COLLECTING VINTAGE MICS
Collecting vintage mics might seem like a strange hobby to many people, and your spouse may think you've lost your marbles, but collecting old harp mics, or other vintage mics can be a very rewarding, not to mention an interesting and intriguing hobby. It can be a very expensive hobby as well. Like collecting stamps (how boring!), the older and rarer the mics are, the more they will be worth to a collector, and the more it will likely cost you to acquire. Unlike stamps, old mics made in the 30's, 40’s and 50's could have some very interesting stories behind them. You can't help but wonder where it was first put to use and what it was used for, who may have used it, and how much it cost back then. A police dispatch mic, a WWII communications mic, a PA mic used in an old school, or just a mic used to record family stories in an era where recording was a new concept.
Back in the late 30's, for the first time in history, regular people were able to make recordings on wire recorders, or recorders that put the messages onto vinyl discs that were the first ways for families who had family members in the military overseas, to send messages to their loved ones. To me, each microphone has its own mystique to it. You can't help but wonder where it's been or who spoke into it. I have found mics from the 40's and 50's with ID markings on them that gave clues as to what the mic may have been used for, such as hand written names or decals that had the identification #'s of certain military units, or old ham radio call signs on them, and certain other markings that may give clues as to what the mics may have been used for.
Unless you can relate to the mystique and stories that these collectable mics may have behind them, it may be hard to understand why some people, like me, get so excited about receiving a new mic to add to the collection. You really need to be able to relate to the importance that these mics had to the early forms of radio communications, and the development of more modern mics that came about in the years following. Putting together a collection of vintage microphones makes for a very cool and interesting display in any room of your home.
Personally, my collection is limited to mics that are popular with harmonica players of today, and the early days of amplified harp. You won't see many, if any pictures of the old harmonica greats like Little Walter, or the 2 Sonny Boy Williamson's using bullet mics to play amplified. The truth is, is that they usually used whatever mics were available to them at the time. There is a picture of Little Walter that is quite popular showing him with a Shure model 777 Slim X in his hand. Many people believe that this was his mic of choice, and is the mic that helped him develop his signature tone. This simply is just not the case. I believe that the picture was a publicity shot that just happened to show him with a Slim X in his hands. I've seen this mic on auction sites described as, the "Little Walter mic". This really is not the case and by all means, don't think that buying a mic like that is going to make you sound like the guy holding it! It just ain't going to happen. The fact is that your mic has only a small affect on your final tone. Your technique as well as the amp you're using have quite a lot to say about your final sound.
Most of the early recordings of the great blues harp players were made using vocal mics, or whatever was available to them in the recording studios at the time. Most of the mic's available at that point in time were crude as compared to today's high tech mic's, having a narrow frequency bandwidth. Much of the tone was generated by the early tube amps and the speakers they used which were nowhere near as refined as the tube amps and speakers of today.
I never started out as thinking that I was going to collect microphones when I began building them. But after seeing all the really cool vintage mics and the detail built into them, I though it might be fun to collect mint condition specimens if I could find them. It didn't take long for me to get bit by "the bug", and I became a collector as well as a custom mic builder. The mics I buy for my collection are usually models that are new old stock, or in mint or near mint condition and all original. Working or not, mics in original condition are more valuable than if they are spruced up with new paint or a working replacement element.
Where to Find Them
The majority of my mics were bought on auction sites such as ebay for a fairly good buck, but some of them I acquired dirt cheap at other places. If you're looking for something in particular, you're best off looking on all the auction sites, but if you're out to find vintage mics of various types, you're best bet is to check out flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, and my favorite place to find cool vintage mics, hamfest's. Ham fest's you say? Why would you find old mics at a hamfest? Well if you've never heard the term "hamfest", it's not what you're probably thinking. No, I'm not talking about a pig roast! It has nothing to do with ham at all. It refers to amateur radio operators, otherwise known as "ham operators".
Hamfests are usually pretty good sized flea markets set up for one day, or sometimes the larger ones will run for a weekend. Amateur radio operators gather to sell their old, used, and sometimes new equipment, and you can usually find a huge selection of vintage electronic items including microphones, at giveaway prices. You'll also find a good selection of used and NOS vacuum tubes, as well as vintage mic parts like adapters, connectors, vintage amp parts, all kinds of electronic parts and just about anything that has to do with electronics. I recently acquired some NOS tube sockets for 25 cents each that you can find on certain amp parts sites for $20 each! I found some hard to find NOS Switchcraft input jacks for 25 cents each that sell for $7 each at parts suppliers who stock them. In 2009 I found some new old stock Astron capacitors that were the type used in the Fender amp's back in the 50's and 60's. I purchased 53 capacitors for a total of $20. They sold for about $30 a piece on ebay! These are just a couple of examples of the deals to be found at these events.
My first green bullet was a Mexican made 520D that I paid close to $90 for new at a music store. My second green bullet was a 1950 model, with it's original black label CR element in it and only a very small chip of paint loss on the edge of the shell. I found it at a hamfest, and it cost me all of $25.00, in near mint condition. It turned out to be a fairly rare model made by Shure for the Stromberg Carlson Company of Rochester, NY., which is where the hamfest was taking place. You can see it in the pictures section of this site. I also found a vintage JT30 with a CR element in it at the same hamfest that cost me $25 as well. $50, not bad for a couple of awsome harp mics that I would have had to pay close to $700 for today, if not much more for on eBay! Deals like these are common at hamfests and garage sales, so if you want to find some fantastic deals on mics, look for hamfests in your area and go "garage sailing" on the weekend once in a while instead of taking the boat out for a ride!
You never know what you might find, and keep your eyes peeled for amp's and old speakers too. Some little old lady might have her 18 year old grandson drag an original 59 Bassman down from the attic with a $50 price tag on it! Seems like this is only wishful thinking, but it's not. I'd probably feel guilty paying that little for an original Bassman, so I'd probably buy a few of her old pots and pans for the wife too! Deals like this are out there but you'll never find them from the bow of your boat, or your favorite recliner! Get out there and look around, even if it's only once or twice a month, and the wife might even want to tag along. So you can spend some quality time with your spouse while finding some great bargains, but don't let the wife get carried away and bring home a "trunk full O junk" every time you go out! I offer my wife an incentive. For every CR mic she finds for me at the hamfest's, she get's $10 for the effort!
Look in the paper for swap meets and estate sales too, and check them out. You won't find something every time you venture out, but when you do find some great deals or rare items, it makes up for all the times you went home empty handed, especially when you see the grandson dragging that amp down the driveway and you say, "how much for tha-SOLD"! Happy hunting!!
Where Not to Find Them!
Here's a tip when searching for vintage mic's. STAY AWAY from eBay!!! Recently I decided to look at what mic's were selling for on ebay. All I can say is WOW! I could not believe some of the prices that sellers were asking for their mics. I also couldn't believe the number of people selling "custom harp mic's" and elements. Well, it seem's that everbody and their brother has caught onto the secret of a good harp mic and they're all looking for any mic with a controlled magnetic or controlled reluctance element in it on ebay. They'll buy the mics and either pull the elements to sell them, or re-sell the mic as-is for twice of what they paid for it. Most of the elements you see on ebay were pulled from mics bought on ebay and re-listed by the buyer for ridiculous prices. The prices that sellers are asking for CR elements on ebay now are just ridiculous! Don't do it unless you've got money coming out of your butt and you don't mind paying 5 times more than you need to.
Recently I've noticed a certain few bidders bidding on every mic on ebay that has a CR element in it. These guy's are paying anywhere from $200 to $300 for them, which is completely ridiculous. I'll tell you right now that there isn't an element out there that's worth that much money, unless of course you've got more money than brains. ANY of them can be had for under $50 if you know where to look and you get off your butt and actually go out and look. If you get lucky, you can get what you're after for $5 or less. I've done it a hundred times over. These few people (you know who you are) are making it impossible to get a good harp mic on ebay these day's at a fair price let alone an element. I see mic's with CM's in them for $350, CR's for $450+ all day long at these "custom harp mic" websites, and now even on ebay. That's just downright ridiculous. These people's greed have basically made it all but impossible to get a ready to use mic at a good price. They've also driven the prices for shell's way up as well which means that buying the parts to build your own mic is no longer a cheap way to aquire a decent mic. The only thing left to do if you're on a budget is to get out and look for a mic at the places I mentioned earlier.
Apparently there are a whole bunch of new "harp mic builders" selling on ebay too. I strongly advise anyone to avoid these guy's. Why?? Well look at the prices first. Prices for any microphone with a Shure CR or CM transducer in it is now selling for 5 to 10 times of what you could have bought it for a couple years ago. With a little patients, you can get just about anything you want at a fraction of the prices that you'll see on ebay. I've already told you where to look, now look and look hard! You can save a ton of money and get the same stuff.
Another reason is that many of these guy's are not using the proper assembly methods for connectors and improper pot's. Some are not using the right gaskets, pot type and value's etc. They know NOTHING about mic building. I've seen some advertising "top quality" cables that I know are junk. Some are even re-winding CR and CM elements and saying that they are better than the originals. Hear this! Any Shure CR or CM that has been taken apart and put back together is NOT going to sound as good as it did when it was factory assembled. They're kind of like new car's. Once they've been wrecked and fixed, they're just never the same. There are factory assembly and tuning proceedures that just cannot be performed without the factory machinery and tuning equipment. Believe me, they will never be the same! This I know as fact, so be warned! They will tell you that the elements will sound as good or better than it did before. That's pure bull !!
Beware the SCHMUCK!
Recently it has come to my attention that it's one guy, apparently with no life and deep pockets, that is pretty much single handedly driving the price of the CM's, but mostly the CR element's into oblivion. The average price for a controlled reluctance element is now well over $200 which is just plain stupid! If you've paid even close to that for a CR you've paid way too much. I believe this person is going by mr.c-3 or something like that. His bidder name appears as ***3 if I'm not mistaken. If you're bidding on an element or a mic and see this guy bidding too, pass on it because he'll pay way more than it's worth for it. I don't know (for sure) who this person is but I'm pretty sure it's a guy who has a website and is selling his treasure there along with his ridiculously overpriced mic's. I've seen the prices which average around $400 (and why wouldn't they when he's paying $200 for the element's). People, please hear me now or hear me later. There is no harp mic on the planet thats worth $400 let alone more unless you're a collector with a lot of money. Even then, it would have to be mint condition or NOS and quite rare.
I can't say for sure what this person's name is but I'm 99.9% sure his first name rhymes with SCHMUCK (give or take a couple letters). I do know for sure that he lies to people by telling them that their element's need this and that and charges $50+ to do basically nothing to them. Let me be the first to tell you that you cannot "tune up" these Shure elements. Those who charge people to do so may disagree with that statement. If you have an element that's not working right, chances are that it has a problem that requires professional attention. If you have one thats working good, it cannot be "tuned up" to sound better. It either works or it doesn't, and I don't care what these thieves tell you. Don't get sucked into this lie.
A common problem that occurs is that tiny pieces of metallic crap gets sucked into the magnet and armature assembly. This can cause the element to sound really bad. Chances are that by removing the label and blowing the inside out with a can of compressed air, you will cure the problem. I've done this many times for people and cannot bring myself to charge people for it. On the other hand, schmuck will charge you $50 and tell you that he had to spend hours working on it. I've actually seen email that he sent to someone who was suspicious of his comments and who asked for my opinion concerning this very same situation. After reading the BS that he wrote to this person, I feel that I have to make people aware of this greedy thief, and I hope that you will help the community by spreading the word about this stain to all your friends in the blues harp community. These are the kind of people that we do not need providing services for the harp community. I put this website up to help people educate themselves on the subject of harp mic's and elements and to hopefully help people aquire equipment at a fair price. When I see people taking advantage of other people's lack of knowledge on the subject and ripping them off, IT PISSES ME OFF!
So please, be very careful who you send your stuff to when it needs repair, or when you're looking to buy an element or a new mic, and whatever you do, AVOID schmuck like the plague unless he has something you want really bad and you've got more money than brains. Just beware, when the wife finds out how much you got ripped off for, you just may end up taking a ride on a gurney! (cough-cough) If you need service on a mic or some custom work done and don't know where to look, please let me know and I'll be happy to help you out.
Back to the subject at hand. Chances are that most of the mics with flashy paint job's are going to either bubble or flake off too. Hand held mic's have to put up with hot sweaty hands that do a number on paint. Cheap paint wears off from all the handling as well. Most mic's that are spray painted will have problems in one form or another sooner or later. If you must have a flashy paint job, look for a builder, or a painter that can powder coat the mic shell. Powder coat paint is way more durable than spray paint and it won't bubble from sweatty hands if it was properly painted. It's a little more pricey, but it's well worth having done if you want the finish on the mic to last. There are a couple good builders out there that offer quality work and powder coat painting services. One builder that I can highly recommend is Jeremy Snell. He's located near Daytona Fl. I've seen his work and painting. In fact I had him do some paint work for me and I can tell you that he's probably the only guy I'd let work on my stuff if I couldn't find the time to do it myself. Give him a hollar if you're looking for a good paint job or a repair on your mic. Jeremy is a great guy and he does top quality work at a fair price. He's got a custom color paint that is the closest color that I've ever seen to the original green color of the vintage 520 green bullets. It's a high quality automotive finish that is very durable and a dead ringer for color if you have a vintage green bullet that you'd like to get restored to it's original color. This is the color of the old 520's from 1949 to 1970 that had a semi glossy finish, not the 520D and later mic's which are a darker dull looking green. Another place to get high quality powder coat painting is at www.harpmicgaskets.com. This website has passed hands a couple of times and the new owner of this website is Dave S, and Dave is offering custom made rubber gaskets for just about any combination of mic shell and element, as well as a whole bunch of powder coat paint colors to choose from as well as mic parts, harp cases and other harp related products. Check his website out if you need common mic parts such as connectors, adaptors or other harmonica related accessories. Dave is also doing powder coat painting and he's making harmonica cases in a few different sizes as well as providing harp builders with much needed gaskets for custom made harp mic's. Go to www.harpmicgaskets.com and have a look.
If you can't get to any of the places that I mentioned before to look for vintage mics around where you live and you must resort to places like ebay, do some homework first. If you're looking for an element, look for mics made by Shure that have the CR's and CM's in them. They won't always be the Shure brand. Many mics made for other companies by Shure have the elements in them too. If you only need a shell, look for a mic that doesn't have an element, or maybe a low Z mic that you can get much cheaper. Look often and try to catch an auction soon after it's posted. If you find one with no bid's on it, ask the seller if they'll accept whatever you're willing to pay for it to end the auction right away. Many sellers don't like to do that but many will. Offering immediate payment often helps. I have made many purchases like that at bargain prices. Just a few short years ago, you could get the 50's CR's for $40 or less. Now they're selling for $200+ which is ridiculous. If you're patient and look in the right places, you can get them for under $50. I've purchased CR elements for under $10 at hamfests many times, and many on ebay for under $40. I recently bought a complete 1950 green bullet mic for $38 delivered on ebay. Patients will pay off bigtime if you must use ebay.
The bottom line is, is that you don't have to pay these ridiculous ebay prices for anything you're looking for. Patients-patients-patients will pay off bigtime. If there's something in particular that you're looking for but don't know where to look, I'll be happy to help you if you drop me a line. I'll do my best to help you get what you're looking for at a fair price.
I hope you enjoyed reading through my website, and I hope you learned something even more. Check out all the pictures on the next few pages and feel free to email me with any questions you may have about anything related to this site that I can help you out with, or if you're interested in my "Harp Fanatic" amp. It's the real deal when it comes to top quality boutique amp's, and it sounds as good as it looks!
Come back soon! I'll be adding new stuff, pictures and links to other great informative sites probably for the next year or so, or until I run out of space! Until next time, keep blowin' the BLUES! Contact me at GRBULLETS2@AOL.COM.