I played this morning (Sunday, July 7) with singer-songwriter-guitarist Michael Batdorf at Pendl’s bakery in Driggs, ID. Not long after I showed up and plugged in–and I was indeed plugged in, through a Digitech RP355 running my v16 Huntersounds patch setBen Winship, a well-known producer (owner of the local studio the Henhouse, from which many acoustic records have made their way into the world) and string musician based in Victor, ID showed up and started playing mandolin. So Michael’s solo performance quickly became a duo, then a trio. That’s rural efficiency for you; never mind the plan, just see who shows up.

Before this gig, I sat in with Ben Winship once, when he backed a singer at the Trapp Bar at Grand Targhee. I’ve played with Michael both solo and with his band One Ton Pig, but this is the first time that I was able to bring the full range of my sounds to the gig with either of them. Michael’s acoustic guitar covered the low to high midrange frequencies well, and Ben’s mandolin covered the mid-to-high frequency range, so I spent plenty of time when I wasn’t soloing playing in the low to low-midrange zone.

I tried everything that I thought might work with the basic Americana style that is Batdorf’s at this performance. I played bass lines using my MA816D patch (Matchless amp model with octave down-double octave down pitch shift range) with the pitch shift amount set to maximum. I used various octave-down patches with amp models ranging from Tweed Deluxe to Twin Reverb to Bassman to give the harp a saxophone-like tone. I used Direct, Champ, and Twin Reverb amp models with rotary speaker for different kinds of organ tones. I used my ChampD (Champ amp model with Deluxe 1×12 cab) and ChampB (Champ amp model with Bassman 4×10 cab) patches for blues power when I wanted it. I used vibrato and TC chorus patches for a different kinda flava. Last but not least, I used a lot of reverb-only and reverb + delay patches, starting the performance with a Lexicon hall reverb patch (the one called “Hall” in the v16 huntersounds patch set). About the only thing I didn’t use is my favorite FX25 envelope filter patch, and I don’t really know why–I guess I felt somehow that it was just a little too uptown for this gig.

What I did on “The Thrill is Gone” is an example of changing up the RP’s sounds in performance to extend the harp’s role in the band. I started the piece playing a bass line using the MA816D patch with pitch shift set to -24 semitones (two octaves down). When it came time for my solo, first I used the foot pedal on the same patch to set the pitch shift to -12 semitones–one octave down–for a sax-like solo. Then I hit the Bypass switch and played a solo with a completely unaffected tone. Finally, solo done, I returned to the double-octave down patch to play bass lines again.

It was great to have so many options to work with, even in an ensemble with guitar and mandolin playing country-rock and bluegrass styles, where the obvious thing to do is play acoustic harp. In fact, in some ways having these non-traditional sounds at my disposal made it easier to fit in. The role of harmonica in those styles is so limited to start with that putting the harmonica in a totally different role with a totally different sound negates the history and immediately changes the musical conversation.

Besides the FX, I had the opportunity to use a wide range of harps on this gig. The first tune I played was a bluesy piece in E minor, and I used the CX12 chromatic with a hall reverb patch for a clear, cutting acoustic tone. When the leader called a tune in Db, the chromatic was again the obvious choice given that I didn’t have an F# harp, low or high. I was able to take advantage of the layout of the chrom in Db to play some nice chord voicings on the I and IV chords. It’s sad to say, but the other players seemed impressed that I could play in Db. Not that they had any problem with that key, but I guess they figured a harp player would. Alas. I was glad to get the kudos, but a little abashed to be complimented on something that they would simply have expected from any other instrumentalist as a matter of course.

I played “The Thrill is Gone” in second position on a Lee Oskar A natural minor harp. I played another tune on a G dorian harp (2nd position is G dorian). I played a tune in C on a C Melody Maker harp (which is the equivalent in register and key of a low F harp) and a standard F harp, opening and closing with the former and using the latter for the lead.

My full setup on this gig included my minimum solo performance pedalboard, which includes the Digitech JamMan Stereo looper, the Digitech RP355, and the FSX35 footswitch for the JamMan.

The pedal board for this gig was the one on the right
The pedal board for this gig was the one on the right
I packed the board into a soft keyboard case, to which I then added a Fireball V mic, a Peavey KB2 keyboard amp, a mic cable with rat tail inline lo-to-hi-z converter, a short instrument cable, a long instrument cable, two power supplies for the pedals, a power scrubbing and distribution box, and my large and small harp cases. I was able to pack all the gear in about 5 minutes, winding up with 4 pieces, all of which could be transported from car to stage in one trip without undue strain. (The hardest thing to carry was the amp, which weights 35 pounds, just about the limit of what I want to carry in one hand.) It took about the same amount of time–5 minutes–to set it all up on the gig. Easy and powerful. I am loving my setup these days. Sounds great, very reliable, easy to pack, transport, and set up, and did I mention that it sounds great?

This was a fun gig, and I’m looking forward to repeating it. Batdorf plays every Sunday at Pendl’s, and I’m sure to see him again there. Stay tuned.