Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More Live Audio with the VHT

These were all recorded with a Zoom H4n (internal mics only) by the sound booth, which was against a sidewall to the stage.  The tunes are all originals performed by the Mark Cameron band, and I am playing the VHT along with a delay.

Game Over.mp3
Box Car Blues.mp3
Tough All Over.mp3

Thursday, November 18, 2010

VHT Live Gig Recording

This past weekend I took out a Zoom H4n to record a show with my band and then with The Mark Cameron Band.  The audio from my show had a terrible mix as I had the recorder too close to the mains.  The vocals and harmonica were way too high in the mix.  However, my show with Mark turned out pretty well.  I had the recorder about 15' from stage all the way to the side where the sound guy was.  Probably not a good place to tape from as it was not inline with the stage at all.  I aimed the recorder back at the inside of the PA speaker and middle of the stage.

The room was pretty big.  The stage was large.  I used the VHT miked to the PA with a Sennheiser e906.  The drums were miked, but the guitar and bass were not.  They were loud!  I shoulda used the HarpGear HG50, but I could resist seeing how the 6w VHT would hang.  It was enough for stage volume with regular playing technique for all but the loudest passages.  I played harder (not something I like to do) and could then hear myself just fine during those parts.  I was totally floored!

The amp was elevated closer to my ears.  I am using a Samson Wireless with my Ultimate 57 into a Kinder AFB (not needed at this gig) into a Line 6 M13 into the VHT.  These cuts have a lot of ambient and trippy effects.  I'll try to post some blues stuff with the band soon.

Slippin' Away
Roadhouse Blues

VHT Special 6 and Line 6 M13 Demo

Synths, Mods, Delays, and Reverbs...

Sweep Echo...

Analog Delay...

VHT Special 6 Sound Check

Picked up a Zoom Q3 and went straight to noodling on the VHT!

This is with the Eminence Ramrod speaker!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Faux Organ/Leslie Sounds with the VHT and Line 6 M9

I literally made this in one take this morning five minutes before leaving work.  This was created in response to a Harp-L post suggesting it would take at least $375 and multiple pedals to make an organ sound on harmonica.  I realize there is digital clipping from the webcam.  I also realize that the mix of the three effects has not been perfected. Obviously, my organ chops are lacking, lol.  In the past, I have played held out octaves for rhythm parts.  I haven't tried "jamming" as an organ before.  Excuses being said, I think the M9 can get passable organ sounds out of a harmonica with just a little tweaking of the controls.  The total cost of a new M9 is $349 and you can use three out of the six effects available on a scene to create this sound.

First, I tried running just the Rotary/Drum model using single notes and octaves.  Next, I add the Bass Octaver and move from single notes to octaves.  Finally, I added a Pitch Glide model set at one octave up.  Again, I stuck with demonstrating single notes and octaves. 

The M9 allows you to change and automatically save any of the settings for each model.  I still need to even out the amount of Bass Octaver and Pitch Glide.  You can hear that the single notes and octaves track well.  Towards the end, you can hear how the M9 doesn’t handle chords well.

 Here is a pick of my pedal board...I actually moved the pedals around to make the board neater and to add a power supply.

2010-10-05 07.28.24

The M9 will cost about $250 used and is built like three side-by-side effect units. M9 Stompbox Modeler lets you run any three effects simultaneously with any three others on deck. You have 100% control over effect placement and effect type - arrange them into tried-and-true combinations or get creative and invent your own original blends.

You can create up to twenty-four different effect arrangements, or "scenes" – essentially twenty-four different pedal boards! Right now I have these three "organ" effects along with the Tron-Up, Ring Modulator, and Octo Verb for my main board.  My secondary board is made of of synths and delays similar to what Chris Michalek uses.

I also have a third board set-up with the particle verb, sweep echo, and repeats of some of the effects already mentioned.  I am working on a fourth scene that would be all delays and reverbs for a traditional blues gig (don't have any lined up so it isn't a priority!).

Monday, September 27, 2010

VHT Post on Harp-L

The Special 6 popped up in a couple of posts on Harp-L.  Here is my two cents as posted on the "L"...

I don't have sound clips, nor the gear to get a good recording up.
HOWEVER, I was asked to play harp on several tracks for a band's
upcoming album.  I will post what I can from those sessions in the
next couple weeks.

FWIW, try sticking with the 12ax7 in there.  I've scoured the web for
anything I can find on this amp, and one item that comes up again and
again (if I was a techy type and could read schematics this is
probably obvious) it is mentioned that this amp is voiced "dark".
Meaning, the internal settings for the tone controls are heavy on bass
and light on treble.  I've heard it compared to a bass setting of 10
and treble of 2 on a typical tolex Champ.

I tried the amp with a full band - and we are a rock band - with a
5751.  I also did a brief solo performance in a gym full of 400
students.  In both instances, there was enough volume, but the amp was
way too dark.  I miked the amp for the band gig.  It had enough stage
volume except for our most loudest passages.  That room sat about
150-200.  It is all hard surfaces and not set up for music.  In the
gym I didn't even need to crank the amp at all.

This past weekend, we did an outside show that was full band but
pretty laid back.  We were in an enclosed area.  I had the 12ax7 back
in the amp.  Plenty of cut now.  I had the amp on low power with the
pull boost on.  It sounded like a tweed amp, IMO.  I didn't even have
the amp at 50% on the volume knob.  I had PLENTY of volume, even when
the drummer was hitting hard.

So I guess what I am getting at, is for stage volume, this amp can
easily do whatever a Pro Jr or under 10w type amp can do...bone
stock!!!!!!!  So for under $200 you can have an amp that is easily
giggable, especially so if you play in a low volume band.  I mean my
band will straight out rock and the amp has held its own.  I was going
to get an Eminence Ramrod, and probably still will, but the stock
speaker is fine - if you like a clean ceramic sound.  I did put a JJ
6v6 and Tung Sol RI in the amp.  However, the stock tubes are fine for
harp.  The 6v6 looked a little cheesy, though.

While I don't think the stock amp is quite as loud as a Princeton
Reverb, I picked it over a HG Rockbottom, Epi Valve Jr, Super Champ
XD, and Pro Jr.  I have no regrets.  This amp smokes for harp and even
has many of the "mods" guys would go after - no negative feedback
loop, larger OT, darker tone caps, tweed mod, etc.  My HG50 is THE amp
for me.  I get lots of compliments and I am able to get a fantastic
tone at any volume.  However, there are times where we play small
stage areas and room is an issue.  The VHT gets about as loud as the
HG50 on close to 3.  However, the 50w adds a lot more bass, and the
treble control adds a lot more bite - making it feel bigger and


***Again with the speaker, I contacted VHT.  It is allegedly rated at
97db.  It has a very flat frequency response and it takes some of the
ice pick highs out when used with guitar.  It was manufactured to be a
great speaker for recording guitar.  That being said, I plugged it
into my HG 50 1210 cab and the added bite from what I think are the
increased mids of the Cannabis Rex sounds absolutely FANTASTIC and
does make the amp seem louder and ENORUMOUS.  In fact, through that
cab, the VHT hit my typical stage volume.  I like the idea of trying
the Ramrod as Eminence thought it would be a good fit as did Mike
Wesolowski.  I think the Lil Buddy would be too dark. The Ragin Cajun
might work too.

So if money were no object, I'd look at the Classic 6 and get a
Cannabis Rex in there.  With $300, you could get the Special 6, retube
it, and get a Ramrod in there.

Friday, September 17, 2010

VHT at Rehearsal Notes

Again, I apologize for not having sound clips yet.  I am working on it!  I used the VHT Special 6 with a JJ 6v6 and JAN 5751 at rehearsal for the Mark Cameron Band last night.  With this rock group, it is all about dirty harmonica tone.  The band uses a full set of monitors when rehearsing and things can get sorta loud.  The guitar was going through a Marshall 2x12 combo (but was at a totally appropriate volume).  The bass and drums were full rigs and in the room we are in, it gets loud.

I was sitting right next to the bass player.  The VHT was several feet away and turned at me.  I had no feedback problems with the amp cranked.  I had no hearing issues when comping or playing anything laid back.  When I had to solo over the band's full volume, I did start to lose the amp in the mix.  I could hear myself, but not as well as I would have wanted.  A quick fix would have been having the amp closer to me or running it through my monitor.  All-in-all, I think it would work for stage volume anywhere a full-sized harp amp isn't needed.  Obvioiusly, it needs to be miked front of house, but I think it could keep up with an amp like a Pro Jr, Super Champ XD, or the like.

The true test will be on stage with this group.  If there isn't a separate monitor mix on stage for me, I think I could still get by in a lot of places with the amp on a stand.  In a huge room, such as the Blues Saloon, I'd just use the HG50. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

VHT Special 6 and Fender Blackface Champ

There is SO MUCH to write about this amp.  I realize I will be skipping things and jumping around a bit.  One thing, and it is quite general, is how much this amp is like a Blackface Champ.  The stock VHT is similar to the modded Champ created by Rick Davis. Rick has stated he has $600+ into the amp.  Now listen, the VHT is only $200.  It doesn't have the quality that $600 will get you.  BUT, it is probably very close and a hugely cost effective way to get a sweet small amp that works great for harp OUT OF THE BOX.

The VHT has no negative feedback, which adds hair to the notes.  It also has a beefed up OT giving the amp a bigger sound.  The caps are different values than a stock Champ.  Meaning more bottom end and fixed amounts of bass, treble, and mids.  The Special 6 rocks a 10" speaker (lots more detail on the speaker to come), has a pull-boost similar to the "tweed" mod that eliminates the tone stack, and a tone control kinda like that on a tweed Princeton.  It essentially adds highs like the control on a Pro Jr.

The amp also has a half power switch, multi-ohm tap for speaker cabs, and both a high and low gain input.  I've been experiementing with all of these and will comment on them in future posts.

I am not a great amp-schematic guy, but for those of you who are, download it here.

VHT Special 6 Tubes

Ight, the stock tubes are a Sovtek 12ax7 - which is ok and used in the HG 50 from HarpGear.  The 6v6 is a generic model made in China.  They sound ok and are totally useable for harp.  For the $200ish you can get the amp for, you can pretty much plug and play.  The amp comes totally useable.

However, for around $30 depending on where you purchase, you can pick up a different preamp tube and 6v6 that will change the tone of the amp.  The preamp tube makes the biggest difference.  I use a SM 57 for my mic, and with a 12ax7 can easily run the amp at 2-3 o'clock without feedback.  This is quite a bit of the amp's volume.  The tone control is also useable at this point.  For said price, I picked up a Tung Sol RI 12ax7 and JJ 6v6.  The tone is clearer, louder, fuller, and the amp has more bite and bass.

Before doing any internal mods or switching the speaker, I suggest rolling preamp tubes to taste.  I have tried a 5751 which is pretty nice...it also makes the pull boost useable for harp.

VHT Links

Here are some links for those wanting to read up on what guitar players have thought of the amp.  There is some great information here that includes how it works stock, mods, and general info.

Excellent Review from Will Chen

Will's Interview with Special 6 Designer

Will's Special 6 Thread

TDPRI Mod Thread

The VHT Special 6 for Amped Harmonica

VHT Special 6 Amp

I’ve been slacking on blogging and in an effort to be more involved with harp players online, I am going to focus on my journey with the VHT Special 6 amp for harmonica.  I will outline as many details on the amp as possible in subsequent posts.  The amp rocks stock and I've found just about any info worth anything on the amp and will share that as well.

I ordered this amp from Rich’s Music Exchange in NY for $189 last week.  As far as I know, I am the first harmonica player to order/use one and talk about it online.  For comparisons sake, I've played and/or owned many small amps...

Vibro Champ
Epiphone Valve Jr
Super Champ XD
Pro Jr.

The VHT is my favorite!!!

The amp came in this past Monday.  Sonically, it is like a Blackface Champ on steroids!  I would recommend this amp to any and all harp players as a WONDERFUL point-to-point wired small tube amp.  I apologize for not having recordings already – I don’t have the gear as of now.  Below are details about the amp.

From the VHT Website:

Special 6 Combo

Boutique amp players will love the Special 6’s combination of handwired tube goodness, unique features and unparalleled value.  The mod-friendly Special 6 is easy to customize for home amp builders and tube amp enthusiasts.

The Special 6 gets its powerful tube sound from one 12AX7 preamp tube and one 6V6 output tube.  It boasts a footswitchable Gain Boost feature that significantly expands its range of tones -- it's the only amp in its class that excels at both clean and overdriven tones, and it's the only amp in its class to offer a footswitchable boost.  With the Gain Boost, players can instantly toggle between clean rhythm tones and overdriven leads, essentially duplicating the footswitchable functions of a 2-channel amp in an all-tube, handwired, simple, 2-knob package.

To further expand its range of tones, the Special 6 also features a High/Low power switch that enhances low-volume tones with extra-smooth richness (when in half-power mode). It's a great feature for recording, or for low-volume "bedroom" players.  In high-power mode, it's one of the few amps in its class that is loud enough to compete with a strong drummer.  The Special 6 combo is outfitted with a special high sensitivity 10" VHT Special Design speaker.

    * 6 Watts
    * One 6V6 Output Tube
    * One 12AX7 Preamp Tube
    * Volume and Tone Controls
    * Footswitchable Boost Mode
    * High/Low Power Switch
    * 10” VHT High-Sensitivity Speaker
    * 4, 8, and 16 Ohm Speaker Jacks
    * Mod-Friendly Eyelet-Type Board
    * Hand-wired In China

Model: AV-SP1-6

Monday, May 3, 2010

Yes, the 4 overblow on the start of my solo is not spot on.  My bad. 

D Marine band with open covers, screws, and some gapping - but no really intensive work.  I haven't had time yet to really work on it, but it works ight...I am not into the tuning, though.  I do not play hard and am pretty easy on harmonicas.

The amp is miked, but I am willing to bet it, nor anything else other than vocals and bass, is going through the board.  The volume was on 4 and I did have it inline with the Kinder (no need for it, though) and a delay.  This is only the second time I had used the amp live.  There is an ok vid of Whippin' Post up with it too, but that was from the first set and I didn't have the amp turned up loud enough (3.5ish). The guitar player is straight into a Princeton Reverb (pretty much aimed right at me) with some super "amazing" speaker on 6, which is as loud as it gets before just getting more distorted.

Sorry the sound quality isn't better - I know the crowd noise is overwhelming, but you can hear the amp used at a moderate volume with a full band at its typical volume.  As a side note, we did a show the next week in a bigger room with the same guitarist in a Super Reverb.  I had the amp on 4 and still and no issues whatsoever with feedback or not being loud enough.

I should eventually have access to a recording of the show on a digital recorder.  I'll probably use that on top of any other vids from this show for the better sound quality.  The amp is turned almost 90 degrees from the camera, and I really don't think anything was in the mains.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Ugh.  I posted to a comment and then it was deleted!  So now I am going to be a bit brief in rewritting my response on Gear Aquisition Syndrome.  Since 2004, when I stared NiteRail with Korey Hicks and James Schneeberg, I have used the same mic, harps (customized them to an extremely high level, fixed the, and sometimes replaces them), cases, stands, cables, Kinder AFB+, Samson Wireless, amp stand, Harp Commander.  I have, however, gone through quite a few amps, backup mics, and a couple of pedals.

When I started gigging, originally, I used nearly all my profits for gear and used advice from harpamps.com on "flipping" gear to continually upgrade.  Other than the AFB, cases, cables, a few speakers, and harps, I have never really made a gear purchase that wasn't on a used piece.  Then when wanting something different, I have sold gear to fund new things.  I am very careful with how I do this to maximize my profits and minimize my out of pocket expenses (usually shipping).  There have been two times where I burdened the family with music gear.  This was when I bought a Bassman Ltd and recently when I used some cash to pay for a HG50 (which included the trade of a DT).  We have some strict rules at our house about music and money, which I agree with, and if I need money for gear, it comes from selling other gear, getting it for gifts, or using gifts of money. 

My GAS started with the Bassman Ltd (I had had two amps before that) as I was led to believe I really needed a 4x10 even though I had no clue what I was doing or how to use good gear.  Quickly I realized it didn't sound good at low volumes so I used gig money to mod it.  I saved up for a Pro Jr.  I then was able to get a HG Double Trouble in part by selling the Pro Jr.  Those were my amps until 2008 when NR went on hiatus and I had a musical "breakdown".   I sold my Ltd and DT just to vent from the loss of gigging, my obsession with Derek Trucks, and the want to be "different".  That was stupid.  I should have kept both amps and conintued to be done with flipping. 

I used the profits to set up a pedal board for my own band.  I then decided I wanted a Super Reverb like Derek Trucks, so I bought an 2x10 Allen Old Flame and Vibro Champ with the money from selling my other amps (and pedals and cables and tubes).  This was at a time when no one was selling a mid-sized harp amp that worked well with pedals.  I had a great looking setup that was really solid sounding, but I was frustrated with the Old Flame needing to rely on the AFB to be giggable.

NiteRail then came off hiatus and my guitar player had really downsized his rig.  I decided that I didn't like the OF and was using the Champ on pretty much every stage for a year.  I noodled with modding it, but it wasn't what I wanted (which was essentially the HG50 1210, but it didn't exist).  I then took some calculated risks in getting rid of the OF in trade and cash for another Champ that was worth way more than what I was offered for it.  NR was playing small clubs and life was good.  Then we started getting good shows and the amp was getting drowned out.  I downsized my pedal board by trading for a Pedal Train Mini and used the profits from the OF and pedals and Champs I wasn't using for a DT, speakers and tubes for the DT, and tools to do professional grade harp customizing work...by this time, I had lost a couple hundred bucks from the initial selling of the Ltd and first DT. Stupid shipping!

The DT worked great for almost every gig.  However, we recorded the album and I finally realized what I wanted from my amped sound (hey, I've only been playing harp for 6 years!).  I wanted the DT but with more volume...so having everything but my amp firmly figured out, I was out of things I could part with.  So I used the DT in trade with cash (so lost some money) for the HG1210.  I tested the two side by side to make sure I could use the 1210 without being too loud - and at higher volumes where it wasn't enough.

So when all is said and done, I am down the cost of a new Double Trouble (which sucks).  I have a great small pedal board, some fantastic harps, and a wonderful amp.  Down the road, I plan on getting a HG Rockbottom, but that is way down the road.

This would all be much easier if I used all my music profits from gigs, lessons, etc., but I willingly donate that to the family (my son and wife are extremely spoiled) so we can do some fun things like vacations, finish the house, and buy some treats here and there.  I always treat that as "our" money and not "my" money...in return, when I need a new harp or cable, it isn't a big deal to go and buy it.  It is nice that my extended family typically buys me music gear for gifts.  ;)

In closing, regarding gear, you'll almost always see me using the following:

Hohner custom harps (have been using more Marine Bands then Golden Melodys)
Ultimate 57  (made from one of two SM57 I've been using since 2003 and didn't have to pay for)
Gepco Cables from Lava Cable
Samson Wireless
Kinder AFB+
and NOS preamp tubes

Amp, on the other hand, could be just about anything, lol.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Gear

I have been neglecting this blog while waiting for some new gear.  I still have some Buddha harps in transit, but I have also purchased a new amp.  Yep, I traded the Double Trouble and some cash for a HarpGear HG50 1210.

In the last couple of months, I've realized my need for more headroom.  The DT is a clean amp, and with my tube/speaker choices, even more so, but I need something more versatile.  Something with more watts and volume (although, the DT was 95% there for volume and 110% for tone).  It isn't that I need to be really loud or fill the house with a 4x10, but I had noticed that when the band plays a loud passage, I would get drowned out onstage and start playing harps harder.

I should have the amp the end of this week or early next week.  NiteRail has a few sweet shows lined up and I'll get video of the new amp!  I've actually turned down four new shows today.  Our bass player just had a baby, our guitar player's wife is due the end of April, and we are expecting baby number two in early May.  So I'll have to make the most out of the gigs we do have and negotiate some June/July dates!

SPAH is in MN, an hour from my house, this August.  I'll be around for that and will bring the HG50 when appropriate.  For now check out the sound bytes below!


I can't direct link, but click on "Amps", and then on the HG1210.  Jason Ricci and RJ Harman have clips with the same mic I use.  My two favorite tones are Carlos del Juno on his album "Just Your Fool" and Jason Ricci on "Done with the Devil".  Hopefully, this rig will let me find an amped sound that is influenced by those sounds.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Splittin' at the Seams"



If you’re interested, you can now preview tracks from the album, “Splittin’ at the Seams” at NiteRail’s MySpace page.  I would love your feedback on the previews.  The disc is 11 songs long, 10 of which are originals, and around 50 minutes.  If you have any questions about the tunes, the gear used, etc., feel free to ask away!  We recorded at Pachyderm and Two Fish Studios.  Both of which feature awesome musical history....we talk a bit about that here.  A huge thanks to Wes Schuck for his stellar mixing and mastering!

The first review of the CD is in the March edition of “Blue Monday Monthly”.  This is a semi-national blues rag. You can read the review online.

If you find yourself interested in ordering, here is a PayPal link (the album is $15 shipped in the lower 48).

I am told NiteRail.com is being updated and you will be able to preview all of the tracks on the disc soon.  If I can talk the band into streaming the whole album on MySpace, I will update the blog with said info.

Look for some pics and descriptions of a few harps I’ve been working on for myself and a few I ordered from Buddha Harps soon.  I am hoping to have an update next week or so.

This weekend I have two shows in the Twin Cities and will hopefully end up with some new YouTube material.



Thursday, February 18, 2010

Studio Tracks on MySpace

Listen to them here!

I love all the songs, but I like "Scooterbox" for its technical difficulty and traditional blues feel.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Attack on Overblows

The Attack on Overblows

It seems like putting down the technique of overblows is really becoming the
thing to do on harmonica forums lately. I think there is a sort of “straw
man” argument being waged in most instances. By that I mean people are
bringing up things that aren’t always 100% true or to the point. My
understanding is that a “straw man” argument is one based mostly on
assumption and not fact, so I hope I am using it correctly.

Let me start by saying I am only writing this as a means for those out there
interested in the debate to reflect on their ideas and opinions and then
hopefully realize that it doesn’t matter whether you appreciate overbends or
not. Some will play them and some will not just as some harp players like
Suzuki harps over Hohner or big 4x10 amps over 1x8 combos. Like with all
things music, there is room for all of it and the listener will make up
their mind as to what is relevant or not. Someone who really has things
figured out will be able to hear and understand the music at all levels

Issue #1

“Overblowers play too fast!”

First of all, stop thinking of overblow players as a type of musician or
even a style. It is a technique like tongue blocking, warbles, or playing
octaves. Overbends are just another type of bend. Next, and here is where
the straw thing comes up, you don’t have to play fast to overbend. Granted,
some guys do, but some don’t. They are not mutually exclusive, though.
Carlos del Junco, Chris Michalek, and Clint Hoover are examples of players
who use overbends liberally and do not play everything really fast.

Issue #2

“Overblows sound different than other notes and therefore sound bad.”

Yes, the timbre of an overbend (since they aren’t all blow notes) is
different than a draw or blow note. HOWEVER, so is the timbre of any bend!
The 3 draw bend that blues players lust over sounds out of place compared to
the other notes. Same with the 4 draw…those bluesy blow bends in first
position??? They have a totally different timbre than a blow or draw note.
Those notes are all acceptable to nearly any harp player. So why not
overbends? Some of it has to do with historical context and cultural

Issue #3

“Overblows are out of tune.”

Before I go any further, we are talking overwhelmingly about blues
harmonica. The vast majority of harp players posting online are blues
players to some extent. Almost anyone who brings up the “Overblows suck!”
conversation plays blues. So I find this issue rather hypocritical. If I
used a tuner every time I heard a traditional bend in blues, I bet it is out
of tune. Come on, the flat 3 is even taught to be played sharp on
purpose!!! I bet almost every 4 draw bend is flat…same with nearly every 2
draw bend. The blow bends? I bet they are flat 99% of the time. Why is
this considered correct and cool, but not when it is an overbend? Heck, most
overbends are played to create harmony over a blues progression and
transpose the flat 3, 5, or 7 to a different octave or key.

Not convincing enough? How about the fact that overbends can be played 100%
in pitch and actually up and down to even more notes? Who is even being
judged for their playing? Are the haters listening to pros or amateurs? I
can find a lot of amateurs playing really crappy traditional blues harp too.

Issue #4

“Overblows have bad tone.”

You’re right. Poorly played overbends sound bad. It is just like when
players struggle playing the high end of the harp or the 3 draw bends. In
fact, I bet the majority of players can’t hit all the notes on 3 draw with
full tone and in pitch.

This issue brings up a new point. Overbending, to be done well, needs to be
done on a harp meant to overbend. Using a stock harp or just gapping isn’t
really enough. Just because you’re stock Special 20 shrieks out a few extra
notes doesn’t mean you are playing the bends correctly.

Issue #5

“Overblowers just do it to show off.”

Some guys do…especially amateur webcam players (not that there is anything
wrong with that, because there isn’t!), players posting their woodshedding
online, and newer players trying to figure out how to play well (we all have
room to improve), but the best ob players don’t have to ob. Think about it…

Not making any sense? Well, I am not a touring musician. I play in a great
local band that plays decent blues appreciating clubs once or twice a week.
I play with really talented guys, who like to play in a modern style. Point
being, I am not comparing what we do to the level of bands touring
nationally. We did just finish recording an album. I could have totally
showed off all my speed, techniques, and the mammoth solos I can take.
Instead, I just tried to serve the song. I don’t think I played one
overdraw. I am not even sure how often I played any overblows. I know
enough theory to use the best harmonica position for a song. Therefore, I
pick the harp with the best natural note layout so I don’t have to use a ton
of overbends, etc.

I agree that trying to play everything on one key of harp or using a
position just because you can is typically rather arrogant and self
righteous…and not very musical. I would also wager that solid ob players
tend to learn a lot more theory in learning to ob and therefore can role
with more musical punches.

Live, there are no rules and I am much more liberal with my use of
technique, but again, only as it serves the song (but we take longer solos
and play more songs so there is a place for just about everything).

Issue #6

Who are you listening to?

I am not a world-class overbend player, but I can play all of them on a good
harp. I can sustain them in pitch, use them with vibrato, and make them
sound full and equal to other notes. If you judge obs on YouTube videos
from guys that are closet players, have never been in a band, and have 10
months of harmonica under their belt, then you have some good evidence.
However, start looking for albums with overblows. Listen to some top notch
pro players instead. Not guys who ob for the sake of obing, but really good
musicians who play harmonica!

Over decades it has become acceptable for "traditional" bends to be used
liberally with timbre different than blow and draw notes, intonation issues,
and overall tone different than draw and blow notes. Well played overbends
offer all the pros and cons of traditional bends!

Monday, January 25, 2010

"Custom" Harps

Here are a couple harps I've been working on...

I opened up the back covers sealed them with cloth tape.

Here I am waxing the draw reeds.  This helps a ton with overdraws which I am doing more and more of. The reeds have been embossed, arced, and gapped to my needs.  This is always tricky because the reeds will drift back to their original shape and gap from time to time.  So I tweak, play, wait a day, and resume.  Throughout the week I'll come back and tinker to get the best overall response and feel.

Here is the comb after I sealed it.  Note that I removed the plastic burrs that run through the channels.  The harps will be played a bit daily for the next week so I can work out any kinks.  The last thing I do is tune the harp to 443, but the reed work and wax can play with the tuning.  I guess I have to be patient!

Typically, I play Golden Melody harps.  However, they aren't made in the low keys.  With the GM's, I typically don't mess with the comb.  It isn't as easy to cut as on the Sp20's.  However, I have a Dremel tool I just bought.  I am now starting a GM in Ab that will be cut and taped.  My preference is for wood or composite combs, however.  I have three coming this week from Chris Michalek of Buddha harps.  They are worth every penny!  That being said, the Ab isn't on the list of comb priority, lol.  Those will go in a C, D, and Bb I finished this month.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Customizing Harmonicas

I've been on a huge tweaking kick...I play a lot of overblows and set my harps up as such.  Here is a list of what I do and in what order.

- tip scoop
- emboss
- Ruper Oysler's, "radical reed shaping"
- arcing
- gapping
- tuning
- opening up the backs (not on Golden Melodies, though)
- attaching labels

I tune to 443.  I don't really play hard, but the harps have more cut this way.  I can also use a deep blues vibrato and not get pitchy.  Most of what I learned has been from Chris Michalek and the Ruper Oysler video.

I have the Herring tool kit along with a lot of other tools I pick up here or there.  The most recent has been diamond tipped bits for a Dremel.  I use them to scoop and tune.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Splittin' at the Seams - Harp notes

Just thought I'd throw my album notes out there...rhythm harmonica means I played rhythm on a specific section...never the whole song.  We wrapped recording this week.  I'll posts parts of some of the rough mixes as I figure out how/where to host the audio.  The album will drop on February 23.  I'll be posting here more now that the holidays are over and I am back to the daily grind!

Funky Mama (two progressions, rhythm harmonica, head)
    - C harp (2nd position) Vibro Champ w/ BBE Two Timer delay
Living a Lie (one progression)
    - Ab harp (3rd position) Vibro Champ w/ BBE Two Timer delay
Leave Your Light On (one progression, rhythm harp)
    - Db harp (2nd position) Vibro Champ w/ BBE Two Timer delay
Time for Me to Go (intro, thre progressions)
    - A harp (2nd position) Vibro Champ w/ BBE Two Timer delay
Gotta Keep Moving (one progression, rhythm harmonica)
    - Bb harp (3rd position) Vibro Champ w/ BBE Two Timer delay
North Wind (intro, outro, rhythm harmonica)
       - A harp (2nd position) B harp (2nd position), E harp (3rd position), HarpGear DT
Eventually (outro, rhythm harmonica)
    - Ab harp (2nd position), HarpGear Double Trouble
Hungry Ghosts (B section and turnaround)
    - B harp (11th position and 2nd position), HarpGear Double Trouble w/ BBE Two Timer delay
Karma King (one progression)
    - A harp (4th position), Harp Gear Double Trouble w/ BBE Two Timer delay
Scooterbox (head, two progressions)
    - D harp (2nd position), acoustic
Splittin at the Seams (two progressions, one progression trading)
    - F harp (3rd position), Harp Gear Double Trouble, Micro POG, BBE Two Timer delay