Alison Vardy   Solo Celtic Harpist  
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Choosing an Amp

The Crate Limo
The AER 60


Crate amps are a respected name. AER are new to North Americans but they make a superb amp. There are lots of other good brands out there. Watch out for the boy guitarist rigs that sell excessive features, sexy geejaws, and lousy sound. Look for combo amps designed for acoustic and base instruments as opposed to just acoustic guitars. The Crate Taxi combo amp is one. The Crate Limo another. The AER Compact 60/ Mobile from Dusty Strings is yet another.
Amplified harpists have lots of favourite amps for their Celtic harp music. I prefer the Taxi simply because it is battery powered (very long life) and it has a unique body shape which adapts well to many amplification positions. The sound is not all that bad either for the price. More recently I have favoured the Limo with its superior sound.

The AER line has a wonderful wonderful tone and have many more features than the Taxi, notably the option for a phantom powered condenser microphone. As in all sound gear good sound is more pricey.

Best way to choose an amp is to take another harperisterer with you, plus your widest octave range harp and listen to the amp yourself while they play harp music through the offered amps. If nothing else you will make the salesman work for his commission. If you can not discern the sound differences, do more listening research until you can. Choose a pleasant clean sound to your ear. Your ear loses discernment ability very quickly (10-20 minutes). Be patient, take a long break away from noisy environment and reconfirm choices with fresh ears before buying. Ask about resale value and opportunity. Alternately, there are always used amp dealers around, find one you trust personally and wait for a deal to pop up for a given choice.

Some things to consider - What purpose do you intend to use the amp for?  - For example...

  Amp used as a single point source beside harp versus creating big volume to fill a room?

  Does the physical size/ volumes/ looks fit your shtick as a harpist? (important at weddings etc)

  Can you lift it? Now and in 10 years?

  Will it fit in car?

  120V versus battery? (safety, busking, outdoors, setup time)

  Does it need a pre amp for your pickup?

  Do you want to use a vocal microphone?

  Background noise from amp circuitry?

  Resale value?

We use the older wooden version of the Crate Taxi (Ebay?) with an added speaker stand socket spider on the side so that it can be used on a speaker stand. Crate has recently discontinued the 30 watt version of the Taxi entirely but they are still available on eBay.

Limo Pros: Battery lasts forever, point source sound in any location, fast setup, pickup preamp built in, uses dynamic vocal mic, great for weddings - outdoors - mini concerts, good to great sound depending on how used. Works best when used only to double or triple harp volumes. Has a speaker stand socket.

Limo Cons: You got to like yellow (Looks great under white linens or beside a black harp in a jazzy/upbeat marketing setting), will not fill a larger space well with sound for concerts (we use a sound system for that), has a very narrow sound dispersion which gives uneven sound distribution up close. It is good however for focusing sound in front of harp, throwing sound a long distance or bouncing music off ceiling.

Limo Safety: A major grouping of non-industrial electrocution fatalities in the USA is comprised of musicians. A good percentage of the musicians were no different than you. The Taxi circumvents all this as it has none of these safety concerns (battery).

AER 60 Pros: Same uses as the Taxi except it is 120Volt. Very strong sounding amp with tonnes of base and volume. Very clean warm evenly distributed sound. Can use condenser microphone plus a pickup and pre-amp. Lightweight. An optional socket allows mounting on a speaker stand. Top quality looker. With the addition of a second AER 60 plus some outboard gear a very nice small sound system can be created.

Aer 60 Cons: The shape of the amp is a cube which makes it difficult to tilt it back and bounce the sound off the ceiling (a handy trick for larger groups - make an angling frame for it). Extra 120V extension chord placement etc complicates set-up process. The AER Mobile with its battery circumvents this but weighs over 30 lbs.

LR Baggs Para-acoustic DI/Pre-amp: To overcome the squeals and squawks when using the amp in close quarters with a harp use a pickup (Alfredo Ortiz/Barcus Berry) and pre-amp with an equaliser (Para-acoustic DI). The AER will accept either a dynamic or condenser mic for the harp. You will need more distance between the harp and the AER when using a mic. I recommend using a small mixing desk (Spirit Notepad) beside the harpist and the amp at some distance from the harp.

Microphones: I find the Taxi marginal for microphone use (SM58 & SM57) but the AER is excellent. Dusty Strings Harps sell both the AER 60 and a harp sound-hole condenser mic (The Harp Mic) that mounts behind the soundbox. The AT4041 is an outstanding condenser microphone to compare against. Condenser mics can pick up a gnat's fart at fifty paces so be prepared to learn your craft well before doing public performances. The Harp Mic will be less obvious as compared to a mic and stand. It may be problematic in some circumstances, however, as it may or may be in a disturbed sound field between your body, harp and amplifier. I have yet to try one out in battle so that is just a hunch! You need to consult with Dusty Strings as to the effectiveness for your application.

If you use 120 Volts: Buy a three prong circuit tester at the hardware store and test every circuit for ground. We get a 5-10% ground/ miss-wiring failure rate (where you would least expect it too). Never play with the outlet ground removed/ not present. Never play on damp/ wet ground. If you are playing for dollars you are carrying a very significant commercial safety liability, for financial piece of mind use a GFCI shock ground protector. I would use one under any circumstance anyway. An additional surge protector/ RFI is needed for digital functions (digital reverb) or else the fridge motor in the kitchen may "crash" your amp with distortion or worse.

What I use with a Limo:
Para-acoustic DI - the XLR output goes into Limo channel 1 (I use a Radio Shack Lo Z to Hi Z adapter)
Alfredo Ortiz/Barcus Berry pickup
1 x 6' unbalanced phone plug cable
2 x 25' unbalanced phone plug cables
1 x phone plug to phone plug connector (Neutrik) - makes 50' cable with above
Panasonic CD player with line output jack - goes into Limo channel 2 or in the RCA connectors
Adapter cable

This allows for Limo play in close or at a distance to create a stereo field.


I will add your knowledge and experience to the “mix” if it can add to the effectiveness of these articles. The rest of the Celtic Harp Amplification Series is available here.

Stephen Vardy
Harpsound Audio

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