Amp for Blues Melodica
Tagged: Amplifier for blues melodica
July 4, 2015 at 9:36 pm #5559
I finally found an amp that provides a great Chicago Blues harp sound when used with a melodica. I dragged several pedals, my SM-57 mic, and my Hohner melodicas into Guitar Center a couple of weeks ago (twice, once at two different stores) and auditioned a number of amps. I thought for sure one of the small Fenders was going to do it as these are the amps most harp players use. To my surprise, it was the British tone and circuit that provided the thrill: a Vox AC 10C1.
Ten watts, four tubes, one 10-inch speaker, and weighing only about 27 pounds, the Vox AC10 controls include: gain, bass, treble, reverb, and volume. Price is $450.
The tone was a bit darker with a more prominent mid range than that of the scooped frequency response of the Fenders. Using the gain control, I could get a nice breakup at low or high volumes, or by turning the gain down, I could also get a very clean sound sound at low and high volumes. It simply sounded bodacious.
The Fender had a preamp volume control that essential did the same thing, but it seemed I had to have the main volume way up before the breakup started to develop, and I just liked the tone of the Vox better. Obviously, this is a very subjective thing.
I ordered one today. Will definitely provide a review and recording as soon as possible.
LowboyJuly 5, 2015 at 10:14 pm #5566
Lowboy, I don’t know how I missed this post, but great news. I know the search has been difficult for you. Extreamly interested on how it turns out. Is this a fairly new amp, I had not seen this one before. I wanted to get at least 20-30 watts before it hit the mic. But listening to the video from Vox, it has a nice tone. The price is excellent for a tube amp. How long will your wait be, is by special order only?
Melodica-MeJuly 6, 2015 at 12:21 am #5568
Yes, the Vox AC 10C1 is a new amp this year that fills the gap between Vox’s 4-watt amp and 15/30 watt amps. I liked the 15 and 30 watt versions too, but they have weights the 60 to 80 pound range or something like that. This amp seemed like the perfect compromise.
You can’t believe how loud this 10 watt amp is. Playing loud is the norm at Guitar Center, but the clerk had to come over and tell me to turn it down.
With the gain turned up–but the main volume turned down low–you would swear you were listening to Little Walter. (At least the tone, not necessarily the playing. :-)) Yet the volume was not loud. Crank up the main volume, and you had the same tone but with sufficient volume to play with an electric band.
I should have the amp in late this week. Musician’s Friend and Guitar Center just got the second batch in and they are in stock. No special order required.
I never knew much about guitar amps because I did not play guitar, but I guess there were two major players in the 60’s; Fender and Vox. The American rock and rollers used Fender, and the British invaders brought the Vox with them. Each brand of amps had a characteristic sound, with the Vox offering a simpler circuit, a less scalloped EQ response, and a smooth creamy distortion that came on a lot faster. This is what I have been told and what I have read. It certainly seemed right on to me when I was testing the amps out.
Will keep you posted.
LowboyJuly 12, 2015 at 11:17 am #5612
I have had my new Vox AC10C1 amp for a few days now and thought I would give you my initial impressions.
First let me correct a statement I made about the amp after I tested it twice in Guitar Center. I said the amp could provide a clean and dirty sound. When I got the amp home, I found out it does NOT do a really clean sound. The clean sound I heard in the store, was relative to the dirty sound. When I did an A/B comparison at home with my super clean JBL two-way powered monitor, it was clear that the clean setting on the Vox was nowhere near squeaky clean. There was still a lot of tube tone in the sound, not to mention the frequency response was completely different. The Vox has tons of midrange. Deep lows are hard to find unless you muffle the melodica.
But fortunately I did not buy this amp for a clean sound. I bought it for grit, and in that regard it excels. It is perfect for the dirty blues sound I am after. In fact, it blows my mind how good this amp sounds and how responsive it is to my playing technique using the Hohner Piano 26/27/32 series instruments held against my chest.
In the end, this is the setup: an Audio Technica condenser shotgun mic, a Lone Wolf Blues Company Harp Delay pedal, and the amp. That is it. I get a Chicago Blues sound like you won’t believe. Will post a recording as soon as possible.
Here are a few interesting observations after making A/B comparisons with various melodicas and using the condenser mic, the delay pedal and the Vox versus the JBL powered monitor. The Hohner’s sound great with the Vox while my Suzuki and Yamaha melodicas sound terrible with the Vox.
On the flip side, the Suzuki and Yamaha sound magnificent (smooth, lots of body) with the clean JBL monitor. And that is without tone controls or other EQ adjustment: just the mic—delay—JBL. The Hohners sound terrible through the clean JBL. No wonder I have been struggling for a year and half to get a good gritty sound using the Hohners and the JBL monitors. Can’t do it without a dirty tube amp unless you use pedals, which I have done with some success.
The Vox amp and setup described above is only good for one thing: mimicking the sound of a harmonica in the Chicago Blues style. I don’t believe it will fit, nor will you like it, for any other purpose. But when I put on a Muddy Waters recording and play along, there are many instances where the melodica is indistinguishable from the harp. Further refinement of my technique is all that is left to do.
One side note. The Yamahas and Suzukis sound great with the JBL monitor and that is what I will be using with my acoustic “popular music” trio, that includes a female singer with a clean voice and an acoustic guitarist playing a Taylor with a clean sound as well. Within this setting, I must use a clean melodica sound.
LowboyJuly 12, 2015 at 6:11 pm #5613
So let me correct one thing I said above after rehearsing with my acoustic trio this morning. The Hohners do not sound terrible with the clean JBL monitor. They just don’t seem to be optimized for it. After rehearsing for an hour or so using Yamahas and Suzukis and a small-keyed Hohner Piano 26, I took out a full size Hohner Piano 26 or 27 for a song I thought it might work in, and fact, is sounded pretty good. I mean, basically this has been my setup (Hohner 26/27/32 with the JBL) or about a year. So take my comment with a grain of salt. LowboyJuly 12, 2015 at 6:41 pm #5614
Lowboy, I have basically given up on trying to find one amplifier that will work with all melodicas. I have found that you need to round out the type of sounds you are looking for as well as rounding out the melodicas to be used together. Example
In my case
Fender Acoustasonic Junior = Vibrandoneon * Eolina * Hammond Hyper, *= using a Myers pickup
Fender Delux Reverb = Hammond 44, Hammond Soprano, Hohner Electra
Magnatone 421 = Hohner Solist, Hohner professional, Hohner piano 36 using a Myers pickup
Traynor K4 = All Hammond Melodions including Bass Melodion, All Hohner melodicas listed above except piano 36 and Basso,
The above are my most used melodicas. The Clavietta seams only to work with a Microphone so I can only use it with the Fender Acostasonic and Traynor K4 of which I am not at all satisfied and usually substitute the clavietta with the Hammond Hyper.
So you can see a basic pattern on the typ of related sounds of melodicas the work with the type of amplifier used. All the applications above are affected substantially with the use of effect pedals.
I am very interested on your signal path from melodica to amplifier and actual tone settings. If you are using a microphone on your Vox this is what I am most interested. I have tried many different set ups with DI boxes that have not given me what I am looking for when using a microphone in a “live performance” application.
Melodica-MeJuly 15, 2015 at 9:54 am #5631
I am not using a microphone on the amp. The amp is more than loud enough for what I am doing. The signal path is as described above. Bass control setting on the Vox is all the way up. Treble control setting is about half way up. The Vox has lots of high end and midrange. I get the low frequencies by holding the melodica against my chest and play it this way most of the time. Then when I want to bring in the highs, I move or twist the melodica away from my chest to open the sound holes to the mic. I get a dramatic variation in tone, from big muffled bass frequencies to piercing highs all by physical manipulation of the melodica.
I just bought a chorus pedal for my clean sound. I have finally resigned myself to the fact that it is okay to process the the sound of a melodica to make it sound better. We do it with organ–might as well do it with a melodica.
LowboyJuly 15, 2015 at 1:45 pm #5632
Lowboy, I should have been more clear, you run a microphone to the amp to pick up the sound of the melodica correct? How do you connect the microphone to the amp, via DI box or just straight with a phono plug or a XLR to phono plug converter?
Melodica-MeJuly 15, 2015 at 6:40 pm #5641
I play the melodica into an Audio-Technica AT897 shotgun condenser mic. The mic cable goes to a 250-to-50K ohms “microphone impedance matching transformer.” This converts the mic cable 3-pin connector to a 1/4-inch phono plug and increases the impedance to match that needed by the delay pedal. The 1/4-inch out from the delay pedal plugs directly into the amp.
Now that I am using an amp for my dirty sound, I will have to mic the amp for recording purposes.
I have a nice Radial DI box, and I used to use it all the time. However, I found I do not have problems noise and I dons have long cable runs. I could not hear any difference with or without the DI box. So I don’t complicate the signal chain with stuff I don’t need. So now I only use it to give the a soundman my signal for long cable runs to the mixing board.
I am pretty sure I will end up with a small pedal board including the following: compressor, Harp Delay, chorus, and Harp Break. I will probably leave the compressor and Harp Delay on all the time. The chorus and Harp Break will be used for effect as needed.
Hope that helps MM.
LowboyJuly 17, 2015 at 9:59 am #5649
Quick update. As I have done about a dozen times in the last year, I have just changed back to a Shure SM-57 for my blues tone. The condenser mic was too hot for the Vox and I could not get the range of adjustment I wanted using the amplifier’s controls. With the SM-57, I can turn the gain way up without feedback and get a nice crunchy tone.
Last night for about the hundredth time, I tried using compressors and other pedals, and found again, that less is more. The real music and expression comes from the way I play and manipulate the instrument.
SM-57 mic—Mic cable—Impedance transformer—Harp Delay—Mic cable—Vox AC10
LowboyOctober 13, 2015 at 10:28 pm #6020
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