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Harmonica Lessons: Using a Microphone and Amplifier

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this is
a hand held
I'm playing it through a tube guitar amp,
there are actual physical tubes in here
that the electricity runs through, which
gives these amps a much warmer sound.
Now I'm going to explain to
you a whole bunch of things
about the way these amps and
these microphones work.
So, first thing I'll explain to you is
what the tone controls are on the amp.
From left to right we've got reverb,
master, and
then the tone controls, mid range, bass,
and treble, and then the volume control.
Now, this is very confusing to some
people because you got this thing
that says master and
this thing that says volume.
They're similar and
they're related to each other.
But the way it works is the master is how
much power is coming through the power amp
into the circuitry and the volume
is how much you are letting out.
And so the more you turn up master,
the more the clean power
you are going to have.
You are going to have to
turn the volume up less.
If you want to squash the sound
more you turn the master lower and
turn the volume higher.
Then you are going to get that small
amount of power over driving the output
of the amp and
that's just basically the way this works.
Now when you turn a tube amp on,
I'm going to turn it off,
what happens is the tubes
actually have to warm up.
So when you first turn it on,
it doesn't work right away.
And if you're going to be
plugging something in,
either plug it in first and
then turn it on, or
turn the master and the volume
all the way off, and turn it on.
And then plug it in.
Now this particular microphone that I'm
going to show you, that I'm going to
play through for a little while here,
has a quarter inch jack on it.
it's designed to be plugged into a guitar
amp, because most amplifiers don't have
XLR inputs which is what you plug a PA
microphone into, with the three prongs.
So, this type of quarter inch jack that
you use a standard guitar cord for
is much more versatile in terms of
just being able to easily plug into
a guitar amp, which is what most
of you are going to want to use.
A tube guitar amp, and of course,
there are many different kinds.
Any old Fender amps
usually just sound great.
This is a new one,
it's called the Blues Junior,
it's a relatively inexpensive guitar amp.
It has a nice warm sound,
and it works very well.
So, what you do here is,
you have your master and your volume,
and now I'm going to be
talking through this mic,
and you can here what
sounds like [INAUDIBLE].
Hello, hello, hello.
It's sort of like
the kind of mic you'd call a taxi with.
A lot of these old microphones were
used by people like cab dispatchers and
police switchboards, and
they have a funky sound,
and sometimes you can find these old mics,
JT30s, one of them.
There are people who are real mic experts.
This one was refurbished
by a guy in Kansas City.
So I have the bass turned up pretty high,
treble turned on a little bit,
mid-range turned down.
If I were to move these
tone controls around,
like have them straight up and down.
Now you can hear it sounds
a little bit more trebly.
I have the master on four,or five,
volume on two.
It's pretty straight sounding.
If I mess around with
the tone controls here.
Turn the treble way up, you hear
that it gets really really nasty and
raspy sounding.
And that you probably wouldn't want to
play harp with the treble all the way up,
that's pretty nasty.
And since I'm so
close to the amp I'm
getting feedback as well.
I turn the treble down,
And grip it better.
Then I get that nice bass sound.
So, you want to be careful
with that treble control.
And the mid range.
Is just what you'd think it would be.
The mid range is a slightly
lower form of treble.
[SOUND] And you need it for
the definition.
If I turned it all the way off.
It sounds kind of dark.
So I have a little bit of mid on,
a little bit of treble.
And then the bass,
I have turned up half-way.
But if I want to give it even more.
I'll turn the bass up some more.
of course this microphone doesn't
have a huge amount of bass on it.
So at a certain point,
even if you keep turning the bass up,
it won't sound like there's more bass.
I'll turn the bass all the way off.
Now it sounds really funky, really tinny.
Hello Hello Hello Hello
Hello Hello Hello And
you can hear there's
more low end coming in.
Now one of the really important
things about playing a distortion
designed mic is to not hold it
right next to the harmonica.
So I keep talking through the harp
yeah ill keep talking through here.
I'll keep calling the taxi.
Because if you hold it
right next to the harp,
You'd sound like
I mean, it's okay, but if you create
a cavity in there where you're
actually creating a sound chamber
between the harmonica and
the microphone,
that's when you build up that bass.
Keep it nice and tight.
Big difference between
It's a totally different sound.
So this is the important
thing to remember.
And sometimes it can be uncomfortable
holding a fat microphone like this, and
some people prefer to get different
types of microphones for that reason.
But this is the classic type of setup for
playing distortion.
And then we also have reverb.
Now the reverb is over here on the left
side, and it's just one kind of reverb.
There's a spring unit in
the bottom of the amp, and
the sound actually goes
through the spring.
And sounds like that.
If I turn it way up, then I'll be drowning
in reverb for a nice slow blues sound.
And it also
interacts with the sound
of the master volume.
So depending on how high up you
have your master and your volume,
your reverb will correspondingly follow.
All right.
Now I'm really going to squash the sound.
I'm going to turn the reverb off.
I'm going to turn the master
down to two and the volume up.
Now you can hear that it's much more
distorted, especially
when I play two notes.
You hear the difference in those,
getting louder.
So if you want to get really dirty,
you turn the master way down and
you turn the volume way up,
as to keep that ratio reversed
from what I start with.
But then you get a lot of compression.
And you use a lot of power and clarity.
So there's a tradeoff here between
how clean and how dirty you want it.
How much power.
How much clarity.
In a live situation where
you want more volume,
usually we tend to have
the master up higher,
and that squashing effect less,
because you'll start getting feedback.
And that's always a complaint
of blues players,
how can I turn my amp up higher and
not get feedback?
And it's a real challenge,
and every amp is different.
Every situation you play in
is going to be different.
Usually your amp's going to be behind you,
not in front of you like this.
This is just demonstration purpose.
Some people like to have the amp on
the floor angled up a little at them.
Some people like to have
it on a chair behind them.
There's many different ways to do this.
And it's just a matter of experimenting to
see which one is the most practical for
you in a live situation.
In a recording situation,
you can do whatever you want,
because you don't have to be louder
than the drummer and the bass player.
And there's an another thing you can do,
you can tell them to turn down.
Okay, I hope this been helpful.
So that funny looking little thing that
was plugged into the input of the amp,
it's called an impedance converter.
This is really important because there are
bunches of different kinds of mic chords,
and sometimes people will give you
a mic cord that's the three pronged,
it fits the three pronged plug
on the end of the microphone.
And then out of the other end
there's a quarter inch plug.
And you think, fine,
i'll plug it into the amp.
If it doesn't have
an impedance converter in it,
some of these cords do have
built in impedance converters.
But if it's just a simple three
prong to quarter inch it won't work.
The sound will be extremely soft, and
it will lose all the desirable frequency
response that you want out of the mic.
So you need to buy one of these,
there's three different ones here,
they're all about the same.
I have never found any huge differences,
but there are differences.
Some of them will give you a more
complete frequency response.
Here's a longer one that was more
expensive [LAUGH] that I bought somewhere.
Here's another one.
They all just plug right
into the end of the cord.
And here's one that I
just got at Radio Shack.
And sometimes they're 10 bucks, sometimes
they're 20, sometimes they're 30.
They're not expensive,
and you do need them.
And like I said, you can buy chords that
have the impedance converter built in.
Okay, I'm going to plug
this microphone back in,
and from now I am going to
talk through this microphone.
All right, and you notice also
that you didn't hear a pop,
because when you use the XLR,
it's different from the guitar chord.
It's just a different thing.
So if I want to make this
clean mic more dirty,
I can squash the sound the same
way I did with the distortion mic.
I have the master up at five.
Why don't I turn the master down,
and then I'll turn the volume up.
And so it's roughly the same volume, but
you're gonna hear
a totally different sound.
It's distorting, it's breaking up.
So, if you want,
you can squash this microphone.
But it won't give you that same exact
kind of raw edged distortion sound,
because it's designed for
the exact opposite thing.
But if you wanna make it that way,
you can.
And then of course you
can adjust the tone.
More treble.
Less treble.
And one thing you should learn is that
the sound of your speaking voice and
the sound of the instrument
are two entirely different things.
And sometimes, you know, you can figure
out what the differences are and
use your voice to test out what you think
the harps gonna sound like with an amp.
And so sometimes if you have to use an
unfamiliar amp, turn the master back up.
That sounds a little better.
They basically are all
about the same thing.
And you can just talk through it and
change the tone settings first and figure
out how loud you want it, or whatever.
And then of course, the reverb,
same thing with this mic.
So that's what it sounds like to
have a clean mic going through
a tube amp to get
a pleasantly distorted sound,
although not a totally squashed sound that
like you would get with a mic like this.
Okay, now i'm going to use another mic.
This particular one that I have
here is called a green bullet.
And this is a classic mic
made by the Shure company.
There are many different kinds.
The ones they they're making now don't
have any resemblance to the old ones.
Some of them are ceramic,
some of them are dynamic.
I believe this is a dynamic,
but it's a really old one.
It's about, it's at least 30 or
40 years old.
So it has a better sound than
the ones they are making now.
And I decided to leave this one as an XLR
mic, because when I tried to convert it to
be a quarter inch,
it changed the sound response.
I found that the tone quality
was better if I left it XLR and
used an impedence converter.
So now I'm going to plug this one in and
you'll hear what it sounds like.
[SOUND] Sounds like feedback.
Sounds like feedback.
Hello, hello, hello, hello.
This has a very, very high,
very high output.
And I had the master way down, so
I'm really crunching the sound.
With a mic like this,
you don't need to do that at all.
So, for
this I would turn the master up more, and
you hear there's too much treble.
So I'll turn the treble down a little bit.
you get this really solid
heavy distortion blues sound.
And for
this one again,
you have to make that
cup and surround it.
And, like I said in an earlier
video, the amount of treble and
base and middle that you have,
it's like seasoning some food.
It's like the salt and pepper,
you season it to taste.
Depends on who you're playing with,
how loud they are, if you're in a live
situation, if you're in a recording.
How well your tone matches
what's on the recording.
That's why I like to have a whole bunch
of different microphones, because for any
given recording or playing live situation,
the kind of distortion I want might vary.
As a matter of fact,
here's another one that I like to use,
which is the Electro-Voice RE10.
And, I'll turn this one off,
and plug this one in.
This is the Electro Voice RE10,
and you notice that there's a little
bit of piece of tape over here, and
Carlos del Junco suggested this to
me to squash the sound a little bit more.
It sounds, I think it does effectively
build up a little bit more of
a chamber inside the head here.
It sounds good without it on too.
But this mic, it breaks up nicely, it has
a very rich low end and, it breaks up
well too, so if you want to get it to
have a little bit more definition,
you could turn the treble up,
you could turn the mid range up.
Now it will cut more.
It all depends on what kind of sound you
wanna hear, and so this, I have the master
up at five and the volume down to two.
If I wanna squash it,
I'll turn the master down,
I'll turn the volume up and
then you'll hear a squasher sound.
So you can do the same thing, basically,
with any mic, but they are all
going to be a little bit different,
and of course every amp's different.
And one of the reasons why a lot
of harp players like the Bassman,
the Fender Bassman, is that it has those
big bass speakers, with the heavy magnets,
and it gives you a real thick sound.
That's one of the things that we
try to avoid on the harmonica,
that I like to try and avoid, is sounding
too trebly and too nasely, because that's
the stereotype of the instrument, so
a lot of blues guys, especially, go for
a big fat sound and however you get that
using a bass amp, is one surefire way to
get a fatter tone out of this, especially
in live situations, and in recording,
you can get away with a lot, because you
don't have to turn these things up loud.
But I just wanted to show you the RE 10,
and that it's a really nice mic,
and they're not expensive,
if you can find them.
They haven't made these in years.
They're much older mics, I believe,
they are from the 60s and
maybe into the 70s,
the Electro Voice Company.
So we now have looked at Shures and
Electro Voices and a Flash Gordon Mic,
which is made by some anonymous
manufacturer, I don't know who.
Okay, have fun.
Enjoy experimenting and,
if you wanna send some videos to me of
yourself playing on an amp, that's great.
Take it easy.