Harp Equipment Info

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

Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby gheumann » Sun Jun 06, 2010 3:11 am

Cincinnati Slim wrote:...but I still don't understand the main differances between controlled reluctance, controlled magnetic and crystal elements.


Hi - sorry to be late to the party, Slim - I'm Greg Heumann of BlowsMeAway. FYI I am a Sonny Jr amp user as well. I'm happy to answer your questions if I can.

It is really hard to describe the difference between these elements tone wise. Crystals, to me, can be a little more horn-like. Another way of saying it is that they can have a slightly nasal quality. Crystals have all kinds of things going against them too. There are, unfortunately, no crystal elements produced in the last 10 or 20 years that are worth a damn - so we have to source vintage ones. But they're going extinct. Most have died, many are ill, even a good one can die a very rapid death. So their prices are through the roof. But I do have some good vintage crystals, still - if you want. (I also have Shure CR and CM elements.) Another issue with crystals is that they're extremely high impedance, which means that they can produce hum problems where a controlled magnetic or controlled reluctant element won't; they are also more vulnerable to having the tone sucked out of them by poorly matched amps, pedals or volume controls.

Controlled Magnetic and Controlled Reluctance elements are both flavors of the Shure dynamic element used in many of their mics from the late 40's through the 90's or so. The current green bullet called the 520DX uses a more modern element. Happily for us, and unlike crystal elements, these things are damn near bullet proof. Lots of them still exist and they're not even on the endangered species list. Chronologically, Controlled Reluctance elements came first. The change to the term Controlled Magnetic was, I believe, simply a marketing decision, although the change coincided with one change in the element's construction - that of how the diaphragm is affixed to the pin which moves in the coil. The CR's used a crimped on little metal "hat", while the CM's used a drop of glue. Some (myself included) believe this is responsible for the change in tone. However BOTH CR's and CM's vary considerably from element to element, even within the same model designation. A really good CM is better than an average CR, but a really good CR has the most mojo of all.

An excellent source of info on Bullets and their elements is Dave Kott's excellent web site http://www.greenbulletmics.com/

The only way you're going to find out which mic is better for you is to play a good example (or three) of each - preferably back to back through the same amp so you can really hear what's going on.

I hope that helps. Feel free to contact me any time - that's what I'm here for.
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby Cincinnati Slim » Mon Jun 07, 2010 9:33 am

Thanks, Greg. That is exactly the kind of explaination I was looking for. I would like to pick your brain a bit further; if the crystal elements are going extinct, it is only logical that I choose another route. My fear is that, after spending premium bucks, I will end up with a tone like the 520 I had circa 1980. It was horrible; no break-up, tons of low end feedback (I say "low-end" but we are talking 250hz - 1k), and generally crappy dynamic response. By contrast, Kim Wilson, Charlie Musslewhite, and especially Sugar Ray Norcia are all getting the tone of my dreams these days. The Kim Wilson vid on your site is a prime example, as is the recording of "Life Will Be Better" and "Route 66" from "Superharps". In fact, the tone is so perfect, and so much alike, I was thinking there was something else in common... something like the Harp Commander perhaps?

I purchased the JT-30 about 1984. It was flat black and came from Conneaut. I thought it was a crystal element, however after gigging 5 nights a week for 12+ years with it, I never had a problem. In fact, after retiring from the music business in 1997. I had a little reunion gig that I dug it out for. The damn thing still worked! Here is a vid from that show (and take it easy on me; the amp was a piece of crap tweed re-issue something-or-other, and it was my 1st time back onstage in 12 years.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YL5pkK4pCvg

So, my questions are; was it a crystal or perhaps a ceramic element, can I reproduce the tone with a CR element, are ceramic elements still around, can you build me a mic that will make me rich and famous?

Thanks for the help.
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby bottleneck » Thu Jun 17, 2010 12:11 am

if it is a mid eighties flat black jt-30 it is most likely a BLJT30 which did indeed come with a crystal.i bought one brand new and broke it the first time i used it.

they had a terrible mini xlr connection if i remember correctly.

i'd keep on using that and buy a jt-30 shell,a CM/CR element and a new gasket from www.harpmicgaskets.com .then you would have two mics that feel and weigh about the same and have the two archetypal elements.

i'm a big proponent of having both.in joe's bar fri,the crystal maysound better and have more gain before feedback,and the opposite may be true in jolene's bar saturday.

all work can be done by www.blowsmeaway.com greg is the man

for years i carried jt 30's with screw on connector adapted to guitar quarter inch.usually i had one with a CM/CR,one with a crystal and one with a ceramic element.sometimes i would even bring one with a dynamic element.

nowdays i usually carry only one ,with the ears shaved and a CM/CR in it.i don't remember if it is a CM or a CR in there,and i don't really care,they sound the same.i don't bring the crystals out much anymore!i only have a few untouched astatic elements left.i foolishly gave away a shure crystal in a jt-30.

i think one of the best deals in amps are the sligo's as jbone says. www.sligo.com and i am with jeffl in having a five watter,a 15(10-18) watter and a 40 watter.i think three amps covers it well.my main amp is a fender BMRI.

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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby jbone1 » Sat Jun 19, 2010 12:50 pm

the sligo bassman, steve did a couple things for me on that. it has 3 different speakers, 2 of one and one each of 2 others. good breakup both on low and high volume. i didn't get the reverb tank which i couldn't afford at the time, but just jumping the channels has given it really nice distortion features with a $2 jumper jack. swapping 1 12ax7 for a 12au7, in p3, allows the amp to get a hot signel coming in and just taming what needs tami9ng while retaining volume. at a recent electric gig, i had the volume on 9 out of 12 and no feedback, yet at solo time i could cut the volume back a little, play soft and sweet, and be heard.

the silvertone 1482 is my small amp- about 12 watts. great tone but short in the volume dept for louder gigs in a big room or outdoors.

greg modded a mic i sent him, added a transformer inside the casing to make it high-z, and added a volume pot as well, along with a screw-on to 1/4" jack. it's compact and totally functional. one of 3 mics i depend on. the others are a crystal (like in the early jt30's) custom mic and a 99b86 cm powered brown bullet. the 707a shell is a bit smaller than the shure 520 shell but i don't notice that at all either way. i do have a shure 545 "pistol grip" mic but rarely use it except as a vocal mic in a pinch, into the p.a. i also bought on sale a bushman (nady) torpedo low-z mic in bullet casing, with vents cut in all the way around the shell, which i occasionally take to a jam to plug into the p.a.

one note-, i must have gotten a really good crystal element in the ruskin custom because despite dropping in a few times this element has performed great for about 9 years now.

re your video, good chops even for a 9 year break!
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby gheumann » Sat Jun 19, 2010 4:11 pm

So, Slim

Have you made any decisions? Are you still here?

I realize I didn't answer your first question so here is that:

Q: "What is the difference between a new JT-30 for $100 and a hot rebuild of a vintage one for $300? "
A:There is no such thing as a new JT30. There are some mics (Hohner BluesBlaster and Roadhouse) that use the same shell but they use cheap mass produced currently available elements that don't come close to the original crystals for tone. The $300 rebuild may have a still-good crystal, or will have been converted to another good element like a Shure controlled reluctance or controlled magnetic element.

You say you like Charlie and Kim's tone - they're using BlowsMeAway mics these days. And those mics have an element like your 520 did - that is, single impedance CM (Charlie's) or CR (Kim's.) You said " It was horrible; no break-up, tons of low end feedback (I say "low-end" but we are talking 250hz - 1k), and generally crappy dynamic response." These elements do vary a little from one to another so I wonder if you had a lousy element. I LOVE these elements - and I love their tone.

Re: "So, my questions are; was it a crystal or perhaps a ceramic element, can I reproduce the tone with a CR element, are ceramic elements still around, can you build me a mic that will make me rich and famous?" It was almost certainly a crystal - the original Astatic MC-151 that was in JT30's was still available. Those elements ARE still around but they're hard to come by. I collect them. I have to throw away many to get a good one. As a result their prices are steep. They do have a different sound than CR/CM as I said in my earlier post - but not THAT different.

I just got a Sonny Jr Avenger. Best amp I've had yet. Better than my Cruncher or Super Sonny. Here's a sound sample recorded completely dry, using one of my wood mics with a CR in it. If this is the tone you're after, - now you know one way to get it: http://www.blowsmeaway.com/sounds/Avenger.mp3

As I listen to this sound clip, I hear a certain horn like quality that I used to attribute to crystal elements. I now think it has more to do with having 8" speakers in the mix. I freakin' LOVE the tone of that Avenger - it has, to me, the tone of a small vintage amp like a Kalamazoo, with all the break-up, but at significantly higher volumes - something no other amp I've ever heard has been able to accomplish at this level.
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby Cincinnati Slim » Sun Jun 20, 2010 7:08 am

Yup, still here... and thank you so much for the info. You have been very helpful, and if I decide to get back into this you will get the call.

It is amazing how much stuff is available now. It is entirely possible that the 520 I had was a dud. As a sidenote I was corresponding with another harp mic builder who quoted me prices that were very, very steep. I understand the amount of work involved, as well as the growing scarcity of the parts, but $600 or $700 for a harmonica mic?

I will check out the Avenger. Do you know if the Sonny Jr. amps are available with a spring reverb?

Again, many thanks for the help.

PS - Do you offer a plain metal shell, or are all your bullet mics built with a wood shell?
PPS - Oh yes baby... I just had a chance to listen to the sound clip of the Avenger; Daddy wants!
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby jeffl » Sun Jun 20, 2010 7:40 pm

Greg: your website is very nice and helpful. I've visited it occasionally over the years. I like the idea of lightweight mics that are well-built. I generally use a stock 520dx and have gotten accustomed to the weight, but it's a negative..easier to drop and harder on the cable exiting the housing. I play with a bunch who traverse blues,rock,americana, etc., and I need to use various tone types. I use a 57,58, and a Blaster in addition to the 520. The blaster's the lightest one, as in CHEAP construction. It'd be nice to have a good light mic that isn't cheap. BTW, how scratch resistant are your wood finishes? My main mic stays in my harp case..it's padded but the cable surrounds it in the case.
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby bottleneck » Mon Jun 21, 2010 5:57 pm

hey jeff,a cool thing greg could do is add a screw on connector to your 520,then you wouldn't have to worry about the cable anymore.

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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby gheumann » Mon Jun 21, 2010 8:23 pm

Hi, Jeff

My wood mics, so long as you order "semi-gloss" or "full gloss" finishes, are finished with nitrcellulous lacquer, - the same stuff used to finish expensive guitars and pianos. It is very duarable, but of course not impenetrable. I have mics I've used several years and they look good. Minor scratches can hidden with wax or furniture polish. Deeper ones can often be repaired as with guitars - sand up to a very fine grit and then polish it out. Deeper ones - send it to me and I can refinish it for you.

Also, if hand-held mic comfort matters to you, check out the Ultimate Series for your '57 and '58. Converting your mic is only $129

P.S. - $700 for a harp mic is ridiculous. The upper end of pricing on a wood mic from me with all the bells and whistles (many of which have purely aesthetic value) and a black label CR for about $550. And there's LOT more labor in a wood mic with a stealth volume control than in any metal shell. A basic wood mic with a very good 99A86 or 99B86 CM is $279.
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby jeffl » Mon Jun 21, 2010 8:46 pm

Greg: I've always used mics that are considered cumbersome and it's never been a problem (I've got a 10 key reach on keyboards & I'm only 5'6" tall) ; I might have more trouble adjusting to smaller housings, lol! My 57 is one of the originals-- I've used it since they were introduced in the 60's-- with the big fat ice cream cone shaped housing. I mostly use it to mic amps, but it is lately coming out of the bag for stand mounted playing,when I'm playing boards. I would never mess with that one; most of the guys I know have either never seen one like it, or they've forgotten 'em. I've never played a 545 and I'd guess the shape & size would require an adjustment for me. Ultimatizing the 58 is enticing though..it lacks mojo. And the blaster looks and feels like something you would get for Christmas when you were 8 years old...I only keep it as a backup, and it doesn't work worth a darn on one of my harp amps.
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby jeffl » Mon Jun 21, 2010 11:45 pm

My bad! I got my 57 confused with my old 515.
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby Cincinnati Slim » Tue Jun 22, 2010 11:20 am

gheumann wrote:... P.S. - $700 for a harp mic is ridiculous...


My sentiments exactly; which is why, when and if I pull the trigger on this, you will get the call.

PS - What do you know about the Turner mics?
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby jbone1 » Tue Jun 22, 2010 11:35 am

you could get a decent mic AND a decent midsize amp for that kind of $$! the cost of acquiring my e-v m43u and having it modded came in under $200. it's NOT a bullet mic, more of a fat salt shaker shape, and smaller. i kept the olive green matte finish it had when i got it- old/new military stock. fits the hand much better than a bullet. with $500 left over out of that $700 i KNOW i could find a decent 15-25 watt amp.
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby jeffl » Tue Jun 22, 2010 2:52 pm

bottleneck wrote:hey jeff,a cool thing greg could do is add a screw on connector to your 520,then you wouldn't have to worry about the cable anymore.

http://www.myspace.com/shakeylyman
Thanks bottleneck. I think the problem's fixed though. It's a 520DX, so there's no actual connector...it's hardwired, which was part of the problem,but when my guy fixed the ground short he put a 2" sleeve around the cable by the entry hole and it took the pressure off that section. We had put a shrink wrap around it earlier, but it wasn't heavy enough to protect the cable from flexing too much up there. It seems to be holding up better now, but we'll see how it does with prolonged use. If I invest more $$ in mics I'd try out one of those wood bullets first. I like the frequency response of the 520, so I'm gonna keep usin' it as my main mic; I play nearly all low volume situations and that 520 mates up to my 5-watt Epi extremely well.. it sounds great. If I need more highs, I can eq or go to one of my other mics. The 515 is nice for that, 'cuz it stops at 10k, unlike the 57 or 58...and then there's always the "Mattel" Bluesblaster......
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Re: Harp Equipment Info

Postby bottleneck » Tue Jun 22, 2010 10:09 pm

glad the problem is sorted out.however,i am personally not a fan of hard wired mics.i like a screw on connector and guitar cord adapter on all my mics.

for example,if you had a screw on connector on both your blues blaster and your 520,you could switch between them in seconds.i call that handy,and it could add to your show.

also,with the right connector,gasket and element your blues blaster would be a pretty bad a$$ mic.it is basically a jt-30 shell,that's hard to beat.if it isn't doing it for you,hot rod it!(or sell it and buy one of greg's wooden mics,haha www.blowsmeaway.com )a blues blaster with a CM and proper gasket ( www.harpmicgaskets.com )is quite a formidable mic indeed.

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