The traditional harp player’s rig is a mic, a tube amp, and a reverb or delay pedal.  But there’s something new out there, and it has the potential to change…

The traditional harp player’s rig is a mic, a tube amp, and a reverb or delay pedal.  But there’s something new out there, and it has the potential to change the way harmonica players work and sound.

“New” is overstated, I guess.  Amp modeling technology–which is what this piece is about–is around 10 years old.  And that’s a good thing.  It’s chip-driven technology, and like any chip-driven tech, it evolves rapidly.  The devices made by Line 6, Digitech, Zoom, and Boss a few years ago are far less capable than the ones you can buy now.  And the price to performance ratio is pretty remarkable.


A traditional amped rig  has a simple arithmetic to it: you want to get louder, you buy a bigger amp.  Bigger means more powerful, and it also means heavier and more expensive.  For a full-blown pro rig designed to make the harp cut through a loud band, you’re talking about a 40 Watt (roughly) amp with a 4 x 10-inch or 2 x 12-inch (or similar) speaker setup that weighs about 50 pounds and costs between $1,500-2,000.  That’s a big investment and a lot of gear to haul around.  And it makes a particular sound, which is great when that’s the sound you want, not so great when you want more or different sounds.

All that said, I love tube amps.  I own a modified Crate VC508 5 watt amp that’s a total monster, and I own a Sonny Junior Super Sonny that’s an even bigger monster.  But the rig I use most on gigs and recording sessions now is a Digitech RP355 loaded with my own patches.

DigiTech RP355 Guitar Multi Effects Pedal

DigiTech RP355 Guitar Multi Effects Pedal

The RP355 cost me less than $200 new.  I’ve programmed hundreds of  sounds into it.  (You can save yourself the hundreds of hours that it took me to make those sounds by licensing my patch set, which gives you access to all the sounds I develop for the RPs.)  It’s the size and weight of a hardcover book, and it’ll get as loud as the PA system I plug it into.  I did buy a 65-watt keyboard amp to go with it for about $300 for those occasions when I want my own on-stage monitor.  And that’s about it.  Dozens of great sounds for a little more than $500 total. (Less if you buy a smaller keyboard amp, like the Peavey KB-2 I’m using lately.)

This kind of setup gives you a different kind of arithmetic from the traditional setup.  It’s less expensive, the power is in the PA, not the amp, and the range of sounds is much, much bigger.  Does it sound exactly like your favorite tube amp?   No.   But it’ll make good tube amp sounds, and a lot more.

If you’ve got a great tube amp, don’t sell it.  Never sell a piece of gear that makes a sound that inspires you.  But if you’re thinking of changing amps, consider an amp modeler instead.  It’s a lot of bang for the buck.

7 Comments

  1. Based on your reviews I’m using the Digitech RP70 and am having a blast creating patches. Couple of comments:
    Since the RP70 internal EQ is somewhat limited I use my footpedal graphic equalizer to shape the tone coming from my Fireball V.

    While running thru the PA I can still use the RP heaphone jack to power my in-ear monitors – just needs a headphone line cord volume control (Radio Shack) to adjust the volume
    Going to get the KB-2 amp this weekend for our low volume gigs
    Virtual beer to you. I’ll buy you a real one if I ever get to see you live
    Thanks again

  2. Cool! Glad you’re digging the device. Yeah, the EQ is way limited on the RP70, and you also have far fewer amp models, cab models, FX models, etc. But what’s there is good stuff. Good idea to use your graphic EQ to do the final shaping.

    You’ll like the KB-2. You may even find that it’s perfectly usable as an onstage monitor for the higher volume gigs; put it onstage near you and use the line out to take the signal to the PA.

  3. Went to buy the KB-2 but ended up w/ a Behringer powered PA speaker (12″ woofer, 345 watt RMS) for ~ the same price (on sale). It works by itself as an amp w/ the RP 70 or as a single speaker PA w/ my Mackie mini mixer for low volume gigs. Louder gigs require in-ear monitors to hear what I’m playing and avoid hearing loss (25dB noise attenuation).
    Thanks again for paving the way for harp and amp emulators

  4. Since I already had the little Mackie mixer I didn’t need the integrated mixer. The Behringer powered speaker does have 2-band EQ and angled edges for use as a monitor (I prefer the in-ears). Behringer isn’t highly praised by musicians but I took a chance based on your review of their little keyboard amp you use

  5. Hey guys I have not tried the digitech but I di use a cheap zoom model that works great. I play with a very loud band and found zoom offers some great gates to block out unwanted signal. I also have a box Modeler that Does not have these features but sounds great other wise but my vote is for zoom because of the gates and the noise reduction features.

  6. The Zoom does some nice stuff, but I still vote for the Digitechs because of 1) the quality of the reverbs and 2) the basic quality of the amp models. But use what you like!

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