Chromatic Harmonica Amplified
Amplification for Chromatic Harmonica
Suggestions for amplifying chromatic harmonica performance.
Check out Harp On! Amplified Harmonica for more information on harmonica amplification.
Before you spend money on gear spend half an hour
just playing harmonica to yourself. Do you like what you hear?
Do you enjoy the sound ?
If the answer is no, then you need to work on your OWN tone, first.
Microphones for Chromatic Harmonica
The Shure SM58 is
highly recommended quality clean vocal mic, popular with singers and acoustic
is an instrument wand mic, when cupped it adds more compression to your tone
and has slightly more bass end response than the SM58.
Shure 545SD is shaped like the SM57, it has a slightly different tone to
the SM57 but the same kind of compression when cupped tightly. The appeal of
this versatile mic is it can be wired to high impedance, and therefore a hot
signal that can be used to drive a guitar effects and amps, in the same way
popular bullet mics used by some harmonica players. The current model comes
standard with an on/off switch.
The Shure 55SH Series II gives a warm muted vintage tone of the 50's singer's genre but only intended to be mounted on a stand. There are many other good clean mics can all be setup for acoustic harmonica by mounting it on a microphone stand or held by the performer cupped with the instrument.
You generally want a microphone with a good broad response across the spectrum.
Most mics of this type can be plugged straight into any PA or mixing desk for live performance or recording. There are special direct input boxes and effects units designed for vocal mics which will accept these mics using XLR (3 pin) balanced connections.
But if you wish to use these into other effects units, guitar amplifier or amplifier emulators for different tones and effects then you'll need to get an impedance convertor from low impedance to high impedance.
Varying the way you project your music to a microphone mounted on a stand and the distance that you play from the microphone can give additional effects in additional to normal acoustic techniques, such as fade in and fade out by moving towards or away from the mic, etc.
- With some adjustment on the sound system you play with a compressed cup around the microphone and back of the chromatic giving a deeper fuller tone.
You may also change your tonal colouring when the holding the mic by moving it or changing the way you cup it or hold it in relation to the instrument.
- There are some small harmonica microphones which are easy to play with chromatic harmonica enabling freer hand movement for tone control requiring less adjustment from playing acoustically to playing with a mic.
By using a small mic like these there is less adjustment & relearning required
especially with chromatic harmonicas. All these mics can be used for a clean sound
adding a bit of warmth to your tone.
- Shaker MadCat
has a smooth tone, easy to hold, simply plug into an amp or PA and play.
- Microvox Harmonica Microphone System
AKA The Silk Mic now handed over to Mr Microphone,
slips between your fingers, the tough belt unit gives volume control. The unit accepts up to two microphones
allowing for even more range of expression by holding one in each hand.
- The Harmonica Honker is fitted to a soft
ring worn around your finger, from clean playing to grunty blues tones the belt unit gives this little
mic plenty of drive and volume control.
- Some professional harmonica players use miniature lavalier microphones that are discreatly clipped to the lapel, like the
Shure SM11 with a bassier focus and less high end response or the more expensive Shure SM93 with broader response range although less response at the bass end, otherwise giving a clear clean reproduction. This frees the performer's hands as well as giving freedom to move around the stage.
You will have to accomadate for the fact the mic is not at the business end of the harmonica and may also pickup unwanted noise from playing movements. They are very unintrusive for stage presentation & performance.
Clean Amplification at Performance
- When playing into a PA you want to have the treble reduced and the bass increased. Its important that you can hear yourself playing clearly so ensure you get a stage monitor or can hear yourself from the main PA speakers adequately.
- The LOUDER the you go, the LESS Bass & LESS Treble you need, or rather: the discrepancy required in Treble & Bass comapared to Mid-range reduces the louder you go.
This is a critical point that often gets missed by those who aren't aware and then they wonder why what sounded great at low levels sounds flat or tinny or woofy when amplified.
With the EQ you want to start at low volume with an almost inverted Bell Curve and work up towards a flat line for 100db plus keeping the top treble down a bit... not that I'd recommend going over 85db anyway.
- An excellent & powerful PA is a must. The more Watts the better, not because it can get very loud, but because its more effective at obtaining the levels you want effortlessly, you don't have to fight with loading levels on so on since you are playing a solo instrument through a system that is designed for less harmonics at any one time.
A powerful system easily overcomes this.
Good powerful Quality Speakers also count as we're talking Hi-Fi fidelity & PA's here the rules are different to using tube amplifiers.
- For adding a little body to your playing reverb, delay & echo in moderation are your friends. The key word is MODERATION.
For harmonica I find that even with chromatic harmonica playing clean, the lightest touch of echo with a moderate mix in helps create a bigger sound.
You can add a lot of warmth to your tone without losing clarity by playing through a good all-tube type A amplifier such as the Fender Bassman RI, Fender Blues Junior, Fender Super 60 or Fender Champ.
Ensure that the amplifier isn't driven too hard causing distortion, use a clean microphone like the SM58 with an impedance convertor, if you use a low impedance microphone directly into an amplifier you will get a weak tone.
If you are playing at a moderate to large venue then have a clean microphone placed in front of the amplifier fed into the PA, although in a small venue the amplifier may be enough.
- More speakers the better. I've been stung by this too many times.
I have used a single speaker amplifying my playing, I'm on a stage with the audience spread 180degrees around me, the band is all mic'd up to the PA ... what happens ? People directly in front get to enjoy what I'm playing, but the people to the left and right have a hard time hearing me.
If you don't have proper reproduction around the venue your playing could come across muted, muffled & deadened so make sure your mic gets a good spread with at least two PA speakers on high stands with good exposure to all the audience. It pays to do a sound check with and without your accompaniment well before the performance to avoid problems.
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