How to get the overdriven harp sound

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

How to get the overdriven harp sound

Postby slash102 » Sun Feb 24, 2008 9:11 pm

Hi, i've been playing blues harp for almost a year and really enjoy the overdriven little walter harp tone. I already have a 40 watt tube amp and 10 watt practice amp for guitar, but I'm not sure about the mic choice. I know that the green bullet would be perfect, but I'm wondering how important the mic is in achieving "that tone". I dont have enough for the green bullet, and I was looking at a mic that I could also record guitars with. How would a pg57 or sm57 do? Any suggestions please, thanks.
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Re: How to get the overdriven harp sound

Postby angerboy » Sun Feb 24, 2008 9:54 pm

The overdriven tone is going to have to come from you.

If you use a 57, you'll need a low to high impedance transformer.
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Re: How to get the overdriven harp sound

Postby slash102 » Sun Feb 24, 2008 10:12 pm

sorry, i'm not to familiar with impedance, why is that necessary for the 57?
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Re: How to get the overdriven harp sound

Postby ricochet » Sun Feb 24, 2008 10:27 pm

In a nutshell, the 57 is a low impedance mic. Guitar tube amps have a high impedance input and the mic won't properly drive it. A transformer will match them.
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Re: How to get the overdriven harp sound

Postby slash102 » Sun Feb 24, 2008 10:30 pm

are there any other mics that will do harp and guitars pretty good?
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Re: How to get the overdriven harp sound

Postby blueswriter » Mon Feb 25, 2008 3:25 am

slash102 wrote:Hi, i've been playing blues harp for almost a year and really enjoy the overdriven little walter harp tone... I know that the green bullet would be perfect, but I'm wondering how important the mic is in achieving "that tone".


If you trawl eBay looking for old taxi microphones you may come across a few choices for cheap bucks. And a green bullet can help getting that fat sound depending on the microphone element. As mentioned, the real key to that heavy tone isn't the rig as much as the person blowing the harmonica.
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Re: How to get the overdriven harp sound

Postby angerboy » Mon Feb 25, 2008 3:50 am

It's going to be virtually impossible to find a great microphone on ebay for low $$$. There are a lot of people fishing in that pond.

The 57 is a good harp microphone. You can get a big sound out of it. You can get a cheap transformer at Radio Shack. Some music stores will have better ones, but since you don't have the dough to drop on a new microphone, get a cheap transformer to start with.

Unless you practice 24 hours a day for the past year, don't expect to get a sound like Little Walter. You're going to have to learn how to cup it and work with it.
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Re: How to get the overdriven harp sound

Postby blueswriter » Mon Feb 25, 2008 4:26 am

angerboy wrote:It's going to be virtually impossible to find a great microphone on ebay for low $$$. There are a lot of people fishing in that pond.

I didn't mention finding a 'great' microphone on eBay but a friend landed an Astatic JT-30 (with stand and cable) in a box of 'old electronic parts' for $24.00 plus shipping less than a few months ago. The microphone itself is worth well beyond what he paid for it.
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Re: How to get the overdriven harp sound

Postby jeffl » Mon Feb 25, 2008 12:56 pm

The tone you're looking for is created by the confluence of several factors, only one of which is gear. You need to practice making a real tight cup around the harp and mic with your hands. The tighter the cup, the browner the sound. Also, you mention that you've got a 40-watt tube amp; the "overdriven" part of the tone comes from turning a tube amp up in volume or gain until it starts to "break up". By the time you overdrive a 40 Watt amp, it'll be so loud that you'll be kicked out of wherever you're practicing, unless you own the place. You need a small tube amp, especially if you're mostly gonna play at home, or at small places. A "small" tube amp is generally considering to put out between 5 and 20 Watts, for harp purposes. I have two tube amps: a 5-watt for use around the house, or at practices, and SMALL club venues; and a 30-watt Peavey for normal club playin' volumes. Most of the tube amps built for guitar today are just too clean to ever arrive at a tone like some of the Chicago guys used in the post-war days, and the 30 Peavey is a good example of that. A little bit of delay or reverb may give your tone added depth as well. I nearly always use a delay pedal in the chain, or amp reverb. It takes alotta playin' to get the sound right, so you can always add gear with experience. BTW, you may find it interesting to dig around at http://www.angelfire.com/music/harmonica/ampdmyrig.html
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Re: How to get the overdriven harp sound

Postby ricochet » Mon Feb 25, 2008 2:34 pm

jeffl wrote:By the time you overdrive a 40 Watt amp, it'll be so loud that you'll be kicked out of wherever you're practicing, unless you own the place.

If you're married, you'll still get kicked out. Or else you'll turn it down.
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Re: How to get the overdriven harp sound

Postby slash102 » Mon Feb 25, 2008 8:55 pm

actually, the tube amp I have is a line6 spider valve 112, so it has a gain knob. There is a pretty good amp model of the early champs and bassman, and to get a distorted tone I can just turn up the drive, it still is a tube amp tho with 12ax7s and 6l6s. I was also wondering about the sm58, if i take the ball off, will i get the same results as a 57?

Also, on that site you gave me, the guy talks about having the sm57 cupped it gives a much more compressed, rocky tone than the 58 cupped, is this a good thing for the tone i'm going for?
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Re: How to get the overdriven harp sound

Postby jeffl » Mon Feb 25, 2008 9:23 pm

Yes, it's a good thing for the tone you're going for. If you wanna see the difference in the dynamic specs between the 57 and 58, you can go to Shure's official website and dig around for it. You may as well compare 'em to the Shure 520DX Green Bullet while you're at it. Seeing those specs, with their frequency response ranges, will give you a real education into why different mics reproduce so differently. I've done it many times, just to remind myself and to compare with other manufacturers' mic specs. You have to be careful turning up the gain too much, 'cuz that'll cause feedback as well, especially in hybrid amps with tube and digital circuitry. I've played thru 58s eq'd for voice many times on stage, and they'll feed back quicker than 57s. 57s are a mic of choice for mic'ing up amps into the mains, as well as vocals. I've always sang thru 58s and used 57s for mic'ing amps.
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Re: How to get the overdriven harp sound

Postby thebluesbox » Tue Feb 26, 2008 5:59 am

A gritty fat tone will take a few things, a good amp that breaks up well at lower volumes, and the mic can be anything from a recording mic that cost 5 bucks to a jt30 that cost 150.00. The ending item is your tone, you have to have some tone coming from your mouth and harp or no gear will make it sound that way for you. If you do have some decent sound then the amp and mic will help.

I use a hohner blues blaster that I am yet to find any mic to produce what I like in this mic, it has a full sound but yet its got that hot fat tone as well. To me the green bullets were realt hot and gritty but didnt have a full sound and made it thin. I also use a radio shack vocal mic that sounds great. Thats equivilant to a sm58. In the amp department, I'll give you a guess as to what I use lol......... I have tried them all, from kalamazoo, to hotrod deville, to danelectro you name it I tried it. Now I use a bogen PA head that I custom built into a combo, sounds awesome. Now I build them for customers as well.

You cant go wrong with an sm58 or a hohner blues blaster in my opinion. Some people dont like them but its just a matter of personal taste.
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Re: How to get the overdriven harp sound

Postby mike932 » Wed Feb 27, 2008 10:47 am

I agree with the cheap Radio Shack mics, I use one that looks like a 58, the damn thing works great when cupped and was really cheap. I use it for practicing through an old tube amped record player that was built for playing music and calling at square dances. The silly thing is pretty cool, I put on an album and play the harp with the band. (Another E-Bay find). I use a Green Bullet when I play with the band. I just traded off my amp, now the search is on for a new one.
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Re: How to get the overdriven harp sound

Postby barbequebob » Wed Feb 27, 2008 5:17 pm

The tube amps from the 50's used a far simpler circuitry, plus the input jack impedance tended to be much higher than amps from the mid 60's and later. Most of those older tube amps used what was called passive tone controls, meaning that when the tone was turned all the way up, it was the flat sound already preshaped form the factory. Many amps from the mid to late 60's began using active controls, where either side of half way you really boosted and cut, much like a keyboard amp or a PA works, and often the input jacks have a lower impedance. Crystals and ceramic mikes work better with the tweed amps because the impedances match (being ultra high-Z), and on Fender amps from the black faced period of the 60's matched the GB's better because the impedances are lower.

The bottom line is your own personal ACOUSTIC TONE AND CHOPS, because if the tone ain't there acoustically, it'll never be there amplified regardless of the gear you get, and that ALWAYS gonna be the cold, hard, brutal truth!!!!!

I've never bought or used any overdrive pedals or used the master volume controls because they may get the sound distorted, but you lose tons of dynamics, tone control, and articulation. Some of my favorite amps didn't even have a tone control at all. Many of the greats during the 50's used an amp because. as a general rule, PA systems as we know it today didn't exist (other than a Bogen PA, which was basically the same circuitry as most guitar amps of the day) and a mike going into a guitar amp WAS the PA!!! From meeting several of the greats over the years, many of them would be rolling on the ground laughing at how so many players are so gear obsessed because, truth be told, most of them could give a crap what it was, so long as their sound got across, which bursts the bubble on many gear freaks. Bottom line: if the chops and tone ain't there acoustically, there's NO amount of gear in the world that'll give it to you or hide anything deemed to be a weakness!!
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