Blog, For the Beginner, Hunter's Effects, Recommended Gear

Christmas reprise: what’s the best choice for your first amp?

We first published this piece–a guide to buying your first harp amp–a year ago, and with Christmas near it seems like a good time to reprise it.

Shot of stage showing RP and amp setup

Richard Hunter solo setup August 2010, Peavey KB2 amp at right

Just click right here to find out everything you need to know about picking your first amp (or maybe your next one).

Blog, For the Beginner, Recommended Gear

What’s the best choice for your first amp?

A frequent question from novice harp players is: what should I buy for my first amped setup? Some of the people reading this are going to buy an amp for themselves or someone else for Christmas, or buy one after Christmas with their Christmas money. So here are a few things to keep in mind when you head to the store. (NOTE: this advice is aimed mainly at harmonica players, but the basic concepts apply to just about anything you play through an amp, e.g. guitars, keyboards, and so on.)

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Blog, For the Beginner, Pro Tips & Techniques

What’s the best embouchure for harmonica?

A novice harmonica player posted this message to the Harp-l list:
As a beginner, I pucker for everything, and find tongue blocking to be very difficult. Is it true that the great Chicago blues tone can only come from tongue blocking? I think I read that Little Walter and others tongue blocked most of the time. Is anyone getting “that” tone while puckering?


By the way, “tongue blocking” refers to a technique for getting a single note in which the mouth covers 3-4 holes, and the tongue covers (or “blocks”) all but one. “Puckering” means narrowing your lips to get a single note. So it’s all about how you get a single note.


Butterfield was a pucker player, and Charlie Musselwhite is a self-identified pucker player too. I think both these guys sound great. That’s not a direct answer to the question, but it’s a big hint as to what the real question is.


As a beginner, I think you’re better off working on getting a big sound with whatever embouchure comes most easily to you. If you stick with the harp, sooner or later you’ll learn additional embouchures. In the meantime, making notes sound loud and clear is more important than playing a particular embouchure.


Getting a big sound is more about breathing from the gut and relaxing your throat than it is about your embouchure. See the breathing exercises at this site for more info.

For the Beginner

Harmonica Resources for Beginners

This page is expressly for beginning harmonica players.

It contains links to valuable resources for beginners, broken out into three categories:

Answers and Advice

Check out our new PRO PAGE, where top players in country, blues, jazz, and rock harmonica talk about what they listen to, the instruments they play, and the gear they use!

Harp-L Harp-L is an Internet mail list whose subscribers include many of the world’s best harmonica players in every style. The site provides access to a list of harmonica related current events and resources on the Internet. Also includes online archives that contain answers to many beginners’ questions. Answers to most other questions can usually be obtained by posting inquiries to Harp-L. SUBSCRIBE TO HARP-L!

Harmonica Beginner’s “To Do” List A page by John Watts that provides plenty of useful advice for beginners. Down-to-earth, concise, hits a lot of the important stuff. Recommended. NOTE: as of October 1998 this site has recently been upgraded, and in my opinion is now one of the best harmonica resources on the Internet.

Michael Will/The Diatonic Harmonica Reference – an outstanding site full of dead-on harmonica info, including great links, instructional material, illustrations, etc.

Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica (SPAH) SPAH provides a lot of resources for harmonica players, including links to pages for many leading players, links and addresses for harmonica resources such as manufacturers and technicians, and so on. A very important site for harmonica players.

BassHarp’s International Harmonica Gig List A comprehensive listing of performances by harmonica players worldwide. Updated weekly, maintained by Danny Wilson


Instruction

Breathing Exercises Beginners often want to know how to get a big sound on the harmonica, and a big sound requires strong breathing. This page will tell you how to breathe for a big sound.

Pouring Rain Music: pages on Huang Harmonicas, Jon Gindick’s Harmonica Instruction Catalog, artists and label promotion, publishing and distribution plus other blues and harp related links

Jack’s Gospel Harmonica Page – informative site offering lots of harmonica-related info plus Christian philosophy. Note: we’re not endorsing the philosophy per se, but it’s a big part of the site, so we feel obliged to mention it. Harmonica-related information is in big supply at the site also.


Instruments, Software, and Tools

Coast to Coast Music
Coast to Coast offers some of the best prices anywhere on a wide range of harmonicas, amps, and other tools. We’ve done a lot of business with them over the years.

Angela Instruments Terrific site for amped players, offers lots of information on amp construction, including schematics, info on tube choices, etc. Great source for tubes and other parts too.

Doc Doc’s Place: MIDI Files Terrific collection of MIDI files, including drum tracks and patterns, blues, etc. Great for jamming along if you’ve got a General MIDI sequencer/synth (or even just a soundcard).

Guitar Amp Tone, Guitar Effects Placement, and Techniques for Tube Amps and Hybrid Guitar Amps A terrific site loaded with information about tube amps and their applications, including specific info on amps for harp. Recommended.

For the Beginner, Recommended Gear

Loud, proud, and inexpensive–What’s not to like?

I get a lot of questions from beginners about what gear they should buy to get started making amplified music with harmonica. In this piece I’ll make a couple of simple recommendations for gear that does a few things well:

  • It sounds good.  Not just sorta good.  Good.
  • It’s inexpensive and durable.
  • It will be useful long after the beginner has graduated from novice status.

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For the Beginner

Breathing Exercises for Beginners (and anyone else)

Note: this information was originally published in a post to Harp-L in 1996.

Recent posts to the list have requested breathing exercises. Three that have worked well for me are described below.

1) The purpose of this exercise is to give the player a “feel” for proper — i.e. diaphragmatic — breathing. It’s sometimes difficult for players to recognise and distinguish between chest and diaphragmatic breathing. This exercise will introduce the player to the physical sensation of breathing from the diaphragm.

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For the Beginner, Pro Tips & Techniques

Got a Jones for Gear? Read This

It occurred to us recently that lots of players we know seem to constantly buy new gear, and some of those players don’t think much about how to get more out of the gear they’ve got. With that in mind, we’ve put together a few thoughts for our visitors on our philosophy for getting the most out of your gear.

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