(plus a few words about MICS, DELAY PEDALS, MIKING YOUR AMP and AMP REPAIR)
THE AMPS I OWN:
I've been blowing harp through a mic and amplifier for almost as long as I've been playing harmonica--more than thirty years at this point. I currently own a handful of terrific amps, including the following. (Note: These vintage amps are NOT for sale! Scroll down the page for some new amps that are.):
1952 Masco MU-5 (1 x 8")
1954 Fender Deluxe (1 x 12")
1955 Fender Bassman (4 x 10")
1960 Gibson Maestro GA-45 (4 x 8")
1962 Premier Twin-8 (2 x 8")
1963 Premier Twin-8 (2 x 8")
early 1960s Kay 701 (1 x 8")
late 1980s Mouse (1 x 8")
2008 HarpGear HG2 (1 x 8")
1950s Pacemaker tube PA amp (1 x 12")
Over the years I've owned a range of other amps, including a pair of blackface Fender Super Reverbs, an Ampeg Rocket (the original 12" speaker had been replaced with a 15" speaker), an Ampeg Gemini, a small hybrid Peavey of some sort (horrible!)...I've lost track. I've made mistakes. But slowly, over time, I've learned what works for me. (Hint: you'll notice that most of the amps in the list above use 8" speakers.)
Since the late 1980s, I've played all my gigs and recording sessions through the same mic: a Shure PE5-H, which is a hi-impedance vocal mic that I picked up at Matt Umanov Guitars, a store in Greenwich Village. Personally, I like the sound of a clean, powerful vocal mic (rather than a "harp mic") through a small, overdriven tube amp.
For the last twenty years, I have also used one specific footpedal: a Boss DD-3 digital delay. (I used a DD-2 before that.) I set it for a fairly long delay time, about 500 milliseconds (half a second), and I use just enough to give the sound a little fullness. It's easy to overuse effects pedals; it takes time and experimentation to come up with a sound that really works for you. The pedal below is set at the 12 o'clock position on all four knobs. I turn knobs 1 and 2 ("E. LEVEL" and "F. BACK") down to roughly the 9 o'clock position, turn knob 3 to 11 o'clock, and set knob 4 at top dead center. I've learned to tweak the settings slightly in different contexts. Here's the pedal, if you're interested in buying one. Click on the icon and it'll take you to the relevant page at Musician's Friend:
In the soundtrack for the following video, I turned knobs 1 and 2 up to the 10 o'clock position to add quite a bit of delay:
One unusual element of my sound is the fact that I always use TWO amps when I play. I plug a passive signal splitter--a so-called Y-cable--into the 1/4" output jack of my digital delay, and I run the two outputs into two different amps. The Y-cable that I use is no longer available, but if I needed to replace mine, the item below is what I'd use. (Click on the icon and you'll be able to buy it at Musician's Friend. It's cheap. You'll also need to purchase a pair of guitar cables to run from the Y-cable into your two amps.):
Before I go any further, I should let you know that I do offer a video called "Amping the Harp" in which I show off my amps, talk about each of them in detail, and explain the principles that will help you get the best possible sound out of whatever amp you use. Here's a link: www.tradebit.com/filedetail.php/3837014-amping-the-blues-harp-zip
Many beginners ask me to recommend a good harp amp and mic. I've resisted doing so, in part because my own experience is somewhat limited and idiosyncratic--I've been using one specific, hard-to-find mic for two decades, through a range of amps--and in part because I think the amp/mic thing is a very personal decision. My decades of experience have taught me one thing: if you're willing to keep looking, keep spending money, keep making mistakes and learning from your mistakes, and keep on looking for the magic combination that will give you YOUR sound in various performance situations, you WILL eventually find an amp/mic combo that works beautifully.
However, I will offer a couple of recommendations.
GOOD STARTER AMPS FOR DEVELOPING PLAYERS:
If you're a beginner and you're looking for a small, inexpensive amp that will enable you to get good amped tone while playing along with jam tracks, I've been told that the Ampeg GVT5 is a winner. 5 watts, tube circuitry in the preamp and power amp. Click the link to check it out:
For roughly the same money, you can get a great amp with 15 watts and the Fender name: the Fender Super-Champ X2. It's LOUD, so make sure that you've got neighbors (or a Significant Other) who doesn't mind when you crank it up:
If you've got a bit more money to play with and you want the cream of the crop in a smaller amp, then I recommend the HarpGear HG2. It costs around $700 and $800 if shipped overseas. It's worth every penny. Brian Purdy hand-makes these things in Florida. He's a self-taught master of harp-amp design. He's constantly figuring out little tweaks that make a perfect amp even more perfect. The HarpGear HG2 is far and away the loudest and best-sounding amp of this size I've heard--loud enough for many gigs, in fact. Here's a link to the website. Just below the link, check out the video of me playing through one. If that sound doesn't make you go "S--t!!," amplified harp isn't your thing. (And please note: Brian hasn't paid me a penny to make this pitch. I can't be bought. I just like to rave about stuff that I like):
If you'd like somewhat more power than the HG2 for only slightly more money, you can't go wrong with the Fender Princeton Reverb reissue, an all-tube replica of the 1965 model. It has 15 watts and one 10" speaker, and it was THE standout stock amp of this size when I asked folks on the Modern Blues Harmonica forum which amp they would recommend. Musician's Friend has it for just under $900. (Nobody said the blues harmonica habit was cheap, but once you're hooked, you might as well go for the good stuff):
THE PERFECT WAY OF MIKING YOUR SMALL AMP:
If you go with a smaller amp, like those I've just described, you will probably want to mic it through the house P.A. system on all but the smallest coffee-shop gigs. It turns out that somebody HAS built the better harp-amp mic. It's called the Sennheiser Evolution e906 dynamic guitar amp mic. It's not cheap: about $190. I own two. It's designed to pull a warm rich sound out of an overdriven amp, and it doesn't get tweaky, even at very high sound pressure levels. Because of its flattened shape, it dangles beautifully down onto the grill cloth of whatever amp you've got, laying flat and staying where you put it. I can't say enough about it. It's just THAT GOOD. Click on the photo and read about it:
A FEW WORDS ABOUT AMP REPAIR:
Despite the availability of a wide range of great new harp amps, many professional players use old tube (valve) amps. This is simply a fact. They do this because they're seeking a "traditional" amplified sound, and they know that one way of getting such a sound is to use the sort of amps that were actually used on the recordings--amps manufactured, for the most part, from the late 1940s through the early 1960s. Even those like me, who aren't trying for a traditional sound, know that old amps have a kind of character that new amps often lack. They are responsive. They have tone.
Old tube amps require TLC, and it takes a certain kind of deep, long-accumulated, hands-on knowledge on the part of an amp tech in order to do them justice. In particular, it requires somebody who, when repairing an amp, knows how to NOT to swap out all the old components simply because they're old.
One of the best old-amp repairmen in the world is a guy named Skip Simmons. He may be THE best. He's certainly a member of the few and fabulous who can take any old amp you've got and bring it back into flawless working condition. Recently I sent him my treasured early-60s Premier Twin-8. The amp had a great sound when I sent it to him, but it was rickety as hell and had a very loud and obtrusive static sound when you bumped it. Skip took incredible pains to reconstruct the cabinet in a way that was invisible from the outside--we're talking wood strips, glue, and the sort of patience that most people these days aren't willing to invest. He laughed at the poor condition of the wiring, then took the same patient care to test all the working components, swap out only what needed swapping out, and bring everything back in line.
The amp is solid, noise-free, perfect. It sounds better than ever. "I want to make sure you're good for another thirty years," he said more than once. I most certainly am.
Here's a link to his website. Take a look at the list of old amps he's worked on. This is THE guy. I will use him again. Oh: and when he returned the amp to me, he packed it with incredible care. It must have taken him half an hour to put all those bits of padding and wrapping into place. A true craftsman.
I've also had some terrific work done on my Kay 703 by Brian Amundson, who works out of the Minneapolis area. Please feel free to contact him (firstname.lastname@example.org), and tell him I sent you.
FRIENDLY WARNING: PLEASE DON'T EMAIL ME ASKING FOR ADVICE ABOUT WHAT AMP YOU SHOULD BUY! Apart from what's on this page, and a video entitled "Amping the Blues Harp" , I have neither the time nor the specific professional competence required to offer free consults to individual players. But you're in luck: If you join the Modern Blues Harmonica forum and put your question to the membership, you'll be given a lot of very good (if sometimes conflicting) advice. Some of those folks are true experts in the subtleties of specfic amps and amp mods; they'll set you straight.
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ADAM GUSSOW is an official endorser for HOHNER HARMONICAS