Harp Gear harmonica amplifiers for
harp amp players.
get better amplified tone. One thing I find
with quite a few players I run into is that there tone can be
improved when playing amplified. Some have been playing for a
short time and some have been playing for a long time. If you
have good acoustic tone you may be able to
help your amplified tone with these simple tips. Before I go any
further I want to thank Dennis
Gruenling who spent the time with me to show me how to get good
amplified tone. Everything on this page was shown to me by him
including the glass exercise I will show you. The first thing
that you will need to work on is mic grip. I will break this down
into steps. Please note that there are plenty of other grips that
work well for other people. I am just showing you the one I and
many other players use with great success.
First how to hold the harmonica. We will place the harmonica in
our hands right above the crease where the pointer finger meets the
hand. You will see the hands are evenly placed and the harp is
held with pressure between the hands.
Next we will bring our fingers over the top of the harp with the right
fingers on top of the left fingers and bring the heels of our hands
together. Please note I am leaving the playing surface uncovered
so I can get deep placement of the harmonica in my mouth.
This is how we will hold the harmonica while holding the
microphone. Now it is time to add the microphone. I get
asked how deep do I hold the mic when it is in my hand. I place
the mic in my hand so that it is held in place by my pinky and ring
I also took a picture of what it looks like when I am holding the mic
and harp together. This cutaway shows the small space between the
mic and harp which allows a "tone chamber" of sorts. It also
gives you an idea of how the harp and mic interact with each other.
Now that you have the mic in your hands with harmonica it will look
like this. The heels of your palms should be together and in full
contact with the mic. No air should escape there. This will
feel impossible at first but trust me, it is very possible and takes
time and practice.
The next step is to bring this to your face. Your chin will fit
into the open area under the harmonica . You will bring your left
thumb up along the left side of your face. Then rock the harp and
mic to the right side of your face so that your thumb is tight against
the right side of your face as if you intend to play with the side of
your mouth. The fingers on the top close off the top side
of the harp making it airtight. Done right you will have an
airtight cup around the harp and mic. This will overdrive the mic
element giving us the overdriven, fat, round and brown sound we all
Right side. Do you see any air pockets? The harp and mic
are buried in there. No air will escape it.
The heels of my hands closing the bottom off.
The top is closed also. This is the key to great amplified tone.
Now lets look at some common tone mistakes with the microphone / harp /
You can see here that
the right hand is not sealing the cup and there is too much room for
air to escape.
Here is another common mistake. The right hand is almost there
but not quite. Just bring the thumb to the face and you will have
Here is a video of me playing a lick with and without a tight cup
I also hear, "I can't move the harp in my mouth with this tight
cup." It is a matter of practice. I find that the base of
my index fingers push the harp from side to side while my face and mic
stay put. When playing the harmonica properly you will be moving
the harp and not the face anyways . Unless of course you are
doing a headshake or some other effect. So think of
the harmonica like a typewriter bar and and let it ride in the
pocket from side to side while everything else stays tight. The
excercise below will help you become accustomed to moving the harp in
People who see me hold the mic will commonly say, "You have big
hands. Mine are too small to do that.". My hands are very
average ( 8" from heel to middle finger tip exactly ) and it is about
practice and working with the technique.
I have an exercise that will make holding a bullet mic seem like
child's play. ( Once again thanks Dennis G. ) Find
yourself a nice coffee mug or wine glass with a big mouth like the one
in the picture.
This is a full sized 520SL green bullet and not a 707A bullet.
The glass is just that big.
Now we are going to hold it like a bullet and get a tight seal like
with the bullet mic. If you are having problems with the mic this
will seem ridiculous. It isn't trust me. This is the type
of practice it takes to get this critical step right in amplified
Here it is with the harp and totally sealed. Now practice playing
some songs, licks or whatever you like. Do this for one week for
10 minutes a day. The first day you will be leaking air and the
inside of your forearms WILL burn. Keep it up and continuously
try to get the seal perfect. Don't forget to roll it to the right
and get a good seal on the right side as well. In this time I
challenge you not to touch a bullet mic. After seven days of not
touching the mic and doing this for 10 minutes everyday while you
practice your stuff you will hold the mic like it's a babies toy.
Your grip will be strong and consistant. Now I realize this is
hard work. I did it and I still do it. I will routinely
practice with a coffee cup and just play. I'll do it for 10-30
minutes at a time 3-4 days a week. Why? Because it is what
it takes to get it right for me. I heard a story once and I
will try to relay it here effectively.
One day there was a man who had played violin for 25 years and was
world renowned discussing with an interviewer how he gets disappointed
about his playing. He said it drives him to practice 8 hrs a day to be
as perfect as possible and yet he is still not satisfied. The
intereviewer said, "I can't believe you could be dissatisfied
with your playing! You sound excellent. I would give my
life to sound like you!". The violin player just looked at him
and said, "I did give my whole life to play like this."
I can't say I practice to that extent, but the ones who are great and
we all admire do practice like that. They have given their lives
to be where they are and sound like they do. If we hope to sound
even 25% as good as them we need to do the things we can to get
there. This lesson is one of the biggest things you can do to get
"that sound" while playing amplified. Please ask any questions
you have and let me know what you think of the article and video.
Thanks for looking and thanks to my wonderful wife for her time and
picture taking ;o)
This new HarpGear 2 I used for the video and article will be going to
Greg M. in CA. Please enjoy it.