Some thoughts/personal observations/experiences with various microphones
Please feel welcome to post your own.
Shure: SM58 is a very common and reliable microphone. I like the wire mesh wind guard which I find easy to hold if I'm using it as a handheld mic. This does put a bit of distance between the element and the harp, or tonsils, and maybe makes for a cleaner sound than you can get with a SM57 (which uses the same capsule I believe). I bought one in 2009 and use it often, mainly for vocals but also for harp occasionally.
SM57 is a very robust and useful mic also. I sold mine because I simply didn't get much use from it. Some people absolutely love this mic as a handheld mic for harp but I did not. I found it a bit difficult to hold and prone to a lot of handling noise. I know these are things which can be overcome and in fairness it's a fact I was pretty new to the whole idea at the time I bought mine. I have no doubt I'd have figured it out eventually had I persisted. You can get a pretty good range of sounds from these, more so than with the 58 I think due to the lack of "golf ball" on top.
585SB and SA: the "B" is a LowZ mic and the "A" is HiZ. These are great mics I think, especially if you are playing to PA. Great vocal mics too. Can pick up fairly cheaply sometimes. The HiZ is the way to go if you want to plug into a tube amp. Some have volume control as well (the SAV). Getting leads to fit the older mics can sometimes be expensive. Sometimes you can get adaptors so you can use common leads, but the adaptor might cost as much as the mic.
533: I really like this model. Again, I believe there are both HiZ and LowZ versions. The golf ball is only mesh on the top half with these. I have a HiZ example which accepts a switchcraft screw on 5/8" connector. These mics have a great frequency range and response curve.
545 my friend has a 545 cut down as a "blows me away" "Ultimate" model. It's pretty great, with the "bulletiser" head on it.
520 this is the famous green bullet. I don't care for the DX variant. I really don't love the shell, which is just a fraction larger diameter than I am comfortable with. I much prefer the older "brown bullet" aka "small shell" Shure mic. The elements vary. Older is not necessarily better. The best I have is from 1953, next best from 64, and I have another beauty from 72. I have one from 1950 I don't really rate, and one from 59 that doesn't do a lot for me. There are hi Z, LoZ, medium Z, Dual Z, made in USA, made in Mexico examples. I used to really love my good Shure elements. They're quite robust and can be fitted to numerous different shells if you have suitable gasket. They are basically like a speaker though and if you drive them too hard you can get a different kind of distortion which is harsh and not musical to my ear.
Electro Voice EV RE10 these are much sought after and great sounding mics. They are awkward for me though. Rather than "stick" I call these "pencil" style mics. I only played through one one time a long time back. Probably 15 years ago, so don't write anything off because I couldn't handle it. The crowd says they are great and i believe them.
EV 605 look great. Hurts my hand after a while. Original EV dynamic elements sound great IMHO but these can also be adapted to take a Shure controlled magnetic. It is not totally straightforward but many examples exist.
Ev606 looks similar to 605 but different vents and I believe doesn't work quite as well
Ev630 has a large piece of metal with a switch, hanging off a hinge and looks like it would be awkward to handle but I have found mine to be really good. I like it for vocals too but it does have a bit of an "effect" quality perhaps. Kinda gritty and less clean them a modern vocal mic.
EV 638 is a mic I have not used but believe may be the best of these old EV mics, for use as a harp mic at least.
Astatic. The JT30 is such a classic shell. I think they are good to hold. Can fit a Volume control but I dislike them. Popular for modifying with fancy paint jobs and retro fitting Shure elements. Very common mic which will do the job. I have 3. The original crystal and ceramic elements in these can be really great if you can get one. They are not mechanical like a magnetic element and they respond differently in a way I really like. They are expensive and more fragile than the very sturdy magnetic dynamic elements but I think the sound makes them worth considering.
Biscuit models. I have one, fitted with a Shure element that sounds great. A bit weird to hold after the stuff I'm used to but not really a problem.
Edited to fix my autocorrect autoerrors
Last Edited by SuperBee on Mar 16, 2021 2:58 AM
Thanks for the info SuperBee! Another resource I have seen regarding microphone selection, are some YouTube videos by GoldenBug. He reviews some of the inexpensive Japanese stick mics, as well as the more popular bullet, and stick mics.
HarpDoc, Bulletini: would love to try one. I also have reservations about the size but havent tried. in general i think i find some mics to be a little small for the way my arthritic hands work.
HB52: interests me. Example ive heard sound good to me, price is pretty good, and i like the idea an easily obtained lead with a secure connection
Heumann custom: I have played through one of the wooden mics Greg makes. I dont know what element was in it, but it was a nice mic sure enough. When they handed it to me i thought someone was taking the mickey because it had my initials in the grille. Just coincidence but a weird moment.
I dont know if Greg can produce those in different sizes but in any case, i found it to be a good size and it was comfortable enough that I really wasn't thinking about the mic when i was using it.
Turner Challenger crystal in DG's shop: I have been eyeing it off as a mic of interest for a while. Would love to try it. I have some lesson credits with Dennis and meaning to talk to him about a mic next time i line up a half hour with him.
I do want to at least try another crystal. That's really about what i want in the mic dept at the moment. And i think i trust Dennis to sell me one which will be up to scratch. For a long time i think i just didn't 'get' the crystal thing, but now i think i am starting to get it.
eetechTom, i loved those videos. One of them features my custom 605. i also watched how Ron holds his harp and mic, to help me learn how to do it after i found i just couldn't do the "2 thumbs up" method
I think I have made a deal on a Turner Challenger with a Brush or Shure Crystal. Something should happen there in the next few weeks.
I thought of starting a new thread on a related topic, but it might be.. I don't know.. Controversial or maybe just annoying in an "I know better" and rather boring way. So I'm just gonna say it here.
I have probably mentioned it already actually, but it's pertinent to microphones.
I'm playing a gig tomorrow at a festival. One year ago I played the same festival. I made a decision that day to leave my pedal board in its bag, and just plugged directly into the amp. I've never used my pedals since, so this is a review of my "year of no pedals".
I'm not planning on using my pedals again soon. I can't rule out that I'll use them again since time, but I also am not ruling out the possibility that I'll never use them again.
One reason is that I've found playing with no pedals has allowed me to focus totally on the way I'm playing. I'm not thinking at all about whether I have the Reverb spring tone too dark, or the level too high, or whether I should tweak the delay pedal in some way. I am not only not distracted by those things, I am totally focused on how the things I am doing are influencing the sound so naturally this is having a direct impact on how I play. I'm not kidding, for some months now I have noticed that my ability to get a desired sound is much improved and it's pretty obvious to me in hindsight how this has happened. It's just me and a mic and an amp. Yes, I set the eq of the amp to give me a basic sound that I like in terms of bass mid treble and volume, but then the rest of it is my hands and mic and embouchure and breath. Just relying on those things for your sound over the course of a year is bound to start making connections.
The other big thing I just realised today it's that I have much clearer ideas about the basic qualities of each of my microphones now. This is even more obvious I suppose. If you are feeding all this signal information through a filter of various pedals, it's going to be more difficult to have a clear idea of the actual qualities of each mic.
I know people dig pedals and I get that. I totally loved what my delay pedal did for my sound, and my Lone Wolf octave pedal was also a great pedal, but I think the decision to stop using them had been really beneficial in the context of developing a better technique and understanding of what it takes to sound better, and in really focusing on playing the song instead of working out how to set pedals. I also quit using a volume control and I really don't miss that either.
Anyway, boring I know and if you love pedals that's all cool, I'm not putting them down and I hope it doesn't come across that way. I'm just saying this is something I think has helped me in a couple ways but I know it's all relative to what you get out of playing and we all have our own set of measures for that. I have about $1400AUD sunk in my board, counting power supply and the board itself,so I am kinda looking at it and wondering if i am gonna use it again someday
Hi, Fil. The volume control thing probably started by accident. I used to use a blows me away in line "vintage" volume control with all my dynamic mics. My favourite of those developed a little wiggle in the connector. It was all working fine but I would feel this small movement all the time when I had the VC connected and it started to bug me so at rehearsals I stopped using the VC. I didn't feel the movement when I just had a lead connected directly to the mic. After awhile I stopped missing the VC. I realised that I didn't really use it anyway. I just fiddled with it incessantly, constantly checking that it was turned up. It was basically a distraction. Occasionally I miss it, but only when I want to approach the amp, and it's not really a big problem, I just have to take care and sit the mic down, or just don't point it at the speaker. When I installed the crystal element I just didnt connect the built in VC that was in the shell, because I really wanted that element to sound as big as it was able, and I wanted to know what it was capable of without any possible interference via a potentiometer bleeding signal to ground or whatever. I could never get down with any of the ways that people use volume controls to turn down the mic and turn up the amp. I tried it and I didn't really think the difference was worth the trouble. I really only ever used a VC as a on-off device. I don't really have anything against them in a dynamic mic but I just got out of the habit and didn't really miss it.
I think this thing with the pedals is probably mainly about my situation. I acquired a Sonny Jr 2 amp a few years ago and it is an amp which has a character of its own. I've seen it described as a "champ on steroids" or similar. The idea was to have a large amp which sounded somewhat like a small amp, but loud. so, whereas a Champ has an 8" speaker, this cab has 6 x 8" speakers. Sometimes its described as a 50watt amp, and thats probably true in one way, but its also like having 2 25watt amps. the point is that when its hooked up to a HiZ mic, especially a characterful mic, there's really no need for anything else unless you're going for a specific effect. The amp is perfectly capable of doing what i want, it is just up to me to feed it properly. Also, this is not my only amp, so i use this one on stages where playing loud is not going to be a problem. I have a Princeton Reverb i use in many other situations. I think i just use that amp so often that im used to it. And, i do use a little of the on board reverb with that amp. Its a set and forget kind of situation though so it doesnt bother me. Another factor is the type of music I'm playing. Its appropriate for this "straight in" approach because its all modelled on recordings from an era before people really started manipulating signals. I know there was stuff being applied in studios but really i think all the harp players i'm listening to were playing either straight into an amp, either a stage amp or a PA. i also have a (tweed) Champ clone and a couple other amps of that ilk which are the same deal as the SJ2 in that they will deliver the sound without need of assistance. I mean, you could use a delay with this stuff but they really dont need a lot of help and certainly dont need a boost or a drive pedal to deliver a fat sound or distortion. if you are using a crystal or a CM/CR bullet with one of these you will gain very little from a drive or boost pedal imho.
i did not understand this years ago when i bought a harp break pedal and tried using it with my various amps. all it did was give me feedback problems. i thought about it and realised the true application of that pedal would be perhaps where i had a big amp or PA which i couldnt push hard enough to get the kind of sound i wanted in a given situation, or where i was using a cleaner sort of microphone. i currently own a Harp Attack pedal, and i hold onto that because i would definitely use it if i was in a situation where i needed to play using maybe a vocal mic to PA. That doesn't happen very often but it has happened and maybe will happen more in future. I took that pedal with me to USA back in 2018 and used it in a couple situations. One was a living room jam where i was given a very clean sounding transistor amp and the other was on a pub stage where i had a big Vox like an AC30 i think but i could have used a champ so i could not really turn the Vox up and the harp attack came to the rescue. I have heard Jason Ricci and Randy Landry talk about the use of pedals and i totally understand that view. One thing which i dont do and which i think is likely very important is to spend a lot of time playing with a pedal when you get it so that you totally understand what it does and how to set it. i get very impatient and quickly bored with that sort of stuff and probably a major reason i find the pedal board was more hindrance than help on gigs because i was essentially using the gig to sort out stuff i should have done at home
ABOUT THE BULLETINI "form factor" : I also found it a bit too small ; what I did is "coat" it with layers of bicycle tyre inner tubes. With a few layers it gains a few millimeters, gets a better grip, and becomes shock proof, at least does not produce noice if it hits the harmonica. You've got to have several sizes of inner tubes (thanks Lord, I happen to have owned bikes with several sizes of tires and kept blown tubes "just in case").
I did something similar with a SM 57, but here I "buried" a silicon ring (those that you find to put around a microphonic 6L6 tube) under the rubber tube. This makes a nice ridge to hold it effortless.
That is an indulgence i can hardly believe I've allowed myself, but i'm looking forward to comparing the mic Dennis is demonstrating to the crystal i have already. Dennis describes the sound of this mic as "round, fat, dirty" and the volume as A+. I like the sound of the Gibson amp in his demo but the 3rd amp he used in the video is a Sonny Jr 2, which is the same amp as i use, so that will also be interesting to compare.
I have never tried one of these Turner Challenger shells beforebut have been curious for a long time.
Turner Challenger shell: I really like it. I avoided these for a long time because I thought that fin would be a problem, but now I've tried it I understand that it really isn't. In fact it kind of helps I think. The shape of the mic suits my hand also. It may actually be my favourite of the bullet style mics I've tried.
As for the element, what can I say? It's clearly louder and has way more low end than my other crystal. I still like the other crystal. Output isn't such a big deal, just a question of which number you point at with the amp volume control. It's a great mic for sure, and I'm pleased to have it. Did I pay a premium for provenance? Maybe but I think not that much really and I could have easily spent more on a couple of mediocre mics and still not have a real understanding of the issues. Dennis rated the output of this one as A+ so I guess that's saying this is about as big as they get.
I spent a chunk of yesterday swapping some mic elements around between different shells. In the past I have raised the question of whether a mic shell has an impact on the sound of the mic. I've had responses to the question which range from "no" to "very little". Yesterday I swapped a controlled magnetic element from a Shure bullet, into a JT30. I also swapped a "controlled reluctance" element from an Astatic "biscuit" into a Shure bullet. Previously I had done both those swaps, around the other way but not with the exact same shells in each case. The same type of shells though. Having done this a couple times in each direction I feel I can say my observations seem consistent. Yesterday the element I removed from the Shure bullet was very loud, in the bullet. It was clearly the highest output of all my mics. This element was a new one in my possession, and was installed by a 3rd party, erroneously. I'd asked him to put it into a different shell. When I put it into the JT30, it was still a powerful mic but the edge was gone. It no longer stood out as before. I removed the CR element from my biscuit and fitted it into the Shure bullet, from which I had removed it some years earlier. When this element was previously in the bullet, that had been the highest output mix in my collection. I removed the element only because the mic developed a fault in the connector (which has now been repaired, prompting all this activity). In the biscuit this element was still fairly loud but the tone was a bit thinner and lacked the low end it had previously. Back in the bullet it regained all those qualities.
I have another Shure bullet, which originally had a black label CR. I had removed that element, which was never particularly loud/strong/remarkable and fitted it to the biscuit, where it seemed a bit anaemic so I replaced it with the high output element I mentioned above. At that time I took an element from a JT30 and fitted to this old Shure bullet. The element had always been something of a disappointment to me when it was in the JT30 so I was not expecting much. However, I found that in the Shure it was much improved, with a fuller tone that has more bottom to it.
I'm sorry if that's hard to follow, but it seems to boil down to a couple of consistent results. These mic shells are perhaps analogous to tiny speaker enclosures. There are differences in the amount of space behind the element, also in how deep the element sits in the shell. There is another variable in the shape of the mic and how it sits in the grip. It's really noticeable to me that whenever I have taken an element out of a shure bullet and fitted to a JT30, the result is always a tamer mic. It's relative; a strong element will still be strong but the shell definitely has an impact on the performance of the Shure magnetic elements "in my experience".
Further to that post above, its not the first time anyone has thought about this, and there are some people who really should be in a much better position to hold an opinion than i am, who say the effect is negligible, if it even exists at all. More than once ive heard its not a factor with crystal mics because they don't interact with the space behind the element. When i think about that argument, it seems it discounts the idea of the setback of the element in the shell, and the idea that different shape shells will naturally fit into the grip differently. It assumes the movement of the diaphragm and the sealed space behind the element is the key factor. I could repeat this exercise and move a crystal element around a bunch of different shells but that wont be happening anytime soon because although i am fairly nerdy, i'm also not inspired enough at the moment to start tearing down all these mics i just built. i would also need appropriate gaskets for all the different shells. I'd love someone else to do it though.
My final (perhaps!) thought on this topic is that pursuing great tone through equipment choice is a folly anyway. there are lots of different sounds inherent in equipment and they are not necessarily good or bad, just different. A hot mic can be a problem, depending on the amp. A mic which emphasises low tones might not be the best choice on stage where it might sound muddy and not stand up in the mix. So all this stuff is to me just interesting, not make or break. I usually adjust the amp to try and get a sound i like so thats more treble if the mic is dark, less volume if its really high output etc.
So much good information. So, I'll try to be brief with my input. Three mics.
Vintage sound: It's a construction project. Since I've used mostly bullet mics, I find that what is most important is the element. Crystal? CR? CM? Find one where you like the tone. The shell manufacturer (Astatic, Turner, RCA, Shure, etc) is secondary. They're just the house for the element. Find a shell that best fits your hands - I found the slightly smaller Astatic 200 more comfortable and a tighter seal for my hands than the more common JT30 or Green Bullet. Greg Heumann can provide new, silicone gaskets to marry the element you like to the shell that fits your grip. Volume Control? I have it installed at the rear of the shell so I can adjust it with my pinky finger while playing. I don't like to mess with amp settings on a dark stage.
EV 638: If Junior Wells came on stage he could walk up to the mic stand and do a killer set with this mic - straight into the p.a. (Okay, he could do that with any or no mic) I like the EV 638. Omnidirectional, Hi-Z, easy to hold, shiny, silver, retro look. Clean sound - a ham radio mic in its day so it had to transmit voices clearly. You can add an in-line VC if you like.
Shure Unisphere 585 SAV. High-Impedance stick mic with integrated volume control. The 'James Cotton mic' of the 60's. Terrific volume, crunch, and distortion when cupped. Whether you're playing through the house p.a., a 17 watt Masco, or a James Cotton rig (a 100w Bassman head with two 6x10" speaker cabinets) it gives you a thick, warm sound.