Monday, September 8, 2014

The Heumann Element

I had the opportunity to play Greg Heumann’s new “Heumann Element” microphone twice at SPAH in St Louis this year.  The first time was at Greg’s booth in the vendor area.  He let me A/B it against an identical mic with a good CM element, playing into an amp modeler and headphones.  (They do not allow amps to be played aloud in the vendor area at SPAH.)

The amp modeler was set to “Tweed Champ” and although it sounded nothing like the Memphis Mini I was immediately impressed.  I know the sound of a CM very well, having been playing through them for years.  The HE element smoothed out some of the spikey overtones in the model and broadened the bottom end when compared to the CM while retaining the punch and definition.  I immediately knew it was going to play right into the wheelhouse of the MM amp’s tone.  I got excited.

Several of the talented “young guns” at SPAH later gathered in a room to try the Memphis Mini amp, and the microphone they used was a Nic Clark’s loaner from Greg with the HE element.  The results were beyond impressive.

The HE element has not come to market yet but I really hope that it does.  The supply of good vintage elements that are used most by good blues harp players – the Shure Controlled Magnetic and Controlled Reluctance elements and vintage crystals – is dwindling.  Another alternative is needed and it looks like Greg’s HE element is the next step.  That’s a big deal.

I know how hard it is to develop things like this… to negotiate with vendors and manage a tricky supply chain, to build a new product and make a market for it.  I hope it happens.  From what I know of the mic from my own playing and from hearing some great young players using it, I can give it an unqualified endorsement.  The combination of the Heumann Element wood mic and the Memphis Mini amp is sweet and nasty at the same time, one of the coolest sounds in blues music.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What I have been doing....

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while but I’ve been kinda busy. I wanted to apologize for making this blog into an All-About-The-Memphis-Mini-All-The-Time thing. But, that is what has consumed all my time and energy and money for the last 6 months or so. And it is a very cool little amp.

The original idea came from a conversation I had with Bruce Collins about building a small Champ clone that would sound great and sell for a very modest price. His excellent Delta Sonic amps start at under $800, so the new amp had to be less than that. After working the numbers Bruce decided to not produce the Champ clone and concentrate instead on the DS amps. I asked his permission to produce the amp and to adopt the name we had talked about: The Memphis Mini.

I had been impressed with the quality and sound of the VHT Special 6 amp, which is made in China. The tone was not what I was looking for but the amp blew away all my preconceived notions about Chinese amps being necessarily inferior. I contacted several Chinese vendors and factories to see what was possible, ordered a few examples, and eventually settled on what is now the best-selling custom harp amp I know of, The Memphis Mini.

The MM amp begins its life in a factory in Shenzhen, a very modern and prosperous city that is part of the Hong Kong mega metro. The chassis and cab are assembled there, along with some of the basic circuitry built to our specs. The amps are shipped to Denver where we add the speaker, tubes, a line-out circuit, and much of the tone stack circuit. I play every amp before it ships.

There are several things going on in the tone of the Memphis Mini amp: First, there is a bit of grit around the edges of the note. This is what some players call "a little hair on the notes." It is the first thing you notice when you first play the amp. The second thing is a nice crunch on the overtones when you play chords or octaves or multiple holes. Just opening your playing aperture a bit on draw notes to get a little of the adjacent notes will excite the tubes.

And finally the amp has a big punchy sound with a nice low end. All those things together make up the tone of the Mini amp. That is the sound I was going for when I first worked with this amp. I'm pretty excited about the way it turned out.

Changing your playing technique and the pressure on the microphone will change how these tonal parts interact with each other. You can get a lot of expression out of the amp that way. The line out circuit is designed so it carries these effects in its signal to the PA, so you always sound great.

Almost all of the buyers of the Memphis Mini amp say they plan to use it for gigging. That was my goal; to produce a moderately priced amp that had great tone and would be a tool for working players. I am very proud of it.

There is much I would like to tell about the whole experience, and I will over time here on this blog. Thanks for reading this.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Wanna sound like this?

Two fun short videos about the Memphis Mini amp:

Friday, March 28, 2014

Ronnie Shellist endorses the Memphis Mini

Renowned blues harp artist and instructor Ronnie Shellist enthusiastically endorses the Memphis Mini harp amp.

Ronnie has had the amp for weeks.  He gigged it, took it to jams, and played it at home for hours.  He asked me tons of questions about it (and made some suggestions) and he is so impressed with the amp he has strongly endorsed it.  

I think this clip will forever be known as the "Garage Demo."  ;-)

We will be at SPAH in St Louis with the Memphis Mini amp in August.  Ronnie will be teaching in the middle of the day -- Weds, Thurs, and Fri -- with Joe Filisko, but around those sessions he will be available to demonstrate the amp.  Everybody is welcome to play the Memphis Mini.

Friday, February 28, 2014

This Memphis Mini amp is going to a customer in France

The box at the lower right is a step up transformer that allows me to test the amp with the proper 230V power.

Click here:  Memphis Blues Amps

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Memphis Mini amp Ready for Shipping

$490 at

What players are saying about the Memphis Mini amp:

"The Mini arrived yesterday safe and sound.  What a sweet little amp!!  You’re right it does kick ass. Thanks again for all your help. Happy, Happy Camper."

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"Dollar for dollar it's the best 5-watt harp amp on the market."

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"It sounds like a beefier tweed Champ."

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"The Memphis Mini is a giant in tone and versatility. I got mine today and played all different styles of blues and rock. I added a bit of room reverb to it, and even a short delay signal sounds nice. And it's a quality built beauty, too. This amp is definitely worth every dime. Thanks Rick!"

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Just as a follow-up, the amp came in today.  I picked it up and nothing was damaged in shipping.

Ran through it as-is with 12AU7 tube.  I see no reason to pop it out and go experimenting at this time.  I will probably do that when the speaker starts to break in just to satisfy my curiosity.  As can be expected, the speaker is stiff from being new, but I see nothing that would lead me to believe this isn't a great fit.

Just playing around with it; it has great texture.  If I were betting, I'm pretty sure this is going to exceed the old tweed Champ tone I got from my 1959 Champ when it breaks in.  I can already hear it going on in there.  Just a pretty amp to boot.  With the economy being what it is and most players either not gigging much or playing smaller venues, I'm guessing these amps are going to get traction in the market.

I'm going to break the speaker in and in a few weeks will use it at a gig with the line out feature to see if me, the amp and the soundman can coexist in sweet love and harmony.

First impression is very good and I think you have scored a 2400 on the SAT.  Great job.

best regards"

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"Whew!  That's got a lot of kick!"

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"Saving my pennies, man.  I want one!"

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"A Great Little Amp that IMO edges out my all-original '57 Champ."

What blues fans are saying:

"This is the best I have ever heard you sound."