So, you want to sound like Little Walter, Carey Bell and Big Walter Horton. Your playing is of course very important but these old blues guys didn’t just play a mean harp they were at the forefront of playing amplified blues harmonica. Your gonna need one man, a harmonica, a microphone and an amplifier. In this article we are just going to concentrate on the harmonica microphone with reviews built in.
Why can I not pick up any old mic to play blues harp?
Well, think of a microphone as a guitar. As a harmonica player uses a guitar amp the microphone has to match the impedance of the amp. A guitar amp is high impedance so the harmonica mic has to be too. This is also known as HI-Z and generally speaking means the impedance is around 50,000 or 50k ohms. A normal mic is 600 ohms. Big difference eh? So look out for these things when hunting out a mic.
The traditional harmonica microphones seem to be bullet mics,can you tell me about these?
Yes! The bullet mics are so called because of their shape. They were the old american base station taxi style mics. These are HI-Z and so are great for blues harp. The old versions of this mic are getting harder to find like the Astatic JT30 and the Shure 520d but there are modern versions of this mic that are widely known, used and look virtually identical to the originals, they sound pretty good too. They are the Astatic JT30RH harmonica microphone and the Shure 520DX harmonica microphone and widely available from good harmonica shops with a good range of harmonicas for sale too. Little Walter however did not use a bullet mic, he used a vintage Monarch MC-24 microphone which is shaped more like a fat pencil!
What other microphone can I use for amplified harp?
There are a handful to choose from. The usual mic shape which is known as a Highball can be used with great results if it is the correct impedance. You can use a dual-Z mic which is both high and lo so you can choose the hight for a harp mic and the lo if you want to sing through a PA. There are many other vintage microphones too, others by Shure and more by Electro Voice, Calrad and Argonne. If you prefer to play harp with more hand sounds and Wah Wahs you can use a Palm Mic which fits into your hands and allows more use of the natural shapes you can make with your hands.
Harmonica mics seem expensive, are there any cheap harmonica microphones?
You can buy more cost effective mics and still receive very good results but in a world of you get what you pay for generally speaking the more you pay the better you get.
So, hopefully you know how to go about you harp mic shopping. Pull out your best key diatonic harmonica, find yourself a great mic, plug into your harp amp and wail till the cows come home.
Good luck harp fans
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