RP Tip #20: When you open the door to new sounds, new roles for the harp come too (clips included!)
I played three gigs last week with The Maw Band in Idaho, and of course I used the RP355 on all of them. I recorded all the shows on audio and video, and I’ve already started putting some of those recordings up on this site, as you can see below. (Lots of stuff to go through…) Here’s one of the big messages I hear on the recordings: harmonica is a lot more exciting when you use the RP to change up the sound.
A lot of the players who buy my patch sets for Digitech RP are looking for something to replace their traditional harp amp–a tube amp that weighs somewhere between 25 and 50 pounds (give or take) and makes one great sound. The RP can do that, of course. I use mine for straight-up amped blues, and it sounds great. (Check out Steve Baker’s traditional harp sounds in this video. In case there was any remaining doubt, let it go: the RP does the job on amped blues.) But using the RP only for traditional amped blues harp sounds is a lost opportunity. You can change the sound of the harp dramatically with an RP, and when you do that, you can also change the role of the harp in the band.
I play a lot of harmonica with Brian Maw’s band. By that I mean that I play almost as much as a guitar player would, song by song. I couldn’t do that with a traditional harp sound. I’d bore myself and the audience pretty quick, because there just isn’t enough variation in the sound of a traditional harp rig to sustain anyone’s interest in that kind of continuous accompaniment. But with the RP, I can change my sound drastically from song to song, or within a song. And every time I change my sound, I change the role of the harp in the band.
One of the pieces I play with Maw is “I Shot The Sheriff”, and I use two sounds in that piece: an autowah sound that lets me do lots of funky things with chords, and a rotary speaker sound that lets me play organ parts. (I play this piece on a Lee Oskar Natural Minor in G, so there are lots of chords available to me.) I use the autowah on the verses and my solo, and the organ on the choruses and to back the guitar. With both sounds working for me, I can play more or less continuously throughout the song, and it never gets boring. Here’s an excerpt from the performance on Saturday Nov. 17 at the Bridge in Pocatello, Idaho that shows both sounds:
I Shot the Sheriff EXCERPT
Harmonica players don’t usually introduce a new and dramatically different color on every tune they play on a gig. To a large extent, that’s because traditional harp gear won’t let you do that–what you get from the amp and the mic is pretty much the same every time you turn the rig on. A multi-FX box like the RP changes all that. When you first get the RP, you might be tempted to use it merely to replace your traditional harp rig, so you can get a similar sound in a much more portable package. But these things can do SO much more.
Here’s another very cool sound I use with the Maw repertoire, in this case on a piece of Brian’s titled “Ride.” It was recorded live at the same gig at the Bridge, with the harp coming through a Fender Twin Reverb amp model with a low octave double and a wah-wah. This amp model has a loud, clear tone, and with the low octave double it makes a big, tough sound that has enough clarity to cut through a dense mix. The wah-wah and the octave double also make it sound very guitar-ish, because that’s the instrument (and the range) most people associate with a wah. (The piece is played in 3rd position on a standard-tuned diatonic; notice how much heavier the wah sounds in the bottom octave.)
This harp sound completely changes the role of the harp and the sound of the band, putting both on the heavier side of rock. Not bad for acoustic guitar and harmonica…
Brian Maw: Ride EXCERPT
Finally, here’s a full-length recording of Brian Maw’s “Buried In Me,” a very emotional song. The harmonica on this piece is a Hohner CX12 chromatic, played through a Digitech RP355 patch that uses a 4th-down pitch double with a Matchless amp model. This patch completely transforms the chromatic harp into something between a horn section and a synthesizer.
Brian Maw: Buried in Me (128 kbps)
I suggest that anyone who has my patch set make a point of dialing up some patch you’ve never used before on your very next gig. You may be surprised at how much it changes the way you think and play. If you don’t already have an RP and my patch set, and you want to make sounds like this, what are you waiting for?