Blues Access Winter 2001
Current Issue Blues Links Message Board
Subscribe Email Us Home Page
Dear Dr. Harpo

Due to the volume of messages received, we simply deleted the scene-setting portion of this column that usually kicks off the thing. Just sit back, close your eyes, take a deep breath to enjoy the bouquet of the trash you keep meaning to take out, and relax. Better? Good. Now open your eyes, sit up and pay attention. You think writing this is easy? Here I am, slaving over a hot keyboard, and you have the temerity to drift off while Iím just winding up to rant??? Why, you Ö

Dear Dr. Harpo,

Just read your latest in BLUES ACCESS. As to Pete Sheridan and his book, The Quest for Tone in Amplified Blues Harp ó is this a spoof, or fact? Iíve called and researched a number of companies that deal in music-related items, and no one knows a thing. If, in fact, you know of such a publication, I would appreciate any info you have. If not Ö thanks for your monthly articles and education, and for your time and efforts, Doc.

Mic Johnson
Via the Internet

Putting down the latest book for review, The Search for Mics to Amplify Johnsons, the warm and flaky-crusted Harpo rears his ugly head. No, wait, that wasnít his head, just a fright-wig left on the balustrade where he tossed it insouciantly on Hallowís Eve ó coals to Newcastle, costume-wise.

Pen, do your stuff Ö

Dear Mr. Johnson,

Sorry about my momentary lapse. The book does indeed exist, and if you donít believe me, check with Kevin Magowan, proprietor of Kevinís Harps, (609) 298-1524. He owns exclusive distribution rights to the book, so he is the best and only source for the Sheridan book.

Dear Dr. Harpo,

I hope you are doing well. Iíve played acoustic and amplified harmonica for 20 years. Iíve used Fenders throughout, and Iím interested in something new. I think Fenders are good, but I would like to get more power and electric tone before feedback. Sonny I and II are discontinued. At least, thatís what Gary Onofrio told me, so Iíll concentrate on the Holland 35 and, more importantly, the Harp-King. I spoke briefly with Kinder, but I would like to know what you think: (1) Does the Harp-King control feedback at high volume? (2) I play the upper register in 2nd position (draw and blow). How do the higher notes sound (and what about higher keys)? (3) How loud is it, tone, etc? (4) Any other information on the Westside 35?

Lastly, a question on parametric EQís: Iíve played through a Mesa Boogie and a Behringer parametric EQ (24-band feedback destroyer that sets itself automatically). Do you know of a similar EQ with 30+ bands? What is the highest possible number of bands? Thanks for your time, and I hope to hear from you.

PS: I use a Green bullet, a JT-30, and an SM58.

Eric Salva, Vassar College
Via the Internet

Dear Eric,

What a world we live in, to actually have so many options for amplified harp playing from which to choose. The Harp King amp is discussed at length in the Kinder Musical Instruments website (not as in "Ö and gentler," itís the proprietorís surname) at, or by phone at (909) 247-5275.

Mike Holland holds court at Now, here are the sequentially-regimented answers to your questions:

(1) The Harp King info on the website reads "loudest harp amp on earth, we had zero feedback when we dialed in." Iíd say that qualifies as a "yes."

(2) There are three "Kinder controls" (maybe kinder to the audienceís ears?) on both Harp King models that are designed to eliminate feedback and optimize the sound.

(3) The website info says that itís up to Rod Piazzaís specs, and if itís good enough for Piazza, who has made an obsessive odyssey out of searching for killer tone, it should definitely get your attention. The 6x10 model is 100 honest rms, with 2 KT-90 power tubes and 12AX7 preamp tubes. The 4x10 is 70 watts rms, having 7 tone controls, 2 KT-88 power tubes and retailing for $1795.00 plus shipping. Both were outfitted with Eminence speakers at Rodís behest.

(4) The Westside 35 is equipped with a three-band EQ. It also is equipped with Mike Holland, who makes it a policy to customize each amp that goes out of the door, according to your requirements and desires. So, I guess that you will reach fulfillment in this incarnation, after all, with one or the other of these beauties.

(5) As to the Parametric EQ question, the theory is, you can have as many bands as you want, governing whatever frequency you desire. There is a website at which deals with this thorny issue from a guitaristís perspective, but itís largely theoretical and of general interest, and probably quite applicable to harp EQ projects. It deals with how to design and build an EQ to alter the mix of a relatively narrow, troublesome band-width.

Good luck, and turn that damn thing down!

Dear Dr. Harpo,

I know that you have a prior relationship with Pete Sheridan [actually, weíre just friends, no hanky-panky, prior or ongoing. Jeez!], but I am writing to ask you to please reconsider most of what he has published in his book.

Iím not pretending to know everything about mics, but I can tell you that Pete doesnít really know as much as is reported in his books. His volume is a nice reference guide as far as pictures go, but his descriptions of the sound mics make is generally based on his experience with only one vintage mic, which is highly suspect (as it would be if you tried to describe all 1964 Mustangs based on your ride in only one). I have found that vintage products of all kinds vary in their characteristics, which is even more so with mics, especially of those of lower technology with crystal and ceramic elements. My experience with hundreds of mics over the last six years has in most instances run contrary to what Sheridan says.

Another reason I donít trust him is comments like "Little Walter recorded most of his classic stuff using a Shure 545SD." This is just wrong, wrong, wrong. This mic didnít go into production until 1964, and Walterís use of it from that time through the end of his life certainly influenced Paul Butterfield, Billy Boy Arnold and others to use this mic. However, most of Walterís classic cuts, as you well know, were recorded in the í50s. In fact, of the 90 documented cuts recorded by Walter, only three were recorded after 1964, and only another four were recorded in 1963.

Furthermore, his information on amps is often wrong. The Tweed Champ has more than four watts ó just check with Fender. The Black Face Princeton was not made after 1965. The 4x10 Bassman did not have 40 watts when first produced in 1955. The Fender Super Six may have been used by Bill Clarke for a short time, but it was REALLY short. This amp is also a dog, with transformers very un-microphone-friendly, like most of the Fender silver-face line.

In short, Pete Sheridan is a "printed" authority, but in my opinion not an "acknowledged" authority. In fact, much of what he has published in his book is highly opinionated or is wrong and shows a lack of research. Your column is looked upon as a resource, hence my concern about the use of Sheridanís book and statements.

One other thing about the EV you review in your column: We have found that in almost every instance where a mic has displayed the characteristics Mort Pyson describes, the ground wire has been disconnected or dislodged, or there is an open port or hole in the microphone shell (which is why stuffing the inside of the shell will work). I donít ever recall anyone that works on mics for me ó including the superb technician Tim Norris ó ever use the term microphonic, although it may apply.

FYI: My two centís worth.

Tom Ellis
Tomís Mics

Dear Tom,

Sounds like Professor Sheridan really put the dampening to your Cheerios. The thing about a lot of these on-going discussions (which, evidently, can temporarily become quite impassioned), is that the facts are not as good as we would like, and the anecdotes and extrapolations on the facts seem to rush to fill the void of concrete information. Donít ask me: I just plug in and crank up until it starts sounding good, and stop when it feeds back, so I donít know who is right in this debate. We may never know.

Dear Dr. Harpo,

Hi. My name is Brett and I live in Australia. Iíve been playing the harp for about 20 years and in that time have tried different combos of mics and amps, but still canít get that Little Walter sound Iím looking for. Iíd like to get one of the Astatic JT 30 mics to play through. At the moment Iíve got a Shaker but am very disappointed with it. I canít actually buy a harp amp in Australia, as it is about $4000+ just to get it here from America. Iíve found an amp tech who is willing to make me a custom-built amp, but have you got any idea of what sort of tubes I need, or any tips for me? This is the first harp amp he will be building ó and the first harp amp built in Australia ó so Iím looking forward to it a lot. Thank you for taking the time to read my letter.

Brett Stevens
Tasmania, Australia

Dear Brett,

What a nice letter. Would you like to volunteer to referee the debate between Sheridan and Ellis? Tone problems seem to be the order of the day, along with equipment disappointments. You can get JT 30s from many sources, through either mail order or the Web. I recommend Elderly Instruments and Kevinís Harps as two sure bets for good service and prices, and way cool catalogs that are unfortunately not drool-resistant. Shaker mics work great with big, powerful amps, and Iíll bet you are playing through either an under-powered amp or one with speakers bigger than 10".

Here is an idea for building the first harp amp in Oz: Get on the Web and search out schematics for antique amps. I have seen and used duplicates of original schematics of old Fender amps for troubleshooting, so I know that they are accurate (that is, I think they are, Tom Ö). Pick out one that you like and go searching for components. As to old parts or their equivalent, Mike Holland of Hollandís Amps has lots of electronic components, especially tubes, ready and willing to jump into a socket near you. I would get on Mikeís ear, as I have found him not only knowledgeable but very eager and enthusiastic to jump into new projects such as this. For $4,000, I should think that you could get both Rod Piazza and Mike Holland to make a house-call to Tasmania. Hey, what a great name for your first record! At present, I am using a set of Sovtekís and am as happy as a sow in silt. Good luck, mate.

Dear Dr. Harpo,

Is there a comparison/evaluation on the following mics: Green bullet, JT-30, Shure 545 SD, Shure SM 57, Barcus Berry and Shaker/Madcat? What is your opinion of the Pignose 30, 40 and 60 amps? I heard that the 40 was decent if you swapped tubes. What tubes would be recommended? Or would it be better to spend more bucks and get something else? Where can the book, The Quest for Tone in Amplified Harp, be obtained? Also, I recently acquired an old Pine Electric Co. Model 201 Amp, manufactured in Canada. Any info on that?

Bob Fagenkrantz

Dear Bob,

As to the comparison study for mics, there is no Consumer Reports-ish study on the various mics available for us to buy and try. If we have learned one thing today from our trip to the Bubbler of Harp Knowledge, these kind of discussions are largely opinion with a marbling of concrete facts swirled about. Kind of like halvah, you know, the chocolate and vanilla kind? Anyhow, all mic manufacturers have spec sheets showing frequency response, capture area, and all of that stuff available for their mics that is more scientific and less arbitrary than "Hoo boy, that sounds keen!" Send for some and compare the frequency peaks, as they are all slightly different, this being one of the major reasons for the varying sound produced by different mics. I like a mic with a peak around 4000 cps, right in mid-range. I like a real honk, but thatís what gets me warm and pliable.

The Pignose 40 at $399 is an ass-kicking amp. It is loud, with 40 honest watts going through 1x10 and two 6L6 power tubes and three AX7 pre-amp tubes. I will not even begin to tap-dance through the mine-field of the tube-swapping debate, after all of the flap thatís going on about opinion versus fact in equipment. I did cover one approach to tube-swapping in a previous column, but it is still a very contentious subject of debate among harp players. If you choose to play musical chairs with your pre-amp tubes, it is a relatively cheap sport to engage in at around $6Ė8 for pre-amp tubes. Mike Holland, as mentioned above, is barely able to be seen amongst the heaps of tubes heís cadged away at his shop.

The book The Quest for Tone in Amplified Harp is something I made up, so donít ask me again. Iím getting mighty sick of this. (Iím kidding. Kevinís Harps, shut up and sit down!) As to the old Pine Electric Co. Model 201, I havenít a clue. Iíd ask either Pete Sheridan or Tom Ellis.

Putting on a side by Blind Driveway and the Pot Likkers, Harpo practices tying the stem of a maraschino cherry in knots with his tongue. Realizing it would be easier if he removed it from the jar, he pauses and regroups. Maybe Iíll warm up by pitting some olives, or eating a peach. Maybe Iíll try those tongue pushups that Jack Palance does. No, thatís not right Ö

If youíve got a query for our favorite fruit-loop of the fluegelharp, send it along to:

Dr. Harpo
1455 Chestnut Place
Boulder, CO 80304

Including your prized collection of peach pits, tongue depressors or flavored lip gloss will be sure to get you extra credit. If youíre into less prosaic communication, you can email him at:


©2001 Blues Access, Boulder, Colorado, USA