A Blues Harp Player’s Guide to Tube Amplifiers

I’ve heard that Rod Piazza said that the harmonica should be the loudest instrument in the band. Well, it ain’t gonna happen. Guitar players have an edge over harp players. They can crank their axes up to 11 and not feed back. Old tube amps sound good cranked, but if you hook up a harp microphone to a tube amp it screams like a banshee when you set the volume over 3. Get used to it.

Now the question that I get asked over and over again is “What is the best harp amp?” Unfortunately the answer is always “It depends”.

If you play Chicago style blues and are looking for the tubey overdrive sound of a vintage Fender Tweed, the answer is one thing. If you are looking for a modern jazzy sound with clear horn like tones, then the answer is something else. Folk and Country each have distinct characteristic harp sounds and you’d play through a different amp for each of them.

I listen to Big and Little Walter, Kim Wilson, William Clarke and others. I like the big Chicago Blues sound that they get. I also like Sonny Boy, Phil Wiggins, Slim Harpo and other players with a more natural sound. I want a harp amp that will play overdriven and distorted when I need it to, but I often play in a more laid back style.

My point is that my amp needs are unique. You are invited to disagree with everything that I say here. Your amp experiences are likely to be different from mine. My only motivation here is to lay out some ideas that I have about amps and I hope this would act as starting point for you to develop your own opinions about amps.

I’ve divided the amp guide into sections for easier reading:

A Blues Harp Guide to Amplifiers - Principles
A Blues Harp Guide to Amplifiers - Does It Work?
A Blues Harp Guide to Amplifiers - Tube Configuration
A Blues Harp Guide to Amplifiers - Speakers
A Blues Harp Guide to Amplifiers - Transformers
A Blues Harp Guide to Amplifiers - Features
A Blues Harp Guide to Amplifiers - Cabinets
A Blues Harp Guide to Amplifiers - Brand Names
A Blues Harp Guide to Amplifiers - Amp Picks


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The JT30 Page Popular links

I began collecting data about the microphones used by blue harp players before there was an internet. I began organizing it into JT30.com in the late 1990s. I accumulated more stuff than I remember. This is some of it.

Street Theory

A Harp Player’s Guide to Music Theory

Learning Harp

Picking Up Blues Harp

A guide to learning to play Blues Harp

Microphone Information

Usenet Articles

Harp Amps

I've been collecting Harp Amps for a while. This is the old Harpamps.com website. There is lots of information here. Here a coupld of links.

Harp Tab

A collection of songs and riffs that I’ve worked out over the years, plus some libraries of stuff I’ve converted to tablature. I’ve included most of the notes and instructions that helped me when I was learning to play blues harmonica.

Basic Riffs Simple harp tabs for songs Blues riffs and phrases.

Harp-L Archives 1992 to 2002


Harp Frequently Asked Questions