Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Impact of different mic shells on sound
Impact of different mic shells on sound
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5805 posts
Feb 02, 2019
10:20 PM
I think they do have an effect; the same element will sound different in different shells.
My question is whether you agree, and if so, can we find and consensus about the characteristics particular shells impart?
2831 posts
Feb 03, 2019
6:37 AM
I've had a Green Bullet with the stock CM from the 80's, a brown bullet with a later model dual impedance element, a custom Ruskin bullet made with a motorcycle turn signal bezel and a hot crystal. All had some very big sound. Which was hotter or fuller? I can't decide. The Ruskin was cleaner but still very deep tone wise. Both Shure bullets were very warm and up to hot.

I have used an EV m43u mic for several years which was modded to high impedance by Greg Heuman and it has a hot deep tone as well.

I've used other non bullet mics as well. I think I'm more about what I can do with any mic to get "that sound" than depending on a certain element or shell. Of course the element to me is crucial, more so than the housing.

If it was desert island time and I had one choice I'd opt for a bullet shell with an authentic vintage crystal element.
Music and travel destroy prejudice.



1899 posts
Feb 03, 2019
8:09 AM
I think that there IS a difference in sound with different mic shell shapes, but before that difference matters you have to consider the inherent acoustic tone of the player and the player's skill at cupping. Those factors can outweigh tonal differences in mic shape and elements.

At jams and sitting in I have played through good bullet mics with my best cupping technique and sounded better than most others using that same gear at those venues.

However, sometimes when a player plays through the same rig they play with a deeper and more full sound than I can achieve. Deak Harp is one... he sounds better through his rig than I do. He also has better acoustic tone and better cupping technique than I do. When he played with Kilborn Alley he would take a smoke break and let me play a few through his rig.

I strongly believe that it is not just the mic and amp.

The player's tone and mic skills are very significant factors than may be more important than mic shell shape at certain stages in a player's development.

The gear starts to matter when the player's acoustic tone and mic handling skill have developed to be pretty good. With a beginner, mic shell is not as significant a factor as later on when skills have improved.

Greg Heumann gives his opinion about space behind a dynamic element on page 13 of his microphone guide:

Greg Heumann's All About Harmonica Microphones

Greg gets wonderful full, deep tone!

All individual tone and cupping skill being equal and reasonably good, I agree that the mic shell depth makes a difference.

I play chromatic and diatonic in various styles and usually use ball mics, thus I don't use a really tight cup most of the time. I do not attempt to close off the holes with my cheek to get a total seal of the harp.

However, I do have a chrome grilled Brown Biscuit with CM element I play through. It has a smaller space behind the element than a JT30 or Green Bullet. It works fine for me, and works well with chromatic. I am happy with my tone, but it is not the same tone that I hear from others who play more traditional Chicago Blues style. I have played through one of Greg's wooden bullets and through bulletinis and achieved deeper tone than with my Biscuit.

Although there is a deeper tone with those mics than with my Biscuit, for my purposes the Biscuit is fine.

Doug S.

Last Edited by dougharps on Feb 03, 2019 9:44 AM
2832 posts
Feb 03, 2019
9:15 AM
I play much more then straight Chicago stuff. We have really expanded into other genres and also into more folk blues and roots material as well. In those arenas a hot brown tone is not the best way to go, so I have some different needs.

This past several months I've been using a Shaker Dynamic with an IMT through my tube amp. In the past I've had Shure 545 and 585 that I've gotten good sound out of, in fact I still have a 585 and it's a good middle of the road mic for blues, swing, country, and roots rock.

I just got an Astatic 335 back and am ready to plug it in and see if the element is any good.

I've had very good results with the NOS EV m43u modded to hi z. It's not a bullet shell, more like a can of tomato paste shape and size. The element sits very close to the grill and picks up a lot. Since it's high z it's also pretty hot.

Aside from player skill, another huge factor is what amp is being used.
Music and travel destroy prejudice.



228 posts
Feb 03, 2019
11:11 AM
There's no question that the bullet shell must make SOME difference in reasonance and vibration - that's just primary tone physics.

That being said I believe the player typically brings 80-85% of the tone; the remaining factors (15%+) divided between the element, amp, volume, dynamics of the space (room), and the shell... roughly in that order.

I've done 6 bullet rebuilds in the last 5 years (Astatic 200 x2, JT-30 x 2, RCA 6205, and a Webster Chicago), each chosen for how it fit in my hands. First thing after fit is the element. I'll sample 15-30 elements, narrow it to 2-3 and retest (a cable with alligator clips to element, the other end into a Bassman; no shell in the equation - a test for pure sound).

Then I rely on some outstanding artisans - Mark Overman (great technical work - rear mount volume control, amphenol connector, interior lining, and shrink- wrapped connections); Johnny Ace (flawless powder coating); or John Prado (superb at replacing awkward handles with amphenol connectors and beautiful powder coat work). And I almost always add a new harp mic gasket from Greg H. so sound leakage to the shell is minimal or non-existent.

I never hear the element IN a shell until the mic is complete. I have never been disappointed, nor have I had any negative feedback from others who have played or purchased my mics. While I don't deny that primary tone is a factor of the shell (or guitar body, or shape of the bell of a horn, etc.) I strongly believe the sound from my mics is largely determined sans-shell.

I play pretty much straight ahead Chicago blues and West Coast jump-swing - traditional and not high volume. I notice the nuances of a given amp, the acoustics of a venue, the difference in band dynamics and volume and then adjust accordingly.

I think study of the shell is a nice academic pursuit but as part of pursuing a perceived perfection. Don't recall Sonny Boy or Junior Wells walking away from a p.a. mic because the shell wouldn't let them get "their sound".

But, I use old, metal mic shells, not plastic, wood, or some resin composite that might be more absorbant or more porous, and absorb, lose, or similarly alter the sound.

Last Edited by BnT on Feb 03, 2019 1:11 PM
5806 posts
Feb 03, 2019
6:35 PM
Hi Jbone, Dougharps, BnT, and thanks for your posts.
I don’t disagree with anything you’ve written.

BnT, there's no suggestion of walking away. i just have some resources i don't use much which i'm considering selling/replacing/improving and thought i'd try to benefit from secondhand experience before i break out the solder

I do think it’s funny, Doug, that we’ve both had that experience of using Deak’s rig while he went out for a smoke. In my case it was his BMA wooden-shell I was handed. I experienced a moment of confusion when I saw my initials carved out of the grille, until I realised that Deak and I have the same initials.
I had just been listening to Deak play that gear so I knew what sound he was getting from it, and at some point I started to get some insight into what it took to get some of that sound myself.

But honestly that is not what I’m trying to get at in this thread.

I’m trying to save myself some soldering.

It’s interesting to read your specific mention of the biscuit shell, Doug. I have one I fitted with a black CR. I liked that element in its original shell but I don’t really love it in the biscuit.

It seems to me that the biscuit is probably better suited to a crystal than a magnetic-type element.

One thing which really surprised me was when I switched a CM element from a JT30 to a 520. I had considered that element somewhat sub-standard in the JT and I’d installed it in the 520 with a view to selling it. Not that it was a bad element, just not as good as the others I have.
However, installed in the 520 it was like a new thing. The tendency to nasality was gone and I found I was quite happy to use it whereas in the JT I would always swap it out pretty quickly. I tried it with a lot of amps and just never liked it.

This interests me because the JT shell is extremely popular and I can’t think there is something inherent in the design of the shell which would have had this effect.

I replaced the element in the JT shell with a very strong and good sounding white CR, which I considered the best element I possessed. This had been in a brown shure which developed a crack and bad earth. It still sounds great in the JT. I find this weird. My 59 CM sounded thin in the JT, but sounds great in the 520, my 54 CR sounded great in the brown shell, and also great in the JT

I have another JT with a mid-60s CM which sounds very full, smooth, round; different to my other CMs but in no way inferior

The 1st mic I bought which I really loved was an EV605 with a 72 CM. I never use it anymore because that shell is one which is really bad for me to hold.
The mic has a very big response on the low end but tails off quickly on the highs.
I haven’t tried the element in a different shell and the experience with the 59 CM between the JT/520 has led me to wonder.

There are a few shells I’ve never used. The astatic 200 and the various Turners seem the most likely.

I’m ruminating somewhat and probably moving away from my OP a little myself, but it seems to me I should find a good crystal for my biscuit (what an odd phrase) and get a couple of other shells to house these CMs which need a home, sell my EV605 and foil label JT, either repair or replace the brown shure

i recently used a friend's Ultimate (and "bulletised")545 and have liked that a lot both times.

i'd contemplate a BMA wooden shell, but in bang for buck terms i wonder if the value is there
1902 posts
Feb 03, 2019
8:10 PM
At the time I used his gear Deak was still using some form of Shure Bullet he had built. This was well before his move to Clarksdale. He didn't have the Blows Me Away wooden bullet mic yet. Still, it was a massive sound and as good a rig as I have ever played. He sounded better than me, though...

Regarding the Brown Biscuit w/ chrome grill, when I bought it at a flea market it had a defunct crystal element (it rattled). I installed one of the two ceramic elements I bought from Angela Instruments after I heard rumors of the end of manufacturing crystal and ceramic elements and possible future element shortages. The ceramic was OK in the Biscuit, but not great and very trebley, perhaps due to impedance mismatch issues and/or a bright speaker and tone in my '61 Gibson Explorer (tweed chassis) amp at that time (now using a Lil' Buddy in it).

I then tried a 520D element in the Biscuit (that turned out to be troublesome with harsh tone and feedback issues), and put the ceramic element in a Turner 22X replacing a bad/weak element. At that time, the ceramic in the Turner was bright sounding with the Gibson and OK with other amps, but that mic is heavy and awkward with the big fin and hinged switch part.

I finally traded the other ceramic element for a decent CM element for the Biscuit, which is in the Biscuit now. I used it successfully a week ago at a gig through a small amp. The CM Biscuit sounded good for my purposes, but not like the massive tone with Deak's rig. I think Greg has a point about more space behind a CM element adding depth to the sound.

Doug S.

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