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Comparing Pedals to Tube Amp
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Dougie Blue
6 posts
Feb 18, 2021
6:40 PM

Like a lot of amateur harmonica players who does local gigs and blues jam sessions, I really can't afford a $2000 custom harmonica amp big enough to compete with all the SRV wannabes I encounter. Playing through my VHT Special 6, not only can the audience not hear me, I can't even hear myself play sometimes! So, I'm looking into affordable options using pedals.

I did a sound test of lots of pedals in combination with the VHT, and also with a Quilter "Interblock" - a 45 watt class D amp the size of a med. pedal. While I tried all sorts of combos, I have selected three that I think represent the best options for tone - two with pedal combos and the Quilter amp, and one with the VHT. The sound file can be heard here - each sample is about 30 seconds, playing the same riffs. Pardon my amateurish playing - not posting to show off my skills, but to share what I learned! Please listen and choose a favorite BEFORE reading which sample is which combo of gear - perhaps pst here?

Also - there is an unpleasant tone heard through all 3 samples, but most prevalent in sample 1 - is that cone cry?

You can read details about each setup and the answer to which sample is which setup at the very bottom, either on Soundcloud, or beneath the link here:

This is a test to see how close to a tube amp tone for Blues Harmonica I can get with a clean Class D solid state amp. There are 3 sound samples in a row, which I shall cleverly name “1, 2, and 3”. I am not revealing which test was which setup initially – I’d rather people just listen to the 3 short samples without any preconceived bias (edit - details of which sample uses which gear is now at the bottom of this page). Feel free to comment on which sample you think is which setup, or just which you like best for tone. Please pardon my amateur level playing.

All three tests use the standard speaker in my VHT Amp – so only the pedals and amps are causing any tone variation. Attempts were made to match levels when recording, then each test was adjusted slightly in post so that each has only brief maximum volume/minimal clipping. I also attempted to get a similar sound, with similar levels of overdrive in each test. As you will see, I was only somewhat successful.

Here, in random order, are the three setups:

A) Memphis Mini Harp Boost (on 40%), Joyo American (Drive at 25%, Voice at 50%), into Quilter Interblock Amp (Drive at 25%)

B) Memphis Mini Harp Boost (on 40%), Lone Wolf Harp Attack (Drive at 40%), Quilter InterBlock Amp (Drive at 25%)

C) Memphis Mini Harp Boost (on 75%), VHT (High Power, normal gain, Tone about 25% up, volume at about 40%

All three tests use a Nu-X Konsequent Delay (cheap mini delay pedal)set for 1-2 repeats, very short time, moderately high level in order to fatten the tone.

More about the gear: I find I like the tone better when I stack a couple of harp pedals together vs. either separately, unless going into my one tube amp. The tube amp is a VHT Special 6, which is mostly a Fender Champion clone with some extra features. I've swapped in an 12AY7 to lower preamp gain, and a previous owner modded it by replacing the resistor on the normal gain setting with a pot, allowing the gain level to be adjustable over a range, not just 2 settings.

The Quilter Interblock is a tiny Class D amp, no bigger than my larger pedals, but is full featured. It puts out 45 watts (4 ohm load), has 3 knob EQ plus either a modern style EQ and a Vintage (emulates Fender BF EQ circuit), and can also run FRFR (flat response for use with modelers). It has an effects loop and a line out. Pretty impressive for such a tiny box that fits right on my pedalboard!

Memphis Mini Harp Boost is supposedly based on a vintage amp preamp circuit. It's effect is subtle, but really nice, fattening the tone, adding bass in ways that just turning an EQ knob does not. It's a good pedal to fatten up a tube amp tone. Lone Wolf Harp Attack actually has a mini tube inside it. It is designed to replicated the tone of a 6V6-powered amp being overdriven, for use with clean amps or PA systems. It is good - but by itself it just did not quite get there for me. In combo with the other pedals? Listen to the samples and comment on what you think!


Here are the answers to which is which: Sound Sample 1 setup B. Sample 2 is C. Sample 3 is A

Comments welcome!

Last Edited by Dougie Blue on Feb 18, 2021 6:52 PM
4174 posts
Feb 19, 2021
2:32 AM
Adding pedals to the amp won't by default make it any easier to hear onstage. Because the ability to hear yourself is down to a number of factors. I'm guessing you already know that and are intending to run the pedal(s) direct into the PA?
If so well there are many people on here who've done just that, myself included. I usually use either a Harp Attack or Harp Break into the PA when playing amplified. I'm quite happy with the sound they provide. I don't use any other effects inline with it. Although I'll sometimes use a DI box as well if needs be.
As to the sounds above well they are all workable. So it's down to your personal preference really.

On the point of playing direct into a PA. Check out Ian Collard playing a Harp Break direct into the PA in these clips. A damn good sound in my opinion.

Last Night

HA vs Amp

Last Edited by Kingley on Feb 19, 2021 2:34 AM
Dougie Blue
7 posts
Feb 19, 2021
3:54 AM
Kingsley - I know that adding pedals to an amp won't make it louder. However, adding pedals to a Quilter that has 45 watts of power should be louder than my VHT that is only 6 watt. The idea is that a small, clean amp like the Quilter is cheap compared to a big custom tube amp. You still need speakers, but they are only a small percentage of the cost of a custom amp.

As for going to the PA - everything I'm doing with the Quilter can also be fed into a PA. In fact, the Quilter Interblock has a direct feed you can send to the PA - the only thing you lose going direct is whatever part of the tone you are getting from your speakers. I've certainly done direct to PA feeds - it's a good solution. But I live in a small city in the Philippines. Many local bars that might hire a blues band don't have any PA, or one barely good enough to cover the vocalists. So a PA is not always the answer here.

I like the Harp Attack, but I like it even better with the Memphis Mini Harp Boost in front of it. And to be honest, I decided I liked the sound sample with the Joyo American pedal instead of the Harp Attack (but with the Harp Boost) - it's just got a "sassy" honk that I like. And thanks for the link to Ian's Harp Break vs. Amp sample - I had not seen that one. I guessed right - I like the Harp Break, but in the tests I'd heard, I decided I like the Harp Attack slightly better. The HB seems a bit grittier, the HA a bit more like a classic tube amp. But that opinion was from listening to Youtube samples as I only have the Harp Attack.

I'm talking with a friend, who is a very good blues/R+B sax player, about starting a local Jump Blues band. If so, I will need a reasonably loud rig, with the option to go to the PA as well, so I can adapt to whatever venue we line up. So I was doing tests to see what setup will work best. I can scale it up, too, as I am also a pedal steel guitar player. Pedal steel players typically like amps with high power, as we use a volume pedal so we can increase volume to offset the decay in a note to get the very long sustain sometimes used. We may only use 1/3 of the power when we play a note or chord, but might have the volume pedal floored just before picking the next one. We also usually like very clean amps. In addition to the Quilter Interblock, I also have a Quilter 200 watt amp that is my usual pedal steel amp, and also a "Stereo Steel" amp, which is 2 separate power amps of 300 watts each that can be controlled independently. So needless to say, I can "scale up" as needed!

Thanks for the info!
386 posts
Feb 19, 2021
8:46 AM
FWIW, I preferred Sample 1 (setup B).
(They all had similar sound -- I suspect because you dialed in the sound you like with each.)
1676 posts
Feb 19, 2021
3:00 PM
@Dougie Blue: I hear your pain. This is the perennial question, "Can we get rid of those amps?", and well, I think we can. But I´m speaking from the ignoramuse´s persepctive, owning only a 5W tube amp (Champ clone), and a larger Vox half valve/half tube.

I found your sample 3 the best. A bit harsh, but since you´re in the blues market some distortion is welcome and it seemed to me that that was mostly present in that sample.
I´m involved in a "Minimal pedal gear direct to PA" discussion in another group (and I´m also always interested in Minimum $ you have to put up) and annoyingly I can´t record anything on Audacity all of a sudden, to get a good sound. But while I experimented I took up this on my phone (a seriously old Samsung that sounds really crappy!), and this is: Harp Octave-JoyoAS-delay-Behringer AD121 into a powered speaker of indiscriminate quality. Just for comparison. It lacks warmth, but this is now, with adjustments, my go to blues sound.

20 posts
Feb 19, 2021
3:51 PM
Does the 45W SS amp give you a lot more volume than a 5W tube amp? I would have thought no, but never compared.
John M G
418 posts
Feb 19, 2021
5:06 PM
For what it's worth, I have the earlier original Quilter micro block 45 that I use with a Lone Wolf Harp Attack and Lone Wolf Reverb that I put through a WGS ET 65 that sounds pleasing to my ear. But it just sits around now taking up space!
I have to say that I've now found what I've been looking for in a very affordable valve amp. It is so much better than anything else I've had and it's light!
I came across the amp by chance when I was loaned the amp at a jam 3 or 4 months ago. I put out a wanted add and now have an as new old model Lancey Cub 10 amp that cost way less than a decent pedal!
I've also bought an Integral Mic IM 10 that fits between the speaker baffle and speaker that will give you a line out to go direct to a PA.
It weights just on 20 lbs and for me it's a perfect solution.
Link to Integral IM-10

Hope this might help. I know now that I'm going to seriously look at moving on a couple of amps and probably a lot of pedals too!
Never been happier with my sound and I'm not using any pedals now
Dougie Blue
8 posts
Feb 19, 2021
5:46 PM
Teton John - tone sample 1 seems to be preferred by most listeners - thanks for the feedback! Interestingly, no one yet has voted for sample 2, which is the actual tube amp with the Memphis Mini boost to fatten the tone.

Bluebird - yes, a 45W SS is louder than a 6W tube amp. I am not sure how much louder, as I've yet to fully crank it - my house is too small to do it (too loud, too much feedback as it bounces off the walls) and even my backyard has challenges (concrete walls on the house, out buildings, and even the fence surrounding the very small yard). So I've cranked it enough to know it's louder than the VHT, but not sure how much so. But, as noted, I have a Quilter Tone Block 202 - this is a bit bigger - about twice as big in each dimension - that puts out 200 watts. I would not suggest anyone go out and buy one to play harp through - it is my preferred amp for playing pedal steel guitar, so already had it. With the Quilters, as you get louder, you have to crank up the gain level some. While guitarists seem to like the gain of the Quilter SS amps, and it's not bad with harmonica, it's just not quite there for me, so I don't want to over use the Quilter's gain knob. I turn the master up to full volume, then adjust the gain to get the volume I need.

Martin, I'm finding recording a challenge as well - I have tried to get the recording to sound close to what I am hearing while playing. That sound sample used the onboard condenser mics of my Zoom R16 that I use for recording stuff. I'm not happy with it, but putting a dynamic mic right on the speaker does not sound like what I am hearing while playing either. I've used two dynamics in the past - one on the speaker, and another 4 feet or so away, then blended them. That's OK. It seems that there are two different goals, and they require different techniques - recording for distributing, or recording to demonstrate amp/speaker/pedal setups. I always find that it sounds like a lot more overdrive in the recording than it does live. I think the Harp Attack is particularly easy to put too much in the mix. I see, like me, you like stacking pedals. I'm curious what the Behringer is for - are you using it just as a DI box?

Basically, when using pedals to shape the tone and then going into a clean amp (a PA system is just a clean, flat response amp/speaker basically), you create the tone first, then amplify it. A tube amp uses each stage to help create the tone.

The one thing you lose when you go the the PA is the aspects of the tone you get from the speakers. I thought pedal steel players were particular about their speakers, but they don't come close to harp players on the topic! Haha! There are two ways around this: one would be to use the clean amp/pedal setup into your speakers of choice - just like playing through a big amp. The other is cab emulation. Just like amp emulation, cab emulation is becoming more common. But I don't think anyone is doing it for harmonica. I'm not sure if an algorithm taken from playing a guitar through a particular speaker will sound "right" if you play a harmonica through that algorithm.

I also play dobro, and current state of the art for amplifying an acoustic dobro is using a Fishman Nashville pickup through a Jerry Douglas "Aura" pedal into a clean amp/pa. Basically, they recorded Mr. Douglas with various mics, and simultaneously recorded the signal coming from his pickup. They then designed the algorithms for each individual mic, and you can choose which one to use on the pedal. You play a dobro through it, and the sound coming out of the speakers is pretty much the sound your instrument would get if you mic'ed it, without the feedback. But if you played, say, a violin through it - nope - it probably won't sound like a violin. So I'm guessing a speaker/cab emulation of a guitar will fall short for harmonica. But maybe one of our amp/electronic wizards in the blues harp world will figure out how to add speaker emulation to one or two of their other pedals to get the ideal rig for going straight to the PA.
2243 posts
Feb 20, 2021
10:04 AM
Regarding the 3 samples you put on Soundcloud:

I prefer the third recorded sample. Any of the 3 would be usable in a jump blues gig context. I plan for the least hauling and setup of gear that creates the least risk of feedback problems. The acoustics of each room affects the sound and volume you can generate before feedback problems.

It doesn't matter if your pedal sound is good if it constantly feeds back at the volume needed to be heard at a gig. Avoiding feedback issues takes priority over the perfect sound you want!

Cupping technique affects feedback. Directional mics can help with feedback control. Volume control on a mic can help manage volume to avoid feedback when you adjust as you play and cup.

You can get a good sound with either of the pedals you used. The Quilter should provide plenty of volume.

Questions about your approach:

1) What mic are you using into your pedals? If the mic you used is noted in your post I somehow must be missing it.

The mic you use (and how you use it!) is just as important as the amp or pedals you use for the sound projected to the audience. Try different mics...

2) How much time did you spend with just your mic to just the Harp Attack or to just the Joyo American played into your Quilter, without adding the harp boost pedal or delay?

I think that the boost pedal may be adding gain that is not needed to get a good pedal sound to your Quilter and that contributes to feedback.

The Harp Attack and Joyo A.S. pedals should have sufficient adjustments available to not need the boost pedal to get a good sound unless your mic is really lacking in output.

The way you learn to adjust a pedal (or amp) for your sound is by thoroughly exploring it BY ITSELF before adding additional pedals. I am amazed by the range of usable sounds I can create using the Joyo A.S adjustments. I would think the Harp Attack also offers sufficient adjustment possibilities.

I am a big proponent of keeping it simple, using the minimal necessary gear at gigs. For a jump blues band you should not need many pedals. The fewer adjustments needed to fewer pedals, the more you can focus on playing at a gig and not messing with pedals. I think that for jump blues adding slapback delay is a good choice.

When playing directly into a tube amp you shouldn't need the Harp Attack or Joyo A.S. Just work your mic and the amp to get your sound.

Regarding getting volume to hear yourself on a loud stage: an option I have sometimes used with a PA is to set up my amp as a monitor, either tilted back right in front of me or used as a side fill for me and the band. I have mic'ed the amp if it is a tube amp, or put a DI to the PA between my pedal and the clean amp. The PA projects the FOH sound and the amp lets me and/or the band hear my playing on stage. With a PA available you don't need your amp to fill the room.

With no PA for your harp, you WILL need a bigger amp sound. Your Quilter should do the job fine. Don't aim your speaker at the back of your knees.

Good luck with your band!

Doug S.
676 posts
Feb 20, 2021
10:28 AM
On this post and previous posts on this topic, John MG mentioned this mic that attaches to the speaker.

My truck is dead at the moment and I have too much time on my hands--I watched John MG's videos of his mic---"REALLY NICE"

The advantage to this is "consistent" micing---once u get the tone yr set

Im so anal a line out with this new mic deal covers all the bases and 'quick' set up. PA person just needs to plug into the xlr box from mic'.

I clicked on his url, whatever u call it and watched there videos. here is just one.

Last Edited by snowman on Feb 20, 2021 10:29 AM
677 posts
Feb 20, 2021
10:52 AM
Also for direct to PA no amp when called for

I tell pa person, its gonna sound dirty "thats ok" its not digital dirt from PA. Lots of PA people don't understand some of us are going for that tone.

1]either Turner mic with "cm" element or "545" by Blows me away-depends

2] 1st pedal Anti feedback
3] either "Harp Tone" or "Boss GE7 Modded"
and easier to dial more or less dirt
Depends on situation
5] Delay "1 Slapback" thickens sound



The perennial question;

One of these days a digital guru will make pedal that immediately recognizes a feedback Frequency even b4 it has chance to really get going and kill it, without weird sound artifacts.ITS COMING

Last Edited by snowman on Feb 20, 2021 10:54 AM
267 posts
Feb 20, 2021
9:55 PM
All three of your samples are workable sounds. Plenty good for a typical bar band or blues jam.

But I have to disagree with the premise of your post. You said you couldn't afford a $2000 specialty amp to compete with loud guitar players. There are plenty of low cost loud tube amps that can be made to sound fine for harmonica with nothing more than simple tube swaps. I have a Fender Deluxe, 40W with 12" speaker, that cost $400 used a few years ago. Its loud - really loud. I've played it all over and never been drowned out by guitars.

I get the reason for wanting to play without an amp. Its really the holy grail for a harp player. No heavy amp to carry around. Just show up with a case of harps and a pedal, plug into the PA, and blow! And I know some people have been able to make it work. But it has its problems. One of the main issues is your dependence on the person mixing sound, who may or may not know anything about the harmonica. You have no control over your volume and may get buried in the mix. You're also dependent on the monitors to hear yourself. Then of course there's the feedback problem.

Jim McBride
Bottle 'O Blues microphones

Last Edited by jpmcbride on Feb 20, 2021 9:57 PM
Dougie Blue
9 posts
Feb 21, 2021
5:38 AM
Again, thanks for all the info and suggestions!

Microphone - I am using a Hohner Harp Blaster - the newer mic from Hohner. I really like it. I've got a Superlux D 112/C as well (youc an buy them here for about $40 right from China), but prefer the Hohner.

I had the Harp Attack pedal for about a year before getting the Memphis Mini Boost. The Boost does add a little gain, but not at a loss of volume. But it does a more than just add a little gain - I don't need more gain - that's the easiest thing to add with playing harp! It seems to really fill out the bass and lower mids in a way that just adjusting the EQ knobs do not. And, when doing those three samples, I actually made about 10 others as well - Harp Attack only. Boost Only American Sound only. Without the Delay, with the delay. The three I used were the ones I liked best.

I am no amp expert. But seems to me, when you overdrive a classic amp used for harp, there is "stuff" happening in the pre-amp, stuff happening in the power amp tubes, and stuff happening with the speakers (breakup, compression, etc, etc.). Most overdrive pedals for harmonica have one thing they are doing for overdrive, and then maybe a tone knob. The Harp Attack, for example, has a "sub-miniature beam tube" in it to mimic the overdrive of a power tube section of an amp. That's cool, it works - but I find it's not the complete picture (or sound).

The American Sound pedal does have more variables - "level", "voice", and "drive". So yes, it can get a greater variety of sounds out of it.

As to being able to afford a big tube amp, there are several concerns. First, as stated, I am in the Philippines - selection here is somewhat limited, new and used. Shipping from the US can be very expensive, and no opportunity to "try before I buy". But, as noted, no one has stated they prefer the tone of the actual vintage-clone tube amp in the three samples. If I'm getting better sound by going direct to PA, or through pedals to a small SS amp and into a speaker cab, why buy a bigger amp?

Last, the "Integral Close Mic" - I watched a Youtube where they A/B tested it against a Shure SM57 - I thought the tone of the Shure was far, far superior. I have some SM 57's, so can always mic. The Quilter lets me go straight to the PA if I want.

Wed there is a fundraiser for a local musician I have played with who had a stroke. I will take my pedal rig and go straight to the PA, as it's at one of the few bars with a decent PA, and try a few songs I've been working on, and get to try my pedal rig in a bigger space. I'm not keen on being out and about due to COVID, but local case counts have dropped significantly - in the 30's for a city and surrounding areas with a couple hundred thousand people, so I should be fine. Wish me luck!
6901 posts
Feb 22, 2021
2:42 PM
If the Quilter is your ultimate amp as in the final amplification stage, then I suppose you can do what you like but I would approach it like the PA. If it sounds good in its own right, you can use it as it is. If it's loud enough to hear but doesn't give you a sound character you enjoy, by all means put something in front of it to shape the signal.
Whether that's the VHT, harp attack or joyo comes down to what sounds good to you.
If you want to use a boost pedal to fatten certain aspects of your signal, that's your business.
If you could bypass each of those preamp/drive elements effectively, you could have them all and drive yourself wild with choice. I would pick one and use that.
Personally I am easily confused by choices but some folk thrive on it.

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