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What Are the Different Methods of Harp Amplification?

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  • Written By: Erik J.J. Goserud
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 06 July 2014
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The word harp can refer to two main instruments: the harpsichord and the harmonica. The harpsichord is a large, classical, stringed instrument whose strings sit perpendicular to a guitar’s. Harpsichords come in traditional, acoustic models and acoustic-electric models. Harp also refers to the harmonica, particularly by blues musicians. There are a few methods to choose from when amplifying a harp for a rehearsal or live performance.

The method used for harp amplification depends on which harpsichord the musician is playing. The two main types of harpsichords are lever and pedal. Lever harps are the more traditional, acoustic model. Musicians amplify these instruments via microphone for theatrical performances.

Many believe that mini omni microphones are a great option for lever harp amplification. Oftentimes, harpists place two of these mics on the sweet spots around the harp — above the spot where the neck hits the body and near the soundboard. It is important to avoid putting the microphones too close to the strings as peaking and distortion can occur. Placing the mics on the curve of the instrument yields great tone for many. An alternative option to the omni microphones are traditional instrument mics, such as the SM-57.

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The other type of harpsichord, a pedal harp, is also referred to as an electric harp. Sound engineers can more easily mix these instruments on the soundboard, and they may require less sonic tweaking because harpers can plug them directly to a PA system or an amplifier. A standard quarter-inch jack instrument cable suffices for harp amplification.

Pedal harpsichords are the cheaper and most practical option because they are acoustic-electric. These harps include built-in preamps with volume and EQ controls. This way, harpists have a great deal of control of their sound onstage.

On the contrary, amplifying a harmonica, or harp, requires a different method of harp amplification. Many musicians simply use a traditional vocal microphone to play their harmonicas through, but more serious blues players opt for a specialized bullet microphone, a short, stocky, roundish mic made to better fit a harmonica. These mics aim for the traditional Chicago blues harmonica sound. Running the microphone through an amplifier yields the best sonic tone, especially for rock-and-roll music. Most players prefer a tube guitar amplifier.

Harpists, or harpers, are also able to use effects pedals with their electric harp microphones. The musician is able to alter and diversify the sounds of the instrument. A distortion pedal makes the tone bolder and adds density to the sound for a more vintage feel. A chorus pedal can make the instrument fuller and more plentiful, like there are multiple harps playing simultaneously.

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