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     MY RIG/technical notes:

I have a very non-traditional rig for a diatonic player--but I love the tone and volume I get easily and without feedback, and you might find a similar rig perfectly adequate for your purposes. 

The easiest way to explain my setup is to follow the signal path from microphone to audience...


SHAKER MIC   --------->  DIGITECH RP300 -------------------------> PA (for front/audience sound)
                                                  |--------------------------------------> DAC 15XD (as a stage monitor)


I use the Digitech RP 300 Modeling Processor to set my tone, to model the amps that I want to use, and to set all delay, reverb, and special effects settings. I get a wide variety of totally controllable, very stable sounds, no matter what style I play. I can easily get a totally clean, country-pure sound for Texas swing. Just as easily, I can get edgy overdrive for electric blues: tones similar to Mark Ford, or Studebaker John, or Charlie Musselwhite or Sugar Blue, or...). As well, I have available--and I use--a number of useful but unique "effects driven" tones that are not at all standard for harp. I have an octave patch that nicely emulates the effect of a small horn section and a smooth, very deep and almost silky, ethereal  sound that is getting numerous audience requests, and that lends itself nicely to any tune that might otherwise call for synth/keyboard or strings. 

Stage setup with the RP300 is stone simple...I just plug the mic into the RP300, setting the Shaker mic volume to three to five clicks below top. I take one line out from the RP300 to the board, I take a second line from the RP300 to my monitor. And I'm set. Done. The board/PA sound hits the audience, the monitor sound hits me.

MICROPHONES: Shaker Dynamic Harmonica Microphone / Peavey 380N:

I really like the Shaker Dynamic harp mic. It's comfortable and easy to use--has it's own volume control--and the tone is excellent with my rig and style of playing. I have a Shaker Crystal microphone too, but I don't like it as much--except that it's useful for clean country stuff. 

My backup mic is a Peavey 380N (much like a Shure 58) that I've had for years--and it too gives me excellent results any time I use it. I say *backup mic* but I actually use it way less often than the Shaker. I use the Shaker for gigs where a grittier sound is called for and I use the Peavey only if I need a more versatile (but still not squeaky clean) tone and I don't have the RP300 handy. If I need ultra clean, I run the Peavey straight into the PA.

By the way--if you are interested, here's instructions for making a very well-rated harmonica microphone for about $20 (photo and description down a ways on this page). 

MONITOR : 1980's Roland DAC15 XD

I don't actually use this as stage amp any more--but I seldom did. Mostly--even in my old setup (see below)--I used it as a stage monitor, but in the old setup, I also used the DAC 15's gain and tone settings to set the sound out front through the PA using the amps line-out function. 

Now I run the DAC 15XD purely as a monitor, and then only if I really need it. Since I'm using the Digitech RP300 for all tone and delay settings, I don't need the gain or the delay from the DAC. I set the tone on the DAC pretty much flat, so I have a very good idea what's going out the PA to the audience. It's actually loud enough--and cuts through enough--to be a very effective small stage monitor in all but the very loudest venues.

The amp has a built in delay, 4 quite small (4" ??) speakers; gain, volume, master volume, bass, treble and presence controls, and a line-out jack.  The DAC15XD also has on-board digital delay and other effects, but I don't use them generally--although the delay is decent. I should note that the DAC 15XD--besides making a decent stage monitor--is a great practice amp all on it's own. 

The DAC 15 XD isn't made anymore. I had to email over 150 music stores and second hand shops to find mine (in Fort Lauderdale) but a worthy contender in a similar price range exists and is easily available: the Crate VC-508 (tube with line out). I'd make other choices for more $$$ but I'm happy right now and likely would be with the Crate. I see that Ebay lists DAC-15's occasionally. at decent prices.


During sound checks before jams or at gigs with new sound mixer folks I usually set my Shaker Dynamic about 4-6 steps below maximum volume (the volume pot has steps).  I play at low-medium volume and low-medium attack for the sound check and let the sound person set my PA signal accordingly.  You see, solo harmonica sounds VERY loud outside the mix, but gets buried easily once the full band begins to play. I know this--and you know this--but most live sound mixers don't know this unless they are very familiar with harp. 

And lotsa sound guys are skittish, too, with good reason. Most harp setups are notoriously feedback prone... (Mine's not.)

Once the band starts to play I generally up the microphone volume pot one or two steps, and generally this makes everything just fine.  I have never been told or asked to turn down, but sometimes-even after doing this--I have been asked to turn up. Fine, I still have two steps up to go on the volume pot--but I don't generally use them. If I'm asked to turn up I instead up the volume at the RP300.  That way, as the night goes on and the band--as is usual--turns up some...then I turn up the mic more if I need to. Note also: if folks out front that I trust for good judgment are happy with my PA volume, I only turn up my monitor if I can't hear on stage. 

The result: I almost never get buried in the mix, and I have never had a sound person question or complain about what I'm doing.

What does the rig sound like? You'll have to wait till I get some live clips...My old setup sounded like this with the gain down (in other words, not distorted much). I was aiming for a softer, smoother tone on this song) it sounds like this, from a recent jam: jamriff.mp3. If you can't stream it, just download it (right click) and get it that way.


Everything below here was written prior to June 17/2002 - and it's still a good, inexpensive setup:

AMPLIFIER : 1980's Roland DAC15 XD
                     The amp has a built in delay, 4 quite small (4" ??) speakers; gain, volume, master volume, bass, treble and presence controls, and a line-out jack that I use to run my signal to the board/PA. The DAC15XD also has on-board digital delay and other effects. It's a solid state amp and most blues players (for good reason) prefer tube amps. You might also look for a DAC25 XD but they are truly rare.

                     The DAC 15 XD isn't made anymore. I had to email over 150 music stores and second hand shops to find mine (in Fort Lauderdale) but a worthy contender in a similar price range exists and is easily available: the Crate VC-508 (tube with line out). I'd make other choices for more $$$ but I'm happy right now and likely would be with the Crate.

                      I use only the short delay about 99% of the time--a simple very quick slapback, so close in time to the original tone that it almost doesn't exist, very low depth and one repeat. If I need a more obvious delay and longer, this setting on the effect knobs means all I have to do is press *long delay* and I get a nice carry on the phrase, but nothing too psychedelic :-). I adjust gain to make the sound dirtier or cleaner.

                     If you want to know more about lower power tube amps for harp, this article is a good place to start your information quest. And here, too.

PARAMETRIC EQ : Vesta Fire Parametric EQ Pedal
                      I bought this used and I have no idea who the company really is.  In any case--I would be LOST without this unit. Is it the secret to my sound? I dunno, but it is sure handy. 

                     I use it as a notch filter to eliminate feedback in my mic/amp circuit--and it totally eliminates any feedback I run into no matter what mic/amp combination I'm using. 

                    How do I use the EQ? I carefully but purposefully induce my rig to make feedback and then I adjust the frequency, bandwidth and level controls (as a notch filter) to eliminate the howl from the offending root feedback frequency. The result? I get no feedback and waaaaay more gain than I would otherwise be able to use from my amp. 

                    My tone is altered only very slightly from the tone without EQ. Using a 31 band EQ for the same notching purpose would alter a much wider frequency bandwidth and make a much bigger change in my sound. By the way, modifying the root feedback frequency effectively prevents the feedback frequency's higher harmonics from also feeding back.

                    A few other companies make (or have made) similar EQ  units. Here's a database of reviews, and here's instructions  for making your own parametric EQ.

                    The signal goes harp to mic to EQ to amplifier, then line-out to the board/PA.  
I don't mic my amp as that would just put another open gateway to stage noise (and possible feedback) into my signal. I mean, the tone from my amp isn't coming from, say, fine old Jensen there's no *vintage sound* reason to mic the speakers. The line-out signal is very stable and I always have an excellent and accurate idea of the sound I am getting (that the audience is hearing) out front.

                    If I'm playing a smaller venue, I line to the board and face my amp on an angle so that I get some of the signal and so does the audience. If the amp is right behind me then the amp's sound goes straight out front, as well as through the line-out and out the PA.

                    If the venue is larger, I put my amp on a small stand I built that aims the amp to my face--like a small monitor, and I line to the the board. In this configuration, all my amp sound is aimed at my head (the amp is in front of me and faced back at me like a monitor) and I adjust stage volume accordingly. The audience essentially only hears me through my line-out and the PA. I do this so that I have adequate stage volume to hear myself easily but I don't need to be heavy in anyone else's monitor mix.

A further challenge: Playing Diatonic Blues harmonica when you have dentures...