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Low-Z Suckers and Hi-Z Blowers

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Chris C
Jan 11, 2010 12:25 PM GMT

I have noticed talking to some of the better harp players here in Melbourne that there seems to be two camps when it comes to Amplified harp. Some like their setup just hot enough that they can lean on reeds and really wail. They are taking their acoustic approach to an amp setup in a way. Some of these people sound fantastic and there is nothing wrong with this approach IMO. Others like thier setup very hot and responsive to whatever they do. They almost treat it as a different instrument than acoustic.

I havealso noted that in the first camp they sometimes use good low-z mikesinto their amps without a transformer. They get good partly diven results without feedback. Like I said they prefer a less hot setup.

The others would be looking for that overdriven tube play and would only use a Low-z with a transformer.

Has anyone else noticed this or am I going completly bonkers?

I should note that there are variations on these themes like people who play very clean amp setups.

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Comments (15)

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Jan 11, 2010 7:15 PM GMT
walterharp Replied:

It seems to me that the really clean players, prefer to just play through the PA. If you have a good strong cup, you can get a good bit of grunge that way when needed.

In general a low impedance input into a guitar amp does not sound as good, but some sound ok. It is sometimes a way to tame a very hot, high gain amp.

I think maybe what you are referring to is comparing those who play right on the edge of feedback to those that are dialed back a bit.

Jan 12, 2010 5:00 AM GMT
Jawbone K Replied:

for me personally, there is a time and place for clean and a place and time for heavier distortion. i want a setup i can dail in for both. for a more jazz-y tone, clean and warm, a like a crystal mic and my bassman set to get the most out of it. for a blues/rock/country sound i like a cm mic with the amp overdriven, channels bridged, and some dirt dialed in.

i don't know if using the "wrong" impedance mic can be bad for the mic or amp so i never tried that. i will, however sometimes just bring a mic and cable along to plug into the p.a. i have a nady/bushman torpedo that works ok for this, a shure 545, and a sm57, so there are good possibilities depending on p.a. type and room size and what the band is like, etc.

Jan 13, 2010 8:58 PM GMT
Tony W Replied:

Very interesting post. I have not noticed anyone doing the things you mentioned but... my own personal thought is that there seems to be way too much emphasis on dirt and or distortion. I love Little Walter's sound but he played what was available (tube amps and the PA). I wanted to play blues harp and so went with the flow listening to advise from better players and ended up with what I consider a super dirty rig. I can play sort of clean on it sometimes (low volume and loose cup etc.) but without even trying the dirt is there. Cool sometimes but now I am thinking I probably should be playing an acoustic rig. Or maybe just try to get some of my money back and go straight into the PA. I know how to get dirt on a clean system so maybe that is the ticket for me. I practice 95% acoustic so I am happy with my sound/tone so for me the search or quest for the perfect tone is no big deal amp wise. I am rambling I know and if I make the change I will post something to that affect. Food for thought anyway.

Jan 13, 2010 9:17 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

If you're more into playing acoustic, then buying amps designed for acoustic guitars for harmonica is really a complete waste of money, as you'll be sacrificing the sounds you make with the use of your hands and so you're really better off playing thru the PA. Anyway, it's really the white harp players that are far more obsessed with gear than were the old black masters ever were.

Jan 16, 2010 3:51 AM GMT
Tony W Replied:

You are so right, Barbeque Bob. I love reading your posts. Amps and mics are cool though, I have to admit.

Jan 16, 2010 8:00 AM GMT
BlowsMeAwy Greg Replied:

Playing a low-Z mic into a high-Z input without a transformer almost always involves using a store-bought cable that's XLR at the mic end and 1/4" at the other. These cables are wired with ground on pin 1 of the XLR connector, and hot signal on EITHER Pin 2 or Pin 3, not both. But low impedance mics put out their signal on pins 2 and 3. So when you use this combination you're getting about 1/2 the mic's signal output. This DOES allow you to turn your amp up louder to drive the tubes harder (a volume control at the mic will help you do the same thing) - and so different tones can be obtained and the result may feel less feedbacky.

Players may have "discovered" this by accident and not understand why it is happening, but are happy with the result - and that's fine. I have never talked to a customer who actually chose this approach with one of those goals in mind. I have, however, talked to hundreds who did it purely by accident, never knew it was technically wrong - and who were happier once they started using a transformer.

Impedance and the difference in cable wiring between low-Z (XLR<-->XLR) and high-Z (XLR<-->1/4") cables is THE BIGGEST SOURCE OF CONFUSION among amplified harp players. I have thousands of customers - I can state this as fact. I can also tell you that there is no inherent advantage as far as tone or feedback resistance goes for low or high Z.

For my own gear, all my high impedance stuff is setup with screw-on and 1/4" connectors. All my low impedance stuff is setup with XLR. Simpler that way.


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Jan 19, 2010 5:07 AM GMT
Andrew T Replied:

I find whether you're a high power overdrive player or a subtle, clean, regular PA player, more effects=worse harp tone; 49 times out of 50. Effects are awesome but we aren't all Jason Ricci-calibar players. It takes a long time and a great deal of dedication to learn the instrument to the point where you can begin to master the extra gadgets and gizmoes. In the meantime, a clean mic into a dirty amp or a bullet into the clean channel of a Fender tube amp is probably the way to go.

Jan 19, 2010 5:09 AM GMT
Andrew T Replied:

I'm still wrestling with feedback. I'm on a quest to find hi volume, robust tone without much feedback or static. I hear good thing about changing out the tubes to lowar power ones and using a "clean" mic.

Jan 20, 2010 8:57 PM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:

Earlier I solder internal pot to impedance transformer and reduce output to avoid amp overdrive. I have good clean tone from amp without overdrive. But I dislike that I hardly can overdrive amp and I remove pot from transformer. So I miss that tone a little, but i'm looking for another way of finding good clean tone (using clean solid state amp along with tube is a good idea i think).

Jan 20, 2010 10:03 PM GMT
Chris C Replied:

This has turned in to an interesting thread for me. Firstly I was not talking about people who prefere to play acousticly. More about two camps in the amplified players. I think you were right on the money Greg regarding some used the store bought cables and found they can get a good sound without a transformer. My teacher comes to mind.

Chris Wilson is famous here in aus. He plays often loud and very expressive he has a massive aucoustic tone so he could make a ham sandwich sound great. He uses dynamic low z mike without a transformer and when he wants more dirt he just leans on the reeds more

. Ian Collard is equally as good a player but uses a much hoter setup Hi z all the way. Its like he is less interested in just amplifing but also seeing what new can come out from a great setup.

Chris Wilson that the mic is a low z version of the mike. He has a hi z verson but pefers the low z.

Ian Collard

Jan 20, 2010 11:23 PM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

I am by far no expert in this matter and I think all the guys have already given a very good answer. ,My only take on this is that its a taste matter of sound. Some players are very good at hearing even the most minute of sound and will tweak it to their taste. A great example is beer. I love a cold beer from tap, if it is not on tap I wont drink the beer. If I go to an authentic ethnic bar I will go for an ethnic beer on tap. Others will go for their Miller or Bud, not that thier is anything wrong with Miller or Bud.

abner ( blooblids _0

Jan 21, 2010 8:10 AM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:

I think that low-z mike to hi-z amp can be cool for jazz, but not for blues. It's just my taste, but for blues playing you have to get enough gain to control dynamics...

Jan 21, 2010 6:02 PM GMT
Chris C Replied:

I could be wrong but I think this is what I'm talking about Boris. It is partly a matter of gain. The Hi-z mic players have hi gain at the mic pushed as far as it will go my the amp ( not far before distortion and feed back). The Low-z players have High gain at the amp still pushing tubes but not as much, any loss in tone is made up for by the tone of the player. As for dynamics I think that is a matter of control and practice. and as for taste I prefer the Hi-z approach myself. When I think about there are others that through electronic wizardry and superior tone/control take it all to another place like JR and Jonny Mars.

Jan 22, 2010 9:54 AM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:


Yes, you're right, it's a matter of gain. It's possible to use volume controls to reduce the gain by the way. Sometimes if I have to play much louder than usuall I reduce output of my pedalboard by reducing output from my Boss GE7 eq.

Feb 06, 2010 12:30 AM GMT
Jeffery L Replied:

Hey Ya'll , this is very interesting to me and I still don't understand Greg. Electic stuff is just "out there for me.Thanks to Greg for taking my stupid self in.

A few months back I had a guitarist that had played rhythm for an old school harp player Carey Bell. He's pretty sharp on music and he informed me that my playing thru the vocal mic on the pa worked great. He said I had "the tone". Suprize, Suprize, Suprize. So now and am back and forth according to the song. THe latest thing I've been practicing with is a Leslie Amp, but the 8" lower speaker doe's not have enough balls. Thanks for this thread, I am learning some cool stuff. Jeffery

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