Four rules for picking a Blues Harp Amplifier

Seven things to look for in an amp.
1. Does it work?
2. Tube configuration
3. Speaker size and number
4. Transformer size
5. Features - Tremolo and Reverb
6. Cabinet Condition
7. Brand Name

Keith's picks for the best harp amps.

I've heard that Rod Piazza said that the harmonica should be the loudest instrument in the band. Well, it ain't gonna happen. Guitar players have an edge over harp players. They can crank their axes up to 11 and not feed back. Old tube amps sound good cranked, but if you hook up a harp microphone to a tube amp it screams like a banshee when you set the volume over 3. But great Harp Amps are simple things without much in the way of preamp stages and usually have a lot less feedback.

Now the question that I get asked over and over again is "What is the best harp amp?" Unfortunately the answer is always "It depends".

If you play Chicago style blues and are looking for the tubey overdrive sound of a vintage Fender Tweed, the answer is one thing. If you are looking for a modern jazzy sound with clear horn like tones, then the answer is something else. Folk and Country each have distinct characteristic harp sounds and you'd play through a different amp for each of them.

I listen to Big and Little Walter, Kim Wilson, William Clarke and others. I like the big Chicago Blues sound that they get. I also like Sonny Boy, Phil Wiggins, Slim Harpo and other players with a more natural sound. I want a harp amp that will play overdriven and distorted when I need it to, but I often play in a more laid back style.

My point is that my amp needs are unique. You are invited to disagree with everything that I say here. Your amp experiences are likely to be different from mine. My only motivation here is to lay out some ideas that I have about amps and I hope this would act as starting point for you to develop your own opinions about amps.

 

 

 

Buy the Book!

I cleaned up my tab for Sonny Boy's Help Me and made it into a short book. There's a Kindle version for 99 cents, and if you buy the paperback you get the Kindle free.

Playing "Help-Me" In the Style of Sonny Boy Williamson II: A step by step, note for note analysis of some of Sonny Boy's Signature Riffs

I also write Science Fiction, so you can sample some of my best stories. Also available in Kindle format.


Error Message Eyes: A Programmer's Guide to the Digital Soul
 

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The JT30 Page Popular links

I began collecting data about the microphones used by blue harp players before there was an internet. I began organizing it into JT30.com in the late 1990s. I accumulated more stuff than I remember. This is some of it.

Street Theory

A Harp Player’s Guide to Music Theory

Learning Harp

Picking Up Blues Harp

A guide to learning to play Blues Harp

Microphone Information

Usenet Articles


Harp Amps

I've been collecting Harp Amps for a while. This is the old Harpamps.com website. There is lots of information here. Here a coupld of links.


Harp Tab

A collection of songs and riffs that I’ve worked out over the years, plus some libraries of stuff I’ve converted to tablature. I’ve included most of the notes and instructions that helped me when I was learning to play blues harmonica.

Basic Riffs Simple harp tabs for songs Blues riffs and phrases.

Harp-L Archives 1992 to 2002


1992
1993
1994
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003

Harp Frequently Asked Questions