One of the pleasures of SPAH is checking out the gear.  I bought 3 new harps at SPAH: a Seydel 1847 ($80), a Suzuki Harpmaster ($16), and a Seydel Blues Soloist Pro ($35).  A few impressions of each follow.

The 1847 is expensive, but it plays like a dream.  If its durability is proportional to its cost, which I obviously won’t know for a while, then it’s an absolute killer.  The one I bought is in the key of G, and G harps are often mushy and slow to respond.  Not this one–it punches as hard and fast as any harp in my collection.  Highly recommended.

The Suzuki Harpmaster is at the opposite end of the price scale, and is just as remarkable in its own way.  The only thing that gives away its price is that it doesn’t overblow as well as a Special 20.  But the A harp I bought is otherwise comparable in every way to instruments selling in the $25 range.  It’s got a big sound and plays very responsively.  This harp is one of the best values for money out there. 

I paid $33 for a Seydel Blues Soloist Pro in Db, and it’s a good harp.  Out of the box, its tone didn’t excite me as much as either the 1847 or the Harpmaster.  When I took it apart, I found that the reeds were gapped VERY tightly, which explains a lot.  The tone improved after I embossed the reed slots and did a first pass at gapping, and so did the ease of overblowing.  I’ll do another pass at gapping later, after which I expect the harp to play very well.  But I think that I’ll probably save the money next time for another 1847 instead.

While we’re on the subject of gear, I also had the opportunity to try a mic made by Dennis Oellig (Mr. Microphone to you) through a Meteor amp.  Both the mic and the amp are relatively high-end boutique gear–the mic I tried, a green bullet body with a souped-up dynamic element, costs about $300, and the amp sells for well over $1000–and man they sounded like it.  Talk about loud and proud–I had that amp set nowhere near its limit, and the sound coming from that rig was just enormous.  (I was told that Charlie Musselwhite bought the amp.)  Earlier that day, I played Randy Singer’s mic, a Turner modified by Mr. Microphone to include the same element, through my Digitech RP200 into a keyboard amp, and the sound was thoroughly blue and very gratifying.   I like my Audix Fireball fine, but I’m saving my pennies up for one of those mics.  With that mic and my Ron Holmes-tweaked Crate VC508, I will have the small blues rig of the century.

It was great to see a wide range of instruments and prices at SPAH. Somebody out there is buying a lot of harmonicas, the manufacturers know it, and it looks to me like we’re about to see the most intense competition ever for the dollars of harmonica players worldwide.  There are now 4-5 boutique amp makers with high quality product made just for harp players, all doing very well, and Peavey, a major player, has released a new mic made just for harp players, following in the tracks of Audix.  Could it be that the golden age of harp gear is almost upon us?  I’ll know it’s here when I see an amp modeler device with presets designed just for harp players.