Among harp players, it’s an icon, but why is the Shure Bullet Microphone great for harmonica? We find out…
Though some bits of gear in the musical world were born ‘perfect’ for the use that they were intended, some accidentally found iconic status by being used in a manner for which they were not intended.
The Bullet mic is one such item.
To answer the question, ‘why is the Shure bullet microphone great for harmonica?’ we should first take a look at how this happened…
Super rugged design
The original Shure Green Bullet mic was known as the model 520, and was originally produced in 1949 in Shure’s Chicago factory. It was pitched, primarily as a solid and rugged mic for many uses, from communications in radio, military and industrial environments, to public address.
As such, it had a voicing that was tailored towards speech with a sensitive midrange, and was incredible robust and resistant to the kind of environmental ‘threats’, which would normally damage mics- humidity, moisture, salt, and extremes of temperature.
The conical design with completely sealed back certainly helps in this regard. One of the most popular iterations of the mic was the 520SL, which featured a desktop stand with a ‘squeeze-able’ on-off switch for when in use.
In many ways, it was the characteristics that made it such a great mic in these situations is also what made it such a great harmonica microphone…
Marion ‘Little Walter’ Jacobs
According to legend, it was the legendary blues harp player, Marion ‘Little Walter’ Jacobs, who first embraced the Shure Bullet Microphone to perform with. Though harmonica playing through many different types of microphone at the time, the 520 had many features that made it absolutely ideal, when plugged into a tube amp…
- The ‘bullet’ shape fit perfectly into a cupped hand when holding a harmonica, without interfering too much with performance. A harmonica could be rested on to the grille, too.
- The robust design meant that being blasted with moist breath (though the harmonica) wasn’t a problem.
- The speech focused voicing was, coincidentally, also very well suited to the frequency range of the harmonica.
- It was a high impedance mic, meaning that it could be plugged directly into conventional tube amps without problem.
- It was inexpensive
- It had a handy volume knob
- Tone- when used with a tube amp, it had a raw, edgy sound that could cut through most amplified bands with ease, but with a unique, rasping tone that was expressive in its own right. Smooth, warm and rich, this was a huge part of what we know as the harmonica sound today.
Nowadays, the Shure Bullet Microphone is still the first choice for harp players. These days, the 520DX model is the tool of choice. It’s just as robust, has the same distinctive sound, and is still very reasonably priced.
Add a compact tube amp, like a Fender Blues Junior, and nice harmonica, and you have blues harp rig, all ready to go.