Vintage Ampro 104 / Shure CR80A (and memories of Gary Primich)

The Harmonica Microphone SeriesYou can tune a harmonica

Take a loooook up the rail track, from Miami to Canada.‘ With a song on his lips and a bounce in his step, Otis strode into the Surgery to deliver a letter from America. The Doc was plinking and filing away at a Crossover reed plate on his Sjoeberg 7.5 rig. He peered over his glasses and smiled. ‘Your vocal chords would benefit from a go on here, Otis old boy!’ Otis stopped dead. ‘Whaddya mean?‘ ‘Well, if you were a dressmaker,’ the Doc replied, ‘you’d be tucking up all the frills, instead of which, you’re just..’ ‘I have the voice of an angel‘ Otis interrupted. (more…)

Johnny Ace Harp Mics

hThe Harmonica Microphone SeriesJohnny Ace Harp Microphones

It’s been a while since we posted anything technical from the Harp Surgery, so pull on your overalls and let’s hit the grease pit. We’ve been busy refreshing our harp rig and look forward to reporting on all the fantastic hardware we’ve assembled. Customised harp mics, harp effects pedals and tuning equipment; they’re all here. So let’s start with some real harp mic cheesecake.
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Go Walkabout – Wireless Microphones

Four our final article in the Harmonica Microphones series, let’s ditch that cumbersome mic cable. Many players want to go wireless – fun, because you can go out in the audience and play, dance up on the bar, or simply have more freedom to roam around on stage. Here’s how:

A wireless system always consists of two parts. The transmitter stays with you, connects to your microphone and sends the signal out into the air using radio waves. The receiver is located near and connected to your amp. There are many types of wireless systems available to us. As a rule, you usually get what you pay for. But there are some practical considerations. (more…)

Hey There, What’s That Sound? – Microphone Feedback

We continue with the Harmonica Microphones series with some thoughts on the knotty problem of microphone feedback: what it is and how to minimise it.

Feedback is that awful loud screeching, humming and/or whistling sound a system makes when a microphone picks up the sound from the amplifier’s speaker and sends it back to the amplifier for further amplification. Every system (in this case a microphone plus amplifier) has a feedback threshold. Turn the volume up loud enough and feedback occurs. Keep the volume below that point and it doesn’t. Unfortunately we often need to have our volume very close to the feedback threshold in order to be loud enough, and so feedback can come and go as conditions change. But some setups are less prone to feedback than others, and some microphones are less prone than others. (more…)

There’s No Place Like Ohm – Microphone Impedance

Our previous article in the Harmonica Microphones series mentioned impedance. Here we describe not so much what it is, but what it means to harp players wielding microphones.

The Harmonica Microphone Series beginsThe microphones we are talking about in this series of articles are referred to as either “high impedance” or “low impedance.” In general, a vintage bullet mic is a high impedance device and a modern vocal mic is a low impedance one. This is not always the case, however. (more…)

Microphone Elements Explained – Part 2

It’s been a while, folks, but at last we continue the Harmonica Microphones series with the second part of Greg Heumann’s exposition on microphone elements.

The Harmonica Microphone Series beginsLast time around, we described two kinds of elements used for amplified blues harp – dynamic and crystal elements. So let’s name some of the most sought-after crystal and dynamic elements, and find out how to shop around for them. (more…)

Microphone Elements Explained

For this week’s Harmonica Microphones post we asked Greg Heumann to give us the low-down on the bewildering universe of mic elements. In the first of a double post, he describes two kinds of elements used for amplified blues harp and… well, it gets technical after that.

The Harmonica Microphone Series beginsThere are many kinds of elements in all of microphone-dom, including ribbon mics, condensers, electret, crystal and dynamic. Acoustic players may well use any of these. However, except in the recording studio, amplified players will only be concerned with dynamic and crystal elements.

Fact 1: There is no such thing as a mic element designed for harmonica players.
Every microphone uses an element that was designed for more general purposes. As a rule, the more expensive a mic was when new, relative to other mics of its vintage, the better it performs as a general purpose mic. To engineers, this means it has better frequency response (able to “hear” higher and lower sounds), flatter frequency response (no particular frequencies are made significantly louder or softer), and/or more “headroom” (the ability to tolerate higher sound pressure levels without distorting).

In this case “better” is usually means better for acoustic players. But… (more…)

Cupping Technique 101

In his latest article in the Harmonica Microphone series, Greg explains what happens when your cup overfloweth. The secret is getting a good seal.

The Harmonica Microphone Series beginsGood amplified tone starts with the player’s tone, and is accentuated by microphone technique. Cupping is an art; a learned skill that is neither obvious nor easy in practice. Properly done at its extreme, no air you suck or blow can escape “the seal” and therefore no sound at all comes out of the harp. Your goal is to visualize that all your breath must enter and exit through the microphone itself. In reality it is very hard to do this, and it is hard to even come close at first.

When the seal with a microphone is very good, the air pressure changes are effectively “coupled” to the microphone’s diaphragm in a way that is very, very different from the normal “free air” mode in which mics were designed to operate. The result is a very distorted signal sent to the amp. (more…)

Choosing a Microphone: Acoustic vs Amplified?

The Harmonica Microphone Series beginsElwood’s Note: “I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to harmonica mics. When you ask me what my favourite element is, I normally choose between earth, wind, water and fire. I thought “Impedance” was a stigmatised medical condition which affects 50 percent of all men. That’s why we asked Greg Heumann at BlowsMeAway Productions to run a blog here at the Harp Surgery for the next few weeks, giving you (and me) a crash course in microphones and all the fiddly bits inside them. Greg is a performing harp player who’s been making custom mics since 2004, and he’s forgotten more about microphones than I will ever know.

Choosing a microphone: Acoustic vs Amplified?

Biscuit microphone, courtesy of Harmonica MasterclassIn choosing a microphone, the most important question of all is “What do you want to sound like?”

There are two classes of sound, with infinite variety in each class. If you’re a classical musician, you’ll probably stand in front of a stand-mounted microphone and you want the amplified sound to cleanly reflect the tone of your playing – giving the closest representation of what it would be like to be in the same room with you, with no microphone or amplifier at all. We call this kind of sound “acoustic” even though it may in fact be picked up with a microphone. (more…)