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The harps and gear I used on “Double Lucky”



As a rule, most of the pieces on “The Lucky One” have somewhere between three and five harmonica parts in the mix. “Double Lucky” is an exception, with only two harps, and I think its simplicity makes it a good place to start my series on the instruments and FX used on the record. Don’t worry–we’ll start on the more-complex stuff in the next post in the series.


“Double Lucky” is a Double Blues



“Double Lucky” is one of the hardest-rockin’ tunes on “The Lucky One.” The piece is structured as a double blues (24 bar) form in the key of C, with vamps on C between repetitions of the form. The chord changes on the first half of the form are C/C/C/C/Eb/Eb/C/C/F minor/G7/Eb/Eb. The chord changes on the second half of the form are the same, except the last two measures are on Ab instead of Eb. This form has the same harmonic rhythm (i.e. the timing of the chord changes) as a standard 12-bar blues, but the usual I-IV-V blues structure has the IV chord swapped out for a flat III chord, and the turnarounds are substitutions too. Because the traditional 12-bar blues form is so familiar and strong, the song is still recognizably a blues (and the structure of the lyrics reinforces that impression, with two repeated lines followed by a response line in each verse).


I wrote the double blues form after I finished the lyrics for the piece. (I’m finding lately that it’s a lot easier to write the music when I have the lyrics in hand, but maybe that’s just me.) I came up with the vamp lick–of which I admit that I am truly proud and grateful, ’cause it is one hard-rockin’ riff–a few weeks before the session when I was driving down Packsaddle Road in Tetonia, Idaho, jamming away on a Seydel Session Steel A harp. As soon as I played that lick for the first time, I pulled the car over, took out my iPhone, and recorded it. Before that, the tune consisted of the double blues structure, period. But that vamp upped the energy in the tune by about 5000 percent, and when we heard playback on the first take in the studio it was obvious that it was meant to be. So know how to access the voice recorder in your smart phone, and don’t let those inspirations get away from you!


Two, Count them, two harmonicas

I wanted to play a chorded harmonica part on this song similar to what a rhythm guitar might do, but it’s impossible to play C, Eb, and Ab chords on any single diatonic harmonica. This is where the Digitech RP500, or your favorite pitch shifter, comes in. I set the RP500 up for this song using Gibson GA40 amp and cabinet models for a big, gritty tone, and to that I added a pitch shifter with a shift of a minor 3rd up under footpedal control. (I could have simply used the Mod FX on/off switch on the RP500 to kick the pitch shifter in and out, and assigned the footpedal to something else, but I felt more comfortable using the footpedal.) When I play a C chord (on a Low F Suzuki Manji in this case) and engage the pitch shifter, I get an Eb chord; when I do the same thing on an F chord, the pitch shifter bumps it to Ab. Add octaves on F and G, and every chord in the form is covered.


I used the Low F harp on the vamp sections as well as the double blues. That wasn’t necessarily the original plan, but when we started running down the tune in the studio with the band, it was immediately obvious that a standard (high) F harp didn’t have the sheer power needed for the vamp lick. You can hear the sound of the low F harp on the vamp here.



“Double Lucky” rhythm harp


The only other harmonica used on “Double Lucky” is a Lee Oskar Natural Minor in the key of C, played (like the Low F) in 2nd position. That’s the harp I used on the solo, and it’s processed through the same GA40 patch on the RP500, without the pitch shifter.


You can hear it here, with the rhythm harp, which plays throughout the tune. You can hear the rhtyhm harp play C and Eb chords in this sample, the latter courtesy of the pitch shifter.



“Double Lucky” rhythm and lead harps


Whenever you use two or more harmonicas on a tune, it’s important to give each of them its own space in the mix. (I’ve heard recordings where the artist chose to overdiub two or three harps in the same register with the same amped tone, and it sounds like somebody falling all over himself.) The standard C Natural Minor harp is pitched an octave higher than the Low F, and that gives both harps plenty of space to do their respective things. An alternative would be to apply a different effect to each harp, but that would produce a less-bluesy sound, and I wanted something more traditional in this case. (Granted that neither a Low F or a Natural Minor are exactly traditional–those instruments didn’t exist in 1950, and you certainly never heard either one on a Little Walter recording. But the basic approach to the harps on this song is obviously all about the blues.)


Recording the parts, in studio and at home


Digitech RP500: Two harps, one patch on “Double Lucky”


The Low F rhythm track was recorded live with the band in the studio, using the dual XLR audio outputs from the RP500 direct to the board. The solo was recorded in my home studio, using the RP500 as the audio interface to my computer. I actually recorded a scratch solo in the studio with the band using a standard F harp, but after reviewing it I decided to switch harps for the overdubbed solo. The C Natural Minor is based on an Eb scale, and it’s better suited to the changes in “Double Lucky” than a standard F in 2nd position.



The solo is pretty complex and high-velocity. I recorded the first half in one pass, and the second half phrase by phrase to make sure it was played right, working out the lines as I went along. The mix engineer added some delay to the lead harp to give it that gee-I-like-this-big-ol’-stadium sound, but otherwise the harp parts on this song sound exactly the way they did when I laid the tracks in. That’s one of the really, really great things about recording direct with the RP500: you can be confident that you’ll get EXACTLY the same sound on every part you record with a particular patch, no matter where or when.


Two harp players is enough to do “Double Lucky” live


And that’s the harmonica story on “Double Lucky.” Two harps, one RP500 setup, lotta big tones and drive. It should be obvious at this point that this piece could be played exactly as recorded by a band with two harmonica players, one to play the Low F rhythm part, the other to play the lead. (Ideally the lead harp player can also sing.) So get together with a harmonica-playing buddy and work it out!


And take a minute to drop by CDBaby and hear samples of the rest of the songs on “The Lucky One.”


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25 days to the release of “The Lucky One” (Mid-April)

My 21st century rock harmonica record “The Lucky One” has been mixed and mastered, and we’re down to graphics, pressing, and shipping. Graphics will be finished this weekend. After that, it’ll take 5-10 days to make the CDs and another 5-10 days to ship to me, after which I will immediately ship CDs and/or digital downloads to all who contributed to my Indiegogo funding campaign. CDs and digital downloads will also be available from the usual suspects–CDBaby, Amazon, iTunes, etc.–at the same time. So we’re looking at actual records (physical and/or digital) on the street in 25 days or less.


The original plan was to have this project done before Christmas. I promise everyone who’s been waiting that you’ll be glad you did, and I thank you sincerely for your patience.


Get ready to rock!

The Lucky One is coming!

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How I Recorded “The Lucky One”

I’m planning to do a series of posts describing the specific sounds and techniques I used to record every song on “The Lucky One,” and I thought I’d start out by laying out the overall process that took this record from idea to finished recording.
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Stay tuned for details on the instruments and FX used for “The Lucky One!”

“The Lucky One,” my 21st century rock harmonica record, will be released this month. Once it’s released, I’m going to do a series of posts in which I describe the harmonicas and FX used on the record, track-by-track. In case you were wondering, EVERY harmonica track on this record was recorded with an Audix Fireball V mic through a Digitech RP500 running a customized version of my patch set for Digitech RP500, and straight to the board or computer from the RP500 via the XLR outputs (in the studio with the band) or a USB connection (in my home studio during overdubs). If you own a license for our patch set for Digitech RP500, you’ll get a copy of the patches I used for those tracks, and you’ll be able to try those sounds for yourself. (If not, go get yourself an RP500 and a copy of our patch set.)


In general, the sounds I used on this record break down into a few basic categories:

  • natural, with no FX beyond a little reverb or delay
  • amped-up blues
  • wah and auto-wah
  • wobble (vibrato, rotating speaker, vibro-pan–you know, wobble)
  • pitch shifted (usually down, sometimes up)
  • time-based modulation (chorus, flanging, and so on)

  • I used a number of variations on these basic sound groups to keep everything fresh, but when you get right down to it those are the FX that count, and combining them in various ways produces a lot of different colors.


    Stay tuned to get the full details on how it’s done.

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    “The Lucky One” is on target for release this month!

    I haven’t posted much to this blog lately; been too busy behind the scenes getting “The Lucky One” ready for release. At this point the overdubs are done, the mixes are underway, and we’re getting the artwork ready for production. Whew! Lotta stuff. Worth the effort, because the tracks sound amazing.

    The initial band sessions in Philadelphia produced a bunch of tracks that were just crackling with energy, and my goal after that was to keep that energy while filling out the arrangements. In the end, the overdubbed harmonica tracks just rolled into place, most on the first or second take. (I spent more time and takes on some of the solos, because, well, they’re solos.) From the beginning I knew that the vocals would be a challenge for me, and getting those right is what took months of hard labor in a darkened room, all by myself. Like Ringo said: It don’t come easy.

    Now that we’re coming down to the finish line, I feel–joy. Joy that I was lucky enough to come to this place in my life, with the people and resources around me that I needed to do this record. Joy that the vision of 21st century harmonica that I began working on over a decade ago is being realized. Joy every time I hear the music.

    I’m the lucky one.

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    “The Lucky One” is coming soon, but not before Christmas

    I’m nearly finished with vocal and harp overdubs for my record “The Lucky One.” I’d originally thought we’d have the record available for sale (and for distribution to the people who contributed to the Indiegogo fundraiser) by Christmas, but it’s looking more like January now. I apologize for the delay; rest assured that I will deliver the best damn stuff I can, even if it takes another week or two, and the results are worth waiting for.

    I’ll take this opportunity to talk a little about this record. It’s no secret that I’m using layered overdubs with plenty of FX to shape the sound of this record. That’s not new in itself; artists like Scott Albert Johnson and John Popper have used FX very well on recent records, and Filip Jers, among others, created masterpieces on his first CD with overdubbed harps. What’s new is that I’m not simply out to produce new electric harmonica sounds with this work; I’m putting the harmonica into a range of roles in the band that it has rarely, if ever, occupied. Harmonica is traditionally a lead instrument in a rock band; I’m building on the work of Lee Oskar and Magic Dick to put it more deeply into the rhythm and horn sections, guided by the sounds of blues, the band Morphine, and the White Stripes.

    The results are definitely new; these textures have never been present on any record I’ve heard, and I’ve heard a lot of harp records. Most importantly, I imagine that this music can be effectively performed live with a band that includes at least two harmonica players playing through the Digitech RP500 setup I’ve used for all the harmonica tracks.

    Digitech RP500: It's all over "The Lucky One"

    Digitech RP500: It’s all over “The Lucky One”

    And why not? Plenty of rock bands have two guitarists; how about some equal time for harp players? This is not music designed only for the studio; this is music designed to be performed. (By the way, if anyone is interested in being part of some of my performances, please contact me. Qualifications include ability to play diatonic harps in multiple positions, the ability to play chromatic harmonica in multiple keys, and the willingness to use the rig I provide, which of course includes a Digitech RP500 and an Audix Fireball. Practical knowledge of chord structure and theory is essential, like for example knowing what notes are included in an Ab major triad and what scales work against that chord. Ability to read music in this case is deeply respected, but not required. New York/Philly area is tops.)

    If this record goes as planned, it will be as definitive a statement about the role of harmonica in a rock band as my previous CDs, “The Act of Being Free in One Act” and “The Second Act of Free Being,” were for solo harmonica. That’s what I’m shooting for. I know it’s ambitious; the facts are that I’ve been working on this approach for ten years, the concept is fully formed, and I’m too old not to aim high right now. When Mick Jagger said in an interview recently that spending three full days in the studio recording the new Stones blues record was pretty hard on him, I knew exactly what he was talking about; I literally limped out of the studio in Philly after three full days and two nights of blowing my brains out on this record. Like I said: time to aim high.

    Whatever else this record is, it’s not the usual, by design. And it rocks hard. You can check out samples of early rough mixes in the “Updates” section of the Indiegogo campaign for “The Lucky One”. (The campaign is closed, so you can’t make a contribution. If you like what you hear, just buy the download or the CD come January.)

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    More from “The Lucky One”: Make The Noise You Came To Make

    Like other pieces on “The Lucky One”, “Make the Noise You Came to Make” relies on a horn section made of harmonicas shifted down one and two octaves. To that we add an amped blues sound with a Whammy that shifts the pitch down a major second, creating a slide guitar effect, and another sound that uses a vibropan effect to create a psycho organ. All those parts were created with a Digitech RP500, and all can be heard on this 30-second sample. The thing rocks hard with a cool vibe that owes something to both Morphine and The Doors.

    Check out 30 seconds of “Make the Noise”:

    “Make the Noise You Came to Make” copyright 2016 R. Hunter/Turtlehill Productions/ASCAP, all rights reserved.

    And contribute to our Indiegogo campaign to fund this record here.
    img_6749-ph-3-splatter-blue-cut-out-winner-half-size

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    A Mysterious Piece of “The Lucky One”: Deeper

    “Deeper” has been in my repertoire for years. I recorded a version of this piece for my subscription list, a decade or so ago. The original had a few harmonica parts and a lot of cool synth sounds, many of them courtesy of the hard-edged synth Pentagon.

    This version was recorded straight through by me and the band in the studio with me playing the lead on a Seydel Chromatic Deluxe into the Digitech RP500 running a Tweed Deluxe amp model–a nice clean, full sound–with a triggered flanger on it. Very smooth and electronic. In the second half of the piece, the lead harp is augmented by a patch that pairs an octave down with a wah wah for some very cool articulations, and by a patch that runs the Audix Fireball mic through an iStomp running Swingshift to drop the pitch an octave before it hits the triggered flanger in the RP500. Like the title says: Deeper.

    Check out 30 seconds of “Deeper”:

    “Deeper” copyright 2016 R. Hunter/Turtlehill Productions/ASCAP, all rights reserved.

    And contribute to our Indiegogo campaign to fund this record here.

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    A hard-rockin’ piece of “The Lucky One”: Double Lucky

    The basic structure of Double Lucky, one of the hardest-rocking tunes on my record “The Lucky One,” is a double blues: 24 bars, with 8-bar vamp sections between each 24-bar form. There are variations in the turnaround in each 12-bar section. Bar 12 ends on an Eb chord; bar 24 ends on an Ab chord. The piece is in C, and includes F snd G chords as well. If the piece wasn’t played as a dead-serious blues-rock raveup, the changes would make it sound like Steely Dan.

    I wrote the rhythm harp vamp part–the second half of this clip–while I was sitting in traffic or something, and recorded it on my iPhone so I wouldn’t forget it. The demo I sent the band didn’t have that part on it, so I gave them the part in the studio and made a few comments about the feel, we rehearsed it, and we ran it down for the recorder in real time together, the way we did every basic track for this record. (I love those guys.) This clip is the rough mix of that live performance, with the harp solo added via overdub.

    The rest of this post is mainly of interest to harmonica players, so if you’re not one of those you might want to just click on the link above and go hear the clip. If you like this music and want to make sure you get to hear the whole thing soon by helping us fund the project (and also get cool perks like a digital download of the music, a CD, a copy of the Digitech RP500 patch set I’m using for these songs, and more), check out Our Indiegogo campaign.

    21st Century Harmonica

    Playing rhythm on this piece demands all the chords you’d get from an F harp plus the ones you’d get from an Ab harp. Most amped harmonica players use bullet mics of one sort or another, which is fine for big, heavy single note tones (like you need for traditional Chicago blues), not so great if you want to use a lot of chords. I wanted the harmonica to play a strong rhythm role in this piece, so I used an Audix Fireball V to record these parts, and on the Digitech RP500 I used a Champ amp model coupled with a pitch shift of a minor 3rd up to make the missing chords and put some heavy crunch on them. The rig is 21st century harmonica gear. (And all Huntersounds RP500 patch set licensees who signed up on or after September 2015 will get the set for free when this record is released.) The pitch shifting approach is 21st century too; I don’t have to use multiple harmonicas to get a wider range of chords, I just have to shift the pitch, which I can do in real time under foot control. The Low F harmonica also isn’t much older than the 21st century, and its use in this context is brand new.

    Digitech RP500: Can't do "Double Lucky" without it

    Digitech RP500: Can’t do “Double Lucky” without it

    How I Played It

    I used a Manji low F harp for all the rhythm parts. I played F and G on the turnarounds as octaves, which gave them a horn-like sound. I played the Eb as a full chord by shifting the C chord (draw 2-3-4) up a minor 3rd, and I did the same with the Ab by shifting the F chord (blow 1-2-3-4) up a minor 3rd. I used a Lee Oskar C Natural Minor (equivalent in register to a standard F harp) for the lead part, which I played with the same patch I used for the rhythm parts, with the pitch shifter disengaged. The Lee Oskar C natural Minor is pitched an octave higher than the Low F, so it contrasts very nicely with the rhythm harps.

    This stuff is red hot. Dig. And like I said: check out Our Indiegogo campaign.

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