Harp Equipment Info

The lowdown on the Mississippi Sax. Just for Google, this section is about harmonicas.

Harp Equipment Info

Postby Cincinnati Slim » Tue Jun 01, 2010 9:28 am

Hi all,

I am looking for information on amps and mics. I played harmonica professionally for many years and retired in 1997, however now there seem to be many harp amp and mic manufacturers. I used an Astatic JT-30 thru a black face Super Reverb. I am interested in the Sonny Jr. amps, and also all the guys doing rebuilds of old mics. What is the difference between a new JT-30 for $100 and a hot rebuild of a vintage one for $300?

Also, can someone explain the differance both, technically and sound-wise, between controlled magnetic, controlled reluctance, and crystal mics?

Finally, is there a way to use reverb (real reverb, not delay) with an amp like a Sonny Jr.?

Thanks!
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby jbone1 » Tue Jun 01, 2010 11:17 am

i've played through a sonny jr II, it's a very sweet harp amp. currently i'm using a repliica '59 bassman built by steve clark of sligo amps. no reverb but plans are for a digital delay later. as for mics, i don't think one can tell the difference between a cr and cm element. both have very similar characteristics- lows pronounced, easily distorted. a crystal element has more emphasis on a cleaner bell-like tone, mids and highs are pronounced while lows are less so.

i run a custom crystal mic a lot of the time. frankly i'm not sure about the difference between a $100 mic and a $300 mic, bu would guess that details are what it's about. maybe also what actual element is in use. i'd want to know what the resistance on a crystal was before i bought it. many are weak and not so suitable for harp mics.

you may want to look at harpgear amsp, brian purdy has made a major splash with his amps. greg heumann of blowsmeaway.com is a true authority on mics and i can vouch for the excellent quality of his work.
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby NEONMOONY » Wed Jun 02, 2010 1:31 am

So, you're a retired, professional, harmonica player and you're just now asking about harp mics? I don't mean to sound rude but, I am curious, how does that work?
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby Cincinnati Slim » Wed Jun 02, 2010 8:50 am

NEONMOONY wrote:So, you're a retired, professional, harmonica player and you're just now asking about harp mics? I don't mean to sound rude but, I am curious, how does that work?


I retired in 1997; before the mass availability of information on the internet. I played a JT-30 because Kim Wilson played a JT-30. I used a crystal element because he told me it had the best tone. I am thinking about getting back into the business and have discovered a lot of information on amps, mics, and equipment available specifically for harp players that was unavailable to me before.

Does that answer your question?
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby jeffl » Wed Jun 02, 2010 2:00 pm

Slim: I'm a serious hobbyist who's been playing for about 45 years. I'm technically challenged, but I use both a stock Green Bullet 520DX with a volume control, and a Hohner Blues Blaster. I don't know if the custom mics are wired better, but the bullet has a ground wire on the spring where the cable goes into the housing and it flexes enough to cause a problem after time. I'd search for a better ground on those. And, my blaster is just plain built light and cheap. The "light" part is nice when you're using it..the cable and housing are both light, but there's a pressed fitting where the cable goes in, and that thing can come off and take the wiring with it. If you're any good at light electrical and real light mechanical work you can cure both those little issues. Regarding elements: http://www.jt30.com/jt30page/elements/ BTW, I've discovered that my two bullets each sound better with different amps. Primarily the blaster (JT30): that thing sucks with some of my amps. The 520 seems adequate with anything. I also use an old mid-60's SM57 occasionally, and that thing's a great harp mic, imo.
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby NEONMOONY » Wed Jun 02, 2010 5:14 pm

I agree with Jeff about the combination of mics and amps. I think my 520 sounds great through a small tube amp. I not so hot about it through a regular PA. There, some of the vocal and instrument mics sound better, in my opinion.
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby Cincinnati Slim » Wed Jun 02, 2010 6:40 pm

Thanks for the info. I plan on using some kind of 4x10 amp: Bassman, Sonny Jr., etc. Anybody know about Fat Bottom mics?
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby jeffl » Wed Jun 02, 2010 7:04 pm

Cincinnati Slim wrote:Thanks for the info. I plan on using some kind of 4x10 amp: Bassman, Sonny Jr., etc. Anybody know about Fat Bottom mics?
Ah-h-h, you guys with reps good enough to get the bigger gigs...you need the bigger amps. I'm actually trying to find the right tone in an amp that's 4 inches by 10 inches. :lol: BTW, Slim, we have a mic builder on this site... GL Heumann I believe. He's posted here. Also Brian Purdy of Harpgear.com has gotten pretty good reviews outa his custom amps.
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby Cincinnati Slim » Thu Jun 03, 2010 5:13 am

Thanks,

GL Heumann I am not familier with. Brian Purdy and HarpGear I am. His amps sound great but I don't think he is making mics, is he? Also, I completely disagree about his method of holding the harp, but that's just me.

Here is a good example of the tone I am after: http://www.amazon.com/Life-Will-Be-Better/dp/B002DRXI16/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dmusic&qid=1275541869&sr=8-1
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby jbone1 » Thu Jun 03, 2010 5:30 am

it's GREG Heumann and he is a real competent mic builder and reconditioner. check his stuff at blowsmeaway.com.

mic choice is debatable. a shure 99a86 or 99b86 is a hot sweet element, it's what used to be used in the 520 green bullet. but even the cheaper elements used in current gb's are pretty good.
amp-wise it depends on what your budget can handle. you're looking at 4x10 amps, and i've seen some good ones here and there for under $1k. mine was scratch built and hand wired for a bit over $1k 2 years ago. the bassman circuit allows for a jumper between the normal and hot sides, which brings out some great breakup and tone qualities.

what harps do you favor? just curious. because there have been some real advances in harps in recent years.
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby Cincinnati Slim » Thu Jun 03, 2010 9:56 am

jbone1 wrote:...what harps do you favor? just curious. because there have been some real advances in harps in recent years.


I am hip to blowsmeaway.com. I will check it out more thoroughly, but I still don't understand the main differances between controlled reluctance, controlled magnetic and crystal elements. I remember I had a 520 at first because Mark Wenner used one, but I hated all the low end and couldn't get enough hair on the top. I liked the JT-30 because the tone was more round and had more break-up. I played through a black-face Super Reverb with both mics.

About harps; I started out (professionally) with Golden Melody's because they had a plastic chassis (better action), but switched to Special 20's when they came out (that is how friggin' old I am!). I was spending $1200 - $1500 per year on harmonicas (and yes, I had a kit for tuning them in order to improve their lifespan) while I was only making 14 or 15k. I remember calling Hohner about 1993 and bitching to a phone rep about how much their product sucked. He was very cool and told me about the Big River harps they were getting ready to introduce. He sent me 2 or 3. The action was good and they were a bit cheaper, so that's what I used until I retired. I still have 4 or 5 from back in the day.

As a sidenote I cannot believe how expensive the damn things have gotten.
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby jbone1 » Thu Jun 03, 2010 11:27 am

sounds to me like a crystal shure element in a bullet would make you smile. that's what was originally in the jt30's.

i started with marine bands in the 70's when they cost $4 or $5. then to sp20 since they seemed to be more uniform. these days i have mostly bushman delta frost and suzuki's new manji model. not cheap but both are very good for my needs. these days a lot of guys are working on harps, both their own and others', to make them work better and with less effort. i have a couple of mb's getting reworked even now but i basically left mb behind a long time ago. i also used big rivers for a few years and found them to be a decent work horse harp. but advances in reed material and tolerances landed me with bushman and suzuki. i just got to order an innovative new harp from brad harrison- the b-radical. this one is REALLY not cheap, and i'll see it along about Christmas, but the wait should be well worth it. totally american made, one harp at a time, and set close to my specs. nothing but rave reviews since its inception early this year.

the sonny jr amp was one of the first purpose-built harp amps. the watts are all available as extra volume in order to keep up with loud drummers and guitarists. with a few mods a bassman can do much the same. my bassman was running at 9 out of 12 on the volume last weekend with no feedback issues and nice tone. several harp guys have moved into amp building, like brian purdy-hbarpgear, scooter-meteor, and others. harp king has a pretty good rep also. and also there are amp modeling boxes out there like the holmes harp commander and others which i have no experience with.

my influences include james cotton and carey bell along with a hundred other harp guys. it's been a long journey for me but rewarding as well.
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby Cincinnati Slim » Fri Jun 04, 2010 7:30 am

I am digging the Holmes Harp Commander. Did you see all the cats that endorse it? That may just be what I am hearing on a lot of contemporary recordings of Sugar Ray and Rod Piazza.
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby jbone1 » Fri Jun 04, 2010 11:34 am

it would certainly be easier to transport- one of my least favorite aspects of gigging is lugging 45 lbs of amp to and from! if the tone was not so sweet on my bassman i'd bring a smaller amp and mic it even though i felt for years that a small amp gets lost in the sauce when the band starts really cranking the volume.
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby jeffl » Fri Jun 04, 2010 4:03 pm

Cincinnati Slim wrote:I am digging the Holmes Harp Commander. Did you see all the cats that endorse it? That may just be what I am hearing on a lot of contemporary recordings of Sugar Ray and Rod Piazza.
I've got the first Harp Commander (I bought it used from Purdy.) . It's darn handy for sittin' in with bands on the fly...saves alotta screwin' around. Otherwise I'm a firm believer in havin' 3 amps for different size gigs: a 5-watter, a 15-20 watter, and something bigger. After all, they're guitar amps... if some friends come over to jam, you got somethin' for 'em to hook into. :)
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