Alison Vardy   Solo Celtic Harpist  
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Working with Another Engineer

Creating Great Sound Together

Handling amplified Celtic harp music is an area of specialization in its self. It is an ability you can nurture and grow one step at a time just as your harp playing abilities grow. I am going to throw out a few thoughts that might provide some answers for you.

When you listened to other performers did their instruments and voices sound natural? Boomy? Hard to hear the words? Too loud? You lose the ability to hear harmonics when it is too loud. Outdoor amplification is very horsepower intensive and good sounding horsepower (wattage) costs a lot of money. It often takes a lot of years and complaints before a promoter brings in a professional quality PA rather than the low cost cowboy with the muddy, boomy, clipped and over compressed sound. The harp with its wide dynamic range suffers badly in these lower cost circumstances.

Using a pickup on a large stage is second best to using a good microphone. If you are serious about doing stage work get an AT4041 condenser microphone on eBay from one of the resellers (IE JD Sound). This is the last harp mic you need buy. Your sound quality will rise 300% and the engineer has to do less to make it sound well. Get a 1.5' high mic stand (less obtrusive) to go with it and place it close to the soundboard 1/3 up from the bottom.

Get someone (spouse) who knows your sound to advise the engineer in situ as to what sounds good. IE make sure the reverb is turned down to you just can/cannot hear it. Too many engineers pull a "Loreena" on you. During the sound check pluck each string in succession at a higher PA volume to listen for "too loud" strings. This will help the engineer EQ you for a fuller and a wider dynamic range. No compression please.

Do not use foldback, moniters, stage sound unless you absolutely have to. Your Celtic harp is at your ear, that is usually loud enough. That will cleanup the sound to the audience 100% - gets rid of a lot of the muddiness in the sound. In outdoor venues, have the engineer use "chorus" instead of reverb - that thickens the sound and brings back the Celtic harp's fullness. Lastly, I will say this with hopefully some grace. The harp is an intimate instrument. It does best when people feel "connected" to it. Large outdoor stages simply dwarf the harp and the connection is triply difficult to make.

As a solo Celtic harpist, Alison no longer plays the huge outdoor venues with a 500-1000 people as the intimate impact/connection is just not there. We know who are the good PA providers in our area and that makes a big difference in our decision making regarding working medium and small outdoor stages.

Usually the large outdoor events pay little and the decision is based on exposure. Bad exposure travels just as fast as good, so we are fussy about her sound in these venues. A good workable amplification kit for a harpist is:

Crate Limo amp - Read more here
LR Baggs Para Acoustic preamp
Pickup (Alfredo Ortiz's)
Above for small gigs

Below for bigger gigs where a system is provided
low mic stand

Buy the expensive cabling as the cheap stuff fails you when you need it the most. Learn more about system capacities at the Gig Size page

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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