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…

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. Take a listen to this live recording of me playing heavy blue harp on Brian Maw’s piece Lost in You too. The recording is rough, but the harp is clearly straight out of Chicago. 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.) 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?

17 Comments

  1. Awesolutely Absome!!! My kind of adventure! I’ve got a RP250 & I use it very little except for “Chimey” & I like it for voice AND guitar. I’ll try some harp stuphff through it real soon now! I really wish I could play and flow with you!

  2. Keep in mind that it takes time to set an RP up for harp–out of the box it’s designed for guitar, not harp. If you run into trouble, try dropping the gain on your patches, or just get my patch set, which makes setup for harp pretty much instant.

  3. Hi Rich,

    Im harp played for Jakarta River brass band in Indonesia. hard for me to cut the mix with just mic. now I have amp and rp255, but still have setup issues on stage.

    any way to order or get basic patch samples over here? thanks

    jeff

    fb at jakartariverblues

  4. Hi Richard,
    Been playing harp for a little over a year now acoustically and have become familiar with your patches/site and the RP unit from harp-L.
    I’m ready for amplification and am planning on bypassing amplifiers and going with the RP.
    If I want to play guitar and harp but not simultaneously is it possible to have guitar patches alongside yours and easy to switch back and forth?
    Is there a line in and out for each instrument?
    Thanks, Sandy

  5. Hi Sandy,

    There’s only one line in on any RP, and you can’t run separate line outs either. Regarding guitar patches, you can easily use the Xedit software supplied by Digitech to order your patches in any way you want in the user area–an RP255 has 60 user patch locations, an RP355 has 70. The patches I supply fill half the user area (and I duplicate them to fill the whole thing); you can overwrite the duplicates with anything you like, even copy patches from the factory patch set into them. Then you’d have your guitar and harp patches side by side.

    An easy way to solve the problem of needing two inputs is with an AB box, which lets you switch between two inputs with a single output, or an ABY box, which lets you use either or both of two inputs with a single output. Since you’re not planning to play the guitar and harp simultaneously, an AB box would probably be better for you, and it’s also less expensive.

  6. Hi Richard,
    The AB box sounds like the perfect solution.
    As soon as I decide between the RP355 or 500 I’ll be back to purchase your patches.
    Thanks, Sandy

  7. Cool. Be sure to read user reviews, and think about what you want to spend. AB boxes are available from Morley, Radial, and others, and the prices vary between manufacturers. A little more money generally buys you a unit with less self-noise and signal degradation, e.g. my Radial Tonebone ABY costs about $40 more than the Morley ABY I used to use, but the signals that come out of the Radial sound a lot more like the signals that went into it than they do with the Morley.

  8. Just lost a used RP500 on Ebay which sold for $156. Wasn’t paying attention this morning and was outbid at the last minute.
    Was wondering what you use ABY for, keyboard and harp? Sandy

  9. Hi Sandy, try guitarcenter.com. They often have used RPs at very good prices, and they offer a 15-day warranty, which is enough to make sure the thing lights up when the power comes on .

    I use the ABY to switch between mics. (You can use the thing either to put one input to two outputs, or two inputs to one output.) I run an Audix Fireball into one side, and a Shure 545 SD or Bottle o’ Blues into the other. I’ve used it in the past to switch between an RP and a Zoom G3.

  10. Hi Richard,
    Guitar center had some good prices but each unit was sold as soon as I contacted the store.
    Good news is I won a used RP355 on ebay this morning for $107.
    If it works (lights up), and hopefully comes with the manual, I’ll be ready for your patches.

    I’m starting to learn about what mics to use for what style of playing. I have an old SM58 which would be used for a clean sound. I assume you use the 545 or Bottle o’ Blues for a more distorted sound but is there much of a difference between them?

    Appreciate all your generous information and advice. Sandy

  11. Hi Sandy,

    The 355 is a good box, I’m sure you’ll find it to your liking. The 545 and Bo’B give you very different flavors of tough; check out this post:
    http://www.hunterharp.com/what-a-difference-a-mic-makes-part-1/
    and this:
    http://www.hunterharp.com/what-a-difference-a-mic-makes-part-ii/

    The SM58 might not give you as much clean as you want, especially if you cup it. If you’ve already got the 58, give it a try. You may find that it works well to use the 58 for the hard stuff and a Fireball for the clean stuff.

    Regards, RH

  12. Hi Richard,
    I just bought your patches for the 355 from Huntersounds. Nice surprise that the price is so reasonable and looking forward to using them.
    I don’t suppose they’re guaranteed to move an intermediate player to the next level?
    Best, Sandy

  13. Oh yes, my patches are miraculous; anyone who uses them is guaranteed to play like a genius within 20 years, provided they practice for 4 hours a day without fail and make a deal with the devil like Robert Johnson did…

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