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Using low-power tube amps for blues harp


http://www.tonefrenzy.com/whatsnew.htm -- "LINE6 just sent us their AX2 Amp, Dredgetone pedals is waiting in the wings too. Alan Elliot caught on also: He's designed the "Harmonica

Honker", for Blues Harp players. He'll do his own playing, since we can't. [see http://www.amptone.com/reamp.htm] Ron Neely II, the EH Man sent us prototypes six months ago, so did Analog Mike, and Alfonso Hermida. Zachary Vex helped us get pedals to test also. These are some pretty heavy "Cats"!


Low-wattage amps are good for harmonica, fiddle, lap steel, keyboards, and other instruments. The proper mic for harmonica is the Green Bullet type. I saw a Chicago blues band with vintage equipment. The harp player used a green bullet and a 15 watt Champ. They totally blew me away, especially the harp. The guitarist played through an ancient Fender television set. Stand up bass. They smoked that hipster cafe in Palo Alto. The singer and harpist praised Little Walter.

I hope we hear a lot more harmonica through small tube amps. It really seems to bring out the roundess of tube amps even more than guitar does. I don't like the tonality of plain harmonica -- it's really thin and raspy. The harmonica is one instrument that completely turns into a monster when put through a little tube amp -- a real Jekyll and Hyde tonal transmogrification.

TimTube wrote:

Have any harp players not played through tube amps? (OK Paul Butterfied played through his vocal mic, but it was a tube PA) Man, Michael, you need to dig into this realm and experience "Tube Tone". Little Walter (Jacobs) is pretty much regarded as the the guy who took the amplified harp to a new level by saturating the tone with an overdriven tube amp, this was the early '50s. He also incorporated a tape echo to really give his sound some depth. Guys had been playing amplified for several years before this, but it was just the acoustic instrument being amplified, similar to sticking a mic in front of an acoustic guitar. I believe he was first recorded on Muddy Waters' first 2 albums. Then he had his own band and had quit a few hits, the instrumental "Juke" probably the most notable. Pat Travers did a cover of a Little Walter tune, "Boom Boom, Out Go The Lights" that was a mild hit in the late '70s. Seems like he died in his late '20s.

The '50s were a great time of experimentation for all forms of amplified instruments. Most amps were low-power, enabling players to discover this tube power-stage saturation that we now view as a necessary component of modern music. Listen to some Elmore James, and early Buddy Guy, I have seen pictures of both of these guys using Gibson Les Paul amps, talk about output tube saturation.

Harp Amp Mini-FAQ

Harmonica Links - Richard Rinn. Harp mics and amps.

Open Directory for Harmonica - might not have amp info yet

Tips for amplified harp playing

Long list of tube amps under 20 watts

DejaNews query to show all "amps" postings in alt.music.harmonica

My newsgroup thread, List of all-tube amps under $250

"Green Bullet" type microphone for blues harp:

Shure 520DX Green Bullet

Another popular harp mic is the Astatic JT-30 (called "Blues Blaster" by Hohner).

Bluesdogg's Blues Harp Page - Includes amp tips

Harp City - Online harp store. Books, harps, CDs, etc.

Harp City's links page [to do: just link to pages about harp amps]

Yahoo's Harmonica links

DejaNews: alt.music.harmonica

Blues harp master Richard Hunter's web site - Includes GEAR info

Hot amplified-harmonica setup for about $350 - he recommends the Crate VC508 5-watt tube amp because it's inexpensive. See my product page about the VC508 and alternative low-power amps, at my Feature table for low-wattage guitar amplifiers, power attenuators, dummy loads, and cab-sim filters.

Books about harmonica playing and possibly about tube amps for harmonica

Junior Wells Teaches Blues Harmonica. The king of Chicago blues harp. Pros and cons of various amplifiers for harmonica. Playing techniques. 1993, VHS video. $29.95. See Music Books Plus.

Harmonica Blues Basic -- Step One. Jimmie Wood. 1996, 30 minutes. Video. Choosing a harmonica, blowing and drawing; positions: first position and cross harp; playing individual notes; bending; learning blues phrasing. Wood played harmonica on Bruce Springsteen's "Tunnel of Love" LP and has recently completed work on a Megadeth album, as well as releases by Cheap Trick, Sass Jordan, Gladys Knight and Paul Rogers. Includes a Hohner International Bluesband harmonica.

Harmonica, Harps and Heavy Breathers -- Many people say this is the best harp book. Currently out of print, but still available here. A reissue is planned, through Cooper Square Press. [does this have information about amps?]

Masters of the Chicago Blues Harp. David Barrett. 1997. $14.95. Available at Music Books Plus. Transcribed for the 10-hole diatonic harmonica (2nd position), this book features solos by blues greats Billy Boy Arnold, Carey Bell, Billy Branch, Big Leon Brooks, William Clarke, James Cotton, Rick Estrin and Charlie Musselwhite. Each solo features the original music along with an "easy play" version.

Music Books Plus: Other Instruments also offers the following harp titles -- I wonder if any mention tube amps?

Rock n' Blues Harmonica. Includes sections The Art of Electric Harp, and Getting Great Amplified Tone. Pages 190-193.
Beginning Blues Harp
Blues Harmonica for Beginners
Texas Harmonica Styles
How to Play Harmonica (3-pack)
How to Play the Harmonica (4-pack)
How to Play the Harmonica - Blues - (4-pack)
Basic Harmonica Method
Scales, Patterns & Exercises for Harmonica
Step One: Playing Harmonica
Teach Yourself to Play Harmonica
You Can Play Harmonica

Harp CDs and Books -- Has links for ordering the following CDs, which they recommend the highest. You can listen to these albums to hear and emulate the amp tone.

Harp listserv archives

Harp archive query: tube and amp [3/19/99 - their Search facility isn't responding]

blues harp amp tone

[blues harp amp tone]

web search for harp+harmonica+amp+tube -- gave interesting hits.

[blues harp amp tone, DI]

How to Get a Chicago-Style Sound Through a PA for blues harp

[blues harp amp tone]

Blues harp amp FAQ - 5.2 Amps -

Q: What amplifier should I buy if I want to get that Little Walter Chicago sound ?

A: A small vintage tweed or Blackface Fender (e.g.., Champ, Princeton, Bassman, Bandmaster, Concert, Pro, Super or Deluxe Reverb) or Gibson (e.g. Gibsonette, any of the Les Paul GA-XX series) amplifiers seem to be the rage among blues harpers since their simple design and low power allow them to be turned up to a level high enough to obtain the dirty sound associated with harmonica distortion. Many harpers on list are using less expensive low power vintage amps and miking them to the PA and using monitors. Some have fashioned a direct box connection from the speaker or external speaker jacks (resistor network). There is a commercially available pickle plug that does this also.

Many amp gurus favor simple designs in lieu of multi-gain stages fearing losses between stages robbing tone.

Tube Amp Mini-FAQ

This latter faq mentions several books devoted to the subject of amplifiers from an electric guitarists perspective. Nonetheless, this information can be valuable and it would be wise to consult with such musicians and repair technicians/designers if you are at all interested in this.

vintage guitar magazine




Two other booklets specifically aimed at this subject area, but are not mentioned above:

1. "The Quest for Tone in Amplified Blues Harp" by Pete Sheridan, originally a 3-part series published free in Kevin's Harps catalog, but now in which reprints are available for a nominal charge.

Potential Publications
23 School Street
Brunswick, Maine 04011
(207) 725-5839 Kevin D. Hagerty $7.95,

(Original editor of Mississippi Saxophone_, now edited by harp-l's own Tim Moody )

It is available from any catalog house in the US selling harmonica books (see suppliers above)

Re: Amp Sourcebook" 03 Aug 1994 --FJM
Crate amp update" 21 Feb 94 -- HM
Kendrick Amplifier" 23 Feb 94 FJM
Kendrick Harp Amp" 23 Feb 94 TE
Kendrick Texas Crude Classic Harp Amp" 10 May 95 TM
My new amp" 28 Nov 94 TM
Re: My new amp" 12 Oct 94 RL
Re: protect yer eerz was Feedback Problems" 1 Dec 94 BC/KC
Ashot W Bakunts " 11 Jul BS
Re: mic& amp" 13 Jan 95 RL, (big month for amp and mic threads)
Paul Lamb/Harp Amps" 6 Feb 95 TE
Re: amps - vintage vs reissue vs boutique" 24 Feb 95 JH
Harp amps" 21 Oct 93 BR

xxx - In My Time - excellent blues harp album from Charlie Musselwhite.

xxx - Which Walter Horton instrumental is considered to be one of the best amplified blues harp instrumentals, and what song was it based on? "Easy"

Amplified Blues Harp De-Mystified - overview of video Gary Smith's Video,

The Quest for Tone in Amplified Blues Harp - "Pete Sheridan, author of The Quest for Tone in Amplified Blues Harp, which I reviewed in BLUES ACCESS #25, has put out an updated, expanded version that corrects typographical errors, uses better illustrations and adds a three-page discography of essential blues harp recordings. It's $15 plus $2 postage through Sheridan at Box 33, State College, PA 16804."

Garply harp forum - "Order from Kevins Harps - The Quest for tone & Amplified Blues Harp".

The Quest For Tone In Amplified Blues Harp, by Pete Sheridan, 1995, 48 pages, spiral bound. "All about mics, amps, effects, discography and much, much more. I've been chasing esoteric vintage tube gear around the globe for almost 30 years now but this book hipped me to stuff even I'd never heard about. If you're into vintage blues harp and guitar tone you need to read this book. This isn't another one of those slick but shallow vintage amp stroke books targeted at the yuppie 'collector' mob. Pete's book has soul, with the handmade touch. The pictures in this book are mainly just fair quality Xerox but they'll send you in the right direction if you're hunting for gear that'll help you find your own big sound. Very highest recommendation! A righteous read. SALE PRICE $13."

Amptone.com ultra gear-search page

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