Amplification for Melodicas

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  • #2945
    AvatarMelodica-Me
    Participant

    For many melodica owners the use of an amplifier to increase the volume of the melodica is not necessary or even considered, for some it has been an up hill battle to fine a amplifier that will work for their specific needs. For many years I have looked for one that I would have a great tone and be portable. In the beginning I would simply just plug it in my old faithful Fender Twin reverb amplifier and I would be good to go, short of having the occasional feedback kick in. I would also plug it in the groups PA system that would be loud but I could not hear it close enough to make adjustment. About 7 years ago I bout a Traynor k4 keyboard amplifier that was fantastic but heavy and it was a pain lugging it to a rehearsal, I sacrificed weight for tone and used a Fender Acoustasonic Jr., a light weight amplifier but did not have the tone I was looking for. About a month ago my brother Tony had an old amplifer he has had for ages and wanted to know if I was interested in trying out, me being a why not Ill try anything out kind of guy, I drove over and picked it up. It was an old Magnatone 421 tube guitar amplifier from the 60’s 1964 to be exact. It was a light weight tube 8 watt amplifier with the simple on and off switch, a tone knob “bright or dull” and a vibrato/tremolo switch pushing those 8 watts to a 10″ speaker’ not much magic just your typical student amplifier for a beginner guitarist. To my surprize it had a great warm tone that only a tube amplifier could produce. This little jewel sounded great with my Hammond 44 Melodion. There are several good vintage amplifiers that would work great with a melodica, but there are several down sides. The big one is cost, these oldie but goodies are not cheap, plus if you need to service them, well you need to fine a specialty shop. Parts are not cheap and you need to be more carful with these than you would be with their solid state counterparts. If you play harmonica you probably already have your favorite vintage amplifier that works for you. I would like to know if anyone on here uses a vintage amplifier with their melodica, maybe an old tweed amp or a old Gibson, Fender, Vox, or maybe you like the newer model. Do you use a pick up or microphone. Up load your some pictures and specs.
    Thanks
    Melodica-Me

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    #2949
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    This is one of the thnigs that’s so great about this site. Where else would we get this kind of information?

    #2958
    AvatarLowboy
    Participant

    Hi Melodica-Me,

    Amplification is a huge issue with me and I still don’t have it resolved. The main problem is I can never hear enough of the amplified sound over the acoustic sound because the melodica sound is so in my face. I may be moving to headphone or in-ear monitors.

    First let me say, that is one bodacious amp. I am keeping my eyes open for one of those 60s tube amps myself. There are several brands that could work. A tag sale is probably a good place to find one at a reasonable price. However, I am not sure such an amp would be my primary amplifier.

    After having tried a very high quality modern tube preamp, a borrowed Fender Blues Junior and a five-watt, beat up Fender Champ, I have come to the conclusion that most of the time I prefer a really clean sound. So I now use a high-quality solid state microphone preamp with a built-in compressor and parametric EQ. I run that signal through a Lexicon multi-effects processor and into a solid state JBL 12-inch, two-way monitor pointing up at my head from floor. Jeepers, I thought I wanted a dirty sound, but after months and months of trying, I realized I like a clean sound most of the time. A tube amp just does not do it for me, but that is a highly personal thing of course.

    But at times I want a warm, dirty sound too! So I start clean with the aforementioned setup, then dirty it up using the Lone Wolf Blues Company effects pedals that I have mentioned in the past (a better recording of these in use is to come this weekend I hope); or I overdrive my Lexicon digital multi-effects processor—which by all reasoning should not be done and should not produce a pleasant dirty sound. But yet, it actually gives me a great warm distorted sound.

    So for me, the problem is not the tone, as I can shape it the way I want, but getting enough volume to hear my tone and effects over the acoustic sound coming from the keyboard harmonica.

    The other problem is sometimes to hear my amplified tone and effects, I am too loud when playing with an acoustic bass and guitar, even when they are amplified. The melodica is so loud, I can’t turn up the amp to hear the amplified tone because I will overpower the acoustic bass and guitar.

    I have to go now, but let’s keep this discussion going, because I am interested in learning what other people do. Everyone else makes it look easy, but I still struggle with amplification.

    Regards,

    Lowboy

    #2959
    AvatarMelodica-Me
    Participant

    Lowboy, you are absolutely right about clean or dirty, and those old tube amps are great for guitars, they will give you both clean and dirty but for the melodica you don’t have the harmonics or sustain for the griddy sound. For the melodica they are wonderful for warm and clean, add a little reverb and delay and you have one fat full sounding melodica. I agree with you that solid state is clean but I just can’t get the depth I like, and yes maybe a cornbread tube pedal would probably work well. I have mentioned in past post that I have a Traynor K4 keyboard amp that works fantastic, this is a solid state amplifier with a tube preamp designed for keyboard (full range) so your melodica sounds great at the top end and bottom end. Unfortunately it’s heavy, I guess thats nthe trade off. I have been interested in a Fender Princeton Reverb 65 Re-issue for a while now. Small, warm, loud and clean. There is a guitar shop “The Fret House” not to far away that will allow me to take my pedal board and melodicas and hook up any and all amplifiers if I want, so I am looking to do this in the next few weeks.
    Melodica-Me

    #2960
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    Since amplification is under discussion, I have two questions.

    First, does anyone ever amplify through their regular sound system? The only amplification I do (as a non-performer) is of my Kurzweil keyboard through my regular sound system in (Denon AVR-4806 receiver and Paradigm monitor speakers). I’m not doing anything to modify the sound and always have the receiver in “Direct” mode, though it is set up for the room.

    Second, I go to thrift shops a lot and often see old amps, usually Fenders that I’m guessing were used mostly with electric guitars. Occasionally I see odder looking amps. I don’t frequent pawn shops, but when I’ve been in them I see a lot of amps of various kinds. Are the kinds of amps you’re discussing sometimes available in such places at bargain prices? Sometimes the thift shop prices are ridiculously low ($600 speakers for $35 and such, an older but pretty good Denon receiver for $9.95, and so on).

    #2961
    AvatarMelodica-Me
    Participant

    Alan, you can use your home unit but these systems are designed for full range applications that plays music that has been balanced properly, obviously you do not play loud or you would here the speakers distort. If you are on a piano patch you probably won’t here the distortion but if you are on a organ patch you would here the distortion at a lower volume. I frequent pawn shops and thrift shops to see if anything good is for sale, now more than often these old amps go for much higher prices simply because of sites like Ebay that post costs. There are many amplifiers that are well known for their superb sound and countless that are well ok, you need to do your homework to spot the good ones. Fender makes many good aplifiers as well as many that like some of our melodicas based for students. You will find that most lower cost instrument amplifiers are solid state and have no tubes. There are some solid state amplifiers that are excellent but you need to find the one that works for your needs, that is the challenge. As your ability improves and the quality of your instrument improves this issue becomes more serious since you want to sound your best. For the beginner well I suggest you practice and not worry about this kind of stuff, it only gets in the way of your ability to grow and master your instrument.
    Melodica-Me

    #2962
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    Your advice is agreeable on this, Melodica-Me. I was mainly asking out of curiosity and in my role of thrift shop bargain hunter. Thanks.

    #2963
    AvatarMelodica-Me
    Participant

    Alan, you never know what jewel you are going to find there. 🙂

    #3000
    AvatarLowboy
    Participant

    Hi Alan,

    This has been my experience with using my stereo systems to amplify my digital keyboards. I actually liked the high fidelity sound that I got from my stereo speakers when running my keyboards through them. The sound was warm and smooth, and well . . . high fidelity. The main problem is matching the output signal (impedance I think) from your keyboard to the input requirements of your stereo receiver or power amp. As long as the impedance or levels are matched correctly, you should be able to get a good sound at a good volume from your home stereo system. I did this often when I lived in apartments or when I did not have keyboard amplifiers. Melodica-Me is right when he says you can get distortion from your stereo system if you are over driving the input.

    I find that many (not all) combo amplifiers and powered monitors designed for high volume stage performance to be a bit rough with a slightly uneven or narrower frequency response when drive at high levels. Usually the cheaper equipment is worse, and even mid-level equipment can sound bad if over driven. Keyboard amps are supposed to be high fidelity, but the cheaper ones do not sound too good to me at high volume. As one blogger stated somewhere, “The only thing I would run through a Roland Keyboard is a chainsaw.” I get a chuckle out of that, but don’t take it too seriously if anyone owns a Roland amp.

    At the same time, running a Fender electric piano (or digital electric piano) and some organs through a nice tube amp with some preamp, power amp, or speaker distortion is like heaven. I still have not have warmed up to the sound of my melodicas through a tube amp, even though I searched for that sweet spot for a long time.

    To me, for a clean sound from a digital keyboard, one solution (beyond the home stereo) is to buy a powerful, high quality combo keyboard amp (like Melodica-Me’s Traynor) and run it on 2. But then you have to carry around 65 pounds of amplifier everywhere. Most keyboardist go through the house PA and hope the soundman and sound system are great.

    Here is what I do for monitoring my Hammond organ at home or in a live setting when I don’t bring my Leslie out: I purchased a pair of JBL Eon, 12-inch, 2-way, bi-amped, solid state monitors/PA speakers about 8 years ago after demoing them. They sound as smooth as home stereo speakers unless cranked out on 10. I run my Hammond through both of them in stereo with the speakers pointed at my head. I can hear myself well, and I get a nice smooth sound that inspires me to play well. I try not to turn them up to the point where they sound rough.

    Hey, didn’t we have a discussion like this like nine months ago or is my age or imagination at work? 🙂

    Regards,

    Lowboy

    #3001
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    Thanks, Lowboy.

    Well, you guys have been discussing amplification earlier — I’d have to look! I play my melodicas along with Band-In-a-Box quite a bit, usually using my main PC, which is amplified through a pretty good Denon Receiver and DCM speakers. (I have also played with my laptop connected to my somewhat higher end equipment in my main AV system.) My Kurzweil keyboard is located close enough to both those systems so that I can use it with BIAB. These are clean stereo amplification systems, and I don’t play at high levels or try to modify the sound. I absolutely agree with Melodica-Me about concentrating on playing the instrument, and the only reason for me for amplification is in connection with BIAB, which provides accompaniment and allows me to add what I’m playing to a track and see how it’s sounding. I’m also curious about what you guys are doing.

    #3002
    AvatarMelodica-Me
    Participant

    Alan, for practice I use the play-along tracks by Jamey Abersold and Hal Leonord. You get backing tracks that are recorded by real musicians instead of a digital track or having to build up a track to play too. Nothing wrong with doing that, I just like to practice and not have to worry about going through the extra steps. They have a tremendous selection to choose from with many genres. You can also try Bobby’s Tracks they have more pop tracks. These tracks come with the music CD and sheet music. Some have a track with the melody and a track without so you can check your reading. They also usually have a section to solo too. The Monsters Of Melodicas jam to these all the time, plug the old CD player in to the PA and instant band. Yeah it’s Melodica karaoke LOL, but it works great. Put these tracks on logic or Pro-Tools and record yourself to hear how you sound. This is another topic that we need to get into sometime.
    Melodica-Me

    #3003
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    Thanks, Melodica-Me. I think I have had a few of those kinds of tracks from my brother, who plays Jazz piano. I’ll check into the ones you mentioned

    When I studied piano formally, it was always focused on scales and other exercises and learning classical pieces that were usually a step or more ahead of me. Always as if the whole point of study was to prepare for performance in a recital or for a jury, and spending endless hours memorizing and trying to perfect the piece. There was almost no emphasis on chords and harmony and no attention to learning to play be ear. When I took up the melodica, it was to take a completely different approach, to focus on the music (Jazz tunes) and try to learn harmony and to play by ear and do some improvising. I spend some of my time just trying to play along (with no sheet music) and improvise a bit with Jazz recordings that are part of my regular listening. That works better than I expected.

    Band-in-a-Box now has what are called “Real Tracks,” which are tracks laid down in the studio by professional musicians. You can select from a whole lot of different styles and choose which instruments you want played, and even by whom. There’s an initial investment of time to figure out what works for you, but then you can save your own styles and favored combinations of tracks. There’s no end to what can be learned and done, but now I spend very little time fiddling with it and usually just use a few tracks. BIAB also shows a lead sheet, and you can have it show the melody or not and show whichever instrument you want, and all that is printable on separate sheets. I started with the basic version for about $100, but ended up getting a $500 package to get the full range of Real Tracks. When I’m playing along with my melodica, I usually play with and then without the melody and with one or a few tracks — mostly bass, acoustic guitar(s), and sometimes drums. They also have a special Real Drums set. There are free downloadable BIAB files for almost every Jazz standard and most other tunes. I never set up my own tune from scratch; I just use what other people have done and modify it in terms of instruments, style, tempo, key, etc., and all that can be done on the fly.

    #3004
    AvatarLowboy
    Participant

    Three quick points:

    A. Alan, yes, it sounds like you have amplification of sufficient quality to enjoy your melodica and focus on the music and practicing. I find myself continuously distracted by technology or searching for nuances in sound. That is a bad thing and I must focus more on the music myself. I did not intend to imply you need additional amplification, but was rather sharing some first hand experience about amplification in general.

    B. Don’t overlook backing tracks on YouTube as an inexpensive way to play along with good musicians and play a variety of music. There are hundreds of tracks in the blues and reggae genres, and no doubt there are jazz backing tracks too. Most are very good, some are not. You need to be selective.

    C. As Melodica-Me mentions, Jamey Abersold has some wonderful educational tools for jazzers. But he also taught me in a two-day seminar I took with him, that if you really want to get people excited about music and get them involved in playing, have them create their own music. Creating original music is wildly fun. Just start simple. Great music does not have to be complicated.

    Regards,

    Lowboy

    #3005
    AvatarLowboy
    Participant

    So now you have me thinking about amplification again.

    I tried my other keyboard harmonica setup that includes a Shure Green Bullet mic to an MXR bass compressor to a Lone Wolf Blues Company Harp Break (distortion pedal with bass boost), to a Lone Wolf Blues Company Harp Delay, to a solid state amp (my studio amp and monitors or my JBL powered stage monitors).

    My goodness. The sound is huge, deep, racious. Almost indistinguishable from a harp if I use the right technique. I like it a lot. It reawakened me to the distorted sound (again!). It is like watching a mouse and hearing it roar like a lion.

    I simply must have both clean and dirty sounds I guess. You guys are to blame for this. 🙂

    Recordings to come as soon as I can get to it. There is so much going on musically that it is hard to find the time to make recordings.

    Lowboy

    #3006
    AvatarLowboy
    Participant

    So maybe I will look a little harder for a beat up old 60s Sears Silvertone tube amp at a tag sale. “Hi mam, I’ll give you 15 bucks for that dusty amp in that pile over there. The one with 5 tubes and a volume knob and a tone knob.” That’s it.

    Lowboy

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