Tim Moyer - Working Man's Harps
25.09.2006 18:57:00 >>>
Hi, Alex, I don't claim to be any kind of an expert on this topic, but I have worked hard to achieve the sound that I use in performance and studio recording, and have gained a lot of trail-and-error knowledge that might be helpful. Let me preface my remarks by saying that I play diatonic harmonica exclusively, and don't ever attempt to achieve an "acoustic"
sound. I'd be happy if no one knew I was playing harmonica at all, and thought instead that I was playing a trumpet or saxophone or clarinet.
In this regard, I've been pretty successful!
Several years ago (maybe 10 now), I set out to build my own amplification system that would be more flexible and multi-dimensional than the bullet-mic-into-vintage-tube-amp that most harmonica players use. I chose for the heart of my system a hybrid tube/solid state micrphone preamplifier, a digital multi-effects unit and a solid state power amplifier. My thinking was that I would be able to add all the sound character up front, and then amplify it to whatever extent I needed by keeping the power clean. That way I am not dependent on getting my volume to some certain level in order to get the sound quality I need. Gradually I've added other units, as I will describe later.
I, too, thought of using a guitar multi-effects unit, and to that end I bought a Zoom 105. I quickly found that most of the effects were completely unsuitable for harmonica, because they add a lot of overdrive and sustain, which harmonice doesn't need, and introduces a lot of feedback. I now use the Zoom unit for guitar!
My initial setup started with a PAiA TubeHead preamp which I built from a kit (http://www.paia.com/tubestuf.htm#tubehead). If I had it to do again, I'd probably use an ART TPS II (http://www.musiciansfriend.com/product/ART-TPS-II-2Channel-Variable-Impedance-Tube-Preamp?sku=180632)
which does essentially the same thing. I then added an Alesis MidiVerb IV, primarily to add reverb, although I sometimes use the chorus effect as well. I tried using the pitch shifter, but never really got something I liked with it. My power amplifier is a Rolls RA-235 (http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/controller/home?O=productlist&A=details&Q=&sku=155399&is=REG&addedTroughType=search), which is 35watts a channel in stereo, bridgable to 70watts mono. I use a pair of WeberVST P10Q speakers. This setup worked great, and I still use this small subset of effects for many gigs. It lets me run a line out to a DI box and still have on-stage amplification, where amp volume is independent of line volume, so that turning up and down on stage doesn't effect the house mix.
I sometimes use a couple of effects pedals in my chain, including a Boss OC-2 (there's now an OC-3 out that I'd choose instead) and a Digitech Synth-Wah envelope filter that I use for auto-wah. I also run an A-B switch on the floor to allow me to select between tube compressed and solid state clean side of my preamp.
I've gradually been adding effects over the years. I bought a Digitech Vocalist VR harmonizer (http://www.musiciansfriend.com/product/DigiTech-Vocalist-VR?sku=180063&src=3SOSWXXA)
about a year ago, with the idea that I would be able to do "horn section" harmony lines with it, but it hasn't worked so well for that.
Instead, it does create a really nice accordion sound, particularly when used with chorus on the midiverb. The harmonizer wants a REALY clean input signal, and can't handle polyphonic effects, or even a lot of overtones. For that reason, it goes FIRST in the effects chain, even before the preamp. The Vocalist has a built-in pre-amp, and can take either a balanced or unbalanced input, and outputs an unbalanced mono signal. It also has reverb, but I NEVER use it. I find the effect very useful for some things, but really don't use it that much.
One thing that has been very useful, since my amplifier doesn't have tone controls, is a graphic equalizer for shaping the tone. I bought an Alesis DEQ-230, which has 30 bands per channel (stereo) and is programmable. I can store a number of preset programs for different sounds and choose them depending on the song, room, or choice of other effects. I use the EQ as the last component before amplification.
I also added a wireless micrphone receiver to the chain, using the AKG WMS-40 Snap-on, which I think has been discontinued. It's basically a 9cm long XLR transmitter that plus into any lo-Z microphone, and a rack-mount receiver, fixed frequency. I use mine with a Sennheiser e604 drum micrphone, from which I have removed the mounting clip and added padding to reduce the handling noise. This is a ful-spectrum mic with VERY high sound pressure handling capabilities, and it works very well to close mic a harmonica.
I recently bought an 8-space rack case to house all of this stuff, and added a power conditioner and a patch bay. Here's the breakdown of the effects chain:
Sennheiser e604 mic w/ AKG snap-on transmitter AKG WMs-40 Wireless receiver Digitech Vocalist VR harmonizer Boss OC-2 octave effect (floor box)
Digitech Synth-Wah envelope filter (floor box)
Morely ABY channel switch (floor box; feeds two input channels on preamp)
PAiA TubeHead tube/solid state hybrid preamp Alesis Midiverb IV digital multi-effects unit Alesis DEQ-230 programmable digital equlaizer Rolls RA-235 35watt-per-channel power amplifier Weber VST P10Q speakers (pair)
There are a few things to remember about this setup: the harmonizer doesn't play well with other effects, particularly up-stream, which is why it sits at the top of the chain. Even after adding multiple harmonized voices, they sound much better if their clean. The Boss OC-2 is an analog device, and has some limitations in locking up on signals.
It doesn't like inputs that are too high or too low in frequency, and HATES polyphonic input (the new OC-3 might be better about that). That said, it still creates a wonderful synth-y sounding octave output, and I love this effect. The Synth-Wah has a limit amount of usefulness, but it does a great job in its basic setting creating a hornlike wah sound.
Most of the effects in the Alesis MidiVerb are way overdone. This is a studio-purposed unit, and has both "wet" and "dry" outputs, so you can mix the effects in separately. In a setup like mine, I have to dial the reverb WAY back from the factory settings. Sometimes I turn it off completely in a boomy room.
A while back I recorded a few pieces using various effects in my system, including the harmonizer and octave box. I don't think I owned the EQ at the time. I don't recall precisely which effects were used on which snippet, but you should be able to get some idea from listening to them:
http://www.workingmansharps.com/Sounds/other/sample%2001.mp3 http://www.workingmansharps.com/Sounds/other/sample%2002.mp3 http://www.workingmansharps.com/Sounds/other/sample%2003.mp3 http://www.workingmansharps.com/Sounds/other/sample%2004.mp3 http://www.workingmansharps.com/Sounds/other/sample%2005.mp3 In addition, I recorded some samples using various EQ profiles, which you can find linked to this page (includes descriptions of the setting):
http://www.workingmansharps.com/Sounds/other/ I don't really know what else I can tell you. This is a very personalized setup, and some people have achieved great things with other setups. Folks like Richard Hunter and Chris Michalek have had success using multi-effects units like the Digitech and the POD and the Line 6. I like mine because it makes me sound like this:
http://www.workingmansharps.com/Sounds/other/Pork%20Pie.mp3 Have fun, and if I can explain anything else, just let me know.