Setup for Blues Melodica
May 4, 2014 at 9:07 pm #2194
I was hoping to post a recording of my latest attempts at a melodica blues sound today. However, after rehearsing with my band yesterday, I made a philosophical decision, and not only changed my approach to my desired sound, but also the equipment.
After working on this change in approach most of yesterday and today, and based on months of research and testing, I think I am now very happy with the equipment, the sound, and the flexibility of my rig. A recording will have to wait for another day. I spent most of the day today setting up my new rig.
Here are some things I learned:
I purchased a Shure Green Bullet 520DX harmonica mic, which has a very narrow frequency response. And at first blush, I really liked it. After many fine tuning sessions–one of which caused me to change all my equipment around due to the high impedance of this mic–I realized it distorted when I got up close. So I am sending this mic back and using the old standby, a Shure SM75. With this mic, I am still able to EQ the higher frequencies out. You can’t overdrive this mic, at least not with a melodica (though harp players can do this by air-tight cupping of the mic).
Well, it looks like I will have to finish these technical comments later. However, the big thought I will leave you with is this: I think I was trying too hard to push the melodica into harp territory (Chicago Blues with tube distortion and severe EQ). I since have decided that I want to shape the sound, but go with an “acoustic sound” as they say in harpland. There really is no other choice because you can’t cup a melodica to compress the mic element and make it distort.
I am going accentuate the natural sound of the melodica, and play the blues with it in way that will hopefully be as appealing as a harp–but with its own sound and playing techniques.
LowboyMay 5, 2014 at 11:37 pm #2209
Your adventure gets more exciting and more daring as we get each installment, Lowboy. I really like your concluding comment. You’ve gotten the melodica to sound (to untutored ears at least) quite a lot like a harp, but surely the real goal has to be something beyond that, and to be exactly what you just said it is. Very heady stuff!May 7, 2014 at 2:52 am #2244
Lowboy, I must be subjective here and say I think you are headed in the right direction.
Forging the melodica’s identity as a blues axe distinct from the harp is just what our community of players need.
I’m anxious to hear what you come up with! I’m excited about what you wrote in another post that you may try a small acoustic duo or trio.May 11, 2014 at 2:56 pm #2283
So here is a continuation of my previous post, and since then, I have changed my approach (again) to get a sound and rig I like for playing the blues.
As noted earlier, I returned the narrow-band Shure 520 DX harp (harmonica) mic, and started using a Shure SM57. In addition, I was running the SM57 into a high-quality channel strip with a mic preamp, a gorgeous compressor, and an equally gorgeous three-band, semi-parametric EQ. I inserted a Lone Wolf Blues Company “Harp Delay” in the effects loop of the channel strip as it was the only place it would kind of fit due to its high impedance input. This setup was sounding great. The delay and compressor were huge in getting a professional sound.
One of the biggest problems, was getting my monitor loud enough to hear myself over the sound of the melodica itself, which is right in front of my face. I could never really hear what sound I was getting unless I put on noise-cancelling headphones.
Secondly, things were getting complicated: adjusting levels, tweaking EQs, getting the delay to “fit” into the signal path, etc. I had trouble balancing the levels and getting a hot signal out.
One of the key reasons for playing the melodica was to keep things simple and focus on the expressiveness of the instrument and my playing. Clearly I was getting off course.
So yesterday I decided to use a low-to-high impedance transformer and plug the SM57 straight into the Harp Delay and then just go straight into the 125-watt, two-way, JBL monitor. I also placed the monitor directly in front of me.
Boom. This was it. I could hear myself and my sound clearly over the natural sound of the melodica. I had very good dynamic range. The Harp Delay was giving me the “harp” sound by rolling off the high end and providing a cool thick delay. The setup was simple.
I cannot say enough good things about the Lone Wolf Blues Company Harp Delay. Plug your mic into this unit and your melodica immediately has a harp tonality. The delay provides a huge sound, like two melodicas playing. It can also provide slap back and reverb-type effects, all done by adjusting only three knobs. It is easy to use and dead quiet. If you are going for a blues sound, a Harp Delay is a must have in my opinion. Very few harp players play without a delay I do believe.
So now, I think the approach is to try out a tube-based harp amp instead of a clean monitor. I suspect that will be the last piece of the puzzle for the ultimate blues sound. I may also get one more pedal for additional EQ capability (Lone Wolf Blues Company “Harp Tone+” perhaps).
As soon as I can, I will post a recording. By the way, I am finding that the Cassottos have a place in the blues. In fact, I see myself playing all types of melodicas with the blues, as each type brings a certain sound to a given song. The Hohner Piano 26 and 27 are still my favorites due the modulation capability as I noted in my review of these instruments. I will demonstrate this capability in a recording soon.
LowboyMay 11, 2014 at 3:46 pm #2284
Sounds very interesting Lowboy. I have struggled for a long time with my amp set up. I recently usused a Summit Audio TD 100 tube preamp DI box for my Hammond melodions to boost up the volume and to warm up the sound live. Lucky enought that I was able to borrow one than to buy it first. The unit work great but it is not ment for microphone low impedance. I am going to save a little more and pick up the universal Audion 610 tube DI preamp made for both so I can use it for both live and studio work. I have been using my Traynor K4 keyboard amp as a stage monitor but really hate lugging it around. I also use a Fender Acoustasonic Jr amp but does not have enough power to use it as a decent monitor. I may have to build a small Tri-Amp system that would hopefully give me the sound. I need before it goes out to the main system. And hopefully I will be able to make it small enough to carry easily. What tube amp were you thinking if using.
Melodica-MeMay 11, 2014 at 5:17 pm #2285
I am not sure on the amp. There are several companies that make amps specifically for harp players with tons of tubes inside for that warm sound. One company is called Harp Gear. I like what I am reading on the Harp Gear website. Many harp players also use Fender guitar amps like the Bandmaster, Twin Reverb, and Superchamp. It seems the older and more beat up the amp, the better it is!
I was thinking of going to a Guitar Center with my melodica, mic, and stomp box and auditioning a few Fender guitar amps to see if they can deliver the volume and sound that I want before buying. I was also going to maybe ask Harp Gear if I could pay for shipping and try out a loaner they may have available.
Harp players reaching for the Chicago blues harp sound can make a 35-watt amp fill a club because they are cupping (air tight), compressing, and over-driving the mic element and setting the amp on 10 for lots of distortion. Playing acoustically (no air tight cupping of the mic) like we must do with melodicas changes everything. My 125-watt monitors can barely play loud enough for me to hear myself over the sound of the instrument, and I am always on the verge of feedback.
You should check out Lone Wolf Blues Company. Then make a Harp Attack that is a tube-drive stomp box. It works awesome, but I sent mine back only because I was not sure if I wanted a distorted sound. I may have sent it back prematurely. It is a tube preamp amp in a stomp box. Yet, I always come back to a clean acoustic sound for the melodica. A number of harp players also play acoustically, again without cupping the mic for distortion, so a clean sounds can work well too.
There are hundreds of websites for harp players. Only one for melodica players!
But start at ModernBluesHarmonica.com. Tons of great information and dozens of links to informative websites.
So there you have it. The quest continues for the ultimate blues melodica sound.
LowboyMay 11, 2014 at 10:00 pm #2287
Hey Lowboy, there is a guitar store in Pasadena CA, that specializes in Hign End guitars and amps that let you tryout your gear on their amps, as soon as I get the Universal Audio solo 610 preamp D.I. Box I am going to go their and check them all out. The name of the place is called Red zone http://www.redzoneguitar.com. My daughter takes her Taylor guitar there, pretty good service, I know this is nowhere near you, but maybe there is a place on the east coast.
Melodica-MeMay 12, 2014 at 11:13 am #2288
And You, Lowboy, not alone! I also noticed, has long been that Hohner is most suitable for blues, but primarily (for me) for jazz. And it is clear why: on the Hohner instruments goes better differentiated articulation ; in contrast to the more “luxurious” tools that are increasingly beginning to resemble trimmed accordion .
About microphone for melodica: Steve Kristofferson advised me Shure Beta 58, with whom he play for over 20 years, and which, in his opinion better than SM 58 . Here of course missing special microphone for melodica.May 25, 2014 at 6:41 pm #2380
Well Fellow Melodica/Pianica/Melodion Players,
i just did an about-face in terms of my ongoing journey to get a blues harp sound. I was messing around with a recording I made and started to hear this distorted melodica sound. It turns out I was inadvertently over driving the solid state effects processor in my effects loop, and it sounded so good, I realized I have to pursue this sound. I want to play the blues and this is the sound. So the link below will bring you to my SoundCloud page and there you will find a first attempt at getting a distorted Chicago Blues style sound from a Yamaha Pianica 32 Melodica. This is conceptual track done the wrong way with the wrong equipment. The playing is not exactly great either, but I wanted to post this as an example of what is possible. This was accomplished by over driving my solid state multi-effects processor in the effects loop. The multi-effects processor was not designed to be over driven so the distortion is pretty harsh, but it also added some chorus which I think will be a required element to get a “blues harp” sound. I image that the distorted sound will be wonderful when created with a tube distortion pedal and by running the signal through an over-driven tube amp. So I am on my way again to find a tube distortion pedal (probably a Lone Wolf Blues Company Harp Break) and perhaps one of the Fender tube amps that all the harp players use to get the breakup in their sound. More to come. Have a listen below.
LowboyMay 25, 2014 at 6:59 pm #2381
Very, cool Lowboy I like the sound. I know how difficult it is to find that right sound. I finally picked up a Sansamp DI box for my Hammond melodicas and what a difference it has made. I would like to here you sound through a. Slow speed Leslie effect. With the trumpet as the dominate sound. If I could add percussion to my melodica I would be in heaven.
Keep up the great work
Melodica-MeMay 25, 2014 at 7:54 pm #2382
Sounds good, Lowboy! I still would have added more for a blues effect impact of active oral cavity in long notes and in different attacks .May 25, 2014 at 8:40 pm #2383
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