Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Review: Front and Center Harp Microphones

A man I know who builds high-end boutique guitar amps has a motto: “If it sounds good, it is good.” His point is that you needn’t be a slave to conventional wisdom (which ain’t always wisdom) to get good tone. Besides, who wants to be conventional?

I heard about the Front and Center harp microphones from Ronnie Shellist, a great blues harp player here in Denver. I’ve known Ronnie for years, and I know he is a sharp critic of gear. He rejects anything that gets in the way of pure tone. He uses zero pedals, not even delay… just a mic, a cable, and his Bassman amp.

This is why I took notice when he strongly recommended the new Front and Center harp mics to me. I arranged to test two of F&C’s mics against several other good harp mics, including a JT-30 crystal and several good bullet mics with Shure elements. Here is what I found.

The Front and Center mics were astonishing: Louder and more defined, but with less feedback. The tone of the F&C mics was more colorful, with overtones swirling in the sound. If you lean into them they crunch nicely. The CM/CR mics may have a tad more grind, but it made them muddier.

The F&C mics allowed me to turn up a Bassman amp one notch before feedback, and one notch on a Bassman is a pretty big deal. In the room used for the review, the other microphones all started howling at “4” on the Bassman amp. The Front and Center mics could get to “5” and sounded STRONG!

The F&C mics don’t get lower feedback by being wimpy. With the Bassman on 4 for all the mics, the F&Cs were by far the loudest, with the fullest warmest tones.

I spoke with Scott from Front and Center about how he did this, and – as you might expect – he was a bit guarded. Here is what I can tell you for sure: It took him more than a year of constant trials before perfecting the design. The tonal and anti-feedback properties of the mic owe as much to the overall design as to the NOS crystal element, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Scott fashions the inside contours of the mic in a certain way that enhances tone and rejects feedback. He makes his own gaskets for the element, which is actually double gasketted. One key part of the design is that the cavity behind the element is absolutely airtight.

The mic is made entirely of hand-carved wood. The grill has three very narrow slots, which are about a half inch deep. I noticed the mic is hyper directional, rejecting sounds that are not right in front of it. That is probably the meat of it’s anti-feedback properties right there.

The element in the mics is an American-made No Name crystal manufactured about 30 years ago. I’ve tried hard to get more precise information on these elements but found nothing. They have no markings to identify them. Scott bought them from vendors who’d had them in stock for decades.

At this point, some harp “experts” will start moaning about off-brand elements, to which I gently remind them: If it sounds good, it is good. I’ve played these mics, and I can tell you they sound fantastic. No worries anyway... Scott has a 14-day money back policy. Try it for two weeks; if you don't like, return it.

The Front and Center Mics are very highly recommended by the Blues Harp Amps blog. I’ll be ordering one in a few days. My Christmas present to myself! ;-)


Listen to the Front and Center mics:
With Volume Control
Without Volume Control

(The F&C mic with the volume control is slightly darker because it has a capacitor across the pot. The mic without the volume control is slightly brighter and hotter. They were equal in feedback rejection. BTW... these recordings just can't do justice to the "bigness" of the F&C tone.)

Listen to other mics:
JT-30 crystal mic
Bullet with Shure CM

Ronnie reports that since he started using these mics he has never had to run around the stage to avoid the feedback demons. At a gig he picked up a few weeks ago with a loud band, he had to set up right next to the drums and could only stand directly in front of his Bassman. He had to play loud because the band was very loud. The gig went well. He told me he could have never done that with his old bullet mics.

1 comment:

Todd said...

Rick-Those mics are beautiful! Thanks for another great review.