"The Lucky One," we had to turn off the air conditioning in the studio every time we did a take, and that room got pretty toasty after a while. On some of the tunes, especially the ones where I was blowing hard for three minutes straight, my hands got sweaty and the harps got slippery. I had to put a lot of energy into just holding on. That's not tops. I decided to make my harps grippier. After soliciting advice on that subject on the Harp-L list, I came to the conclusion that 1) no one is commercially offering cover plates with grippy surfaces, and therefore 2) I had to make them myself. Some of the solutions offered on Harp-L were, to say the least, impractical. (Coat the cover plates with glue and apply sand? Please. I put that thing in my mouth.) Ultimately I decided that the easiest thing to do was to cut some kind of grippy tape to size and apply it to the cover plates at the outer flange. I found egrips .75 inch wide tape on Amazon.com and ordered a roll. At $40 per roll, it's not cheap, but one roll is enough to do over 100 diatonic harp cover plates, top and bottom, so if you've got plenty of harps it's cheap enough. So far I've treated 28 harps with the stuff, so the price per harp is currently a little over $1. To fit a harp with the tape, I cut off a 2" long strip from the roll, then cut that in half lengthwise to make two strips 2" long by 3/8" wide. That's just about the same as a finger's width, so I can apply it to the plate without worrying about my mouth coming in contact with the tape. Here's a picture of a Seydel Session Steel with the tape in place. This harp also has its key spelled out with a 1/2" tall stick-on label, which I applied so I can see the key of the instrument on a dark stage. When you're holding a harp, the tape is invisible to the audience, and when you're not it looks pretty good, as opposed to looking like an obvious hack. That was important to me. I don't want other musicians catching a glimpse of the inside of my harp case and thinking "What sort of musician has a box full of that kind of jury-rigged crap?" (My cases, including the cloth 14-piece Seydel case in which I currently carry 19 harps, the aluminum purpose-built one fromcustomharpcases.com., and the 8-piece compact folding case from Suzuki, all look nice, but still.) Once I got the hang of it, it only took a minute or so per harp to cut the tape and fit it. I did all 28 harps in well under an hour. So my harps are now non-slip, and I can play in a hot room without worrying about the instrument popping out of my hands in a spray of sweat. A small thing, perhaps, but better is better. From my point of view, I'd rather be able to buy something like this off-the-shelf (ideally, as part of a new harp, rather than an aftermarket add-on) than spend my own time putting it together. But this is a pretty simple, quick mod that's easy to get right on the first try, so I'll live with it until harmonica manufacturers realize that it's better to sell instruments that people can hold on to even when they're sweating.
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"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.
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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. 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.
"The Lucky One." A number of those sounds are specifically designed to work together in a loop, i.e. they've been engineered to fill in the audio spectrum without clashing. Other sounds were just set up to be as striking as possible--the kind of sounds that make people turn their heads to see what the hell is making that racket on stage. These sounds will be made available at no charge once the record is released to any Huntersounds RP500 licensee who purchased the patchset license on or after September 2015, which is the vast majority of licensees. Any licensees who purchased prior to that date can get the "Lucky One" patchset for $15. If you're considering buying the RP500 patchset now, please note that anyone who buys a license for my RP500 patchset between now and the date the record is released will get a copy of the "Lucky One" set too. If you'd like to get a download of the record with those sounds, I'm offering an mp3 download along with the patchset as one of the perks for contributors to the Indiegogo project for this record; check it out here. As always, thanks to all Huntersounds licensees for contributing to the development of these sounds, which (if I may say so) are a treasure trove for harmonica players on stage and in studio. I'll talk to my producer about putting a few clips from the "Lucky One" sessions up on my site by way of illustration.
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Digitech RP500 running my patch set) adding plenty of juice. If I were to record this for "The Lucky One," I'd add another couple of harmonica parts, and Mike "SloMo" Brenner would put in some lap steel magic. So you can imagine all those things when you listen to this, or just enjoy the big sound of the auto-wahed harp. Dig. "Waka Blues' by Richard Hunter. Copyright 2016 R. Hunter/Turtle Hill productions, all rights reserved.
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Bobby Flores. (Congratulations Bobby on winning the 2015 Ameripolitan Male Western Swing Award! That's the style Bobby was playing when I met and jammed with his band years ago in Austin, and it sure was fun.) Bobby contacted me late last week and sent a couple of mp3s. The music was very interesting: country with more than a touch of rock and roll, and some unusual chord changes for this genre. (When you're going from F major changes on the verses to C major changes on the chorus to a solo in Bb major in the same song, it's a little unusual for country.) Bobby told me he was going to send the changes, but he never got around to it. Oh well; that's why we make the big bucks... As per usual for this time of year, I'm out in Tetonia, Idaho, far from my home studio in Monroe CT. Not to worry. The laptop Jim Rosenberry built for me is portable and powerful, and it goes where I go. Add a Digitech RP--in this case my RP500, loaded with my patchset for Digitech RP--for an audio interface, plus an Audix Fireball V, and I have everything I need to make great harmonica tracks. The Fireball V is crucial, because it's the only mic I know of that can produce beautiful acoustic harmonica tracks when it's hand-held, which is REALLY important when you're recording in totally crappy rooms like the one I use for recording in Idaho. (The place is essentially a long rectangle with no sound treatment, and it sounds like a cave. There is no way I'm going to let that room sound into a recording.) FX? We Don't Need No Stinkin' FX All those chord changes notwithstanding, country music demands pretty simple harmonica sounds. To put it another way, the first thing I think of in terms of harp sounds for the genre is never a patch with an octave down pitch shift followed by an envelope filter or a flanger. The first thing I did with the RP500 was dial up one of my Direct amp model patches. The Direct amp model basically takes whatever's at the RP's input, adds or subtracts gain to the signal, and sends it to the output. When coupled with the Audix Fireball V, the resulting sound is clean, clear, and full--a great harp sound to send to any producer. (Hey, if they decide they hate clean and they want to f--- it up, they've got all the FX they need on their own computers.) I have no doubt that Bobby is going to add whatever ambience he wants to my sound, so before I recorded I used the RP500's dedicated footswitches to turn off the reverb and delay, so the only effect running on the RP was the amp modeling. I set up a new project in Cakewalk Sonar, my DAW, and loaded in the mp3s Bobby sent to me. Then I set up three harp tracks for each of the songs (we'll call them "Texas" and "Tennessee," which happen to be the first words in their respective titles) and started recording. I did three takes on "Texas", two with an acoustic sound and one with a patch based on a GA40 amp model for a little more grit. The GA40 patch had a LOT of gain dialed in, so I dropped the gain level on the patch down to a much more moderate 34 (as opposed to the original setting of close to 60, which is some pretty crunchy gain) to smooth it out a little. (I did mention that this is country music, right?) Of course, I took off all the FX except amp modeling before I recorded with this patch. For all the takes on "Texas" I used a Manji in C played in second position. I like Manjis for country music; they play fast and sweet, and they're just the thing for those quick Country lines. The first harp I tried was a Seydel Session Steel in C, but I just couldn't get the chords to sound sweet enough, so bye bye Session Steel, hello Manji. Let the Producer Choose My favorite of those tracks was the second acoustic take, which featured a rippin' solo, but I sent Bobby separate rough mixes with the acoustic and amped-up takes, and one with both, because I liked the way the rhythm licks sounded when both tracks played together. I used the same Direct model setup to record two acoustic tracks for "Tennessee," of which I sent Bobby the second. "Tennessee" is the song with all those chord changes, and I ended up using a Manji in F, played in first and second positions, for the verse and chorus, and a Manji in Bb, played in first position, for the solo section. It took more time to record two takes for "Tennessee" than to record three for "Texas," because all those chord changes on "Tennessee" demanded a lot of extra attention. But that's part of the fun, innit? Taking a beast of a song and making it behave? Get Paid and Wrap it Up Bobby checked out the rough mixes and liked them. He paid me via Paypal, and I sent a RAR (compressed) archive file containing all the harp tracks, soloed, in the form of 24-bit 44.1 kHz WAV files--a nice high-resolution format that happens to be the RP500's highest-quality recording mode. So there you go: another session conducted over the Internet, with the participants separated by a thousand miles or so, collaborating on their own schedules. Of course it would be absolutely tops to be in the room with the producer when the tracks are cut, so we can get double the brain and emotional power working on the song in real time. But I'm still knocked out by the fact that I can collaborate with musicians all over the world, no matter where they, or I, happen to be. How cool is that? And if you take all that for granted, lemme tell you, you weren't recording in the 1980s, when a basic recording setup with overdubbing capability cost thousands of dollars, and sending a track to a producer the second you finished it was a wishful and seemingly impossible fantasy. (It takes time to box a tape and take it to the post office, and more time for that tape to make its way halfway across the country.) How delightful to live in an era when those fantasies come true.
Digitech released the RP360 and RP360XP, two great-sounding devices. Unfortunately, in that time Digitech hasn't seen fit to address the terrifically daunting software issues they've laid on unsuspecting RP360 owners. Those issues begin with a firmware update that consistently fails, leaving RP360 owners with a device that won't work and forcing them to repeat the update procedure, over and over, until it decides to take. The Nexus application, which is the ONLY software support for backing up and reloading an RP360, apparently won't run under Windows 10 (at least if our customers are to believed), and even when it works it doesn't work as well as the Xedit application that supports every other RP from the 150 to the 1000. In short, Digitech has more or less completely dropped the ball on software support for the RP360/360XP. At Huntersounds, we are sick of seeing messsages from our RP360 patchset customers telling us how much time and effort they have to put into getting these basics to work. I mean, for God's sake, Digitech can't make a f---ing firmware update work? That's Comp Sci 101. Who the hell writes the code at Digitech, and why don't they know how to make their own gear work? At this point, we can no longer recommend to RP buyers that they go with the RP360 or 360XP. Fortunately, there's an excellent alternative available. RP500s are still widely available new and used, and they now sell at the same price point as the RP360XP ($200 new, around $150 used in good to great condition). The RP500 is larger and heavier than the 360XP, but it sounds almost exactly the same, and the Xedit application that supports it is a perfectly viable piece of software that does its job without messing with your head. (In some ways the increased size and weight of the 500 are advantages, because they're the result of a greatly expanded set of real-time performance features.) In short, until Digitech fixes the software issues that should never have been present in the first place, and which they have failed to address for 2 years, we strongly recommend that anyone considering an RP360 or 360XP pick up an RP500 instead. Better is better, and at this point in time, taking all factors into account, the RP500 is simply better value for money. And if you're planning to pick up one of our patchsets to go with your RP, rest assured that the patches we've created for the RP500 are the best we've done for ANY Digitech device, mainly because they take advantage of every single one of the footswitches in the 500's expanded footswitch array. We're not happy about this announcement, but our first loyalty is to the people who use our patchsets in their RPs, and those people deserve a hell of a lot better than the crap software Digitech has pushed on them for the last two years with the RP360. We put a lot of time and effort into our patchset for the RP360/360XP, and we look forward eagerly to the day we can announce that Digitech has fixed these issues. In the meantime, buyer beware the RP360/360XP.
the Harp-L list, the poster said that he'd found a recording setup that he liked: a Green Bullet mic on a stand, into which he played from over a foot (about half a meter) away. I'm glad the guy got a recorded sound that he likes, but I'm duty-bound to say that I would never record an acoustic (or for that matter, amped) harp this way if I had a choice. Let's start with the obvious: recording acoustic harp and amplified harp are two different things, and a Bullet mic is far better for the latter than the former. The Bullet's frequency range tops out at about 6 kHz, which is in the high midrange. On the plus side, you're cutting out the high frequencies where recorded harp can be pretty screechy; on the down side, you're cutting ALL of those frequencies out, so you're missing the high end gloss and sheen that a harmonica can produce. The reason harp players like bullet mics so much is that they sound good coming through a tube guitar amp, mainly because tube amps tend to top out in the same frequency range as a bullet mic, and bullet mics distort in a very pleasing way when hand-held. (Human ears love distortion, which in itself does a lot to explain the attraction of electric guitars.) I have never, repeat never, heard a great sound from a bullet taken direct to the board, and I've heard a lot of guys try, including John Sebastian Jr. on a live broadcast from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where the sound techs generally know what they're doing. It's true that this setup avoids a proximity effect--a big boost in the low frequencies--but that's not due to the mic. You have to be close enough to kiss the mic to get a proximity effect. If you record into an open mic from 18 inches away, you won't get a proximity effect no matter what mic is on the stand. Anyway, a proximity effect isn't much of a problem in recording harmonica. Proximity effects show up only in the low frequencies, and it's easy to EQ those out of a recorded harmonica track without damaging the rest of the signal. That's one reason why Toots Thielemans always asks for a Shure SM58 in the studio, which he hand-holds. Yes, he gets a lot of proximity effect that way, but the engineer can easily take the added bass out of the mix. Beyond that, with an open mic on a stand, you're inevitably letting a lot of the room sound into the mic. If your room is treated to be neutral-sounding, or it just happens to be a great-sounding room, that's cool. Most rooms outside of professional recording studios sound like hell, with standing waves producing frequency bumps and dips all over the place. That's certainly the way it works in my house. I've managed to improve the situation in my home studio with a portable enclosure that blocks out sound from the sides and back, but without that I'd never try recording into an open mic in my house again (unless I truly did not care about the quality of the sound, which for a practice session I might not--I've used all kinds of junky stuff to record practice sessions). That's my story and I'm stickin' to it. That said, in the end, the sounds you make have to inspire you before they inspire anyone else. If you want to record through a Green Bullet into the board, and you like what you hear, go for it. If you get to the point where your recorded sound isn't inspiring you anymore, try a hand-held Audix Fireball V (which also exhibits very little proximity effect, even hand-held), or a vocal mic or large diaphragm condenser mic on a stand with an enclosure around it to take the room out of the sound. Either of those solutions is relatively inexpensive, and will give you a wider range of tones to work with in your recordings.