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Deborah writes:

I'm out of the loop now on amps because I almost always have a sound company to do my sound for me. When I do my own sound I use a small BOSE P.A. system. My best recommendation is to do what I did: drag your harp into the music store and try ALL the amps (even the ones they say won't work for you) -- try bass amps (polytones, for example), keyboard amps, even guitar amps -- and then buy the one that sounds best to you, regardless of what THEY tell you. When I bought my first amp, I thought I would be buying the MOST EXPENSIVE amp for my harp, but ended up liking a cheap one way better. You really need to trust yourself and your ear and also how you like the way it sounds.


We recently were asked this via email. Because DHC was in the midst of revamping some of her orchestral works, Nils (our resident "busking "expert) fielded the question:

Update from DHC: The short answer for this question is "The Crate Limousine." Harpist Lisa Lynn recommended this amp to me, and I've been very happy with it. It has an input for your harp, one for your voice and you can even get fancy and plug a third instrument in (but don't email and ask me how -- I just know we did it one day). You can play it when it's plugged in, or you can charge the battery and play for a few hours (allegedly up to 4 hours) on the street without electricity. And it sounds really good. I often bring it when I'm doing TV shows, because I can use it as a monitor. The only drag is that, if you accidentally let the battery run down, you won't get any sound out of it at all until the battery recharges. That, at least, is my experience. If someone out there knows how to get sound out of it when the battery's dead (but when you have it plugged in), please let me know. But that is the only drawback to that amp I've found so far.

Interestingly, my very first amp was a "Crate," so I think they must be a pretty good match for harps, since I keep coming back to them.


Here's what Nils wrote when we were first emailed the busking question about harps:

The best way to learn about this equipment is to go to a music store and ask questions until you understand what different types of equipment do. When you become familiar with the functions of different types of equipment you will be able to deal with problems that might come up (a short in a cable versus a microphone diaphragm breaking can greatly differ in the cost to fix).

Even though I strongly recommend that you go to a music store and read up on amplification, here is some information to get you going:

Amplifying acoustic instruments is an intricate process and people spend their whole lives learning the nuances of it. Luckily for the rest of us, they publish their work and produce products that allow the rest of us to skip the physics and electronics degrees.

What I understand is: you want to play your harp on the street and sing and be louder than the traffic. In order to do this you need devices that will translate the acoustic vibrations of your harp and your voice into electrical signals. These are called microphones or transducers. The microphone would be for you voice and the transducer, or pickup for the harp. If you sing AND play, you'll need a mic and a pickup. You'll also need two "inputs" on your amp.

Once the acoustic vibrations have been translated into electrical signals they can be amplified. The most simple way to do this is to purchase combo amp. This combines an amplifier (which makes the sound louder) and a speaker (a physical device which reproducers the sound).

Deborah has used "combo amps" designed for bass guitar in the past because they are capable of reproducing the lowest frequencies of the harp (which many guitar "combo amps" are not capable of). "Keyboard" amps might be another type of amp to consider, because they are usually designed to accurately reproduce the wide range of frequencies created by keyboards (pianos, organs, and synths).

There are several companies that produce "combo amps" that also feature the battery capability in which you are interested. Try looking into Crates (Company) Taxi (model) series. I see many of the busking musicians in the Boston area using them in subways and on busy street corners. Deborah has also used a combo amp called the Mouse. It is manufactured by a company called Lectrosoncs Inc. and has a rechargeable battery.

You asked whether a transducer without an amp would be enough to amplify the harp. The answer is no. A transducer is only a device that translates acoustic vibrations into electrical signals. You need a separate amplifier, like a combo amp to actually increase the decibel level produced by your instrument. However, you do NOT also NEED to have a preamp to amplify the harp. The preamp is like a mini-amp that you use in addition to your combo amp. One advantage to having a pre-amp is it allows you to adjust your volume from where you sit instead of jumping up to adjust the amp. Often (as is the case with the preamp in Deborah’s kit) it also provides EQ control (treble, bass, etc). These are handy features but not essential if the only goal is to make the harp louder.

You asked if the Fishman kit is battery operated. The answer is yes, the Fishman kit can be battery operated, it comes ready for battery operation and it comes with an AC adaptor.

I hope that this information will be of use to you as you start to learn about this equipment. I urge you to go to a music shop and talk with someone there. It will be so useful and satisfying to have your questions answered by someone who knows the ins and outs of the equipment. Good luck and happy busking!