|The aim of this article
harp players are concerned with amplification, and of course, the microphone is one of the
elements that determines the final sound in amplification. It's not easy to find one's
ideal microphone, and also not very clear why different mics produce different sounds, and
different secondary effects (like feedback...)
Before explaining how we went about doing that test, we need to clarify
what exactly we're trying to test. Amplification can be seen in two different ways :
Build your i-Mic
- As an end in itself, the aim being to be heard above the other musicians in the band or
in a large venue. The issue here with harmonica amplification is similar to that of voice
amplification. It is possible that a specific harp sound occurs, but in that case it is a
secondary effect of the amplification.
- In the course of a quest for a specific sound. The aim is not only to be heard, but also
to alter the natural harmonica sound to get a specific colour. The sound that results then
fits to the player, the style of playing or sometimes just a specific piece of music.
In the early days of amplified blues, the dubious quality of PAs meant
that vocal amplification was usually insufficiant to amplify the harmonica properly above
amplified guitars and drums. Some post-war harp players therefore tried other ways of
amplifying their playing, especially through guitar amplifiers. Little Walter, of course
but also Snooky Pryor and other players of that era pioneered this approach. Beyond this
need for a loud sound, they found a specific ring that they worked on to forge their
This is the idea of the current article. It assumes
that you not only try to make yourself heard, but also want to produce a special kind of
sound, different from the natural harmonica sound. This sound of course does not come only
from the microphone but from the various elements that compose the link from player to
listener. These are the elements we can distinguish :
The player himself : It may seem over-easy in an
article about harp amplification to state that the main thing is the player. But it's
true. Equipment will never miraculously make you sound good if you don't sound good
acoustically. No need to dwell on that point : work is the answer...
The microphone : is what we're going to talk
about at length here.
The amplifier : The answer to the question 'which
amp to choose ?' would necessite a whole article at least. Let's just say that harp
players usually favour valve amps which tend to have a warmer sound, but that current
technology certainly allows for other alternatives with the proper equipment. Let's just
remember that it's the mic-amp configuration that will determine the final sound and also
side effects like feedback.
31 bis, rue Victor Massé
Tel : 01 42 81 04 08
L'Ampli à Lampes agreed to let us in their shop and lent
us the equipment for this test. Marco and his team were really nice to us and very
efficient. They sure know a lot about the product they specialise in : valve amps.
The aim of this article being the
microphone testing, we decided to keep a stable environment for testing ie. all the
microphones were tested on the same amp for all testers. The amp we used was a Fender
Blues Junior, a model that is widely available, relatively cheap and still powerful enough
and apprecialted by many harp players.
Technical aspects are not all that determines the quality of a product
so we decided to split the study in two, one part being the technical and 'objective'
descritpion of the microphones tested, and the other being a purely subjective test with a
few professional harp players who tried the microphones and gave their opinion on each
As a bonus, one of our more technical minded collaborators detailed
instructions on how to build you own microphone (and a cool looking one it is too) for a
little over $8 ! We tested that one alongside the others !