There are a LOT of great effects boxes out there, and prices are lower than ever, especially when you look at what you get for your money. But not all…

There are a LOT of great effects boxes out there, and prices are lower than ever, especially when you look at what you get for your money. But not all effects boxes work well on harmonica. This page is all about the stuff we’ve tried and liked (or disliked, as the case may be), and why. If you’re thinking about buying a new Screaming Whatsis box for your harp setup, take a look here first.

Some Good Advice to Get You Started

  1. Check Harmony-central.
    Whenever you’re thinking about a new gadget, go to Harmony-Central and see what the people who’ve already bought the gadget think of it. The ads always look good; sometimes the truth isn’t so pretty. This is especially so when you’re dealing with low-cost stuff that purports to function just as well and sound just as good as the high-priced stuff. Sometimes you get a great buy; sometimes it’s just cheap stuff (spelled C-R-A-P). Harmony-central will get you sorted.
  2. Think about what you’re going to use the gear for BEFORE you buy.
    Some gear that works great on stage doesn’t work so well in the studio, and vice versa. Stage gear tends to be tough and relatively simple, and the sound is often a bit noisy compared to studio gear. Studio gear tends to have better specs and more features, but it may not be designed to be kicked around a stage, or may not be easy to operate in the dark with one hand (or foot, as the case may be).
  3. Think about how YOU like to work.
    Are you a gear-head? Do you read owner’s manuals for fun? If not, be careful about buying complex stuff that’s designed to do a whole lot of different things. You may be better off with single-purpose gear that’s easier to operate.
  4. Budget for extras.
    Gear may require accessories: batteries, power supplies, memory cards, MIDI cables, audio cables, whatever. Don’t forget that stuff when you’re budgeting for the gear.
  5. Look for used gear.
    Always check for used gear before you buy new. I favor buying used gear from dealers, because I know where to find them if something goes wrong. Remember that some pieces of gear, like Lexicon reverbs, are really good stuff, and people tend to hang on to them, so you may not find one used unless it’s really been used.

The Stuff We Own and Use

Reverbs, Delays, Flangers, Chorus

I’m grouping all the time-based effects together. Here’re the ones I’ve used:

Lexicon MPX-100 (discontinued, $100-$150 used), MPX-110 ($200 new)
Alessis Nanoverb ($100 new)
Yamaha R100 (discontinued, $40-$75 used)
Alessis Midiverb ($200 new, older models from $50-$125)
Digitech RP100/200/300 (discontinued, $40-100 used)
Digitech RP150/250/350/155/255/355 ($100-$200 new, older models from $50-$125)

We LOVE Lexicon reverbs. The low-end models like the MPX-110 sell for $200 new, and they kill anything else in the price range in terms of both variety and quality of sounds: reverbs, delays, flange, chorus, even pitch shifting. Used Lexicon reverbs like the MPX-100 can be found for about $100. They work well both onstage and in the studio.

Moving down the line, the Alessis Nanoverb is inexpensive, simple to operate (just turn a few knobs), and good-sounding for live performance, less so for studio work (but you do see them in a lot of project studios, and even some pro studios). The reverbs on this box are its strong suit; the flanger sounds awful, the chorus is usable, and the delays are okay, especially for “slapback” sounds.

The Yamaha R100 isn’t top-notch by recent standards — its frequency response tops out at about 14 kHz — but it’s a very good-sounding unit for stage work, with lots of variations in reverbs and delays (including a few nice slapback delays that sound great on Chicago-style harp, and spacious stuff that works well on acoustic harp), and (like the Alessis Nanoverb) is very small and lightweight. Controls aren’t as easy to operate onstage as the Nanoverb’s (you have to scroll through a 2-digit display to get to the patch you want).

The Alessis MidiVerb (and its MIDI-less cousin the Microverb) show up in lots of stage rigs and studios. They’re more complex and bulky than a Nanoverb, and they don’t have the amazing depth of the Lexicons, but they sound good, and they’ve been used on a lot of hit records. Worth the money if you get a good deal. NOT worth the money if the choice is a Lexicon for the same price. There have been multiple versions of the Midi- and Micro-verbs (current version is 4, as in “Midiverb 4”)); older units sound good, and sell used for good prices.

The Digitech RP100/200/300 do reverbs, though not very well. None of the reverbs sounds much like what it’s supposed to sound like (Plate reverb? Gimme a break), and none of them sound very good in general. However, some of the reverbs sound okay for live work, especially coupled with the amp models and other effects in the box. And the delays in these units sound very good with harp–fat and wide.

The Digitech RP150/250/350/155/255/355 do reverbs very well, good enough to be the go-to reverb for live performance. There are several types of reverb, and they all sound good and distinct from each other. These devices also include a range of excellent delays, and the delays can be used simultaneously with the reverbs.

Delays

Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man ($200 new)
Akai Headrush($170)
Digitech RP200
Digitech RP150/250/350/155/255/355
Lexicon MPX-100 (discontinued, $100-$150 used), MPX-110 ($200 new)

There are lots of delays that sound good with harp, including the purpose-built Lone Wolf delays. It’s relatively easy to build a delay circuit, so this is one area where new, decent-sounding devices come to market frequently. I happen to think that the Digitech RP150/250/350/155/255/355 are the best value for money for both reverbs and delays. An RP155 runs about $100, and for that you’ll get very good reverbs and delays in one package.

Flanging, Phasing, Chorus

Boss BF2 ($80)
Akai P1 Intelliphase (discontinued, $50-60 used)
Lexicon MPX-100 (discontinued, $100-$150 used), MPX-110 ($200 new)
Digitech RP200
Digitech RP150/250/350/155/255/355

There are plenty of good-sounding modulation devices on the market now, both analog and digital. These are some of my favorites. The device I use the most right now for flanging and chorusing is the Digitech RP355, which has several different types of each, all pretty interesting. The Akai Intellphase is a very nice phase shifter that sounds good with harp, and can be set to trigger either on hard or soft notes, which is great for bringing it in and out quickly.

Pitch Shifters

Boss OC2 ($120)
Electro Harmonics POG and HOG ($300-400)
Lexicon MPX-100 (discontinued, $100-$150 used), MPX-110 ($200 new)
Digitech RP200
Digitech RP150/250/350/155/255/355

Pitch shifters sound great with harmonica, period, especially octave doublers. The Boss OC2 does doubling one and two octaves down; it can only track single notes, and it doesn’t track the top octave of most harmonicas very well. The EH POG and HOG are the cream, producing huge sounds for bands like Hazmat Modine. All the Digitech RP series devices do excellent pitch shifting with harmonica, tracking single notes and chords all the way up and down the instrument, and offering a choice between pitch shifting and “whammy”, an effect that shifts entire chords up and down.

Amp Modeling

Boss FBM-1 ($149)
Boss DRV-1 ($149)
Digitech RP200
Digitech RP150/250/350/155/255/355

Amp modelers aren’t just distortion devices–they simulate the signal processing of an analog amplifier and cabinet in software. The Boss FBM-1 and DRV-1 are single-purpose emulations of the Fender Bassman and Fender Deluxe Reverb amps, respectively, and they do a good job of emulating those amps. If you like simple stuff that sounds good, these devices might be for you. I use the Digitech RP devices, including the now-discontinued RP200, 250, and 350, and the current RP255 and RP355. I like them all, the RP 200 and 355 most of all. They do a lot of different things and include dozens of amp emulations. If you get one, consider buying my patch set for your device–it’ll give you a great set of sounds for harp, right out of the box, and save you dozens or hundreds of hours of time programming the device to sound good with harp.

2 Comments

  1. What setting are used on the EH HOG to get a sax soound like Wade in Hazmat Modine gets? I bought a HOG and also own a POG. I tend to like the POG better for organ sounds, but wish I could get the HOG to simulate that sax sound better. Thanks for any help or enlightenment. Best regards.

  2. Have you asked Wade what he uses? It might be as simple as a single low octave double. But the HOG gives you a lot of other options, including 5ths, octaves up and down, etc. Again, I’d ask Wade, and if that fails, I’d start moving the sliders until you get something you like. regards, RH

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