Wednesday, June 30, 2010

True Bluesman

Dan Treanor at a blues jam at Ziggies in Denver on Tuesday night. His harp was singin'. Dan is a great blues entertainer, a true bluesman.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bends Harmonicas

I've added a new link in the list to the right: Bends Harmonicas in Brazil. I've heard good things, would love to try them.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Al Chesis

Here's a short clip of Al Chesis on harp, Jeremy Vasquez on guitar, Kyle Borthwick on drums, John Blake on bass. Al is using his vintage Astatic JT-30 microphone w/ceramic element plugged straight into the amp; no delay or other pedals. Nice tone!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

New Feature on the Mission Chicago Amp

Bruce Collins has added an interesting new feature to the Mission Chicago Harp Amp – but it bears a little explanation:

It is a Cathode Bias Bypass switch, but you can think of it as a FAT or BOOST switch. It switches on or off a circuit that regulates the power to the preamp tube, a 12AX7.

In the ON position the amp has the same circuit as in my prototype version of this amp: The tone is tweaked for what Bruce calls a ‘chunky-modern” tone. In the OFF position the bypass is disabled, giving what Bruce calls a “politely vintage” tone.

When the switch is ON the amp cranks out more gain; say 6db more. I played an amp with this new feature at our blues jam at Ziggies in Denver last Sunday, and the tone difference was distinct. With the switch OFF, the tone was warmer, fatter, um... wider. It lost a bit of volume but took on a sound that reminded me of my 1953 MASCO ME-18 amp.

The switch is a small toggle on the underside of the chassis next to the preamp tube socket. It is not hard to reach when you know where it is. You can reach behind your amp and flick it and hear the tonal change immediately.

The Mission Chicago Amp must be the most versatile harp amp on the planet. Look at the unique controls:

-Switchable from Fixed Bias to Cathode Bias (punchy to crunchy)
-DEEP switch (changes the tone stack curve for surprisingly low growl from a mid-sized 1x12 amp)
-and now, this new Cathode Bias Bypass switch (it needs a new name)

Along with the separate bass and treble controls, these switches make the amp infinitely adjustable to your taste. Nobody else is making harp amps like this.

NOTE: I played my Mission Chicago Amp at a private party in the huge backyard of a VERY swanky mansion last Saturday. We were on a deck facing the yard (more than an acre), pool, gardens, etc. I had the amp up to 7 (out of 12) and the volume was more than enough to keep up with two loud guitars and the rest of a rocking blues band. The host loved our sound and paid us twice the agreed upon fee.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

More Kim Wilson

Oustanding perfomance at the Greeley Blues Jam 2010

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hohner's Newest Official Endorser - Nic Clark

Congratulations to Denver harp phenom Nic Clark for becoming an official Hohner USA endorser. Nic is among the youngest Hohner endorsers ever; Stevie Wonder may have been younger at the time he was signed.

Although Nic is only 14 years old, his talent and tone on blues harp are spectacular, and his fame is quickly spreading. He is friends with and has shared stages with some of the greats, such as Rick Estrin, Kim Wilson, Jason Ricci, and many others. Andy Garrigue, Harmonica Marketing Manager for Hohner USA, summed it up this way: "Nic is awesome." Andy will add Nic to Hohner's artist list soon, and issue a formal press release announcing the endorsement.

Good on ya, Nic! You're on your way.

In this last video Nic trades harp licks with Al Chesis, another blues harp master and official Hohner endorser.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Silver Champ Sighting

Tommy Knox of the Clam Daddys playing through a silverface Fender Champ, one of my favorite harp amps.

Sonny Landreth

No harp content, but GREAT swampy guitar. This is Sonny Landreth's encore solo at the Greeley Blues Jam on June 12, 2010.

Monday, June 14, 2010

It's Amazing.... many blues harp players spend a fortune on big boutique harp amps and sound like crap.

Then there is Kim Wilson who can use nearly any amp and sound good, even a guitar amp like the DeVille. That is inspiring.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Two Fender DeVille amps for a Harp Rig?

Yep, that's what Kim Wilson was playing at the Greeley Blues Jam this year, June 12th. I've played harp through a DeVille and I thought it was one of the worst harp amps I'd heard: WAY too bright and spikey. But then, I'm not Kim Wilson.

There are two boxes on top of his amps: The one on the left is an ART Tube Preamp V3. What is that white one on the left? I looks like a pedal with no knobs. (click on the image to enlarge) I didn't get a chance to ask him about it.

Needless to say, Kim Wilson got good tone with these amps, and it was VERY loud. (watch the video) He was playing through his Astatic JT-30 microphone.


This photo was kindly sent by a reader, showing Kim Wilson's rig for a show in CT late last year. It looks like the Kinder Mid Bass Cut is in the middle, with a Kinder AFB+ on the right. The ART Tube Preamp is not evident here. (click on the image to enlarge)

Kim Wilson at the Greeley Blues Jam

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Gary Onofrio, the maker of Sonny Jr amps, contacted me yesterday and said he agreed with me about his advertising. Today he changed the claim on his website from this:

“Sonny Jr. Harp Amps are an investment that retain their value year after year”

to this:

"Sonny Jr. Harp Amps are an investment to last a lifetime"

Perfect. Gary deserves kudos for this.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


My blog post about boutique harp amps as investments has created quite a firestorm out there in the online blues harp community. Gary Onofrio of Sonny Jr amps has this blurb on the front page of his website:

Sonny Jr. Harp Amps are an investment that retain their value year after year

As I pointed out in the previous blog post, Gary’s claim is not supported by any data I can find. In fact, it is clearly contradicted by a quick look at eBay transactions.

When I published this observation the reaction was funny. Owners of “Sonny Jr.” amps rose up with one voice and attacked me for having a bias or motive or agenda behind this. It was one of the clearest examples of the
ad hominem fallacy that I have seen.

“Arguments of this kind focus not on the evidence for a view but on the character of the person advancing it; they seek to discredit positions by discrediting those who hold them. It is always important to attack arguments, rather than arguers, and this is where arguments that commit the ad hominem fallacy fall down.”
It’s the kind of argument you get from 12-year olds or drunk sports fans. It is a dodge to avoid being forced to defend a clearly false statement, so they change the subject by attacking the messenger. It is weak.

I got a hilarious email from a guy who is very well known in the amped blues harp community whose argument was ENTIRELY based on my alleged bias or motive. Another person yawped that other boutique amps decrease in value, seemingly missing the main point that none of those other amp makers claim their products retain their value. Not a single person has tried to persuade me that Gary's claim is true, they just attack me for having questioned it.

I am not attacking Gary Onofrio’s amps (they are very good), nor am I attacking Gary. I am presenting an argument that his claim is false.
Here is an open letter to Gary Onofrio:


Several times you have contacted me and asked me to take down things on this blog which you thought were untrue or unfair, or which you simply disliked. I complied with your requests every time.

Now I am asking you to take down your claim that your amps are investments that retain their value year after year. It is demonstrably untrue and false. If you have any sense of duty to the truth, you will delete it. It reminds me of the worst kinds of phony ad hype, and it besmirches your fine amps with a cheap hucksterism not necessary to sell them.


-Rick Davis

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Are Boutique Amps an Investment?

Some boutique harp amp builders claim their amps are “investments” that hold their value over the years. I’ve heard owners of certain amps repeat the claim as if it were a fact.

Here’s the fact: It is a lot of hooey.

I’ve been tracking the selling prices of harp amps on eBay for a couple of years, and expensive new custom harp amps lose a significant amount of their value as soon as you take delivery and plug in your mic. That is the premium you pay for the name and the hype. Some are worse than others.

When you try to sell your amp (for whatever reason) you are going to be shocked about how you were misled, unless “retaining their value” means losing 40 to 50 percent when you sell. The priciest amps often take the biggest hits on resale value.

Sonny Jr 410 amps are often lucky to draw bids of $1100. SJ2 amps with the six 8-inch speakers go for around $800. Depending on the date, these amps sold new for nearly twice that. Is that what “retaining their value” means?

Scarcity and demand will keep the value of your amp higher. The big Harp King amp, for example, loses less over time.

Good lower-priced amps like the excellent Harpgear HG2 lose a smaller percent of their value when resold.

I’ve heard lots of unverifiable stories from enthusiasts for certain amps, claiming they resold at a profit. I doubt it. The open bidding system of eBay certainly doesn’t reflect that.

If you must have a harp amp that is truly an investment and will retain its value year to year, you’re pretty much stuck with vintage amps like the 50s Bassman or Pro, or the early 60s Concert. Problem is, these relics are too valuable to really gig. I can’t imagine dragging a ‘59 narrow panel Fender Pro in and out of the van for every gig. These amps appreciate in value when they are mint, not beat up.

Here’s the bottom line: If you like the way an amp sounds and it makes economic sense to you, buy it. Don’t be swayed by bogus claims that the amp is an “investment.”

Or... wait for some fool to pay the hype premium. When he puts it on eBay you can pick it up for a fraction of the inflated new price.