some tips on using and building tone (long)

These are tips not rules.
 I'm a big believer in getting maximum tone while still having something to
say on the harp. Tone and chops should go hand in hand. Once you get tone,
work on coloring the tone with hand effects either acoustically or miked.
Guyger, Primich, Wilson, Wiggins, Filisko and Dennis G.  all produce 3D tone
because they mastered the use of their hands. I find players that keep their
hands always tightly closed or open tend to have boring tone whether good or
bad. I call it monochromatic tone.

acoustic hand cupping tone control.
To get the most effective tone  and that "mama" sound, you need to produce
part of the sound with the hand tightly cupped and closed. Produce the note
THEN open your hand while you are still sounding the note. With time you can
learn how much or little to open for desired effect.  If you feel
compression building up in your hand (very noticeable with MB's and GM's)
when you play the note with a closed cup, you will produce maximum tone with
the effect.  In simple terms it's a hold then release effect.
I recall someone telling me Guyger has 11-13 different hand cup techniques
that he picked up from the old masters. I'll have to ask him about it some

I have Dennis G. to thank for teaching me  how to cup a mic properly. He
gave a good seminar at Buckeye a few years ago on techniques of George
"Harmonica" Smith.  Rather then have the harp sit on the grille of the mic
you need to produce an airtight chamber in your hand sealing the entire
diatonic with hand and cheek to maximize the hold and release effect.

Building internal tone
Body Builders and runners use weights and resistance training to build body
tone where they need it.  As harp players we need to build tone in our air
passage. I found the best way to do that is warm up on hard to play harps
for about 1/2 hour or more a day. Don't play along with recordings or
amplified. Play acoustic, concentrating on difficult reeds while  trying to
get the most out of them.

Over a year ago I posted a story about Guyger and myself visting an antique
store. He found a used wood comb Bandmaster diatonic and started to wail on
it. On his recommendation I bought it only to find out I could barely get it
to play. It was leaky and the draw notes wouldn't bend.  I decided to keep
it in my van as something to toot on while waiting to pick my wife up from
work and out shopping.  (I keep a Hohner Bluesband harp in our other car so
one is always available to practice on while sitting in a parking lot).

After about a year of working out on this harp and the Bluesband for about
20 minutes a day I found I can play them as well as my good stock harps.
Playing on  difficult harps forced me to work on my breathing technique
and helped build my lungs and tone.

The end result.
Over the past few months I have been getting a lot of compliments on my
Gibson 35 watt amp.:)  Its the same one I've taken out for about 3 years now
but all the musicians in the audience comment on the great "tone" the amp
has. Fans at the bar are now buying the harp player drinks instead of the

 Some of the 6 other gigging harp players in my area have been sitting in
lately using my amp. Two years ago I had to turn up their amps when I sat in
on their gigs.  Now I find they have to turn up my amp when they sit in. I
can barely hear them over the band and wondered what the fuss was over my
amp. I can keep it lower (slightly below 2) but produce more volume and tone
projection then my local peers who gig every week.
I've also been offered guest spots on local blues cds thanks to the new and
improved tone.

Next to cheap off brand harps, Key of A harps seem to be the most difficult
for some players to use and they send them to me to tweak the bend notes.
 I would recommend using that or another difficult harp as your tone
building harp(s). You will find yourself using a tighter hand cup to get
poor responding harps to work better. After a year or more you should be
able to play almost anything off the shelf and make it honk.

I have asthma and 42 organic related allergies and always have difficulty
breathing. If I can overcome a handicap to build great tone you can as well
with half the effort.


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