Re: [Harp-L] Sometimes ....

author, "Jazz Harp" (Oak Publications, NYC)
Latest mp3s and harmonica blog at
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Twitter: lightninrickbluesharpamps@xxxxxxxxx wrote:
> To: harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx
> So, you want to save the harmonica by making it sound like a clarinet? Or
> a trumpet? Or a Hammond B3? I'm not sure that is a good plan, or even a
> necessary one.
> When you use processors or effects to make a harp sound like a trumpet, for
> example, it doesn't work. It does not sound like a trumpet; its sounds
> like what it is: A processed harmonica. It is usually not a sound I like.
> it sounds flanged and phased and EQ'd and compressed and octaved and
> filtered. If it is well played I will admire the musicianship in spite of
> the sound, but I can't help but ask myself "Why?"

First, I have no illusions that I'm going to "save the harmonica."  I'm trying to make the world occupied by harmonica players a better place than it was when I found it, "better" meaning that harmonica players have more extensive technical, conceptual, and sound-shaping tools and skills when I go than when I arrived, and more cool stuff to listen to.

Second, the point above is an obvious distortion of my comments. Nowhere did I say that the goal was to make the harmonica sound like a trumpet, or a clarinet, or a B3.  I used the clarinet as an example of an instrument whose time has largely come and gone, to which other list members responded with examples of current bands using it.  That settled, the point is to be able to extend the range of sounds available to the instrument.  By the way, if you read this list regularly, you know that the ability to emulate a B3--or more specifically, the rotating speaker (Leslie) sound that we all associate with a B3--is something desired strongly by many members of this list; the rotary speaker patches I put together are probably the most popular in my patch sets after the basic amped-up stuff.  

Writing off electronics for the harmonica is in effect writing off everything that electric guitarists have had more or less to themselves for the last (nearly) 50 years.  The point isn't to sound like Jimi Hendrix, the point is to be able to make good use of the tools available to us. in any case, Jimi Hendrix didn't attempt to sound like a trumpet or a clarinet.  He wanted to sound different from anything anybody had ever heard.  So do I.  

The comment that
>A processed harmonica... is usually not a sound I like.
> it sounds flanged and phased and EQ'd and compressed and octaved and
> filtered.
is unintentionally ironic.  If you run a microphone into a tube amp, you're using a processor, because the tube amp itself is a signal processor by definition.  You're certainly compressing the signal, because tube amps add compression by design, usually increasing as gain and/or volume is cranked up.  Almost every harp player I know that relies on a tube amp uses the onboard EQ--usually low, mid, and high, in order of decreasing emphasis in the EQ--heavily. (In other words, a harp run through a tube amp is a "processed harmonica.")  That leaves flanging, phasing, octaving, and filtering (which typically means either an auto-wah or a wah-wah, unless you meant additional EQ, because of course EQ is a type of filter).  

In other words, you dislike all the "new" stuff--the sounds that became prominent in rock, pop, electronica, etc. starting in the 1980s, i.e. about 35 years ago.  I could just as easily argue that "acoustic" harp players have good reason to dislike tube amps, because they corrupt the pure sound of a harmonica. Which they surely do, but it's a corruption we all like, isn't it?  Human ears like distortion. Human ears like lots of other stuff too.

About 35 years: that's how long it's been since many players tried anything fundamentally new in their rigs.  Meanwhile, the evolving musical landscape is going steadily more electronic, which is fine for harp players, because we can use those tools too.

Also by the way, you make and sell traditional-style harp amps, the Mission amps, right?  I suppose that business reflects your taste in harp sounds, which of course is all to the good.  We'll see which view prevails.  I'm pretty sure that history is going my way.

Regards, Richard Hunter

author, "Jazz Harp" (Oak Publications, NYC)
Latest mp3s and harmonica blog at
Vids at
Twitter: lightninrick

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