Saturday, December 29, 2012

Marvel Amp Update

I dropped by Bruce Collin’s Mission Amps shop yesterday for a little work on the newly acquired Marvel vintage tube amp. This was the first time I’d had the chassis all the way out of the amp. The circuit is sparse and primitive, reminding me of a 1947 Gibson amp I once owned. It has a half wave rectifier, just a tiny diode. Weird.

Mostly I wanted Bruce to install a grounded power cord and test the caps, because I really like the tone of the ratty little amp as it is. Here is what we ended up doing:

-Install grounded power cord
-Remove the “Death Cap”
-Install cathode bypass cap on the power tube. This gave the amp a bit more punch.
-Test all tone caps for leakage. 
-Test all circuit voltages.
-De-oxidize the tube sockets
-Install speaker jack

We then tried five different preamp tubes: 

-The vintage RCA gray plate 12AX7 I had in the amp
-a 5751 from JJ Tesla
-a 12AY7 from EH
-an NOS 12AZ7
-an NOS RCA 5965

Of those tubes I liked the 12AZ7 best, so I have it in the amp for now. We did not change the power tube. The original 7591 tube is a gem; a Sylvania rebranded as Multivox.

We found some date codes on the chassis and filter cap. It looks like it was made late in 1963.

The amp tested at 7 watts just as it began to clip. It still has the same old-school raspy sound but slightly browner. Sounds good! It’s a keeper.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Vintage Kay Amp

My friend Timothy Patrick O'Reilly from the DC area sent photos of his cool vintage Kay amp.

All the tubes are original and Tim says it sounds great.  That is a 6L6 power tube on the left and a tube rectifier on the right.  A 12AX7 preamp tube is hidden in the far left.  With that 6L6 I bet this little amp kicks butt.  I'd like to hear it next to my little Marvel amp.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Test - Amp volume vs Mic volume

This video compares two scenarios:  In the first segment the volume on the amp is all the way up and the volume on the harp microphone is barely cracked.  In the second segment the amp volume is on 4 and the microphone volume is all the way up.

My phone is in the foreground running the RTA app to show the relative loudness. The amp is a Mission Chicago 32-20 and the mic is a 1959 Shure 440SL with 99B86 CM element.

The two segments sound similar.  To my ear the segment with the amp all the way up was less lively and not as full sounding.  The amp tipped into screaming feedback if I turned the mic up the slightest bit, so this is about as loud as I could get in this scenario.  That was my benchmark volume for the comparison.

In the second scenario the amp is on 4 with lots of room for more volume, and a greater range of tonal inflections.

I'd heard about the "amp all the way up" thing over the years and decided to test it after hearing a jammer do it at Ziggies the other night.  I think there is a good reason it is not very common.  The traditional way sounds better.

Please pardon my noodly playing....

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Vintage Boss DM-2 For Sale

You know what this is: Boss DM-2. The best sounding analog delay pedal ever made. They sold from 1981 to 1984, and today they fetch around $350 on eBay. Very highly coveted by blues guitarists and harp players. A pro harp buddy of mine has one for sale, and I know he's asking less that that. Let me know if you are interested.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Wezo Megatone ME-18 Amp

The Wezo Megatone ME-18 blues harp amp is all that, and then some.  It is faithful to the vintage Masco tone it is designed to emulate, with a glorious crunch.  It is feedback resistant (at least it was in Ziggies) and at a rated 35 watts it has plenty of volume before feedback for strong gig levels.  The amp is a keeper.

It is a keeper if you are looking for a distorted sound, and many blues players are in search of this tone.  It sounds very much like the 50’s vintage tube amps used by the famous blues harp players of the era, only louder.

Until a few weeks ago I owned a 1953 Masco ME-18 amp for about 5 years, so I am familiar with the kind of sound Mike Wesolowski was looking for in this amp.  It nails the flavor of the vintage tone, if not the exact recipe.  It does not compress the sound as much as the original and it has a brighter tone that does not quite sing as much.  These differences may be intentional in the design; compromises along the way to the great tone it does deliver.  It made me smile as soon as I heard it.

This was not a comprehensive and thorough test…  It is just playing impressions from a blues jam.  Gary Yates, the owner of the amp, has had it for only a couple of weeks and may not have it dialed in just yet.  We played it without much adjustment, and the amp has LOTS of flexibility in its adjustments.  It would take more time and focus than I could provide at a busy blues jam to really explore all the limits of the amp.

But I was very impressed.  It has a big, forward sound that gets attention and is immediately recognizable as “Chicago Blues Harp” even by people not really familiar with the genre.  It sounds old and gritty, and I mean that in a very good way.  If that is the sound to which you aspire, this is the amp for you.

I played both my Bassman and the Megatone a couple of times during the jam.  The Bassman sounds bigger and warmer, as you might imagine.  It is impossible for me to say which was “better” since they both rock in different ways.

The Megatone amp seemed very heavy for its size, almost as heavy as my Bassman which weighs in at 63 pounds.  That is a load, and something to consider.  And they ain’t cheap, ranging in price from $2000 to $2160.  That is something to consider, too.

Still, the Wezo Megatone ME-18 amp gets the Blues Harp Amps Blog seal of approval.  That crunch is sick.

In this video Dan Treanor is playing the Megatone ME-18 amp and using my 1959 Shure 440SL bullet microphone.

NOTE:  The owner of the amp (Gary Yates) tells me that both "Pull Boost" switches were in the down position when this recording was made, meaning the amp was in it's cleanest mode.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ultimate 545 w/Bulletizer into Mission 32-20 amp

Ultimate 545 mic with Bulletizer from Greg Heumann, played into a 1x12 Mission Chicago 32-20 amp.  No delay or effects on the amp.  (Al blows some high notes into the PA first...)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Comparison: Masco ME-18 vs Sonny Jr 410

At Ziggies last night Dan compared two amps:  My 1953 Masco ME-18 and his Sonny Junior 410 amp.  It is an interesting study in contrasting tones.

The SJ amp sounds like a lot of Bassman-type amps:  Smooth and strong; not a lot of crunch.  The Masco, because of it's more primitive cathode biased circuit, crunches happily along.  At 20 watts it does not get the big thump of the 410 but it sure gets more color.

For you guys who love tube amp distortion (like I do) this is about as good as it gets.

UPDATE:  Dan decided he liked the Masco so much be bought if from me.  Now it is his.

I didn't need the money, and I loved the amp, so why did I sell it?  I almost never played it any more because it plays in the same power and tone category as my Mission Chicago 32-20 amp, whose milder crunch I actually prefer.  I was thinking it was time to find a good home for the Masco.  Dan is a great local player who is devoted to vintage tone, so I know the amp will get played and appreciated a lot.  I bought my Bassman from Dan and he gave me a great deal, so I sort of owed him one.  Mostly I sold it to Dan because he is a friend and a true bluesman.

Now I have three harp amps:  The hot-rodded 1971 Fender Champ, the Mission Chicago 32-20 1x12, and the beastly Fender Bassman RI.  I'm good with that for a while.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Irrational Amp Tinkering

This Champ is ridiculous. No sane person would ever spend so much time and money on such an inexpensive small amp, would they? It is irrational.

I got the amp in Sacramento in 2005 from the estate of a woman who bought it new in 1971 along with her new electronic organ. The amp sat in her living room, occasionally singing church music, for 35 years. The picture above was taken the day I brought it home.

It was the coolest little amp I had ever heard for harp, but I just could not leave it alone. First I tried several new input tubes, and that is when I learned that the 12AT7 tube is a terrible tone generator and the 5751 is great. The Champ is a good test bed for things like that because its circuit is so simple.

Next I replaced the speaker with a Jensen reissue P8R. Hated it. Then I altered the baffle so it would accept a 10-inch speaker and tried a Jensen P10R. Hated it. I tried several other various speakers and finally settled on the Weber 10A-1250 with H dustcap. Now we were getting somewhere. The Champ settled into that configuration for several years. 

Then one day I lost my mind and decided to trick the amp out more. (Read: spend more money on it.) 

First I installed a pot in the negative feedback circuit so I could adjust it to find the optimal mix for crunchy tone. I discovered the optimal mix was ZERO, so I removed the NFB circuit and the pot (which was mounted on the back part of the chassis) and used the hole where the pot had been to mount a line out jack.

More tube swaps followed, finally ending with the 5751 in the input section, a vintage black plate GE 6V6 in the power section, and an NOS “Coke Bottle” Sylvania 5V4G rectifier. Again, the Champ settled into this configuration for some time. It was sounding GOOD.

But not good enough. So I asked Bruce Collins at Mission Amps to voice the tone stack for harp using NOS Soviet K40Y paper in oil tone caps. Big improvement, but I wasn’t finished quite yet. A few months later Bruce installed a Hammond 15-watt output transformer and a choke. There! The amp was finished. A sleeper amp, with big punch and crunch in a small package.

Which brings us to today. Before guitar player Steve Mignano headed off to tour with Cassie Taylor and the Soul Cavalry he gave me a Warehouse Veteran 10-inch speaker and said, “It crunches like a motherf---er.” Hmmmmm, this I had to hear.

I looked around for a 10-inch cabinet and finding none I decided to swap it into my Champ, removing the nice Weber alnico speaker. The Weber speaker made the Champ darker and warmer, and Steve was right: The Veteran speaker crunches like a mutha with a brighter, raspier tone. It’s fun. Ratty!

I really don’t know how much I have invested in the Champ now, but it is a ridiculous amount – certainly more than the value of the amp. I have learned more about harp amp tone from the Champ than from any other amp. It is now the amp I have owned longest. Purists might sneer at me for altering a classic but it has been a blast. And the amp is a little beast.

Choke and 15-watt transformer

Silver bullet-shaped Soviet military PIO caps

Rectifier and power tube, and Veteran speaker

The Champ at work

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Jam Amps

Players often leave their amps at home when heading to my jam since they know there will be at least one good harp rig they can use.  But a recent thread in Adam Gussow's blues harp forum got me thinking about all the different amps that have been honked on the stage at Ziggies over the last three years.  (At least the amps I can recall right now, in no particular order)

-Original 1959 Fender Bassman
-Fender '59 Bassman Reissue
-Mission Chicago 32-20 1x12 and 3x10
-Harpgear HG50 410
-Harpgear HG30 and 35
-Harpgear HG2
-Sonny Jr 410 and Super Sonny
-Sonny Jr Cruncher and Super Cruncher
-Fender BF Super Reverb
-Fender silverface Princeton
-Fender silverface Champ
-Fender Champion 600
-Fender Blues Jr.
-Fender Pro Jr.
-Fender’65 Princeton Reverb RI
-Peavey Delta Blues 210
-Kendrick Texas Crude
-Kalamazoo Model 1 from Greg Heumann
-Pignose 7-100 and HOG30
-VHT Special 6 Combo
-Weber 5F2H custom
-Masco ME-18
-Edward ED amp
-Fat Dog 2A and 4A

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mission 32-20 Amp at a Typical Blues Jam

At the blues jam I host at Ziggies in Denver last night a member of The Dirty South Blues Harp forum showed up to boogie! His name is Johnny, from Los Angeles, and he was in town to visit his 23-year old son Ryan.

Here is a video of two of the harp player from last night, Johnny in the first clip and then Dex.

Both players are using my 1x12 Mission Chicago 32-20 amp with no effects or delay. The volume is set on 4 out of 12.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

I don’t like harmonicas very much

It’s true: I don’t really like harps. They are too fragile and too expensive. They are too delicate to work on; at least I do not have the dexterity or patience required for that. I don’t get excited when I see a vintage harp or a custom harp or a big collection of harps. Harmonicas are pretty much a pain in the neck. Honestly.

I don’t play because I like harps… I play because I love the sound they make when played well. If I could make that sound with another instrument I would do it. Sure, harps are handy and portable if you want to carry one around, but so what? You need a collection of at least 12 harps that you are constantly fixing or tweaking or replacing. It never ends.

What gets me excited is hearing them played well in the blues context, either acoustically (Tom Ball, Hans Olson, many others) or amped (Gary Primich, Gary Smith, many others). That is what does it for me. I like amps and mics and all the other accoutrement that go along with harps. I just don’t like harps.

I know there will be some who will claim they have harps that have lasted them YEARS and I must be doing it wrong. No, let’s dismiss that right away. I know several pro players and I’ve asked them about this. They all blow out harps, some more quickly than others. Gary Smith says we destroy them a little every time we play them. If you bend reeds they eventually fatigue.

Given all the shortcomings of harmonicas – the temperamental nature and stigma and expense and on and on – it is remarkable we become so dedicated to them for so long, for all of our lives. For me it is the tone. That’s it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Top Harp Amp Builders

Who are the top harp amp builders now?  Over the last several years it was pretty clear cut that Sonny Jr. amps were the biggest sellers and most respected among the dedicated harp amps available for sale.  But Gary Onofrio, the proprietor of SJ, has become ill and his website is gone.  As far as I know his amps are no longer available for sale.

Similarly, Meteor was a big player in the harp amp market but they seem to have taken a hiatus.  Their website has not been updated in years and I have not heard of anybody buying a new Meteor amp in quite a long time.  

Who does that leave?

-Harpgear.  They recently picked up the endorsement of RJ Mischo.  Their webite is active and they appear busy.

-Mission.  Bruce Collins is very busy delivering orders for his new amps.  And he has plans for future amps that I think will capture a big share of the “big amp”market.

-Megatone.  Wezo’s amps are excellent, and I suspect his ME-18 combo amp is selling very well.  He has the endorsement of David Barrett.

Who else is out there that sells this kind of volume?  Who am I overlooking?  Kinder Harp King amps are great but not really retail items.  I’d bet VHT has sold more amps to harp players than all other amp makers combined over the last couple years, but their amps are not really dedicated harp amps.  More gigging players use Fender amps than any other brand, but again, they are not harp specific.

What is the top harp amp today?   I’d like to hear your opinions.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Beast

My 1991 Fender Bassman Reissue amp is a beast.  It is the loudest Bassman I have ever heard, and several other blues players have told me the same thing.  The tone is deep and massive, never muffled.  It is a wonderful large harp amp.

I bought it for a single purpose:  I was playing with a very loud (and very good) blues band and I was having trouble being heard and hearing myself.  All the mods I did to the amp were done with the idea of making the amp much louder and giving it a deep crunchy tone that I like so much in harp amps.

There was a lot of trial and error at first, but over several months I got it perfect.  It is muscular and punchy, but still responds well to pressure I put on the microphone.  There is a bit of tearing on the edge of the notes (if I want it) and some warm crunch when I want that. It is versatile and powerful, and it gets immediate attention when I lean into it and dig in.  Standing in front of it I can feel the sound pressure level as I play.  And it never feeds back until I get to stupid levels.

Well, here’s the problem:  I’ve changed bands, and the new band does not play nearly as loud.  At a gig last weekend I kept turning down so I wouldn’t overwhelm the band.  I had to get the level on the Bassman down to 2 1/2 and the mic turned down halfway and I was playing softly.  At that point I blended with the band but I missed the raunch and power.  The Sturm und Drang.

So, I can try using a different combination of preamp tubes, but that will soften the bite of the amp.  The preamp tube lineup right now is 5751, 5814a, and 5751.  The 5814a is a military 12AU7 tube.  I’ve tried nearly every combination of tubes possible in this amp and this setup produced the tone I was chasing, so I am reluctant to change it.  The circuit mods to the amp are no secret:  They are the changes you would expect a good tech to make to this amp, including a bias trim pot for the power tubes which are biased rather cold.  The power tubes are 6L6 and the rectifier is 5R4.

A big part of the character of the amp is the two Eminence Lil’ Buddy speakers installed in the bottom of the cab. These speakers are very efficient and have a deep and colorful tone.  The other two speakers are original Fender Blue Alnico.

I use a Kinder AFB+ pedal to help control feedback and an MXR Carbon Copy delay pedal to fatten up the sound.

I plan to tinker with the settings (not the tubes or circuit) to see if I can get some of that monstrous character at lower volumes.  The amp is right and I really don’t want to tinker with the internals any more.  Of course, it makes sense to leave it at home for most gigs and take a smaller amp, but I am kind of hooked on that big tone, and it is cool knowing I can muscle aside all but the loudest bands.

Dan Treanor at Ziggies Famous Blues Jam

Dan is playing through the new 30 watt 3x10 Mission harp amp.

Dan Treanor - harp
John Weeks - guitar
Alan Knight - guitar
Bruce Collins (the maker of Mission amps) - drums
Mac McMurray - bass

Friday, October 5, 2012

Fun at a Blues Jam

This is from Al Chesis' Blues Jam at Teddy's in Denver last night.  I'm playing a brand new amp Bruce Collins of Mission Amps brought to the jam:  A Chicago 32-20 amp with 3x10 speakers.  It is the same circuit as in my 1x12 Mission amp except it has be de-tuned a bit for about 30 watts of power and slightly more crunch.  I liked it; it cut through the ruckus nicely.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Nic Clark playing the Mission 32-20 3x10 Amp

This is Nic Clark playing the newest Mission 32-20 3x10 amp. It ships in a few days to it's new owner.

Nic is playing at Al Chesis' Thursday night blues jam at Teddy T's in Denver on Sept 27, 2012. Nic is 17 years old. The singer/guitar player in this clip is Bad Brad Stivers, who is 20 years old. The blues scene in Denver is stacked with talent.

Bruce Collins was at the jam as well. He tells me he is using slightly larger transformers for this model, stepping up the power before clipping to about 35 watts. The tone is fantastic: colorful and textured, and very loud before feedback. Nice amp.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Electro Harmonix 44 Magnum for Blues Harp

[NOTE:  This EH 44 Mag amp pedal is for sale:  $100 + shipping]

The little EH 44 Mag pedal sounds good for blues harp, and takes effects well. At 44 watts it is very loud: I had the volume on 9 o'clock in this demo and it rocked. It starts to get nice and crunchy when the volume knob passes 2 o'clock but the small space did not allow for that.

This demo is as much about my pedal board as it is about the 44 Mag. With the settings I use the effects are really very subtle, making the tone deeper and a bit crunchier with a touch of slap back echo. I rarely use the EQ pedal but the EH 44 Mag sounded a little bright.

The Verdict: The Electro Harmonic 44 Magnum pedal/amp is totally giggagle. It has nice fullness and tone. It makes a great back-up in case the Bassman craps out in the middle of a show.

Details: The Bright switch on the 44 Mag was set to Normal. The speaker cabinet is a stock Epiphone Valve Jr cab with the 12-inch 16-ohm Eminence Lady Luck speaker.

The effects pedals are Kinder AFB+, MXR Carbon Copy, Boss EQ7, and BBE Sonic Stomp. All the effects have very low settings.

MXR Delay Pedal on sale at AMS

AMS has the pedal discounted today.

I like this pedal a lot. It has the best slap-back tone I've heard from a delay pedal. The signal path is 100% analog old school bucket brigade; no digital modelling. It has true hardware signal bypass when switched off. I've never seen the pedal discounted before; it is usually $149.

I use this pedal. The delay has a great musical tone, and the delay tails decay in a very cool organic way.

New Tube Shields in the Bassman

Tube shields help your preamp tubes reject RF noise from the envoironment.  My 1991 Fender Bassman RI had the original gray aluminum shields that fit over the 9-pin preamp tubes, but they had become a bit misshapen and soft with all the handling over the years.  Sometimes they'd fall off the tubes and I'd find then stuck to the speaker magnets.

So I ordered new shields from Angela Instruments at $1.49 each:  Black aluminum.  They fit tightly on the base of the tube sockets and are much sturdier than the originals.  No way these things are going to fall off.

BTW, I played a gig last weekend without any tube shields and didn't notice any change in the tone or performance of the amp.  Some players claim the shields have a small effect on reducing feedback, which would make sense if your tubes are slightly microphonic.  Other players say the absence of shields helps with heat dissipation and tube life.  I decided to go with the tube shields because they protect the tubes from random physical damage (and my preamp tubes are nice NOS Philips and Sylvania) and because they also have a spring inside that acts as a tube retainer keeping the tubes properly seated in the base.

And I know it is a bit silly, but the new tube shields look good in the amp.  The old gray shields were kind of grubby and they sat askew on the tubes.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Great Tone from Paul Orta

Great crunchy tone.  Paul Orta tells me he was using an "older Princeton" and an Astatic mic.  My guess is it is a blackface Fender Princeton (non-reverb), the amp Big Walter used.  In fact, Paul said, "The guy in London who owned the amp said Walter Horton also used it on some recordings in Europe."  Nice!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Electro Harmonix 44 Magnum Amp

I've been wanting to try the Electro Harmonix 44 Magnum amp and I finally ordered one to evaluate. Since it has the pedal form factor I mounted it on my pedal board.

So far I've only played it for a half hour, with zero effects. I had my Silver Bullet mic plugged straight into the 44 Mag, driving a stock Epi Valve Jr. cab with the 12-inch Lady Luck speaker.

This thing rocks. It is loud with good tone, even a bit of crunch. I was in a small room standing right next to the speaker, so feedback was a bit of an issue, but no more of a problem than with small tube amps. I had the tone switch set to Normal (not Bright).

Tomorrow I'll play it with the pedals: Kinder AFB+ anti-feedback, MXR Carbon Copy analog delay, Boss EQ pedal, and the BBE Sonic Stomp. I'm pretty sure I can get a giggable sound out of this thing.

The rectangular box you see next to the 44 Mag (above the Pedal Power) is the power supply. The 44 Mag has to use it's own power supply; it draws too much current for the VooDoo Lab Pedal Power 2+.

I think the purpose of the 44 Mag is as a backup amp. If the Bassman craps out I can hook the 44 Mag up to one of the Lil Buddy speakers and keep playing. The speaker load has to be 8 or 16 ohms, so it cannot drive the 2 ohm load of the four tens as they are wired in the Bassman.

Or, if it sounds good enough and I want to travel light, I can bring the pedal board and a cab to the gig and have at it.

I'll shoot some video and post it in a few day. More later...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Blues Allstars - "Born in Chicago"

David Brenowitz drum solo, followed by blues madness.  At the Smokin' Brew BBQ Festival in Parker CO - 09/01/12

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dan Treanor at Ziggies Blues Jam - Sept 9 2012

Here is a short clip of Dan Treanor playing through my rig at Ziggies last night:  1991 Fender RI amp and 1959 Shure 440SL Silver Bullet mic.

Fender Frontman 15 and a 520DX Green Bullet

Dex came into Ziggies Blues Jam last night carrying a little Fender Frontman 15 solid state amp and a Shure 520DX Green Bullet mic.  He found the amp for $30 used at Guitar Center.  Check out the tone!  It was totally loud enough for the jam.  I was impressed.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Blue Allstars at Smokin' Brew BBQ Festival

Steve Mignano on guitar, Rick Davis on blues harp, David Brenowitz on drums, Mike Wysocki on bass.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Sleeper Amp - Modded 1971 Fender Champ

Bigger tranny and addition of a choke.

Soviet K40Y-P paper-in-oil tone caps.

The amp also has a Weber 10A125-0 speaker. Looks like a stock Champ, sounds like no Champ you've ever heard. Loud and proud with warm tone and soft crunch.

Note:  A choke works in the rectifier circuit, which converts AC wall power to DC power which your amp needs. The choke helps to smooth out and increase the power that is available to the tubes. The effect is that it makes your amp sound darker and punchier. The bigger transformer with the choke turn the little Champ into a more powerful amp.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Buddy Guy and Junior Wells at Montreux (1974)

Buddy Guy and Junior Wells at Montreux, 1974 - "Hoodoo Man Blues." Twelve minutes of slow blues bliss. Bill Wyman on bass.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Fabulous Thunderbirds - "Early Every Morning"

Kim Wilson's amp looks like a Fender brown Vibroverb.  Great tone!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

New Harp Blog from Ryan Hartt

Ryan Hartt has a new harp blog up:   Blues Harmonica News.  Check it out.  I has a bit of attitude.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A 12+10 Version of the Mission Chicago Amp

Last night at Ziggies Famous Blues Jam Bruce Collins -- the master amp builder from Mission Amps -- brought in his latest creation: A new version of the great Chicago 32-20 amp but with two speakers, a 12- and 10-inch. Several harp players blew through the amp and it sounded sick. Phat warm tone with good cut. I want one...

Contact Bruce Collins at 

12-inch Eminence Cannabis Rex speaker with hemp cone, and a Jensen alnico 10-inch speaker.

NOTE:  The jammer playing the amp is not an owner or endorser.  He played the amp because it was available and he graciously allowed me to video his performance.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Silver Bullet

Shure 440SL shell with 99B86 element (June of 1959) and vintage volume control from Greg Huemann at  My new "go to" mic.

Last Night at the Toad Tavern

I'm playing the Bassman, and a bullet mic with Shure CM element.

Rock Block

I heard a harp player using this rig on stage recently:  A Rock Block guitar pedal/amp and a little Crate cab with an 8-inch Jensen ceramic speaker.  The pedal puts out 1 watt of power, so micing it up in the big club was a must.

How did it sound?  Like a swarm of angry bees.  Inside a metal drum.  I'm sure the pedal works very well for what it is intended (guitar distortion) but it was very buzzy and nasal as a harp rig.  That little Jensen speaker could not have helped much.

The guy using this rig played well enough, and the crowd seemed to enjoy it.   And ya know...  That's all that really counts.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Vintage Magnatone Amp

Al Chesis & Nic Clark in the Colorado Blues Society's International Blues Challenge competition for solo and duo acts.  Nic is playing through a vintage Maganatone 415 amp - four 8-inch speakers, about 18 watts, octal preamp, monster tone.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

My Amps

My modest collection of harp amps (as of today, anyway).  Clockwise from lower left:  1970 Fender Champ, 6 watts;  1953 Masco ME-18, 20 watts; 1991 Fender Bassman Reissue, 45 watts, Mission Chicago 32-20, 32 watts (in fixed bias mode).  I think I have all the bases covered.

The order I acquired the amps is Champ, Masco, Mission, Bassman.  Through the years I've had maybe two dozen harp amps, but these are the ones I hung with over time.  The first harp amp I paid money for was an Ampeg B-15N flip-top full stack (used, in 1979); the most recent is the Bassman.

I cannot help myself -- All of them have been modified for blues harp except the Mission which is a custom built amp.  When I bought that first Ampeg-- and many amps that followed -- I was frustrated by the tone and didn't have the foggiest idea how to improve it.  And, I couldn't find anybody else who had a clue either.  So I dug in and figured it out myself.  The quest for tone can be a cruel mistress, but the payoff is sweet.  NOTHING sounds like a good player blowing though a great amp.  Y'all know exactly what I mean.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Harp Mic Project

This is a great sounding Shure CM element from 1959.  I've had it for years and I'm looking for a mic shell to put it in, maybe a JT-30.  I'll be adding more details about this as the project progresses.  In the meantime, let me know if you have any suggestions.

I won an eBay auction for a Shure 440SL mic shell, which is probably what this element came out of.  So, it will all be period correct, for whatever that is worth.

I've never owned a vintage Shure bullet mic, so when I saw the 440 "Silver Bullet" shell on eBay I decided to go that way.  It is already machined and threaded for a Switchcraft 2501MP screw-on connector.  I need to see about putting an on/off micro-switch on it somewhere.


The mic shell arrived.  Looks great!  The small hole in the bottom is filled with epoxy and there is a grounding lug on the inside of the shell.  I've ordered gasket and the 2501MP connector.


The harp mic project is coming along. Lower left is the gasket to hold the vintage Shure CM element. Next to it is the Switchcraft 2501MP screw-on cable connector. Now I need to decide between a simple on/off switch and a volume control.


Assembled and tested.  Sounds great!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Pedaltrain Jr. Pedal Board

At the blues jam I host on Sundays at Ziggies in Denver, some schmo dumped a full glass of beer into my pedal board and didn’t bother to tell me about it.  When I got up to play the last set my pedals were a sticky mess and the wireless was cutting out.

The pedal board I was using was the Boss BCB-60, a big plastic clamshell case with foam in the bottom. The pedals just sat there marinating in the beer all night.  (Yes, I know it was a mistake to leave it there.  Lesson learned.)

I had a complaint about the big Boss board:  It took up too much stage real estate.  So after the beer douche episode I decided to order the Pedaltrain Junior pedal board with the soft case; about $100.

This is better.  It is more compact and takes up less space.  The soft case is easy to carry and has a pouch for cables and stuff.  And any liquid spilled on the pedals will drain off.  The Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2+ power supply mounts up under the board, out of the way.

In the photo above the board is sitting in the open soft case, but on stage I remove it from the case and put it next to my amp.  Anybody wanna buy a used Boss BCB-60 pedal board, complete with Roland power supply and patch cables?  Smells slightly of beer.  Make offer.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Power Supply for the Kinder AFB+ Pedal

The Kinder Anti-Feedback pedal has become an indispensable tool for many gigging harp players.  The only complaint I hear from those who use the pedal is that it does not have a provision for an external power supply, so we are stuck using batteries.  This is a pain for several reasons:  The pedal does not have a battery level indicator to warn you when it is time for a new set.  And when you do change the batteries you need to remove four small Phillips head screws and take the casing apart.  Not very convenient if the batteries go out in the middle of a set.

Furthermore, the pedal uses two 9 volt batteries instead of one.  My understanding is that the two sides of the AFB circuit  -- input and output -- must be absolutely isolated from each other for the anti-feedback properties to work right.  And I think that is the reason Kinder did not ship it with a power supply, or even include a plug for a power adapter.

David Brown posted a note on Harp-L about his solution for this, and I decided immediately I wanted to do it as well.  The key is that you need a power supply that delivers independent streams of isolated, filtered, regulated 9v DC power.  The Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus is just the ticket.  That is what David used, and I decided to use it as well since two members of my band use the same power supply and swear by it.  It sells for $169.00.  I ordered it from American Musical Supply.

The Pedal Power 2 Plus comes with a variety of cables with different connections, including one with the battery snap connector.  You will need two.  You can order one from Voodoo Lab for $3.50.  (If you decide to build your own cables, REMEMBER:  The polarity must be reversed on the battery snap connectors.)

I used a 6-inch flat file to notch a small slot in the edge of the lower pedal housing right where the batteries are housed.  Then, snap the cable connectors to the battery connectors in the pedal and reassemble, routing the cables through the slot.  Plug the cables into the power supply, making sure they are delivering 9v.  Check the DIP switches on the bottom of the Voodoo Lab power supply.  They should be switched to NORMAL for the AFB pedal.

That’s it.  I don’t have a lot of hours on this rig yet but it seems to work perfectly so far.  The Pedal Power 2 Plus now drives all the devices on my board:  Line 6 Relay G30 digital wireless receiver, Kinder AFB+ pedal, MXR Carbon Copy delay pedal, and a BBE Sonic Stomp.  The first three are pretty standard gear, but quite a few people ask me about the BBE pedal.  I like it because it gives me slightly more cut without sound shrill or bright.  The effect is subtle.

And now the only device I use that relies on batteries is the transmitter for the wireless. If I replace the two AA batteries after every second gig I have no battery issues at all.  Nice!

- I used the battery snap cables because I wanted to be able to use the AFB+ with batteries if needed.  Just unsnap the cables and insert batteries.
- From an economics view:  9v batteries cost about $3.50 each, depending on where you buy them.  So, it's seven bucks to power the AFB pedal.  For the cost of the Voodoo Lab power supply you could re-battery the pedal 24 times.  If you get every hour of life out the batteries and they last, say, 25 hours of playing time per pair, then $169 could buy you 600 hours of playing time with batteries.  But, I am also saving on the 9v batteries for the other 3 devices on my board.  It makes economics sense to me, but I admit that it is a rather steep price for a power supply.
- Dan Hazen reports on Harp-L that he has done the same thing using two standard Dunlop power adapters.  

As of December 2012 I've gigged this rig dozens of times and it has worked perfectly.

For Sale - Original 1958 Bassman Amp

[This amp has been SOLD.]

Wyn Walke has a very nice amp for sale:
"The board hasn't been changed, tape label is Lily-signed, even the power cord is still original. Spkrs also all original, but the 2 left ones' voice coils are open, and need attention. Pretty common from what I understand.
Some crackly noise when amp first comes off standby, but when I plug in to Normal channel, crackly goes away and it sounds great. Bright channel works, but needs some attention. Tweed missing from bottom panel, some tear in the grill cloth. Amp was gigged in its lifetime, 3 small cig burns on top as well as the typical drink ring from having set a beer or soda on top. More pix available upon request. Amp is presently near DC area."
Wyn is asking $6700.  Contact me and I'll pass your mail along to him.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Blues Allstars - Voodoo Child

No harp content, just my band tearing it up with guest HeXx Henderson on steel.  It's a Hendrix finale, last set of the night.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Playing my Bassman Amp

At Ziggies Famous Sunday Blues Jam in Denver, playing my modified 1991 Fender Bassman RI amp.  The amp tone is about right...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Earth Day Blues Jam at Ziggies

No harp in this one but my band is killin' it with guest bassist Curtis Hawkins.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Killer Amp for Sale - 1962 Fender Deluxe

Tony Smith is offering his vintage Brown Fender Deluxe for sale - $1500. The amp is all original except for a few caps replaced and the speaker replaced with a 1966 Jensen Gold Label. This amp has amazing natural harp tone in a band setting, as you can hear in this video.

The asking price is more than reasonable for such a great amp. If you have any interest let me know and I will pass it along to Tony.

Update from Tony: SOLD

Our buddy in Germany…Thomas, AKA. Harpsucker is the lucky fellow…
He wanted it before but needed to sell something. Sold a 2X8 premier and bought mine.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A 12+8 Harp Amp from Bruce Collins

This is the amp Bruce Collins of Mission Amps made for Al Chesis. It is similar to my 1x12 Chicago “32-20” amp, but it has a 12-inch and 8-inch speakers. It uses a softer rectifier tube to bring the power down a bit and give it a saggier tone.

I played a set on this amp last night at Al’s blues jam at the Boulder Outlook. NICE! It barks some big tone with a hell of a bite. Nice attack. I used Al’s bullet mic with a CR element… a good combination.

The 12-inch speaker is the Eminence Cannabis Rex, which still needs a little breaking in. I know these speakers well, and after they get a few hours of stage time they freaking snarl when you spank them. The 8-incher is a Jensen P8R. It definitely cuts through the mix. I polled the audience after my set and everybody I talked to said they could clearly hear the harp even during a typically raucous jam.

The cab is a bit larger than my 5E3 tweed Mission amp… I think it is a tweed Super cab. It is still smaller and lighter than the backbreakers many of us use, and it stood up to a stage full of drunk and enthusiastic guitar players. Impressive.

Contact Bruce Collins at Mission Amps for price and details.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

My Other Harp Kit

My "Grab 'n' Go" harp kit: 4 Suzuki Manjis, 1 each Hohner Marine Band Deluxe, Golden Melody, and Special 20.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Hardware Notes

Line 6 Relay G30 digital wireless

I’ve now been using this wireless rig for a few months, and here is the lowdown: It is simple, reliable, and dead quiet. It sounds and works exactly like a cable. It is digital, not analog like most other wireless rigs. There is zero discernible latency. If anybody tells you there is a latency or lag issue with this rig they probably have an agenda (they want to sell you a more expensive analog unit).

It has a small body pack transmitter, so if you are in love with the idea of a transmitter hanging off the end of your microphone this is not the wireless for you. The transmitter has a belt clip, and I either stick it in a pocket or on my belt.

The effective range is said to be 100 feet, but I’m certain I’ve exceeded that distance and never lost signal. I’ve never had a dropped signal or any extraneous noise, or any coloring of my signal or anything. The thing just works every time. It is powered by two AA batteries, which last about 9 or 10 hours. I now use it for every gig.

Kinder AFB+ Anti Feedback Pedal

I’ve been wanting for years to borrow one of these for a long-term test, and I finally just went ahead and bought one on the used market. Most Kinder owners I’d talked to said it gave them about two more usable notches on their volume control before feedback. Some said it dirtied up their tone too much, or otherwise changed their clean tone in ways they did not like. Here’s what I found:

It works great. I’m not sure it changed my tone at all, except to the extent it allowed my amp to be turned WAY louder, which in turn allowed my power tubes and phase inverter to start breaking up in that cool harmonic way. Without the AFB+ my Bassman RI amp will start to ring at about 5 or 6. With the AFB+ pedal I can crank it to *NINE* without fear of howl, and the amp really begins to sing. I had never before heard my Bassman at 9.

I don’t understand the complaint that it changes your clean tone. If you want clean tone why not just play through the PA system and be done with it? The whole point of feedback control in amped blues harp is that we are walking around with an open microphone in front of a powerful amp, which is a recipe for squeal. If what you want is clean tone just step up to a vocal mic and have at it. Personally, I’d prefer some crunch and warmth.

I’ve read many comments in harp forums to the effect that the Kinder AFB+ pedal will turn any powerful guitar amp into a suitable harp amp. Uh, not really. If you plug it into a Marshall Stack or a Twin Reverb they still sound like crap and scream with feedback. This is an electronic device, not Harry Potter’s Elder Wand.

Fender Bassman Reissue Amp

The project Bassman amp has gone through a pretty extensive modification to make it more harp-friendly, without actually changing the hard-wired circuits much. The only mods that required soldering were beefing up preamp plate load resistors to deal with the 12AU7 tubes, and the installation of bias trim pots for the power tubes.

All the tubes and two of the speakers have been changed. After much experimentation, I use the tube scheme recommended for this amp by the respected author of the Green Bullet Mics website: I have vintage 12AU7 tubes in sockets V1 and V2, and a NOS 5751 tube in V3, the phase inverter. The rectifier is a vintage 5V4, and the power tubes are Tung Sol 6L6, which are biased rather cold.

The top speakers are original Alnico Blue from the Bassman (actually they are re-branded Eminence 1028). The bottom speakers are Weber 10A125-O alnicos.

The amp sounds good; I get lots of compliments on the tone. It is actually rather crunchy for a Bassman, and still retains much of the punch and brawn. It cuts through the mix all the way to the back of the room, and has tons of reserve power. The only drawback is that it is heavy.

The Kinder AFB+ pedal has made it a better, more usable amp.