amp. But I highly recommend taking a look at one of these little vox's. You could probably find one used for under $100.

Again, if that's out of the range you had in mind, I can give you a few other good options. But the vox is VERY versatile.
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Sundancer
49 posts
Nov 09, 2016
11:03 AM
MTG - our shack is 3 blocks from the ocean and Laguna village. I walk my 7 lb. mutt (gotta have a small dawg in a small house) to the beach every day and blow my harp along the way. The homeless cats hum along ....


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