Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gary Smith/Aki Kumar - Rocket Ride

Here is a great vid of Gary Smith (on the right) playing a harp duet with Aki Kumar, an excellent young player.

Both these guys are playing through Sonny Jr. amps: Gary is using his Cruncher and Aki is using his SJ410.

Nice tone...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gary Smith endorses the Sonny Jr. Cruncher Amp

Gary Smith, whose legendary tone earned him the title of Godfather of the South Bay Blues, has endorsed the Sonny Jr. Cruncher amp. This is a very big deal for a lot of reasons.

I had heard about this endorsement but I was skeptical. Gary has always been a vintage Fender guy. In fact, his award winning DVD “
Amplified Blues Harp Demystified” is mostly a celebration of the magic of vintage Fender amp tone. For Gary to get behind a different amp now is, as I said, a very big deal.

Anybody who has heard Gary Smith play live or has heard his CD “
Blues For Mr. B.” or on Mark Hummel’s “Blues Harp Meltdown” knows that Gary has the most beautifully articulated Chicago-style tone on the planet. Listen to the first few bars of You Can’t Hurt Me No More or Elevate Me Mama for an object lesson in blues harpology.

That is why this is such a big deal. Gary honed his extraordinary tone over the last 40 years using mostly Fender gear. His main gig rig of late has been the venerable Fender Bassman. For him to change up now is a huge risk of upsetting the perfect tonal apple cart. He had to be mighty impressed with the Cruncher amp to do this.

He is. I had a conversation about this with him last night. Gary Smith fully endorses the Sonny Jr. Cruncher amp, and will be using it at all his gigs. In larger venues he will add the Bassman for back-end support while mic’ing the Cruncher through the FOH speakers. At all other gigs it will be the Cruncher by itself. What he likes about the Cruncher is the complex tone from the multiple speakers of different sizes and configurations. He told me the Cruncher throws to the back of the room with ease. He walked around while another player used his un-mic'ed rig and said it sounded “right there in the front of the mix.”

As you may be able to tell, I am very impressed with Gary Smith as a blues harp player. He is the real deal, and he is an expert on harp amps. If he sincerely endorses the Sonny Jr. Cruncher – and I am convinced he does – then that is good enough for me. Yes, I have had my differences with Gary Onofrio, the owner of the Sonny Jr. brand, but this is impressive and cannot be ignored. Also, Onofrio was a stand-up guy in helping me hook up with Gary Smith.

Sound clips of Smith playing the Cruncher are on the way and will be added to this post soon. I’m still working to get a Cruncher amp in my hands for a thorough review. Check back for more details on this.

Sonny Jr. Amps

Wezo Megatone Amp

Mike Wesolowski sends along photos and a spec sheet for his very interesting new project, the Wezo Megatone amp, a hot rod harp amp based on the Epi Blues Junior chassis:


Rugged point to point construction and top quality components
carbon comp resistors
Mallory 150 signal caps
Sprague and JJ high voltage caps
over sized transformers
high capacity power supply
pre-amp tubes: 12AU7, 12AX7

30 watts from a pair of EL34 power tubes, each with separate fixed bias control
unmatched tubes can be used
other tube options: 6L6, 5881, 6CA7, KT66, KT77, KT88, 6550
high capacity whisper fan for tube cooling

Asymetrical Attitude drive control delivers thick, feedback resistantcrunch tone

Variable Mic Pad, will accomadate any type of unbalanced microphone

Other controls: Gain Boost (switch), Volume, Mid Boost (switch), Bass, Treble

Rear Panel Controls:
Line out jack, feed speaker voiced signal into 2nd slave amp or mixer board
Ground lift switch, safely and effectively eliminates ground loop noise
8 and 16 ohm speaker jacks
mains and high voltage fuses
With two EL34 power tubes this little dog will have a serious bark. I hope to have sound clips, release date, and price points soon. Contack Wezo at

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Rhythm Tech Mountable Gig Tray

I was enjoying this new vid posted by Adam Gussow of Satan & Adam and noticed he is using the Rhythm Tech Mountable Gig Tray. Check out the mic stand on the right side of the picture.

I've been using that piece of gear for about a year. It's great for harp players... It's a handy staging area for harps and mics between your harp case/gig bag and the performance.

Keeping your harps and mics handy during a gig has always been a problem. Some players go to a lot of trouble to have their entire harp collection on stage in a big case within easy reach at all times. I found that to be a huge pain. With the MGT I can line up the harps I know or suspect I will need in the next set, and they are right there mounted on my vocal mic stand. The MGT has a rubberized mat to avoid clinks or handling noise, side rails to ensure your harps don't get knocked to the floor, and even a hook underneath to hang a towel or chamois or mic or whatever. Very, very handy, and very well made.

As the name suggests it is made for rhythm players, to hold maracas or tambourines or shakers, but it is also ideal for harp players. It is a good place to put your beverage, as well. They sell for about 40 bucks at all the usual places. Highly recommended.

Masco, Alamo, K-Zoo Amps For Sale

Here are some great harp amps offered for sale by a guy who is pretty well-known in the harp community. I see his email/handle in many harp-centric sites on the web:

Masco Combo amp -"These rare combo amps rarely show up for sale. Mine has a fair amount of cosmetic "patina", cool look. The amp itself is really nice looking, no rust or corrosion. It works fine but is original, some pops and crackles, pots are a little scratchy, speaker seems fine. I would recommend a good amp tech. The guy here is one of the best in the midwest but takes a year to look at your stuff unless you're a rock star."

Alamo Model 3 -"This is the highly desirable wooden cabinet model, sounds terrific, rivals my Kendrick Champ,probably louder! Killer for harp! I have seen some really high prices for these on ebay in the last year. Exc. shape."

Alamo Capri -"Small practice amp in very nice cosmetic shape, sounds similar to a Harmony but i think a bigger sound, Alamo amps work well for harp."

Kalamazoo II -"Greg Heumann went hrough this one, superb player, looks nice too."

Offers are invited for these collectible gems. Email

[Dang! I might throw down an offer on a couple of those bad boys... -Rick]

Thursday, July 17, 2008

So Far, So Good

Since I started this blog back in March we have had over 16,000 page views, with the average visitor staying more than three minutes. Our readership grows every week. Not bad for a new, narrow special-interest blog, and people are returning again and again to read the articles. Most new visitors get here by searching Google for info on harp amps.

It is interesting that less than 60 percent of our visitors are from the United States. This blog has attracted visitors from over 40 different countries.

Plans for the future include more long-term hands-on reviews of harp amps in real-world situations. I’ve gotten commitments from some amp vendors and builders to loan me their gear for review, or to help me find an owner willing to share his gear. I’ve been in contact with several of the best harp players out there to discus gear and tone. More on that later.

Thank you for visiting my blog. Check back again as the quest for tone rolls on...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

When Should You Amp Up?

It never fails. Every time a newbie inquires about amps on a harp forum, a crusty old harp veteran will fire back with the moldy cliché that Tone Comes From the Player, Not the Amp! This is invariably followed by other crusty old harp veterans who opine that said newbie should not even THINK about getting an amp until he has acquired good acoustic tone first.

To the first, I say “Duh!” To the second, I say “Nonsense!” Do these curmudgeons also get cranky with guys who buy certain sneakers, growling that the shoes won’t make them play like Michael Jordan? Thanks for illuminating the obvious, fellas.

If a new player (or any player for that matter) admires the tone he hears on recordings or at gigs, he will be curious about the rig the player used. However, no reasonable person would expect to instantly play harp like Jason Ricci after buying a HarpGear 50 amp. But there is nothing wrong with being inspired by the sound of the amp.

Harp players should never be discouraged from amping up. I put my students on the mic from the very first lesson. Every session ends with a few minutes of amplified playing and a brief discussion of amps and mics. Any harp player who has ever stepped up to a mic knows very well that bad harp playing sounds even worse when amped. Amps and mics are incentives to work harder and develop your tone; they are never a crutch for bad tone.

The notion that beginners should not start thinking about amps is absurd. Some crusty old veterans warn that new players might buy the “wrong” amp, or might over-buy. Maybe, but I haven’t seen many beginning harp players lugging boutique 4x10 amps to blues jams. And the decision about which amp is “right” for a player can only be made by the player himself after a lot of experience.

My advice to a new player interested in playing amped blues harp is to get a small tube amp and bullet mic right away. Practice with your rig every day. Before you know it, you will have developed your own tone.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hurricane V8 harp amp on the market

Brian Purdy at has a very interesting little amp for sale: a Hurricane V8.

I have a mint used Hurricane V8 amplifer for sale. This is the same model amplifier that Rock Bottom played exclusively in the last years of his playing. They have been discontinued for a few years now. It is in perfect condition with a D2F padded cover.
Here is a short demo of the Hurricane V8 amp in action, posted by a friend on YouTube. Nice tone.