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Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Volume problem at a gig
Volume problem at a gig
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71 posts
Nov 01, 2019
12:19 PM
Hi all, it's been a while since I've been on here, but I wanted to pick your collective brain about something. I'm aware that there are other threads that address topics adjacent to this one...but I'm posting anyway due to some of the specifics of my situation. Anyway, here's my missive:

So, I played harp for a Rolling Stones tribute night at a well-known (but kinda small-ish) venue in NYC a couple nights ago. I played on about five songs out of 20 or so. The musicians rotated throughout the night (and consequently their levels/guitars/amp settings changed), but the basic lineup consisted of two guitar players, a pianist, bass, drums, lead vocals, and a couple backup vocals depending on the song. By the end of the night, I was also flanked by two saxophone players and a trumpet player...all on a stage that I would say is medium-sized.

I played through a Fender Deluxe Reverb, volume set a little past 3. I don't quite remember what I dialed in for the EQ, but I think the bass and mids were probably around 6, with the treble at 4. My mic was a Astatic T3. As a precaution, I brought my Joyo American Sound pedal with me in case I needed to run thru the PA. At line check (which was brief), I decided I liked the sound of the Joyo thru the Deluxe for a raspier tone than the amp alone could give me, and that's what I played thru for the show. I know that's not what most people use the Joyo for, but I liked the tone I got at line check. (Settings on the Joyo were roughly Level at 9:00, Drive a little past noon, Low 1:00, Mid 3:00, High 11:00, Voice 2:00).

Trouble is, I couldn't hear myself at all during the show. I hate being the guy who's too loud, but I wonder if in some way I had overcorrected with my settings. At one point I asked the electric guitarist near if I was too loud, and they said "no, you're too quiet!" The amp wasn't easily accessible from my position, so I made adjustments from the volume control on my Astatic, and from the Joyo. By the end of the show, I had the Astatic's VC all the way (I've never, ever needed to do this before), but I was getting squeals of feedback in between licks, and I couldn't hear the licks. (The lady in the front row told me I was "just fabulous" but I think she might have been the only one positioned to actually hear my amplifier). After the show, a number of people in both the audience and rotating band personnel complimented me saying something to the effect of "it sounded great when your mic was working!" Only I don't think the mic "wasn't working" per se.

Now, I can acknowledge that mic technique is a real thing, and I won't claim to have mastered it. But leaving that aside, I wonder if this was mainly a) an amp volume/EQ issue, b) a byproduct of using the Joyo in combination with an amplifier, or c) simply what happens when there are at least 6 other musicians sharing a stage with a harmonica player. Anyone have sage advice?
The Iceman
3953 posts
Nov 01, 2019
1:58 PM
My advice - when it gets that loud, just shake your head and walk off the stage....(that's what I do)...
The Iceman
2025 posts
Nov 01, 2019
3:20 PM
With really loud bands you either choose to cope or just don't play.

If you choose to cope and play, you want to hear yourself and also be heard.

Stage volume and volume front of the house should be separate issues, but sometimes stage volume takes over and even drowns out the vocals through the monitors and singers can't hear themselves.

In my opinion it is much better to have a quieter stage volume and let the PA take care of FOH. This allows the sound person to balance the vocals and instruments in the main mix. But you may not be able to control the volume of others in the band...

If you have to get by with the amp and just play louder, I have found that I can get more volume through a tube amp by playing cleaner with no pedals or reverb and by using a directional mic. It may not be the exact sound you want, but it is better to hear yourself than not.

However, your amp may turn out to be insufficient to the task. A solid body guitar can get volume out of an amp that is hard for harp through a mic to match. There ARE a few specialized very loud and expensive amps that may get you enough volume. I don't own one...

You can also go to playing through the PA. In my experience the more you distort your signal with a pedal, regardless of playing through an amp or PA, the more likely you are to have feedback issues.

I have played in loud groups in the past and tried a variety of approaches. I have sometimes used my amp as a monitor, tipped back and facing me, while mic'ing the back to the PA so FOH sound is under control of the sound man, and I can hear myself.

If you hang in there with a loud group, bring earplugs!

Doug S.

Last Edited by dougharps on Nov 01, 2019 3:35 PM
6246 posts
Nov 01, 2019
4:18 PM
Sound engineer demonstrated something to me once.
I was at a pub gig, small medium room, maybe 150 people, band had a vocalist with big voice, great projection, Etta James sort of voice, bass, keys, guitar, drums and harp/sax. The harp/sax player had a HG50 on stage and I know the guy, he is no novice player and knows his amps well. He’s had lots of great amps over the years and obviously feels the big HG is the choice for this band.
I could barely hear him, so I approached the sound man to ask if he could make the harp audible.
I was told ‘he’s already sitting on top of the mix, if I turn him up any more he’ll be too loud’. He then proceeded to demonstrate.
The problem appears to be that the sound from everything else was just too dense to hear the harp, unless you made it so loud that it was clearly too loud.
On a smaller scale I experienced something like this quite often, not to the same degree but I think the same phenomenon. When the guitar gives me lots of space I can be perceived as quite loud, but when he’s strumming away, I have to turn up. It’s not that he’s too loud, more that he’s playing too much and occupying all the space, so then the only way to hear the harp is for it to be louder.
Jams are notoriously bad for this because everyone is trying to play and show their stuff and there’s often no thought given to arranging the song.
As harp players we are made very aware of the crime of ‘stepping on’ the vocal, or someone else’s solo. This is basically the same thing but is rarely spoken of in the same way. I saw a video recently of Butterfield playing on stage with SRV, BBK, Albert King and he had just the same problem. I think it looked like PB had a Super on stage, but finding a moment to be heard was a challenge until the guitarists deliberately made space for him.
So the band I saw, the bass was pretty active, being super funky you know, and the keys were pretty much filling up all the other space when my colleague was trying to do his fills. He is probably able to hear himself on stage because that big amp is reaching out to him and the other amps not so much, but out front it doesn’t work that way.
After my band played, the sound man told me he had no problem mixing the harp, but that’s the kind of band we are, with the harp an equal partner and a bass man who understands and is digging on what the harp role is in every song, and no keys.
That’s how I’m seeing it at the moment anyway. I feel like I keep learning more about it with every passing year as I keep doing this stuff and I’m sure I felt like I knew what I was on about in the past and later decided those notions were superseded.

There’s a garage jam I used to attend and they’d get lots of guitars and sometimes a couple harps. It got to where I had to take a 410 or go through a PA to hear myself and it still sounded awful anyway because all the guitarists were turned up trying to get ‘their tone’. They all blamed the drummer, but he was struggling to hear himself too.
I asked them to all turn right down then one at a time come up to where it sounds good. And while they were doing that, the others allowed the guy finding his level to ‘step out’.
Amazing, it sounds so much better.
They totally failed to grasp the concept though. Instead they said they’d keep inviting me so I could manage the levels.
They banned the other harp player for playing over the top of everyone.
3042 posts
Nov 01, 2019
6:09 PM
Bee said a mouthful... Density and space. I gave up playing with bands over the phenomenon. Very occasionally you can luck into an outfit that knows to lay back and truly have a conversation. Think about the lesser frequency of harmonica in general and then about most amps being built for guitar. How many times I tried different amps and mics to get the "bigger" sound, and no good results. Going through a p.a. mic for me was always a form of suicide since my voice and a harp need about 175 degrees of different settings.
So I don't have a magic bullet unfortunately. my only counsel is to lead the band and demand equal volume however that can be done. Guys like Cotton, Musselwhite, and a host of other pros find a way to be heard and I suspect that a good part of it is keeping the band from jamming the airwaves.

Personally I like the duo thing because both partners absolutely need each other and nothing more. We can hear each other even in a big loud room.
Music and travel destroy prejudice.



Thievin' Heathen
1178 posts
Nov 01, 2019
8:51 PM
Giving due credit to the "sound density" observations above, you also brought a knife to a gun fight. The Deluxe Reverb is a 1x12 that you have to keep at ~3 to stay below feedback threshold. You probably needed a 2x12 or 410 and a Harp Shield. Something you could crank to 7 and then balance your contributions with the mic volume. Don't forget your foam ear plugs.
Shaking your head and walking off is also good advice.
85 posts
Nov 01, 2019
9:24 PM
My experience with fender deluxe (re-issue) is it would sound great with band at low volume but it just wouldn't cut through a loud mix at all & turning it up just caused feedback I couldn't control. I went through several guitar amps trying to fit my needs which is playing in a rock/blues band that sometimes is forced to play at low volumes due to where were playing but than in some situations it will get loud & I didn't want to lug around a Bassman & it would be overkill for me. So I had a custom Harp amp built it cost about 1300.00 but worth every penny IMO.
40 watts
Based on the old Bassman tweed circuit
Bias switching
Gain staging
Weighs about 40-45lbs about the same size as a Deluxe
The thing sounds great at low volumes and gets plenty loud when it needs it, the gain staging and Bias switching really make it versatile. I'm just a hobby player and like to things simple but I started using a Boss EQ & Harp shield pedal which help out when the room/band volume/me or whatever is causing feedback problems.

Last Edited by Lou on Nov 01, 2019 9:26 PM
6248 posts
Nov 02, 2019
5:55 AM
There is that.
I realise I was instinctively thinking of the DR as an amp with plenty, because I’ve been using a Princeton Reverb so much and fretting about being maybe too loud sometimes. But yes, there was a time I regularly had a 410 Deville cranked and struggled to hear it
3043 posts
Nov 02, 2019
9:15 AM
I played some with a few guys around Arkansas who needed earplugs. What is wrong with that picture? If the audience is getting blasted then to me it's not a good thing. My hearing is always going to be less than it once was thanks in part to high volume.
I also played with a band in D-FW where we used our 20-25 watt amps as monitors, in front of us, and kept the overall volume to where the crowd could actually have conversations.

I had a '59 Bassman replica built about 12 years ago. Great amp but at 45 lbs. it was a booger to move a lot. I was not making enough $$ gigging to justify keeping it and sold it eventually. With a gain cutter and some speaker swapping it was a great harp amp. Drawback was, at some jams someone invariably got me barred from even putting it on stage. Total strangers who had never heard of me let alone heard me play. Reminders that I knew how to keep my volume down met
with stony stares.

If you can use a small amp-12-25 watts- and keep it close and positioned to be your monitor I think you're better off. It can be miked to the p.a. to get it out front.


Music and travel destroy prejudice.



Last Edited by jbone on Nov 02, 2019 9:28 AM
72 posts
Nov 02, 2019
4:52 PM
Hey everyone, thanks so much for the feedback! (Pun alert).

I think I’m satisfied to chalk this one up to a particularly tough-to-mix evening, what with so many musicians rotating through the various guitar, bass, keys, and drums positions. Add to that the horns, and there’s no way it was going to be an easy-to-dial in set for me. I probably didn’t do myself any favors by using the Joyo pedal, and should’ve settled for a cleaner sound that I could’ve made louder from the amplifier. On top of all that, I really shouldn’t have used the Astatic...it looks cool (chrome...oooo) but I’ve AB’d it with my 545 a bunch of times and I always prefer the 545. It just feels like a handful with the VC adapter, and the T3 is easier to hold. I should probably just get one of those chopped 545s from Greg Heumann.

One thing I’m curious about: a feedback control pedal. Several of you have mentioned Harp Shield. Any others that are in favor here these days? I know there are quite a few options.
954 posts
Nov 03, 2019
10:20 AM
Mosr everything has already been said about the topic. You will get sick of the loud bands. You need to lead the band as the singer to control the band.
Thats how the pro's do it.

Other ways to avoid it is sit in with a band that has a leadman harp player or start your own band. That's it, no other options.

All the pedals in the world are not going to help your situation, so dont waste your money! You will always battle volume if your going to jams/open mics unless you have a 100 watt Harp King. In some cases thats not enough.

Most guitar playera at jams are selfish.
A very, very small percentage of jams have their volume under control.

I have been through the same shit for years untiI I started singing.
508 posts
Nov 05, 2019
8:27 PM
If band loud
1] play yr amp as loud as possible w/out feedback
maybe turn treble up, more than normal, to cut thru
2]I Bought the Senheiser mic [ the one Adam suggests] to mic my amp-Micing and good volume through monitor is a must in these situations--now u have sound in front of u and in back--this is crucial in this situation[make sure u take the time to mix monitor loud enough---after ban raises volume raise yr monitor volume--- micing thru pa and monitor, helps u hear and audience

"In my opinion it is much better to have a quieter stage volume and let the PA take care of FOH. This allows the sound person to balance the vocals and instruments in the main mix. But you may not be able to control the volume of others in the band..."
I agree

3] maybe keep mic volume down to prevent feedback
4] Harp shield or feedback pedal
5] I generally play at lower volume for backing band and then In order to pop out in front of band volume wise-for leads
I use BBE Sonic Maximizer, with treble up to about 80% and bass at 50%-it pops yr harp out---works great

try mic at 45%

Last Edited by snowman on Nov 05, 2019 8:28 PM
The Iceman
3954 posts
Nov 06, 2019
4:43 AM
if it is jams that are the issue, what I do is, when it is your turn to solo, go to the front of the stage, turn around facing the band and give the universal "come down in volume" visual hand sign....if they ignore you, turn to the crowd, shrug your shoulders and walk off the stage.
The Iceman
9 posts
Nov 06, 2019
6:36 AM
I second everything Larry has stated.
218 posts
Nov 06, 2019
5:42 PM
I agree with SuperBee's assessment about density and space. Its easy to be heard when the other instruments leave space. But when everyone is playing, particularly in your frequency space, its gets muddy and you can't hear the harp.

Luckily I have a guitar player in my band who treats the harp like an equal member. We try to complement eachother's playing and stay out of the way when needed. This can be hard to find though, particularly at a jam.

Jim McBride
Bottle 'O Blues microphones
88 posts
Nov 07, 2019
5:35 AM
digitalshrub, you mentioned that you didn't think your mic wasn't working. As you were not able to get to the amp and made adjustments to the Joyo and maxed out your Astatic, with no Monitor, sounds like what was happening was what is known as "clipping." You didn't know when the signal was clipping. Having a monitor properly mixed is a huge help, too. Here's a link that talks about clipping, just part way down Greg Heumann explains it very well and how to get around it. Good luck, work it, have fun.! Peace.


Last Edited by ROBERT TEMPLE II on Nov 07, 2019 5:36 AM
1706 posts
Nov 07, 2019
9:07 AM
Superbee's thoughts on the wall of sound explain, I think, most of the issue. What to do? The joyo, as you said, probably didn't help. Anything you can do to maximize the quality and efficiency of the signal does help in situations like this. Clean, minimal delay or reverb and precise technique. Not new information but reinforces previous points. I really like my exotic ep for this too. It kind of packages the signal for delivery. Also, if you only played a few songs maybe it would help, sort of like Larry said, to step out and declare a position for a solo or essential part. Make it obvious to the band that it's your turn. If that doesn't work then play the rest of the song and decline the others. I don't agree with the arms up shrug demonstration. I would be disappointed (pissed) but would rather represent better than walking off.

Last Edited by Littoral on Nov 07, 2019 9:07 AM

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