Many times you may be in a situation where your performance needs to be amplified to be heard. Today it is easier than ever to amplify your harp and get a good reproduction of the sound of your instrument. You can decide to have a very simple set-up, appropriate for many performance environments, or a more complex set-up which will allow you the greatest amount of flexibility. For an explanation even more detailed than the one below, feel free to hop on over to our Rees Concert Line site to the Amplifying Your Harp page.
Definitions (in order of use)
Pickup - A device (piezo, transducer, microphone etc.) attached directly to your harp so that it picks up the sound most effectively.
Jack - the metallic hole on the side or back of the harp. The jack is sometimes called a "1/4 inch jack."
Cable - a cord that carries an electrical signal.
Preamp - can be either internal or external. Takes the entire existing signal from the pickup and makes it louder. Some preamps do this uniformly and some have built-in equalizers.
Equalizer - a piece of equipment, ranging from tiny to quite large, which has sliders that allow the different sections of a signal (high, midrange and low) to be individually identified and adjusted in volume. An equalizer is commonly called an "EQ."
Compressor - in a noisy environment, when you have your preamp and amplifier turned up, a compressor will automatically clip off any high brittle sounds or low rumbly wolf tones which sometimes come from over-amplification of a harp.
Amplifier - a box containing electrical circuitry (volume, tone) and speakers. An amplifier makes the incoming sound much louder and sends it out, through speakers, to your audience. An amplifier is commonly called an "amp."
Putting It All Together
In a simple amplification set-up, the pickup is attached to your harp and it is connected, with wires, to the jack. The cable plugs into the jack on one end and the amp on the other. Always plug everything together with the amplifier off or with the volume set to zero.
In a more complex amplification set-up the pickup is attached to the jack. A cable connects the jack to an external pre-amp/EQ, also by cable, to a compressor and, from the compressor to amp runs yet another cable which completes your set-up. Our pickup system eliminates the need for this complicated setup. (See below for some things you may not know about "Cables.")
Our Pro Pickup, which is available as an option, combines a pickup, preamp, automatic adjusting EQ and Compressor into a single system which is internally mounted in the harp. ...because you have enough to worry about on performance days.
(Shown below) The pickup is the long solid bar at the top of the photo. The preamp is part of the quarter-inch jack housed in the long tube. This is all connected to a volume control wheel and a 9v battery attachment used to power the preamp.
Pickups vs Microphones
A microphone will give you the best sound production if you (1) purchase the highest quality mic, (2) have it operated by an experienced sound technician who is specifically experienced with harp amplification and (3) the sound technician is operating a good quality mixer. If you don't have someone like that following you around then forget the microphone for your harp. Even if you try to set-up a mic yourself, in advance, you are inviting feedback squeals, exterior room noises and overall poor amplification. Basically, you want to have the sound for your harp under your control as much as possible so we always recommend that harp pros use a pickup and, preferably one with a built-in preamp. In those rare instances when you have a professional sound technician at your service then you can rest easy, the rest of the time you will have things under control for yourself. Whew!
Cables connect everything to everything else and yet this critical component is ignored by most musicians. A quality cable is very important and you can easily hear the difference between a high definition cable and an economy cable. Buying an economy cable is like settling for a terrible Wifi signal. Having a fast computer doesn't matter if the WiFi is slow. If you have a quality harp and pickup system you want to make sure that your amp gets to hear that quality and pass it on to your audience. We recommend and carry the famous Asterope cables which are widely acknowledged to be the best in the industry. You can find several different lengths here.
(Our Pro Pickup system comes with this feature built in)
A preamp is a device that strengthens the signal coming from your harp. It is powered by a battery. This stronger signal will assure that more of the full sound of your harp will ultimately reach the amp. A preamp is not a necessity but it will provide a noticeable improvement in performance. You can have an internal preamp, which is wired inside your harp just before the jack, or you can purchase an external preamp that rests on the floor. If the latter and to simplifiy things, we generally recommend that you purchase a preamp that has an equalizer built in. Connect the preamp/EQ to your harp with a short cable (3 ft/.9m or less). A short cable loses less signal and you get better results.
With all preamps it is very important to unplug the preamp when you are not using it. If you do not the battery will continue to drain.
(Our Pro Pickup system comes pre equalized to produce a natural acoustic sound out of the box. You can still adjust the EQ on your amp to further suit your personal preference.)
You may have seen an EQ (equalizer) on standard home stereo equipment. An equalizer has several slider knobs in a row. These sliders adjust the volume of the bass, midrange and treble frequencies. If you want more bass then move the bass sliders up a little. If the sound is to bright then you would move the treble sliders down a little. The biggest mistake amateurs make is moving the sliders to the extremes. On any EQ start with the sliders all even in the middle. If the harp sounds fine leave the EQ alone. If the instrument voice is too bright then lower the treble sliders a little. You can experiment with the different frequencies toto get a sense for what they do. Every instrument will be different and every room will reflect sound back differently. An empty room will, for instance, sound very different than that same room sounds when it is full of people. If you're not getting the sound that you want, go back to neutral and start again. Adjust in tiny amounts and you will find that sweet spot.
(Our Pro Pickup system comes with this feature built in)
Another electronic floor box you may consider is a compressor. A compressor is useful when working in noisy rooms or when you have to increase your volume considerably in order to be heard. Like a preamp, a compressor runs on a battery. When you are using one it will automatically clip off any high brittle sounds and low wolf tones thereby keeping your sound as clean as reasonably possible. Also like a preamp, a compressor should be plugged in as close to your preamp/EQ as possible. There are short connector cables available made just for this purpose.
Sometimes, it really is the simple things. For instance, do not perform with your amp (or any amp) behind you. The loud noise coming from the amp will interfere with the vibrations of your harp and also with the pickup. Place the amp several feet to the side but slightly tilted toward you so you can hear yourself. (If you have a separate monitor speaker then the amp should go straight forward.) Also, the higher off the ground your amp is located, like on a solid box or stool or, better yet, an amp stand, the easier the sound will travel through a crowded room requiring less amplified volume. If it is a really crowded reception room, pointing the speakers at an angle toward the ceiling will allow the ceiling to ricochet the sound across the room. In those instances, every little bit can be helpful!
Another important thing to know about amps is that not all amplifiers are created equal when it comes to harps, most are made to optimize guitars, basses or electronic keyboards. Some of these are really wonderful with harps and some are aren't. We carry a number of amps we feel we can confidently recommend, see our Amplification page for a selection of the ones we like best.