Seydel 1847 harmonicas are a little bit tricker
to work on because of the stainless steel reeds. I was recently
turned on to Greg Jones at 16:23
Custom Harmonicas who is one of the few people
who does work on these instruments. I had Greg do a basic
setup on my A and C to start. He did a great job so I had Seydel
send him a set of reeds in D, Eb and G. I asked for particular
attention to the blow bends on holes 8, 9, and 10, that 1st position
Jimmy Reed thing. I also mentioned that the 7 draw has a
tendency to choke. Greg enlightened me that the 7 blow actually
affects the 7 draw, something I didn't know. I can recommend
him without hesitation. He even sends a video demonstrating what
he's done. I'll be sending him the rest of my harps as
time allows. I discovered that rather like a quality guitar set up
there is a definate improvement in playability and surprisingly also
in tone. Greg takes a really good instrument and lifts it up another
My primary gigging mic is a Burl
Maple bodied custom from Greg
As you can see it is insanely
beautiful. It contains an
original Shure 1951 black label Controlled Reluctance
element. This element was the best out of the two black
label CRs that I sent Greg to test and determine which was the
better. Needless to say it sounds fantastic. It is also
extremely comfortable to hold and play. The original Shure 520
that the element was harvested from weighed 13oz. This weighs
all of 4.7 ounces and has a smaller diameter. Greg
is fantastic to deal with, keeping you in the loop at every
stage with photos of the wood choices available, photos of every
stage of the build, and he is more than happy to offer advise.
He's also quite happy to offer an opinion when asked which is
great, though he will just as happily do whatever the customer
wished even if it goes against his advise. I went with
what he advised and am more than happy with having followed his
direction. If you're looking for something completely
unique from a true craftsman be sure to investigate Greg's
products. I also use his inline volume control and even his
cables. His engineering is superb.
I also have
two Shure 520s, one is a black label CR which as far as I can determine the mic was
manufactured somewhere around late 1949. It
came in its original box and packing! I'm pretty sure it
was used very little if at all. That has certainly
changed. We dubbed this the ugly mic. I had Greg install a
screw on connector and remove the resistor from the original
element. The other 520 has a white label CM from the early 60s
which Greg installed after swapping out the CR which now resides
in the wood bodied custom. This mic also came in it's original
box including the registration card. It is in 9.9 out of 10
condition. Again Greg installed a screw on connector.
In the past
for amplified harp I've used Shure 545, the JT30 Astatic, the Shure X777, the Shure
520D (the first made in Mexico reissue of the 520) and a Shure
520 with the Controlled Magnetic element. Some players
prefer the JT30 to the Shure 520 but again it's a matter of
personal taste. The Astatic type mics cut like a chain saw
and are very aggressive but personally I miss the lack of warmth.
A good hot 520 can be as aggressive as you like but there's some
bottom to go with it. Although I prefer the CR elements
the CM elements are also great. By the
way, the Mexico 520DX pretty much sucks in my view. They are
nothing like the originals and yet are nearly as expensive.
style playing I use a Shure Beta 87A. This is a condenser mic of
studio quality but rugged enough for live work. I have the sound guy back off the treble and
mid to about 10:30. Be careful at sound check to be sure
there is no feedback as you close in on the mic. Remember
that acoustic playing does not require an airtight hold on the
mic as with amplified playing. It's a very different
Sonny Jr Avenger:
I recently took delivery of
my Sonny Jr. Avenger which replaced my super fine Super
Cruncher. I once stated on this page that I could not
imagine a better harp amp than Super Cruncher unless it was the
Avenger. That was rather prophetic. Although if I
could have afforded it I would have loved to have kept both amps,
that was not to be. The Avenger gives me everything the
Super Cruncher had and more. What particularly suprised me is
the Avengers resistance to feedback. You've actually got to try
hard to get it to shriek at you. Although a larger and more
powerful amp, it does not loose tone at lower volumes. The bass
response is tremendous, the speaker configuration I think may
have a lot to do with that, particularly the 8" Ferromax.
In fact the speaker choice in general is a sight to behold.
I could go on for days but I'll stop gushing before I bore you.
Onofrio, a.k.a. Sonny Jr., is a tremendous harp player in his
own right with a true obsession with harp tone. He cares
passionately about his product and brings the same passion to
customer service. There are those who imitate and there are
those who innovate. This man is an innovator by any definition.
I could go on and on.
Unfortunately due to health issues Gary has ceased production of
his fabulous amps. You do see early models for sale on occasion
but rarely the later models. If you come across a Super Crumcher
or Avenger for sale it will be at a premium price but
you've got the cash, just buy it. You will never regret the
deciaion and it will last you a lifetime.
PHOTOS OF THE AVENGER COMING SOON.
I admit to a certain amount of chopping
and changing amps but I never intended to sell my 2 Kalamazoos
but of course life is what happens why you are making other
plans, as John Lennon said. When this HarpGear HG1 came up
at a price I couldn't pass on, and still needing a small gigging
amp, I pulled the trigger. The custom made canvas cover came
The HG1 is the predecessor of the well known HG2. The only
difference being the HG2 has a tone control where the HG1 does
not. In practive I quite like it that way. The volume knob
acts as the on/off switch so you literally plug and play.
It's based on the '50s tweed Champ, which also didn't have a
tone control. It's point to point hand wired and set up
specifically for harmonica. It came with a NOS Baldwin 12AY7 and
Sovtec 5Y3 recetifier which I changed for a NOS RVA. I
also swapped out the Electo-Harmonics 6V6 for a blackplate RCA.
I'm a big fan of NOS tubes. It has a Weber Signature 8" alnico
The amp is amazingly loud for it's size. Matthew Robinson
& The Jelly Kings have a weekly residency at Opal Divine's in
Austin, a restaurant with a deck and outdoor stage. Being
a restaurant gig we keep the volume down and this amp has been
perfect. I brought along once to another gig that was
supposed to be low key but turned out to be a blaster. I
was overwhelmed at the start but the on the ball PA lady got it
miced up straight away and it was great for the rest of the
1965 National Westwood 6422 TR by
This is my first experience of
Valco. I am now a converted Valco deciple. Valco produced the
National, which was their top of the line with the Valco label
being the mid-range. They also produced amps under the, Supro,
Montgomery Ward Airline, Oaho and other labels as well as for
Gretch. Being top of the line the Nationals received
sturdier construction and really spiffy cosmetics.
This particular model is quite unique. It uses a 5y3 rectifier,
four 12ax7, and one 6V6 for power producing somewhere in the 8
watt range and unusual for an amp of this size also has tremelo
and reverb. The reverb spring is actually housed in a cardboard
box would you believe. The really neat feature is the use of
twin 8" Jensen alnico speakers. Forget your puny 8" or even a
10". These add up to a big 16"!
The sound is somewhat similar to a Kalamazoo in terms of grit
but there is another level again in the quality of the tone. And
those twin 8s certainly push out more air. This one came with
all RCA tubes except for one Amprex in the V1 position.
The other very useful thing about this National Westwood is that
it is an outstanding guitar amp. The tremelo is really
wonderful, as good as a Fender Vibroverb but the reverb kind of
sucks. However I put a Strymon Flint in front which has the quality of sound that a only
handbuilt in the USA can bring. I'm still dialing in things to
see if I can get it just a bit louder for gigging but even if
that doesn't work out the tone is to die for. It's a great
recording amp and a very inspirational practice amp as well.
This example is in immaculate condition right down to crisp
lettering on the tubes and not a speck of rust or even dust
anywhere. The guy I bought it from, Jeff Smith, has a vast
collection of amps and has had literally dozens of Valco amps.
He called this one the best example of a National Westwood he
had ever seen.
1965 Fender Deluxe (non-reverb):
The non-reverb version of the Deluxe was only made from
1963-1966. The Deluxe is rated at 35 watts using 2 6v6
power tubes. Mine currently has a matched pair of RCA 6l6GTY,
which is the military/industrial version. Basically able to
withstand tank warfare. It originally used a 12" Oxford
but they tended to get replaced, which is the case with mine. It
came with an Eminence Red White and Blues, a ceramic magnet
speaker based losely on the Jensen C12N. I replaced the Eminence
with a reconed 1996 Jensen C12N. The amp sounds
fantastic. Clean, crunch, projection, for guitar the best amp
I've ever played through. The really cool thing is that
whereas a Blackface Deluxe Reverb will set you back betwenn
$2200 and $3500, the non-reverb Deluxe goes for
$1500-$2000. One of these days as the supply of DRs dries up
people are going to cotton on to the Deluxe and we'll see prices
rise considerably. It's a really great true vintage amp.
An update here. In exploring the Deluxe I quickly learned
that the Normal channel has a far superior sound to the Bright
channel where the tremelo resides. It looses something by going
through that extra tube. This created a dilemma in that
the Normal channel is where the tone is but you loose the
effects. To work around this I decided to go with a couple
of pedals. I tired several options and found some really
great reverb and tremolo pedals but I ultimately arrived at the
The Flint is one quality piece of kit. It includes both
reverb and tremolo in one unit with some great switchable
options on both reverb and tremolo between 50s, 60s, and more
contemporary sounds. They're not cheap but they are an
incredible package, outstanding build quality and with that very
Artists for whom I've provided the dulcet tones of the harmonica
either on stage, on record, or both....well some of them anyway:
Sweet William, John Lee Hooker, Cal Newman, Mike Harries' Root
Henry, Cotton & Morganfield, Ted Oberg, Josie Kuhn, David
Booker, Ronnie Caewood, Erin Sax, Brad Cole, Jessie "Guitar"
Taylor, Matthew Robinson.
Rick Estrin, Kim Wilson, Jerry Portnoy Radio
This is a radio interview done via telephone link between my
three favorite contemporary harmonica players. Kim Wilson
is actually in his car driving with his wife between gigs. At
one point they miss a turn! These guys obviously know and
respect each other a lot. There are some great moments (Jerry
Portnoy on microphone technique - "Don't drop it.") and some
very useful information.