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.


Daniel Bahamondes said...

Muy bien dicho!! la mejor forma de aprender, es tocando la harp.

Saludos, from Chile

Daniel Bahamondes

Anonymous said...

thanks, I have been slowly learning blues harp for a while but starting to really use it on stage but have been concerned about getting gear incase I go wrong or if I might be skipping a step. I'll look into it though :)

Rick Davis said...


Thanks for visiting my blog.

You might consider starting with the Epiphone Valve Junior Half Stack. It is a really good tube amp; a 5-watt harp tone machine for not much money.

Stick a mic in front of it for gigs. Move up to a bigger gig rig only after you get the feel for tube amps and bullet mics.

Happy harping!

Anonymous said...

Hear hear! It's good to FINALLY hear someone step up and challenge the status quo advice about amping up! I happen to agree with you. When I was just learning to play harp, I began to be seriously uninspired by my acoustic playing. In fact I was so uninspired I almost put the instrument down (like I've done with so many others). But on a whim I picked up a cheap used pignose (the little "legendary" 5 watt'er), and MAN did that sound intrigue me! Hearing how I could change the tone of the harp got back on track and inspired me to continue to learn and grow on the instrument. I'm SO glad I chose to amp up earlier than all the conventional wisdom said I should. If I hadn't I would never have even stuck woth it long enough to get decent on the thing!

Kudos to you for putting this advice out there!